Clements Center
Clements Center

How 4 Federal Lawyers Paved the Way to Kill Osama bin Laden

Charlie Savage Oct 15, 2015
President Obama and other officials in the Situation Room on the day of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden President Obama and other officials in the Situation Room on the day of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden

Clements Center Senior Fellow Bobby Chesney quoted in a New York Times article titled, "How 4 Federal Lawyers Pave the Way to Kill Osama bin Laden."

"While the Bin Laden operation has been much scrutinized, the story of how a tiny team of government lawyers helped shape and justify Mr. Obama’s high-stakes decision has not been previously told. The group worked as military and intelligence officials conducted a parallel effort to explore options and prepare members of SEAL Team 6 for the possible mission.

The legal analysis offered the administration wide flexibility to send ground forces onto Pakistani soil without the country’s consent, to explicitly authorize a lethal mission, to delay telling Congress until afterward, and to bury a wartime enemy at sea. By the end, one official said, the lawyers concluded that there was “clear and ample authority for the use of lethal force under U.S. and international law.”

 Some legal scholars later raised objections, but criticism was muted after the successful operation. The administration lawyers, however, did not know at the time how events would play out, and they faced the “unenviable task” of “resolving a cluster of sensitive legal issues without any consultation with colleagues,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who worked on a Justice Department detainee policy task force in 2009.

“The proposed raid required answers to many hard legal questions, some of which were entirely novel despite a decade’s worth of conflict with Al Qaeda,” Mr. Chesney said."

Click here to read the full article. 

Photo Credit: Pete Souza / The White House