TELEFORUM- Collateral Damage in Combat Operations 3pm ET TODAY



Collateral Damage in
Combat Operations

A Teleforum Sponsored by the International & National Security Law Practice Group


Featuring Professor Gregory S. McNeal*
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

at 3:00 p.m. (EST)



No registration is necessary.


To participate in this practice group Teleforum, please dial 888-752-3232 on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. (EST) via telephone.
Professor Gregory McNeal will discuss how the U.S. military implements its International Humanitarian Law obligation to mitigate and prevent harm to civilians during combat operations. He will describe the process the U.S. military follows to estimate and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most pre-planned military operations involving air-to-surface weapons and artillery. In recent years, an entire body of academic literature and policy commentary has been based on an incomplete understanding of how the U.S. conducts military operations. The literature is incomplete because U.S. practices are shrouded in secrecy and largely inaccessible. As a result commentators have lacked a descriptive foundation to analyze and critique U.S. operations. Their writings have focused on easily describable issues such as whether a target was a lawful military objective, and then typically shift attention to the question of proportionality balancing and collateral damage.  These commentators skip an important aspect of actual practice – the scientifically grounded mitigation steps followed by U.S. armed forces. Those mitigation steps are designed to ensure a less than 10% probability of collateral damage resulting from any pre-planned operation.

You can read Professor McNeal’s recent paper on this topic by clicking here.

For more on this issue, see my article Kill-Lists and Accountability.

Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence

Now available on SSRN is my newest piece, Are Targeted Killings Unlawful?  A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence.  In the piece I argue that critics of the U.S. policy of targeted killing by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) generally lack credible information to justify their critiques. In fact, in many circumstances their claims are easily refuted, calling into question the reliability of their criticisms.  I highlight some of the most striking examples of inaccurate claims raised by critics of the U.S. policy of drone based targeted killing. Specifically, I offer a much needed corrective to clarify the public record or offer empirical nuance where targeted killing critics offer only unsubstantiated and conclusory statements of fact and law.

Section I discusses the decision protocol used by the U.S. military before launching a drone strike, a process that goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilian casualties. Although this decision protocol was once secret, recent litigation in federal court has resulted in the release of extensive information regarding U.S. targeting protocols. An analysis of this information indicates that the U.S. military engages in an unparalleled and rigorous procedure to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, civilian casualties. Although independent empirical evidence regarding civilian casualties is hard to come by, it is certainly the case that statistics proffered by some critics cannot be empirically verified; their skepticism of U.S. government statements is not backed up by anything more substantial than generic suspicion.

Section II addresses the critics’ unsubstantiated claims about the legal, diplomatic and strategic results of drone strikes. Although the counter observations I raise do not, by themselves, demonstrate that targeted killings are morally or legally justified, they do however suggest that some of the moral or legal objections to targeted killings are based on empirical claims that are either dubious, impossible to verify, or just plain false.

Other contributors to the book Targeted Killing: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (Oxford 2012) appear in the Table of Contents below.  For more on this issue, see my article Kill-Lists and Accountability.



  1. Rebutting the Civilian Presumption: Playing Whack-A-Mole Without a Mallet? Colonel Mark “Max” Maxwell
  2. Targeting Co-belligerents Jens David Ohlin
  3. Can Just War Theory Justify Targeted Killing? Three Possible Models Daniel Statman
  4. Justifying Targeted Killing With a Neutral Principle? Jeremy Waldron


  1. Murder, Combat or Law Enforcement Jeff McMahan
  2. Targeted Killing as Preemptive Action Claire Finkelstein
  3. The Privilege of Belligerency and Formal Declarations of War Richard V. Meyer


  1. Going Medieval: Targeted Killing, Self-Defense, and the Jus ad Bellum Regime Craig Martin
  2. Imminence in Justified Targeted Killing Russell Christopher
  3. Defending Defensive Targeted Killings Phillip Montague


  1. The Importance of Criteria-Based Reasoning in Targeted Killing Decisions Amos N. Guiora
  2. Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims without Empirical Evidence Gregory S. McNeal
  3. Operation Neptune Spear: Was Killing Bin Laden a Legitimate Military Objective? Kevin H. Govern
  4. Efficiency in Bello and ad Bellum: Making the Use of Force Too Easy? Kenneth Anderson


  1. Targeting in War and Peace: A Philosophical Analysis Fernando R. Tesón
  2. Targeted Killings and the Morality of Hard Choices Michael S. Moore
  3. Targeted Killing and the Strategic Use of Self-Defense Leo Katz