It has been almost ten years since the death of one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. There is hardly anyone who has pitied the person responsible for the killing of so many innocent people. In spite of this fact, some still debate on the legality of Operation Geronimo, during which Osama Bin Laden was killed (Cox & Wood, 2016). Their biggest concern is whether President Obama had legal authority to give the order to conduct the operation. For a long time before and after Operation Geronimo was ordered, President Obama’s legal team worked hard to make sure that the actions of the U.S. Forces coincided with all the laws and regulations required. This essay argues that Obama did have authority to order the operation because he acted in compliance with the U.S. Laws of War, International Law, the Geneva Convention and the Rules of War.
The legalization process had to begin by justifying the actions in terms of the U.S. Laws of War and International law. According to the S.J. Resolution 23, passed in September 2001, the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate forces against people and organizations responsible for the attacks on September, 11, 2001 (“S.J.Res.23 – 107th Congress (2001-2002): Authorization for use of military force,” 2001). This made Al-Qaeda’s leaders primary military targets, enabling U.S. Forces to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden without violating any of the U.S. Laws of War.
Justifying the mission through international law may seem like a bigger challenge, since the U.S. Forces could not enter Pakistan legally. However, at the time it was largely believed that bin Laden was under protection of some officials within the Pakistani government. Therefore, it was not possible for the US Government to cooperate with the country that might be harboring the most dangerous terrorist of the time. The solution of president Obama’s legal team was to suggest that Pakistan was not able or willing to eliminate the threat on its own territory. Although criticized by some countries afterwards, the decision was accepted by the majority of international community which realized that this might be the only way for the U.S. Forces to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. The idea of preventing further attacks planned by the person who had sworn to continue his terrorist activities was embraced. Under these circumstances, ordering the mission should not be considered as a violation of sovereignty.
Another question is if president Obama was in authority to give the order in terms of human rights and the Geneva Convention. Some people argue that the initial order was to kill bin Laden, which makes it a premeditated murder. Bin Laden was killed hors de combat, or “outside the fight”. This rule included in Protocol I to the Geneva Convention clearly states that it is a war crime to kill “the enemy unable to fight due to sickness or wounds or the one who is making a genuine offer of surrender” (Jose, 2016, p. 15). It is unclear if bin Laden did surrender or tried to attack any SEAL team members. Brennan, the former counterterrorism advisor, claimed that the forces did their best to complete the mission safely, capturing bin Laden. However, “he was engaged and killed in the process” (Fisher & Becker, 2019, p. 5). According to the experts from the UN Human Rights Council, deadly force may be used in some exceptional cases as a last resort to protect life (Jose, 2016). Undoubtedly, as a result of Operation Geronimo, many lives were protected from possible future dangers.
Finally, the President’s authority to order the operation should be discussed in terms of the Rules of War. These are main rules that need to be mentioned in relation to the case discussed: military necessity, proportionality, distinction (discrimination). The first point does not require consideration: Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attacks in September 11, 2001 and was definitely a legitimate military target. The rule of proportionality was also followed because the operational team that entered bin Laden’s room used the force proportional to the danger that people in the room presented. The last rule mentioned, the rule of distinction, says that no one other than the main target can get hurt during the armed conflict. The force that the member of the team used in bin Laden’s bedroom was discriminate. They have only fired two shots: in the head and in the chest of the main target. Obama’s administration representatives claim that the shooting of one of bin Laden’s wives happened to be the result of self-defense (Cox & Wood, 2016). Therefore, according to the Rules of War, the operation is also justified.
In conclusion, it needs to be stated that combating terrorisms includes numerous actions that may set precedents for the way this problem will be addressed in the future. The killing of any human being is a serious crime unless it is done lawfully and for the reasons that can be justified. President Obama and his legal team had taken this into consideration, and the forces completed the mission in compliance with the Rules of War, the U.S. Laws of War, the Geneva Convention and International Law.
Cox, L., & Wood, S. (2016). “Got him”: Revenge, emotions, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Review of International Studies, 43(1), 112–129.
Fisher, D., & Becker, M. H. (2019). The heterogeneous repercussions of killing Osama bin Laden on global terrorism patterns. European Journal of Criminology.
Jose, B. (2016). Bin Laden’s targeted killing and emerging norms. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 10(1), 44–66.
S.J.Res.23 – 107th Congress (2001-2002): Authorization for use of military force. (2001).