At the time when the U.S. was facing one of the greatest crises of its recent history, the solution involving brute force and the uninhibited decision to eliminate the source of the threat seemed to be the most sensible and morally justifiable option to take. Specifically, given the effect that Osama bin Laden’s actions had had on the safety and security of the entire American nation, which suffered a series of terrorist attacks, the decision to assassinate him as the way of removing the threat seemed the first logical step to take (Wallace, 2012).
Bin Laden’s death was met with an overwhelming sigh of relief by most American citizens, as the existing records of the events transpiring at the time indicate (Saad, 2011). At the same time, a significant divide could be observed in people’s perspective on the solution that the U.S. government selected. Namely, Saad (2011, para. 2) reported that “A slight majority (54%) believe bin Laden’s death will make the U.S. safer from terrorism, nearly double the 28% who fear it will make it less safe.” Therefore, the question of whether President Obama had the legal authority to order to implement Operation Geronimo since the safety of the entire nation was at stake.
Given the risk of threat that Al Qaeda headed by Osama bin Laden represented to American civilians, as well as the fact that Osama bin Laden was guilty of coordinating multiple acts of terror aimed at American residents, Operation Geronimo needs to be seen as a legitimate and entirely reasonable response. First and most obvious, it is worth mentioning that the operation took place at the time when the U.S. declared its war against terrorism (Wallace, 2012).
Combined with the fact that the instances of the acts of terror against American citizens became much more frequent at the time, it would be reasonable to say that the U.S. entered the wartime period at the time (Saad, 2011). Therefore, Osama bin Laden, who was viewed as the principal enemy at the time and the main source of threat to the U.S. represented not merely a danger to the lives of American citizens, but an actual enemy that needed to be vanquished after being taken over in a victorious foray (Avery, 2020). Therefore, the killing of Osama bin laden does not technically warrant the title of a murder or an assassination.
Instead, it needs to be seen as one of the instances of killing occurring during an armed conflict, specifically, war (Wallace, 2012). Thus, Operation Geronimo could be interpreted as one of “the many examples of lawful wartime killings of individuals, including the World War II operation that resulted in the death of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who masterminded the attack on Pearl Harbor” (Dunlap, 2019, para. 14). For this reason, President Obama had complete legal authority to implement Operation Geronimo and command that the troops should eliminate the target, namely, Osama bin Laden, as the wartime criminal.
However, the lawfulness of the actions taken in the course of Operation Geronimo as the measures aimed at assassinating Osama bin Laden is often called into question. Specifically, the legitimacy of the specified choice has been debated since its implementation (Savage, 2015). Additionally, one could argue that killing Osama bin Laden did not imply an immediate termination of Al Qaeda’s activities (Koh, 2011). Indeed, even after bin Laden’s death, multiple instances of Al Qaeda members performing multiple acts of terror were registered (Saad, 2011). Nevertheless, the implementation of Operation Geronimo suggested that the core of Al Qaeda could be effectively destroyed. Although separate instances of attacks occurred shortly after bin Laden was assassinated, the general level of risk was reduced significantly since the core of the Al Qaeda organization and, therefore, its planning and organizing capacity, was effectively eliminated (Avery, 2020).
Consequently, it would be wrong to view Operation Geronimo solely as an act of retaliation and an ultimately pointless effort. On the contrary, Operation Geronimo served to remove the core from the Al Qaeda organization and, therefore, make it case its activities gradually since they were no longer coordinated and, thus, lost their impact.
Finally, one must mention the fact that, being developed and implemented during the time period that could be described as wartime due to the increase in terrorist attacks, the range of civilian victims, and the rise in the need for reinforcing state defense, Operation Geronimo should be judged based on being what Dunlap (2019, para. 3) referred to as the “lawful wartime mission.” Namely, experiencing the constant threat of terrorist attacks and being subjected to a range of threats from a terrorist organization, the U.S. government had the complete right to take an immediate action and make decisions based on the premise of a securing the well-being of U.S. citizens.
Overall, the concept of peacetime assassination does not apply to Operation Geronimo since the situation in which the U.S. population was trapped in the late 2000s and early 2010s could in no way be described as peacetime. Namely, the presence of an unceasing threat that jeopardized their very lives, as well as regular threats voiced by bin Laden and his followers, created the setting that could not be described as peacetime by any means. Quite the contrary, the presence of unceasing fear caused by the unmovable threat to the lives of multiple citizens justified the drastic measures that operation Geronimo suggested. Therefore, Operation Geronimo was an entirely legitimate action to be taken, and President Obama had complete legal authority to order its implementation as the means of safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens.
Although Operation Geronimo was seen as controversial even in 2011 when it was implemented, the recent discourse regarding its legitimacy does not seem to hold any credibility since it does not take the extent of the threat into account. By claiming that the decision to assassinate Obama as the means for moving the imminent threat of terrorist acts and deaths of multiple civilians was illegal, one dismisses a tremendous national trauma and delegitimizes the reasonable fear for safety that American citizens had at the time.
Since Al Qaeda posed a massive danger to the American community, Operation Geronimo was an indispensable and unavoidable step toward ensuring that the lives of innocent civilians could no longer be jeopardized. Although the death of bin Laden did not imply that all instances of terrorist attacks were eliminated, the major threat of concentrated source of danger toward the safety of U.S. citizens justified the operation completely.
Avery, A. (2020). Operation Neptune Spear: A legal necessity. Politoon Nation. Web.
Dunlap, C. (2011). Yes, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden was lawful. Sites.Duke.edu. Web.
Koh, H. H. (2011). The lawfulness of the U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden. OpinioJuris. Web.
Saad, L. (2011). Majority in U.S. say Bin Laden’s death makes America safer. Gallop. Web.
Savage, C. (2015). How 4 federal lawyers paved the way to kill Osama bin Laden. The New York Times. Web.
Wallace, S. A. (2012). Operation Neptune’s Spear: The lawful killing of Osama Bin Laden. Cambridge. Web.