Geronimo refers to the code name for operation Neptune Spear, a precision strike mission executed by the United State’s navy seals to kill Osama Bin Laden. The founder and first leader of al-Qaeda, an Islamist militant group was killed on May 2, 2011, in Bilal Town, Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (Glazier, 2017). The main participants in the operation included Central Intelligence Agency, Special Activities Division, U.S. Naval Special Warfare, and Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4 among others. Before his killing, the United States had been searching for Bin Laden for almost a decade following his involvement in 9/11 attacks in the country (Taylor, 2019). The operation had the support of the majority of Americans who have already felt the effect of the growing threat of terrorism. The aftermath of this operation received support worldwide from various governments, as well as organizations such as the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations (Dunlap, 2019). However, other organizations such as Amnesty International raised several ethical and legal concerns over how the operation was executed and its outcomes.
The main objective of operation Geronimo was to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden since the United States prefers not to kill an unarmed person who surrenders willingly. However, from the onset of the mission, it was clear that the target posed an undeniable threat, and killing him was the most reasonable thing to do (Taylor, 2019). At the time of operation, the United States was not at war with Pakistan, thus the reason the personnel tasked with the operation was briefly moved to the control of the civilian Central Intelligence Agency (Taylor, 2019). The raid involved 79 commandos and a dog that was used to look for hidden rooms and doors in Osama’s residence. Additionally, the dog helped in deterring any form of ground response from Pakistani security forces (Bergen, 2016). Bin Laden was killed in the raid that was tactfully executed. Following his killing, a commission to investigate the attack was quickly formed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The commission’s report showed that both the state military and intelligence authorities were at fault over the ability of Osama to hide in the country for such a long time.
One of the issues that raised a lot of criticism was how Bin Laden’s body was handled. According to Islamic clerics, it is inappropriate for one to be buried at the sea when other forms of burial are preferable (Dunlap, 2019). However, the United States defended its decision saying that the choice of a burial at the sea was because it was hard to identify and access, thus preventing it from becoming the focus of attention. Additionally, U.S. officials claimed that the difficulty of finding a country that would accept to bury Bin Laden in its soil and still manage to provide a Muslim burial was another reason for choosing the sea (Glazier, 2017). With claims of Bin Laden’s interment having not been handled in a culturally sensitive manner being the center of discussion, Omar Bin Laden went ahead to publish a complaint arguing that the family was denied a chance to give their kin a proper burial (Dunlap, 2019). In his will that was written after 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden urged his children not to be part of al-Qaeda.
The Legality of Operation Geronimo
One of the controversial and most discussed elements of operation Geronimo is its legality. Questions have been raised regarding the specific objective of the mission and the powers within which President Barrack Obama commissioned it. According to Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale, the raid by the United States that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden was legal (Dunlap, 2019). The U.S. military officials that were part of the mission said that they had been given orders to shoot and kill the target upon his capture. Carter argues that a wartime mission cannot be termed as improper or illegal simply because of orders to kill someone. Another aspect that has been highly contested is the fact that the raid was conducted in Pakistan without any form of notification from the American government (Dunlap, 2019). On this front, the United States applied the legal concept of the federal laws on countries that lack the ability or are unwilling to deal with individuals within their borders that are a threat to the security of Americans.
In the case of Pakistan, the U.S. had the right to apply force in dealing with the threat, despite its autonomy. After the raid, the government claimed it was not aware that Bin Laden had lived within its borders for close to nine years. This does not make raid by the United States illegal because there is a possibility that Pakistan knew about the whereabouts of Bin Laden but was unwilling to take the necessary action (Taylor, 2019). The United States claimed that Pakistan had betrayed its trust in earlier engagements involving their targets, therefore could not risk informing them about Bin Laden’s raid, as they would most likely sabotage it (Taylor, 2019). This raid received the backing of the United Nations Security Council, as it did not express any reservations with the mission, its objective, and outcome. In its statement, the council said that it was pleased with the news of Bin Laden’s killing, as he would no longer be able to perpetrate acts of terrorism when the world was starring at a potential global security crisis (Dunlap, 2019). Additionally, the council reiterated the urgent need to stop associating terror campaigns with any particular religion or nationality.
Legal issues have also been raised with regarding the decision to kill Bin Laden considering he was unarmed and did not fail to surrender. The International Committee of the Red Cross was highly critical of this decision, saying that it is wrong to attack an unconscious person because he or she is defenseless (Taylor, 2019). However, military reports indicate that wars are characterized by situations where badly injured and wounded people continue to fight until they win or die. Therefore, the U.S. military officers could not have taken any chances dealing with Bin Laden alive owing to the potential threat he posed (Dunlap, 2019). It was highly expected that he would be wearing a suicide vest, which was a threat to everyone inside the building. Under the DOD Law of War Manual, an enemy’s combatants should not always be allowed to surrender before being attacked (Dunlap, 2019). Therefore, the issue of whether it was lawful to kill Bin Laden instead of capturing him does not have any basis for contestation.
Another legal element that emerged from operation Geronimo is the reward that was offered to anyone who would offer information leading to the capture of Bin Laden. Although reports indicate that that money was not paid to anyone, the DOD Law of War Manual discourages offering of rewards for any assistance offered in getting to an enemy whether dead or alive (Taylor, 2019). To date, it is not clear whether the $25 million reward that was on offer in Bin Laden’s case was a prohibited one or not (Dunlap, 2019). The legality of operation Geronimo was affirmed through a decision by the Court of Appeals. According to the court, the law allows the President and his assistants to freely, explore alternatives in shaping policies on matters of national interest. The consideration by President Obama on to order a military strike on Bin Laden was conducted with the confidentiality it deserved.
The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world. For democracy to prevail, transparency is important, especially when it comes to accountability by leaders. Terrorism is a challenge that continually poses a threat to homeland security in America. The 9/11 attacks awakened this reality in the United States when Osama Bin Laden’s led al-Qaeda terror group claimed responsibility. The United States staged a successful raid in 2011, which led to the killing of Bin Laden in the infamous operation Geronimo. Although many people questioned the legality of the raid, legal analyses have shown that President Obama acted within the law and sanctioning the incursion was in the best interest of Americans.
Bergen, P. (2016). Architect of Bin Laden raid: The anxious moments.
Dunlap, C.J.D. (2019). Yes, the raid that killed Osama Bin laden was lawful.
Glazier, D. (2017). Assessing the legality of Osama Bin Laden’s Killing.
Taylor, A. (2019). Why Obama didn’t release footage of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.