Osama bin Laden is widely known as a founder of one of the largest ultra-radical multinational terrorist organizations that unite militant Sunni Islamists, Al-Qaeda. The purpose of Al-Qaeda is to overthrow secular regimes in Islamic countries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, more than 20 sovereign nations, and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council recognize Al-Qaeda as a terrorist group that threatens international stability. Osama Bin Laden was killed by the United States Navy SEALs in Operation Geronimo on May 2, 2011. The present essay discusses the Presidential Authority of President Obama in operation and argues that it was legal for him to order Operation Geronimo.
The attempts to eliminate bin Laden started in 1998 when the then-President, Bill Clinton, labeled him as the top enemy of the US. During the following thirteen years, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) undertook numerous attempts to catch or kill bin Laden. However, every attempt failed due to some communications glitches, red tape, delays, or concatenation of circumstances. In August 2010, the CIA discovered the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda’s leader in a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It is a great irony that the founder of Al-Qaeda had been hiding in the country that was receiving financial assistance from the US because it was expected that this money could help Pakistan fight terrorism.
The establishment of bin Laden’s location was followed by the months of meticulous preparations for Operation Geronimo, a raid that finally eliminated the world’s most wanted terrorist. The central question to this operation is whether it was legal for the American government to execute the killing of Osama bin Laden. At this point, it should be mentioned that the idea of conducting a raid on Al-Qaeda’s founder was born a decade before his mansion was found.
More precisely, soon after September 11 attacks, on September 18, 2001, the 107th Congress adopted the public law 107–40. This law authorizes the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001” (United States Congress, 2001). From this, it could be inferred that Barack Obama did not exceed authority and violate laws by executing Operation Geronimo.
At the same time, from the perspective of international relations, Operation Geronimo equals the unauthorized invasion of a sovereign nation, Pakistan. Firstly, the Pakistani government was not informed of the US’s raid. Secondly, neither the government nor the United Nations Security Council permitted the US Naval forces to enter Pakistan to conduct this raid (Mustafa et al., 2020).
One might argue that American actions against bin Laden could be regarded as humanitarian intervention because this concept is defined as using military force against another state to cease violation of human rights. Without a doubt, terrorism is a major threat to the security and well-being of civilians, national peace, and economic development. Nonetheless, the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad per se did not impose direct danger on the local people and, therefore, it might be argued that the US unlawfully invaded Pakistan.
To defend Obama’s actions, it could be stated that Al-Qaeda is a multinational terrorist organization, not a state. Therefore, any action against Al-Qaeda involves sovereign states where the militants live. Furthermore, the goal of Operation Geronimo was not to destroy the infrastructure of Abbottabad, overthrow the Pakistani government, or kill local civilians. Even though the collateral damage from the raid on bin Laden was inescapable, Obama tried to minimize it by rejecting the suggestion to bomb the mansion because it would take the lives of many civilians (Pislaru, 2017). Consequently, in spite of the fact that the US Navy SEALs indeed invaded the territory of Pakistan without warning the Pakistani government, they caused no harm to the local citizens. On the contrary, the US rendered a great service to the international society by killing one of the most dangerous people in the world, Osama bin Laden.
Another problem with Operation Geronimo from the international humanitarian law’s perspective is that the US and Al-Qaeda were not explicitly in the state of war when the raid was conducted. Even though terrorism threatens the security of every country in the world, it is not legal to kill terrorist leaders or members of terrorist groupings during peacetime when there is no direct threat to life. Nevertheless, although the US was not waging full-fledged wars against Al-Qaeda in 2001, its campaign of War on Terror implies that the US will use every possibility to fight terrorism.
In addition to that, it could be argued that the state of peace and war between sovereign states cannot be scaled to the state of peace and war between a terrorist organization and a nation. That is because, in the post-World War II epoch, countries avoid armed conflicts by all means and do not break sovereignty and kill locals for no reason. In the case of any terrorist network, it is impossible to talk about the state of war or peace because attacks are always unexpected, and there are no diplomatic relations between terrorist groups and normal countries.
Another minor issue that should be discussed in the context of Obama’s presidential authority in Operation Geronimo deals with the burial of bin Laden’s remains. The international law requires warring countries to bury the enemies “if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged” (Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 1949, article 17).
According to Islamic traditions, a person should be buried in soil, and his or her grave should have a mark. Obama’s administration was afraid that bin Laden’s grave would turn into the place of worship for radical Islamists. For this reason, it was decided to bury bin Laden in the sea. This decision does not correspond to the classic Islamic law that argues that a person could be buried in the sea only if he or she dies while traveling and there is no way to deliver the body to the shore (Al-Dawoody, 2017). Still, the US administration acted in a way that was better for the entire international society because it was a question of burying a terrorist, not an average Muslim.
To conclude, Operation Geronimo represents a peculiar situation because it corresponds to national law and violates international law. The discussion presented above illustrates that there is no single view on this issue, and it could be interpreted in different ways. It was legal for Barack Obama to conduct this operation because it protected the lives of American citizens and showed that the US is a worthy and hostile adversary that does not forgive such actions as terrorist acts. Finally, if we abstract from the perspective of international and national laws, one question arises: can the death of Osama bin Laden atone for the deaths of tens of thousands of people killed by Al-Qaeda?
Al-Dawoody, A. (2017). Management of the dead from the Islamic law and international humanitarian law perspectives: Considerations for humanitarian forensics. International Review of the Red Cross, 99(905), 759-784. Web.
Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (1949). International Committee of The Red Cross. Web.
Mustafa, G., Ali, N., Siddiqui, S., & Shah, Y. F. (2020). Historical analysis of Pakistan’s relations with United States of America under Obama’s Administration. Journal of Historical Studies, 6(1), 119-242.
Pislaru, C. (2017). Neptune spear operations: A victory against terrorism. International Scientific Conference “Strategies XXI”, 1, 280-284.
United States Congress (2001). Congress. Web.