by Stephen M. Walt

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Here in the United States, federal judge Shira Scheindlin has ruled that New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy is in fact a form of racial profiling that violates basic constitutional rights. According to a New York Times editorial:

“Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers can legally stop and detain a person only when they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Over the years, however, the Police Department has adopted a strategy that encourages cops to stop and question mainly minority citizens first and to come up with reasons for having done so later.”

I read this story and immediately thought about the similarities to certain aspects of U.S. foreign and national security policies. “Stop and frisk” is essentially an act of pre-emption or prevention: The suspect hasn’t committed a crime, but the police go after the person on the basis of the thinnest of suspicions, like a bulging pocket or the loosely defined “furtive gestures.”

Now think about the United States’ use of drones or special operations forces to conduct “targeted assassinations” of suspected terrorists. In many cases, U.S. officials have some reason to think someone might be planning a terrorist operation, but the person isn’t actually doing it when officials decide to take the individual out.

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