This Article is a comprehensive examination of the United States’ practice of targeted killings. It is based in part on field research, interviews, and previously unexamined government documents. The Article fills a gap in the literature, which to date lacks sustained scholarly analysis of the accountability mechanisms associated with the targeted killing process. The Article (1) provides the first qualitative empirical accounting of the targeted killing process, beginning with the creation of kill lists and extending through the execution of targeted strikes, and (2) provides a robust analytical framework for assessing the accountability mechanisms associated with those processes.

The Article begins by reporting the results of a case study that reviewed hundreds of pages of military policy memoranda, disclosures of government policies through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by NGOs, filings in court documents, public statements by military and intelligence officials, and descriptive accounts reported by the press and depicted in nonfiction books. These findings were supplemented by observing and reviewing aspects of the official training for individuals involved in targeted killings and by conducting confidential interviews with members of the military, special operations, and intelligence community involved in the targeted killing process. These research techniques resulted in a richly detailed depiction of the targeted killing process, the first of its kind to appear in any single publication.

After explaining how targeted killings are conducted, the Article shifts from the descriptive to the normative, setting out an analytical framework drawn from the governance literature that assesses accountability along two dimen- sions, creating four accountability mechanisms. After setting forth the analytical framework, the Article then applies it to the targeted killing program. The Article concludes with accountability reforms that could be implemented based on the specified framework.