Law and Public Policy

The bin Laden Aftermath: Why Obama Chose SEALs, Not Drones

foreignpolicy

I’m reposting (with permission) a piece that was just published by Foreign Policy magazine entitled The Bin Laden Aftermath: Why Obama Chose SEALs, Not Drones.

Why did the United States choose to launch a raid against al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, rather than bombing it?  It wasn’t because of a “law enforcement mindset.”  And it wasn’t compelled by human rights law.  Rather, it was the best option based on the military objectives, available intelligence, and the law of armed conflict.

On the one hand, practical considerations dictated this riskier kind of raid.  The United States needed to have a body to prove, once and for all, that the hard-to-kill Bin Laden was in fact dead.  The recent media fascination with whether the U.S. will release photos of his body lends credence to this concern.

A second issue prompting the raid was that the Obama administration was worried about collateral damage.  This problem is more serious than some may initially suspect.  Abbottabad is a heavily populated city, with nearly 1 million residents.  Moreover, numerous civilian residences and the Pakistani military academy were near bin Laden’s “drone-proof compound.” There’s little doubt that the risks to nearby residents certainly weighed on the minds of senior policymakers and President Obama.  The matter of collateral damage alone, though, may not have been enough to tip the scales away from a bombing operation.

Instead, the issue may have been the uncertainty over whether Bin Laden was even in the compound.  Nation-states are simply not permitted to  drop bombs in the hope they will kill the right person; they need to be reasonably certain they are attacking the right target.  That fact leads us to the legal concerns that may have necessitated a raid rather than a bombing operation.

The Requirement to Positively Identify a Target

Most contemporary discussions of collateral damage skip the threshold legal question likely posed by the Obama administration, namely whether bin Laden or some other lawful military target was actually inside the compound.  Unless that question could be answered to a reasonable degree of certainty, any bombing operation would have been unlawful, even with no or minimal collateral damage to surrounding persons and objects.

This reality flows from the principle of distinction, (or “positive identification” in U.S. military parlance) a fundamental tenet of the law of armed conflict.  Armed forces are required to “at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”  Positive identification, according to U.S. policies, requires that commanders know with reasonable certainty that “a functionally and geospatially defined object of attack is a legitimate military target.”  In short, directing attacks against civilians (in this context, non-uniformed personnel) is not permitted, unless they are directly participating in hostilities.

 

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Law and Public Policy

Guantanamo Interrogations Reportedly Led to Bin Laden

Over at Lawfare Ben Wittes aks Will Bin Laden’s Death Reignite the Interrogation Debate? I think there is little doubt that it will.

Consider this recent post by Marc Thiessen over at The American Enterprise blog.  Thiessen writes

“So Guantanamo detainees provided the key intelligence that allowed the CIA to track down bin Laden. But not just any Guantanamo detainees. It turns out the detainees in question were KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libi…Before coming to Gitmo, both were held by the CIA as part of the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, and provided the information that led to bin Laden’s death after undergoing interrogation by the CIA. In other words, the crowning achievement of Obama’s presidency came as a direct result of the CIA interrogation program he has denigrated and shut down.”

His source?  A New York Times report that notes:

As Obama administration officials described it, the real breakthrough came when they finally figured out the name and location of Bin Laden’s most trusted courier, whom the Qaeda chief appeared to rely on to maintain contacts with the outside world.

Detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé o Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

American intelligence officials said Sunday night that they finally learned the courier’s real name four years ago, but that it took another two years for them to learn the general region where he operated.

Cross Posted at OJ

 

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Law and Public Policy

Pocket Litter, Intel and the Ground Operation

Beyond confirming that Bin Laden was actually the person killed in Abottabad, what is the significance of troops being on the ground to conduct the Bin Laden Operation?  Can their presence lead us to the new #1 in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri?

In the coming days we will likely hear about the gathering of “pocket litter” and other exploitable intelligence and there will probably be some speculation about where that intelligence may lead us.  Given that the U.S. has surveilled the Bin Laden compound for a few months, we likely know quite a bit about the comings and goings of couriers and others who may lead us to Zawahiri.  Moreover, unless this operation was time sensitive (which it doesn’t sound like) we can expect that U.S. forces would not have conducted the operation without already planning for the next operation — the one leading to Zawahiri.  Of course, if we knew where Zawahiri was we would have conducted simultaneous operations.  The fact that we didn’t likely means that we were hoping to exploit intelligence to be found inside the Bin Laden compound.  The value of that intelligence gathered on the objective will determine whether Zawahiri’s days are best measured in weeks, months, or longer.

