‘a liberal’s guide to why killing bin laden was legal’

Adam Serwer: ….I realize that killing bin Laden was popular, but as someone who believes that the fight against terrorism can and should be conducted according to the rule of law, it’s important to make clear why killing bin Laden was legally justified.

Assassination is illegal under U.S. law! The executive order banning assassinations doesn’t apply to the targeting of lawful military targets during wartime … the Congress of the United States authorized the use of military force against bin Laden in full view of the public in 2001….

Killing bin Laden was illegal under international law! Human Rights First Daphne Eviatar: “As the leader of al Qaeda – an armed group against whom the U.S. is at war – who appears to have had a significant role directing its fighting forces, [Osama bin Laden] is targetable. It’s similar to the targetability of the commander-in-chief of any regular armed forces at war.”

But he was unarmed! …It would be illegal to kill bin Laden if he had surrendered or been captured first … Combatants aren’t legally required to allow lawful targets to arm themselves before killing them, rather the onus was on bin Laden to surrender.

Didn’t we violate Pakistan’s sovereignty? Maybe, but Jeremy Scahill reported in 2009 on the existence of a secret deal between Pakistan and the United States to allow the U.S. to go after bin Laden if they found him in Pakistan, while Pakistan would condemn any such operation after the fact.

What about Nuremberg? The Nazis got trials! In my view, a trial would have been morally preferable to killing bin Laden, but the absence of one doesn’t make his killing illegal. … I would have preferred seeing bin Laden face a federal judge. Of course, there’s another issue to consider here: How the hell do you find a fair and impartial jury to hear the case against Osama bin Laden in the United States?

Full post here

13 Responses to “‘a liberal’s guide to why killing bin laden was legal’”

  1. 1 cat48
    May 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

    This is good work by Adam. I read him quite often, but I haven’t had time the past 2 weeks. The “Authorization for Use of Military Force” passed by Congress is so plain even I understand it. The people who don’t like it should have whined when Congress was voting on it after 09/11:

    “a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized 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, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

    I imagine anyone involved in 9/11 is watching their back and/or moving.

    • 2 Dorothy Rissman
      May 14, 2011 at 10:35 am

      Well stated cat.

    • 3 fig8jam
      May 14, 2011 at 11:13 am

      The reason it is likely written like that is because it was PATRIOTIC at the time, when emotions were running high and Bush stood on that mound with the bullhorn, declaring America would get Osama. Remember, the mania..how grief, shock and awe were the order of the day, with those cowboys from TX in office, and the NewYorkers mad as hell, and all the lives that were loss?

      Hell yeah it was written like that.

      Anyone, who tried to change the language in those emotionally charged days would have been hung!!

      I am glad that Obama executed it!!

      I have no empathy about how it was done, because Osama showed no mercy, gave no warning when he took down those towers. Those people were INNOCENT, unlike Osama, who was a mass murderer. His life ended with the fate he richly deserved.

      All the innocent lives all over the world, Kenya, Tanzania, USA, Pakistan…NONE of them were even afforded the religious observance of a funeral.

      America showed tremendous mercy just doing that!

    May 14, 2011 at 9:49 am


  3. 7 Fred
    May 14, 2011 at 10:30 am

    TOD family.I can’t install an antivirus program on my computer because the thingy doesn’t want to open so I’ll have to bring it to Staples in about an hour.I might be out of my pc for a good portion of the week 😦 so I wish you a great and blessed weekend.
    I’ll see you in a few days.Be safe and be blessed
    much love you all
    Fred 🙂

  4. 10 Dorothy Rissman
    May 14, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I will just add that I am glad that he is dead, but I too wish it had not happened in the manner that it did.

  5. 11 lisa
    May 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Godd Saturday Morning to all. Woke up this morning, turned on the tele and saw Michael Hirsh discussing his latest article on MSNBC. I went looking for it, found it, read it and as a result am confused, proud and even more supportive of the president than ever. I don’t know if it’s me or the article, but it seems as though Hirsh was saying that ‘yes PBO did great with OBL, but…… should we be doing what we’re doing ie: drone strikes, using special ops, etc.” I think maybe Hirsh is confused too. Make no mistake, I don’t care what anybody says, what President Obama is doing works and we aren’t getting International Human Rights activists yelling at us. Question: would I rather sacrifice even ONE of our military or special ops men to get high risk terrorists who won’t tell us anything anyway? Answer: HELL F*^K NO! It must be nice being a liberal, sipping expensive _________( insert whatever beverage you please: wine, water, coffee) and muttering about what “Obama is doing wrong…he’s Bush lite, blah, blah, blah.” But the point is, PBO has done more than Bush has ever had the balls to do, and what PBO seems to be doing in terms of the economy and the war, is undoing all the shit Bush has done(as noted by Hirsh’s article) in the last decade. What the liberals (and I’m not talking about sane democrats, just the crazy fringe who believe that PBO is too conservative-can you believe that?) fail to understand is that being the commander-in-chief, is more than just theories written in a text book by untried ‘purists’who’s biggest decision whether to choose between teach at Stanford or Yale and fire-side chats with your equally douche friends about constitutionality and the clear divisions between wrong or right, good or bad. Being president of this wonderfully diverse, often frustrating country is often dangerous, heartwrenching work, where one is often confronted with shades of grey, not clear demarcations of black and white. It’s making compromises you sometimes can’t stomach or compromises you never expected to be confronted with. Some people who said they supported and voted for PBO say he’s changed. They are baffled and disappointed in this. But I say, if you are now leader of the free world, beholden to the protection and prosperity of 300 million plus and growing citizens, then should you not change and grow also? It’s easy to be a candidate, you are untried and you do not have the weight of the world and all it’s secrets on your shoulders. It’s tough being president because every move you make, every step you take has grave consequences. The tragedy of Barack Obama’s presidency has always been what Michelle has said: we [aren’t ] ready for him. I think we are so myopic and concrete in our understanding and how we conceptualize the world, that if something doesn’t jell the way we thought it would i.e: in the case of birthers and the repug:black man as president therefore equals a cheat, someone illegitimate; in the case of so called liberals: black democratic president who is still engaged in a war, not making his entire domestic policy about the poor, who isn’t unilaterally bypssing congress and signing gay rights bills into laws, is therefore nothing but a DINO who tricked them into voting for him. I honestly don’t believe we as a country were/are ready for Barack Obama. We are too impatient and in our impatience, we’ve begun to second guess and assign malicious intent to this president. I think it’s sad and I hope we all (all of us who love and support PBO) live to see this president’s legacy come to fruition. It’s also my hope that the nation comes to see what an asset he is, was and will be to this nation. I hope much like how Reagan got an airport, PBO will get something like Rushmore.
    ps- here is the article, I’ve never been more proud of PBO or more convinced that we as Democrats, liberals or independents who lean Democrat, are more like that silly lapdog that chases its own tail, than after reading this article. Thank you Mr. Hirsh-I’m not being facetious, after reading this article I am more convinced than ever, that though we aren’t ready for him, this is the president we should have now and in the coming 5.5 years, than ever.
    pps-this is my reaction to the article, someone else who reads it may get lost ie: mad, confused, whatever-in the words of the article, but despite the competing argument presented there, the overwhelming reaction is gratitude to PBO…at least for me.
    Slow Dance: Obama’s Romance with the CIA

  6. 13 Ceb
    May 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm


    You are on fire, girl! I co-sign everything that you have stated so logically, clearly, and passionately.

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