So Professor O’Connell, Tell Us What You Really Think of the Legality of Targeted Killing
I leave it to Ken and others to weigh in on US Attorney General Holder’s speech today at Northwestern. I did want to point out one early reaction from Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell of Notre Dame, who didn’t exactly pull punches in her assessment of the Obama Administration’s legal arguments.
University of Notre Dame international law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell also said the memo should be released to reveal more about the administration’s position.
“From what we know so far, the memo is highly reminiscent of the torture memos written during the Bush administration, in which irrelevant U.S. cases and statutes are cited in order to give the CIA a green light,” she said. “The relevant international law does not permit targeted killing far from battle zones.”
The memo in question has not been released. I myself accept there might be similarities between these memos and the “torture” memos, although I am guessing from Holder’s speech (and Marty Lederman’s interventions here) that the basis for the targeted killings are somewhat narrower. Still, by invoking the Bush Administration “torture” memos, O’Connell is not trying to give a compliment to David Barron, Marty Lederman, and Harold Koh (all of whom presumably had some role in developing this legal memo).
Whether or not they release the memo, I think the way the Obama Administration has handled the legality of targeted killings issue has helped them with respect to both popular and elite opinion. By offering more or less public legal defenses, they avoid the charge that there is a dark conspiracy somewhere. Jane Mayer has left them alone. The public is with them. A lesson, perhaps, for the Romney Administration?