The elimination of Osama bin Laden contains both positive and negative aspects. For American society and the political circles of the United States, this event was viewed primarily as retribution for the numerous victims of American citizens on September 11, 2001, and the armed forces in Afghanistan. For the Obama administration, this event strengthened its credibility against the background of the previous administration of George W. Bush and garnered the support and trust of the American public in the White House’s counter-terrorism policy. The essay combines two main legal arguments about self-defense and the principle of war, making it possible to argue that Operation Geronimo is entirely legal. In fact, the operation to eliminate bin Laden was carried out in self-defense against a military objective that is legally so. In addition, shortly after the 9/11/2001 attacks, a law was passed in the United States empowering the President of the United States to use all necessary and appropriate forces against the states, groups, or individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks. Based on this formulation, the US leadership could carry out any forceful actions and received freedom to implement methods of combating suspects in terrorist acts.
Officially, it was considered a secret operation by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which, if necessary, would have made it possible to hide the White House’s involvement in it. Osama bin Laden, born in Saudi Arabia into a wealthy businessman’s family, was the most prominent organizer and sponsor of Islamic international terrorism in the modern period. At the end of 1979, he went to Afghanistan to participate in hostilities against Soviet troops (Arielli, 2018). There, he was involved in supplying Afghan mujahideen with weapons and ammunition, organized fundraising for them in Arab countries, and recruited militants. In 1988 he moved to Sudan, where, together with Muhammad al-Massari, he created the Al-Qaeda organization, whose militants were transported to many countries.
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the collapse of the USSR, Al-Qaeda focused on organizing terrorist attacks against the United States. Bin Laden’s terrorist activities forced the Saudi Arabian government to revoke his citizenship in 1993. In 1993, the US State Department declared Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism; in 1996, the US suspended the embassy’s activities in Sudan (Arielli, 2018). Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan. In the late 1990s, he found refuge in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban regime, which controls part of the country. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, when three planes operated by terrorists crashed into the skyscrapers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon (Washington), and the fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, presumably aimed at the White House or the Capitol, the US authorities demanded the extradition of bin Laden from the Taliban. The refusal to extradite the terrorist was the reason for the start of the US anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan.
After the terrorist attacks in September 2001, the United States launched a large-scale campaign to combat international terrorism. The image of the “enemy” was finally consolidated in the person of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda, and Taliban groups. The territory of Afghanistan was declared a springboard for the expansion of international terrorism. The territory of Afghanistan has long been a problem area due to the flourishing drug trafficking on its territory and the civil war (Soherwordi & Khattak, 2020). After the Taliban came to power, the country became a kind of center of terrorist activity, gradually expanding its influence. Afghanistan is located between the West and the East, playing an essential role in economic and political ties with the region’s states. The geographic factor of Afghanistan determines its geostrategic significance. Located between the Middle East and South and Central Asia, it falls into the sphere of priority areas of the Greater Middle East for the US administration as a springboard to expand Washington’s influence in the region.
After the start of the anti-terrorist campaign in the United States, Afghanistan became one of the most important directions of Washington’s foreign policy. This country came under the scrutiny of the United States, the world community, and the UN after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In a televised address to American citizens, the President of the United States publicly promised to find the culprits, their accomplices and bring them to justice (Fisher & Becker, 2021). The reaction from the world community was not long in coming; most countries supported the United States in its decision to retaliate. This appeal was the official start of the deployment of the counter-terrorism operation with the involvement of US intelligence services and the armed forces (BBC, 2012). After these events, the UN Security Council published Resolution No. 1368 condemning the terrorist attacks in New York, calling on the world community to take all appropriate measures to coordinate efforts to combat terrorism (de la Rosa & Romero, 2021). It is noteworthy that the UN Security Council legitimized the right to fight terrorism by any means and the right to collective and individual protection, which was later reinforced by the corresponding UN Resolution (de la Rosa & Romero, 2021). Referring to the provisions of the UN Resolutions, the US response to the terrorist attacks was a military operation in Afghanistan. It was aimed primarily at overthrowing the Taliban regime as one of the allies of the Al-Qaeda group – the main suspect in the terrorist attacks. George W. Bush, shortly before the operation, outlined the basic principles according to which the United States excludes any negotiations with terrorists and their accomplices, supports the US allies in the fight against terror, and also expresses the need to exert all possible pressure on states that harbor terrorists.
Despite the rather sad statistics, the United States still managed to achieve one of the most critical goals outlined at the beginning of the campaign. In May 2011, Osama bin Laden was eliminated in Abbottabad during Operation Geronimo northeast of Islamabad. The operation was carried out by an elite US special force (SEALs) (Wirtz, 2021). Much of the operation’s success was the information obtained by CIA agents from M. al-Qahtani, detained in Guantanamo, who was supposed to be one of the participants in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks but was detained by American border control officers while trying to cross the US border. He reported the identity of the liaison bin Laden, A.A.al-Kuwaiti, with the help of which it was possible to establish bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan (Wirtz, 2021).
Although the leading terrorist was destroyed, the legal basis of the operation is often questioned and disputed by both conspiracy supporters and experts. The country has an order of 1976, which prohibits the commission of murders by the US special services (Burgos, 2018). Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan have consistently improved the document prohibiting the planning and execution of political assassinations in any form (Burgos, 2018). Concerning bin Laden, this ban theoretically allows one to circumvent the concept of Harold Koch (chief legal adviser on the international law of the US State Department). Under national law, the use of hostilities to target specific hostile leaders in self-defense or armed conflict is legal and cannot be considered “murder” (Blank & Noon, 2018). The concept of self-defense is critical here. The formality of the use of the term “self-defense” in this case was indirectly confirmed by US Attorney General Eric Holder. He admitted that the special forces were tasked with “shooting or capturing” bin Laden. According to the prosecutor general, the group had no reason to believe that the terrorist was about to surrender (Blank & Noon, 2018). The only reason for the assassination of bin Laden in such a situation could be the suspicion that the terrorist might wear a “shahid belt.” However, the reliability of this version is easy to assess if we take into account that the main argument in its favor was the long-standing oral assurances of bin Laden himself never to surrender alive.
Other American legal experts justify the legality of the elimination of bin Laden by the fact that he was at war with the United States, which he declared in 1998. John Bellinger III (2005-2009 senior US State Department attorney) refers to the 2001 congressional approval of military force against al-Qaeda (Stimson & Danilack, 2017). The administration’s use of the right to use force in carrying out this operation, following the 2001 Act of Parliament and under the US Constitution, can most accurately be classified as an act of self-defense (Stimson & Danilack, 2017). The actions of the American intelligence services are also substantiated by documents posted on the WikiLeaks portal (Brevini & Valdovinos, 2019). They say that the Pakistani special services have repeatedly warned bin Laden about the approach of US troops, which was one of the main reasons for the failure to arrest the terrorist.
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