The Legality of Obama’s Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden

During a war, the government often has to make complex, serious, and conflicting decisions that can greatly affect the well-being of the country and the course of the war. Moreover, if the President understands that a country, organization, or person poses an actual or potential threat, the authorities’ responsibility is to do everything possible to prevent it. This is exactly what happened on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan, when Osama bin Laden was assassinated by the order of President Barack Obama. The reason for the assassination was the fact that that man was the leader of a dangerous Islamist military group and also played a role in the September 11 attacks. Despite the fact that some people are convinced that this decision was unfair and illegal, the purpose of this paper is to prove that Obama had a legal basis to give this order and carry out the operation.

To begin with, it is essential to discuss the particular reasons for the President to give such an order. As mentioned above, Osama bin Laden posed a threat to the U.S. as he was the leader of al-Qaeda – a terrorist organization that is responsible for several extremist actions, including the 9/11 attacks (Ambos & Alkatout, 2012). Precisely after this tragic and cruel event, the U.S. authorities began a search for Osama bin Laden that lasted for approximately ten years and was ended by Operation Neptune Spear. Finally, some people believe that the operation should have resulted in bin Laden’s capture and arrest, and it was illegal to kill him (Ambos & Alkatout, 2012). At the same time, when it was announced that the leader of al-Qaeda is dead, there were great celebrations in America because citizens felt secure and avenged (Glazier, 2017). Consequently, disputes began over the legality of the operation, and each of the parties provided their own arguments, the main of which are listed below.

First of all, it is possible to state that Obama’s order was legal under U.S. law. According to researchers, after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. Congress allowed the President to apply force against those who took part in the terrorist act (Glazier, 2017). Therefore, precisely that Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists enabled Obama and his administration to make this decision and justify their plan. Further, the use of force did not violate the U.S. prohibition on assassinations (Glazier, 2017). The operation was carried out as part of an ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization, the leader of which posed a threat to America. Thus, the murder was justified by two rather crucial facts. First, it was forced self-defense, without which the American government would expose its residents to further potential threats (Ambos & Alkatout, 2012). Secondly, Osama bin Laden was the leader of the opposing force, and the killing of such people during the war is not prohibited.

Nevertheless, even the facts mentioned above do not convince some people of the fairness and legality of the authorities’ decision. In their opinion, some of the statements of President Obama after the completion of the operation suggest that the government’s plan was precisely the murder and not the arrest of Osama bin Laden. For example, according to Glazier (2017), Obama mentioned “that “justice” was done,” and such a choice of words complicates the identification of the appropriate legal paradigm. Furthermore, the Navy SEALs should have arrested bin Laden instead of murdering him unless they were specifically ordered to kill bin Laden. If so, then such an order violates international law (Ambos & Alkatout, 2012).

While the arguments of the opposite side sound convincing, they can be refuted. In 2001, due to a terrorist act in which bin Laden was involved, thousands of Americans were killed or injured. Consequently, such a violent reaction of the President, as well as his emotional words, were needed only in order for the people to feel the support and care of the authorities (Ambos & Alkatout, 2012). As for the order to kill, not arrest, it might not have been received. Most likely, bin Laden did not want to give up, so they had no choice but to use weapons.

To draw a conclusion, one may say that in politics, and especially during wars, there is no black and white. All events, decisions, and plans can be viewed from different perspectives, and it is sometimes complicated or even impossible to decide whether one is doing the right thing. It is clear that Obama’s and his administration’s aims were to protect their citizens and prove their power and readiness to avenge the people murdered during the 9/11 attacks. It is also possible to suggest that there were some other options, including the arrest of Osama bin Laden, a fair trial of him, and subsequent imprisonment as punishment for terrorism in America. Nevertheless, this option would have been possible if he had surrendered, which, according to eyewitnesses, did not happen. Of course, since each person has his own moral standards and priorities, everyone is free to decide about the legality of the operation. However, the fact that thousands of Americans were happy to hear the news of bin Laden’s death, and there are many laws supporting Obama’s decision, this operation can be considered legitimate.


Ambos, K., & Alkatout, J. (2012). Has ‘justice been done’? The legality of bin Laden’s killing under international law. Israel Law Review, 45(2), 341-366.

Glazier, D. (2017). Assessing the Legality of Osama bin Laden’s Killing. Pacific Standard. Web.

Video Voice-over

Cite this paper

Select style


DemoEssays. (2023, November 4). The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden. Retrieved from


DemoEssays. (2023, November 4). The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden.

Work Cited

"The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden." DemoEssays, 4 Nov. 2023,


DemoEssays. (2023) 'The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden'. 4 November.


DemoEssays. 2023. "The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden." November 4, 2023.

1. DemoEssays. "The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden." November 4, 2023.


DemoEssays. "The Legality of Obama's Decision to Kill Osama bin Laden." November 4, 2023.