The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs elicited a range of reactions, from spontaneous public displays of joy to severe reservations about its legality. According to Margolies, “politicians, historians, legal scholars, and even a few talking heads have begun asking new questions about aspects of the raid, particularly regarding its legality under the U.S. and international law and its meaning within the context of American foreign policymaking” (Margolies 2011). Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s contradictory factual explanations and superficial legal justifications have been insufficient to settle these surprisingly difficult concerns ultimately. There is no black-and-white answer on the legality of killing Osama bin Laden, regardless of whether it is approached as a law enforcement issue or as part of an ongoing war (Glazier 2017). It is necessary to analyze the entire event in more detail to understand whether President Barack Obama acted lawfully.
The first step is finding the proper legal framework, confounded by the U.S.’ double strategy to counterterrorism following the 9/11 disaster, unclear “war on terror” terminology, and even the president’s proclamation that justice had been served. It should be understood whether the raid was a successful operation to apprehend the leading terrorist and the most wanted by the FBI criminal, as required by criminal law and international human rights law. Also, whether it was a legitimate military strike against an opposing commander in a global armed conflict, as defined by international law.
The majority of opponents presume the operation was a law enforcement effort that would be judged against human rights law norms. When seen from this perspective, there is little doubt that the process was faulty. Without the explicit approval of that state, international law prevents law enforcement organizations from operating on foreign soil. Furthermore, law enforcement officials must capture their targets alive; fatal force is only permissible in the event of genuine self-defense. If the only genuine opposition is supposedly coming from a separate boarding house, murdering unarmed individuals in Bin Laden’s residence would be considered murder under this set of rules, even if it was not intended. Given that 9/11 was widely acknowledged as an armed attack and that Congress later authorized military action against those involved, law enforcement is not the sole acceptable counterterrorism option in the United States. These factors provide the United States’ battle against terrorism a one-of-a-kind foundation, enabling the application of the law of armed conflict’s full power.
When Bin Laden’s early reports cannot be verified, there will be severe legal consequences. Orders to refuse quarter or take no prisoners are categorically a war crime. The warrior is under no responsibility to provide the option of surrender but must respect voluntary surrender. As a result, it is worth noting that President Obama went out of his way to say that Bin Laden’s surrender would have been welcomed. Further aggression against a helpless opponent is likewise banned. If done after being brought down, reports that Bin Laden was shot a second time to secure his death are alarming. It is, however, legal to assault an opponent many times to obstruct them.
People argue that bin Laden’s assassination was a forbidden assassination rather than a legal act of war. Although there is no specific legal definition of assassination, it often refers to the murdering of public leaders for political reasons. At the same time, the law of armed conflict restricts targeting to military personnel whose deaths advance war objectives. As commander-in-chief, a president, like Bin Laden, is a legitimate target for assault. The use of perfidy or treachery as a means of attack, rather than the purpose, is prohibited by historical warfare principles. In this case, a military helicopter attack creates no legal issues; however, a Central Intelligence Agency operative slipping inside the facility dressed as a local citizen would.
To sum up, if Pakistan is a reliable American ally in the fight against al Qaeda, the U.S. may act as a co-belligerent on its soil. Pakistan’s official denial of permission for the raid is not conclusive; it claims the same thing regarding U.S. drone attacks for domestic political gain, despite photographs of American drones operating from Pakistani airfields available on the internet. It is telling that the primary source of Pakistani government criticism of bin Laden’s assassination appears to be the army, which is under fire for its alleged inability to detect U.S. helicopters or bin Laden’s proximity to its facilities, rather than civilian leaders, who would be expected to object to a breach of national sovereignty.
Glazier, D. (2017). Assessing the legality of Osama Bin Laden’s killing. Web.
Daniel S. Margolies (2011). Geronimo, Bin Laden, and U.S. foreign policy. Web.