Now that we've had three solid days to reflect on the events of Sunday evening and the death of Osama Bin Laden, many questions are being raised about what really happened. Was it legal to kill him? Should we tried to capture him first? Should we release the death photos? Should we have buried him at sea? Should we have treated the body with the appropriate Islamic customs. Was there truly a firefight?
As more of the actual story leaks out and the press have gained access to the home and presumably some of the survivors, there will be questions about what really happened.
Does it really matter?
First, on the legitimacy of killing OBL versus capturing him. The US had several options. One, drop a couple of high explosive tomahawk cruise missiles on the compound. Two, use a predator drone to fire missiles on the compound. Three, use air power to drop a bomb on the compound. Four, put boots on the ground.
Had the US chosen any of the first three options, the US could have made the claim that OBL had been killed but risked the possibility of the body being removed and therefore having no proof. Even if they did recover the body, I don't think there would have been a single question about the tactics. Afterall, we have dropped bombs and fired missiles into all manner of private homes along the Pakistan and Afghan border in attempts to target lesser AQ/Taliban commanders. There have been numerous reports of innocent civilians getting killed in those raids. While that is certainly not a good thing, you didn't see members of Congress or other political pundits criticizing the administration for carrying out such attacks. Also, that tactic is certainly not new to the Obama Administration. So, with all of that history, why question whether it was legal for the US to have ordered OBL killed?
He was the undisputed leader of the terrorist organization responsible for nearly 3000 civilian deaths on 9/11. He is a commander-in-chief. He is the head of command and control for AQ. he is often seen carrying a weapon in videos. Command and Control elements have always and will always be a legitimate military target. It is the first thing that the US targets, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya. The executive order barring assassination is really meant to apply to heads of state or other political figures in a non-wartime environment. OBL was clearly not a head of state and he was clearly not killed in a peacetime action.
Also, you can only question the killing of OBL if you are a life long pacifist. If you have in any way, been a supporter of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, then you know that our troops are engaged in battle, not with the intent to capture and be nice, but to kill, unless the enemy clearly surrenders.
When those Special Operations forces entered that compound, they did not know what to expect, but they certainly were not expecting no opposition. The story is that they were fired upon by a single person who was quickly killed in the return fire. Now, with shots having been fired and the sound of several very loud military choppers hovering above, I don't think there is any expectation of surprise. The expectation is armed resistance. Also, remember that it is dark and you are entering a building of unknown configuration. Yes, they have night vision goggles, but the time it takes to determine whether or not the enemy has a weapon is too long. The number one priority is to secure the compound. Even though the others who were killed were not armed, there were reportedly a large cache of weapons in the house. This was not a hostage rescue mission. Shoot to kill. I have no problems with what happened. In fact, I think the personnel involved deserve credit for incredible restraint. Obviously, these are highly trained marksmen as they quickly and efficiently killed the enemy with one or two shots. To think that they had the where with all to identify the wife and only shoot her in the leg is pretty damn amazing.
Now, with the body in possession and an incredible treasure trove of intel that would not have survived a remote attack, the US left the compound. The US made the effort to analyze DNA samples and to document the body. I'm sure that those photos will be shared with our allies if there is any doubt, but I don't think there can be. What to do with the body? Nobody wanted it. I think the US made the wisest choice possible. No, it is not Islamic tradition to bury at sea (unless land is not an option within the 24-hour window by Islamic customer). In lieu of that, the US followed Islamic customs for burial preparation. Should the US have done this? Does it matter? The effort to make that little concession shows respect for Islamic customs, but the political realities of an on land burial clearly took precedence over those customs. A win-win in my opinion.
Also, I think Obama's decision to not release the photos is also a good one. I don't particularly care to see it. OBL is dead. If people don't want to believe it, then they can waste the rest of their lives waiting to hear from him again.
Other issues that have resulted from this. Was torture used to get any of the information used to isolate OBL's whereabouts? This is not clear. Were "enhanced" interrogation techniques used to get some of this information? I think it is fair to say yes. Is torture considered part of these "enhanced" techniques? Leon Panetta said yes. But, that doesn't mean that all "enhanced" techniques are torture. This is a question we may never know the answer to. The US was wrong to use torture, even if it did lead directly to OBL's capture and that will only be a black mark on this country and on the Bush Administration.
Lastly, the debate on who deserves the credit. Well, Reagan was responsible for arming OBL when we as a Afghan freedom fighter against the Soviets in the 80s. King George I, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing. Under Clinton's administration, OBL was responsible for the parking garage bombing of the WTC in '93. The African embassy attacks, and the USS Cole attack, as well as other actions. Clinton had OBL on his radar, and, in fact, lobbed several cruise missiles into Afghanistan in an attempt to kill him in retaliation for the embassy bombings. Would anybody have questioned the right to kill OBL then. Clinton certainly built up the dossier on OBL. Under King George II's watch, 9/11 happened. (As a side note, it is not fair to blame GWB for 9/11 just as it is not fair to blame Clinton for the embassy bombings, etc. GWB happened to be in charge at the time.) As a reprisal, the US invaded Afghanistan. There was no questioning the authority of the US take this action by any government at the time. The US had been attacked on its own soil, and were rightly justified to go after its attackers. The US almost had OBL in Tora Bora in 2002, but didn't follow through for whatever reason. For some reason (Iraq), GWB lost his way with OBL and decided that he needed to go after Hussein instead. I think we should have had OBL years ago and Bush could have and would have been able to claim full credit for following through on his promise of justice on the evening of 9/11. Instead, the intelligence professionals continued to dig away at information that eventually led to the story as we know it, as described by Obama on Sunday night. The US had known for nearly nine months that there was a high probability that OBL was hiding in plain sight in Pakistan. Obama paved the way for this action years before by stating that we would go anywhere, without permission if need be, to get OBL. And, he did. The Pakistani's were caught red-faced.
The intelligence professionals that kept digging deserve much credit. JSOC deserves credit for planning and executing the operation, and Obama deserves credit for not taking the easy way out, but instead, making a call to land troops, kill their target, and retrieve his body for evidence. Honestly, an outcome that I never thought would happen.