Almost ten years after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Operation Geronimo still raises concerns regarding its legality. Firstly, there is the concern about if the operation violated Pakistan’s sovereignty per international law. The second concern involves the permissibility of targeted killing – that is, whether ‘kill’ as a default option was lawful. Lastly, if burying bin Laden at sea violated the Geneva Conventions regarding burial procedures for an enemy killed in war. The concerns impel the question if President Obama had the authority to order Operation Geronimo. The answer to this question is, yes, he had the legal authority to order the operation. This paper will elucidate that the president did not infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty, kill as a default option was permissible, and he did not violate the Geneva Conventions.
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The concern regarding the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty stems from the fact that the US did inform the Pakistani government about the operation. Notably, international law forbids a country from using force on another’s soil without its consent if the two countries are not at war (Fleury, 2019). However, it is worth noting that President Obama had enough justification the decision. According to Mantoan (2017), the Obama administration had reasons to believe that the Pakistani intelligence service might have sanctioned bin Laden’s presence in the country. If these fears were real, then asking for Pakistan’s help in the matter would have enabled bin Laden’s escape. As such, the unilateral military incursion used in Operation Geronimo was lawful as there exists an exception to sovereignty, particularly in cases where a government is unwilling to suppress a threat to another country arising from its soil. Even though Pakistan did not state that it was reluctant to aid in the operation, the fear of a “tip-off” sufficed as unwillingness to aid (Jabko & Luhman, 2019). Being a notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden posed a significant threat to the world. Therefore, by not seeking consent to use force in Pakistan, President Obama acted within his authority since there was evidence that the Pakistani government was unwilling to suppress bin Laden.
“Kill” as a Default Option
The second concern regarding “kill” as the default option results from the fact that the law of war requires accepting the enemy’s surrender, which is in conformity with international human rights law regarding unalienable rights. When bin Laden was killed, he was unarmed but did not offer to surrender. According to Mantoan (2017), the SEAL team reported that bin Laden was not armed, but neither was he surrendering. However, even though he was not armed, several militants in the compound were firing at the SEAL team. Military rules of engagement delineating when, where, how, and against whom a soldier can use force justifies the SEAL team’s action. Montoan (2017) explains that when the enemy is armed or exhibiting resistance, then soldiers are authorized to use military force. In Operation Geronimo, even though bin Laden was not resisting, his militants were fighting, and, as such, the SEAL team could not risk trying taking him alive in as it would put them in danger. Crane (2011) illuminates that decision was arrived at after considering all possible alternative. The most viable option was to eliminate the threat. Thus, “kill” as a default option was justifiable.
Burial Procedure per the Geneva Conventions
The third and last concern involves if President Obama violated the Geneva Conventions by ordering bin Laden to be buried at sea. The concern stems from the argument that being a Muslim leader, bin Laden deserved to be buried in a shrine per the Islam religion. Islamist shrine entails swift interment in soil, facing the holy Mecca and marked grave. However, Islamic writings also permit burial at sea, specifically during voyages. Besides, the US took the initiative to ask Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden’s home, if they wanted his remains for burial. Saudi Arabia declined the offer, which renders the burial permissible (Mantoan, 2017). Hence, by authorizing bin Laden to be buried at sea, the President Obama did not violate the Geneva Conventions.
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To sum up, as demonstrated, President Obama did not violate Pakistan’s sovereignty when he ordered the Operation Geronimo without asking for consent from the Pakistani’s government as there was fear of a “tip-off.” He also did violate international human rights by ordering “kill” as a default option since it was the most viable option. Moreover, by burying bin Laden remains at sea, he did not infringe the Geneva Conventions because Islamic writings permit burial at sea and, besides, the US request by the US to Saudi Arabia asking them to bury the remains of bin Laden was declined. Bottom line, President Obama had the legal authority to order Operation Geronimo.
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