Cross Posted at OJ

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Law and Public Policy

Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Bin Laden Operation

I’m guest blogging over at Opinio Juris, below is a repost of something I wrote there:

First off, there is a lot of talk about this operation being a “human operation” involving special operations forces.  Some readers may assume that this meant there were no air assets involved (e.g. no Predators and no bombs dropped).  This is highly unlikely.  What probably occurred was that ground troops staged outside of wherever Bin Laden was housed, called in air strikes, then moved-in to exploit the objective.  This is not inconsistent with the idea that a firefight took place, it’s just a more likely and more complete description of how things probably played out.  This is especially likely given reports that Bin Laden was killed in a heavily fortified compound with 12-18 foot high walls with a significant security presence.  We will hear more about this in the coming days, but I’m guessing there was airpower in support of the ground operation.

Second, the fact that this took place in Abottabad, Pakistan tells us something about the credibility of the Pakistani government’s repeated claims that Bin Laden was not in Pakistan.

Third, Peter Bergen just said on CNN that killing Bin Laden is “The end of the war on terror.”  I’m skeptical of this claim and imagine that one year from now we will still be employing armed forces around the world in search of al Qaeda members.

I’ll have some more detailed thoughts once the speculation dies down.

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Law and Public Policy

A Cup of Coffee After the Waterboard: Seemingly Voluntary Post-Abuse Statements

I’ve posted the abstract to a recent symposium article A Cup of Coffee After the Waterboard: Seemingly Voluntary Post-Abuse Statements” to SSRN, but unfortunately I don’t have a .PDF of the final page proofs to post yet.  Here is the abstract of the article which appears in Volume 59 of the DePaul Law Review (official citation 59 DePaul Law Review 943 (2010):

This symposium article focuses on the impact that abusive and coercive interrogation techniques will have on the admissibility of statements derived from non-abusive, non-coercive interviews. Were subsequent, legal, and humane interviews indelibly impacted by the “taint of torture” regardless of how they were conducted? Accordingly, are statements made in those subsequent non-coercive settings inadmissible on voluntariness grounds? This article first details the coercive interrogation techniques authorized against suspected terrorists detained in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Next, the article details the changing circumstances of detainee custody and treatment to set the stage for a discussion of whether earlier abuses, if corroborated, will invalidate subsequent statements made by the victims of that abuse. I explain how the U.S. government, recognizing that its earlier interrogation tactics may have jeopardized its legal case against the detainees implemented “clean teams.” Building off of these factual premises, I next synthesize the tests a judge will need to apply in order to determine the admissibility of seemingly voluntary post-abuse statements. In this synthesis I highlight how factors such as the time between statements, change in location, change in identity of interrogators, nature of the previous unlawful interrogation methods, and use of illegally procured statements as leverage in obtaining new statements each impact the admissibility analysis.

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Law and Public Policy

ABA National Security Law Report: Winter 2010 Issue

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The Winter 2010 Issue of the ABA National Security Law Report, the flagship publication of the Standing Committee on Law and National Security is now available on-line here.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents:

In The Problem With Law Avoidance, Geoffrey S. Corn (South Texas) discusses the controversy associated with defining what role international law plays in constraining U.S. counterterrorism activities. Laurie Blank (Emory Law) responds.

Laurie Blank argues that In Counterterrorism, The Law of War is a Key Source of Law for the Courts while Geoff Corn responds, offering additional thoughts on the history of how courts for over 60 years.

Tung Yin reviews Alan Dershowitz’s Is There A Right to Remain Silent? Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11.

General John D. Altenburg reviews Homeland Security: Legal and Policy Issues.

Adrian Snead, Redefining Fourth Amendment Rights in the Digital Age: Suspicionless Border Searches of Electronic Data Storage Devices.

Since 1991, the flagship of the Standing Committee’s publications program has been the National Security Law Report. The Report is regularly distributed to attorneys, government officials, professors, and legal scholars. It includes: reports of committee conferences, pertinent law and national security updates, recent cases, book reviews, pending legislation, and other writings relevant to the field. To receive future copies of the National Security Law Report, please submit your full address to the Standing Committee’s mailing list.

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