San Diego International Law Journal

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



The purpose of this Comment is to explore the legal justification for the targeted killing of a terrorist leader as an act of self-defense. In particular, the focus of this Comment will be on the interpretation of the self-defense doctrine under customary international law and the United Nations Charter. First, this Comment will examine the background and common definitions of assassination. Then, the focus will shift to an evaluation of the relevant customary international law and the Caroline doctrine. Next, this Comment will analyze the United Nations Charter, Article 51 as it relates to a claim of self-defense in response to a terrorist attack. This Comment will then turn to United States law and policy regarding assassination and explore the issue of anticipatory self-defense through the use of assassination. Finally, this Comment considers the following question: does an attacked state have legal authority under international law to assassinate heads of state suspected of terrorist acts or high-ranking officials of governments who harbor terrorists?