Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-bmzkg Total loading time: 0.258 Render date: 2022-07-03T06:55:47.643Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Operation Neptune's Spear: The Lawful Killing of Osama Bin Laden

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 June 2012

David A Wallace
Affiliation:
Professor and Deputy Head, Department of Law at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Email: david.wallace@usma.edu.
Get access

Abstract

The reactions to the reports of Osama bin Laden's death were many: shock, relief, joy, wariness, elation, reservation. Not surprisingly, an intense debate soon emerged over the legality of killing Osama bin Laden. Critics – including the authors of the article, ‘Has “Justice Been Done”? The Legality of Bin Laden's Killing under International Law’, Kai Ambos and Josef Alkatout – raise many interesting and thought-provoking questions. The purpose of this submission is to respond to the arguments of Ambos and Alkatout. This response article argues that the killing of Osama bin Laden was lawful under international humanitarian law. More specifically, a careful legal analysis demonstrates that a non-international armed conflict exists between the United States and Al Qaeda. The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that Al Qaeda is an organised armed group under international humanitarian law. Osama bin Laden most accurately could be thought of as a strategic level commander of Al Qaeda. He has been actively involved in planning and co-ordinating armed attacks against military and civilian targets for years, including the most recent planning of attacks commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11. As such, he is clearly targetable under international law. Finally, the United States was well within its rights under international law to launch an attack into Pakistan against bin Laden.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and The Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

1 Bergen, Peter L, Holy War Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001) 241Google Scholar.

2 Peter Baker, Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti, ‘Bin Laden Is Dead, Obama Says’, New York Times, 1 May 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/world/asia/osama-bin-laden-is-killed.html?pagewanted=all.

3 Tom Cohen, ‘Obama Tells Families of 9/11 Victims that “Justice has been Done” ’, CNN Politics, 2 May 2011, available at http://articles.cnn.com/2011-05-02/politics/bin.laden.white.house_1_bin-operation-with-extraordinary-courage-defeat-al?_s=PM:POLITICS.

4 Tim Lister, ‘Osama bin Laden's Escape: A Tale of Subterfuge and Hard Cash’, CNN World, 27 April 2011, available at http://articles.cnn.com/2011-04-27/world/osama.escape_1_tora-bora-al-qaeda-leader-bin?_s=PM:WORLD.

5 Zahid Hussain and Rehmat Mehsud, ‘His “Waziristan Mansion” was No Cave’, The Wall Street Journal Asia, 3 May 2011, available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703703304576299320454078378.html.

6 Aisha Chowdhry, Abbottabad Man Recounts “Firing, Grenades” from bin Laden Raid’, USA Today/Word, 3 May 2011, available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2011-05-02-pakistan-abbottabad-resident_n.htm.

7 The United States Military Academy is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located in West Point, New York.

8 Ariel Zirulnick, 'Abbottabad, Pakistan: 5 Things to Know About Where bin Laden Died', The Christian Science Monitor, undated, available http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/0502/Abbottabad-Pakistan-5-things-to-know-about-where-bin-Laden-died/Home-to-Pakistan-s-West-Point.

9 Pfarrer, Chuck, Seal Target Geronimo (St Martin Press 2011) 1Google Scholar.

10 Jordan J Paust, ‘Permissible Self-Defense Targeting and the Death of Bin Laden’ (2010–2011) 39 Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 569, 578.

11 Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol I: Rules (International Committee of the Red Cross, Cambridge University Press 2005) 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 ibid 46.

13 Pfarrer (n 9) 203.

14 Juliana Olsson, ‘Was Osama bin Laden's Killing Illegal’, Legally Easy, 2 May 2011, available at http://legallyeasy.rocketlawyer.com/was-osama-bin-ladens-killing-illegal-91730.

15 Ambos, Kai and Alkatout, Josef, ‘Has “Justice Been Done”? The Legality of Bin Laden's Killing Under International Law’ (2012) 45(2) Israel Law Review 341CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (entered into force 7 December 1978) 1125 UNTS 609 (Additional Protocol II).

17 Lietzau, William K, ‘Combating Terrorism: The Consequence of Moving from Law Enforcement to War’ in Wippman, David and Evangelista, Matthew (eds), New Wars, New Laws? Applying the Laws of War in 21st Century Conflicts (Transnational 2005) 33Google Scholar.

18 Wouters, Jan and Naert, Frederick, ‘Shockwaves Through International Law after 11 September: Finding the Right Responses to the Challenges of International Terrorism’ in Fignaut, C, Wouters, J and Naert, F (eds), Legal Instruments in the Fight Against International Terrorism, A Transatlantic Dialogue (Martinus Nijhoff 2004)Google Scholar.

19 ‘How is the Term “Armed Conflict” Defined in International Humanitarian Law?’, International Committee of the Red Cross Opinion Paper, March 2008, available at http://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/opinion-paper-armed-conflict.pdf.

20 Watkins, Kenneth, ‘21st Century Conflict and International Humanitarian Law’ in Schmitt, Michael and Pejic, Jelena (eds), International Law and Armed Conflict: Exploring the Faultlines (Martinus Nijhoff 2007) 268Google Scholar.

