The Geronimo Operation and Legal Authority to Order It

Topic: International Law
Words: 1137 Pages: 4
Table of Contents


In May 2011, the then President of the United States, Barrack Obama announced to the whole world that the US had sanctioned an operation in Pakistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Osama was a wanted fugitive throughout the world for charges against terrorism and other acts of terror. Investigations had revealed that he was hiding in Pakistan and President Barack Obama sanctioned a military mission to either capture or kill the leader or the al Qaeda group.

The mission could be viewed as an act of hostility against a sovereign state. Pakistan is a sovereign state, therefore military activities by a foreign nation within its borders must be reported under domestic and international regulations. Second, the president’s legality in ordering such an operation required the president to notify Congress.


The killing of the known Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a result of the operation raid carried out on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan by the US Navy Seals elicited a variety of opinions from the ecstatic public outpourings to serious questions about the operation’s legality. The operation was termed The Geronimo operation and its main aim was to capture the terrorist leader and the most wanted man on earth dead or alive, the mission was authorized by the then US president, Barrack Obama. The mission has been suggested to be a law enforcement mission that should be judged according to humanitarian law. International law prohibits the enforcement of laws in other sovereign borders without its explicit approval.

Bin Laden’s death can be assessed under the norms of military action law, which allows officers and enemy combatants to be executed on sight save in the case of surrender or physical debilitation. There are four key warfare concepts to justify that the mission was legally valid in circumstances where the killing is expected to take place off the combat zone or where the enemy is not actively resisting (Cox & Wood, 2017).

The first concept is the necessity principle. It’s only that the killing isn’t intended as a form of retaliation. The use of violence should be used to bring conflicts to a satisfactory conclusion while remaining compliant with other military conflict laws. The second concept is the principle of distinction, which states that aggression must be aimed against a legitimate military target rather than guarded civilians or property.

The third concept is appropriateness, which states that an attack on a legitimate military target may cause civilian injury provided that the harm is commensurate to the expected tactical advantage. Finally, there is the principle of morality, which states that an assault should not be carried out in such a way that needless pain is caused or forbidden weapons are used. As per reports published on Osama bin Laden’s assassination, the raid met all of these criteria. The mission used a commando-style attack rather than aircraft bombs. This was done to protect children and women who were current at the location of the operation, ensuring that no concerns of discrimination or appropriateness arose. The US Navy Seal also utilized normal army weaponry to verify that the principle of humanity was preserved.

Although allegations that bin Laden was to be killed pose serious legal concerns, President Barack Obama stated that surrender would’ve been accepted. The subject of whether Osama bin Laden’s killing was legal sparked major valid concerns. However, because Potus is the commander-in-chief, he is subject to legal criticism, although civilian officials do not influence military activities. Even though ancient laws prohibit killing, they concentrate on the means of assault. The employment of a military helicopter posed no legal complications, and the operation did not include a CIA officer, which may have caused major legal concerns.

The mission’s site was also a legal matter, as battles should be fought legally on the territory of the fighting state. This constraint was justified by the Geronimo operation. Another hypothesis is that Pakistan unofficially agreed to enable the US to intervene on its borders after recognizing its powerlessness to refuse al-Qaeda asylum. The Geronimo operation that is responsible for the capture and killing of Bin Laden, led by the United States Navy Seals team is not in violation of the laws of war. Osama was the leader of a terrorist group (al-Qaeda), he remained an enemy, by the rules of engagement, the seal time had all the valid reasons to get rid of the enemy as he had proved time and again to be an imminent threat. All the law and order enforcement agencies had been looking for the terrorist leader of the extremist group al Qaeda, Osama had outstanding warrants of arrest, dead or alive from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

Days before the Geronimo operation, United States lawyers drafted memos to use in their defense just in case they were to be later on pressed to explain their legal grounds, thus helping justify the decision made by the then Potus Barrack Obama. The analysis was really helpful as the United States was able to send their Navy Seals onto Pakistan soil without their permission (Hameed, 2017). The lawyers opted to use force under the humanitarian laws even though it later encountered some opposition from other lawyers. The criticism was put to rest by the fact that the mission was a success. Another legal issue concerned the creation of a Muslim shrine by placing bin Laden’s body at sea.

The International Laws stipulate that the bodies of deceased enemies must be buried according to their religion’s rules. Muslims believe that burials should take place in the ground and that graves should be labeled. Some Islamic laws, on the other hand, allow for burial at sea. That exception was the subject of a funeral memo for the team.


In conclusion, there have been many speculations out there since the operation that resulted in the murder of the leader of the extremist group al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. Many have questioned its legality but the planning and the execution of the Geronimo operation was all within the international and local laws. Under domestic and international law, Obama had enough legal right to carry out the mission. Locally, Potus was given the authority to execute such actions by the war powers act of 1973, the joint revolution of 2001 by Congress, and multiple supreme court judgments.

Internationally, Pakistan’s apathy toward criminals and criminal organizations may allow such an act to be carried out without their approval inside their territory. These are among the loopholes that President Obama’s team of lawyers took advantage of in advising him to carry out the operation. As a result, President Obama and his administration acted under his presidential authority to execute his mission, and the US operated within international humanitarian law to undertake the operation on an impartial country without its approval.


Cox, L., & Wood, S. (2017). ‘Got him’: Revenge, emotions, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Review of International Studies, 43(1), 112-129. Web.

Hameed, H. T. (2017). The Applicable International Law Regimes to the Killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States.

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