21 ICTY, Decision on the Defense Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, IT-94-1, 2 October 1995 [70].

22 Solntsevskaya bratva is a powerful organised crime organisation within Russia. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous criminal organisations in the world.

23 Ashley S Deeks, ‘Pakistan's Sovereignty and the Killing of Osama Bin Laden’ ASIL Insights, 5 May 2011, available at http://www.asil.org/insights110505.cfm.

24 Hamdan v Rumsfeld 548 US 557 (2006) 630.

25 ibid.

26 Solis, Gary D, The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War (Cambridge University Press 2010) 217–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 ibid 218.

28 Corn, Geoffrey and Jensen, Eric Talbot, ‘Transnational Armed Conflict: A “Principled” Approach to the Regulation of Counter-Terror Combat Operations (2009) 42 Israel Law Review 7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Alexander, Yonah and Swetnam, Michael S, Usama bin Laden's al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network (Transnational 2001)Google Scholar.

30 Schanzer, Jonathan, Al-Qaeda's Armies (Specialist Press International 2005) 3839Google Scholar.

31 Howard, Russell D and Sawyer, Reid L, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the new Security Environment (McGraw Hill 2004) 77Google Scholar.

32 ibid 32.

33 ibid 33.

34 Lawrence Freedman, ‘Out of Nowhere? Bin Laden's Grievances, BBC Online, 22 August 2002, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/sept_11/build_up_05.shtml.

35 Yassin Musharbash, ‘Al-Qaida Kills Eight Times More Muslims Than Non-Muslims’, Spiegel Online International, 3 December 2009, available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,660619,00.html.

36 Job, Brian L, ‘Confronting Terrorism: Dilemmas of Principle and Practice Regarding Sovereignty’ in Jacobsen, Trudy, Sampford, Charles and Thakur, Ramesh (eds), Re-envisioning Sovereignty: The End of Westphalia? (Ashgate 2008) 121Google Scholar.

37 Yoo, John, ‘Assassination or Targeted Killings after 9/11’ (2011–12) 56 New York Law School Law Review, 65Google Scholar.

38 Paul, TV, ‘The National Security State and Global Terrorism: Why the State is not Prepared for the New Kind of War’ in Aydinli, Ersel and Rosenau, James N (eds), Globalization, Security and the Nation State: Paradigms in Transition (University of New York Press 2005) 49Google Scholar.

39 ibid 57.

40 Howard and Sawyer (n 31) 75.

41 (n 16) art 1(1).

42 ibid.

43 Solis (n 26) 131.

44 ibid.

45 Scott Pelley, ‘Panetta: Al Qaeda is “still a real threat”’, CBS Evening News, 25 January 2012, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57366213/panetta-al-qaeda-is-still-a-real-threat.

46 Shane Reeves and Jeremy Marsh, ‘Bin Laden and Awlaki: Lawful Targets’, Harvard International Review, 26 October 2011, available at http://hir.harvard.edu/bin-laden-and-awlaki-lawful-targets.

47 Duffy, Helen, The ‘War on Terror’ and the Framework of International Law (Cambridge University Press 2005) 223CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Andrew C Orr, ‘Unmanned, Unprecedented, and Unresolved: The Status of American Drone Strikes in Pakistan under International Law’ (2011) 44 Cornell International Law Journal 729, 732.

49 Paust (n 10) 579 (emphasis added).

50 Solis (n 26) 162.

51 Deeks (n 23).

52 Schmitt, Michael N, Garraway, Charles HB and Dinstein, Yoram, The Manual of the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict (Martinus Nijhoff 2006) 4Google Scholar.

53 Solis (n 26) 205.

54 Melzer, Nils, Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities Under International Humanitarian Law (International Committee of the Red Cross 2009) 3233Google Scholar.

55 ibid 33.

56 ibid 33–34.

57 Robert Chesney, ‘Koh on the Legality of the UBL Operation’ (2011) Lawfare, 19 May 2011, available at http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/05/koh-on-the-legality-of-the-ubl-operation.

58 Yoo (n 37) 64.

59 Laura Meckler, Adam Entous and Azhid Hussain, ‘How Bin Laden was Found and Killed’, The Wall Street Journal/Middle East, 3 May 2012, available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704569404576298760734953124.html.

60 Pelley (n 45).

61 Pfarrer (n 9) 205.

62 Erick Stakelbeck, ‘Bin Laden Plans Still Serious Threat’, CBN News, 18 July 2011, available at http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2011/July/Bin-Laden-Wanted-to-Kill-Obama-Petraeus.

63 Kate Zernike and Michael T Kaufman, ‘The Most Wanted Face of Terrorism’, New York Times, 2 May 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/world/02osama-bin-laden-obituary.html?_r=1&ref=osamabinladen.

64 Reeves and Marsh (n 46).

1
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Operation Neptune's Spear: The Lawful Killing of Osama Bin Laden
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Operation Neptune's Spear: The Lawful Killing of Osama Bin Laden
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Operation Neptune's Spear: The Lawful Killing of Osama Bin Laden
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *