Frum & Greenwald: Was Bin Laden Hit Legal?

May 6th, 2011 at 6:50 am David Frum | 48 Comments |

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On Thursday, I recorded a new Bloggingheads with Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald. We discussed the killing of Osama Bin Laden and its implications for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.


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48 Comments so far ↓

  • Smargalicious

    It doesn’t matter whether it was legal or not.

    The bin Laden operation is the perfect vindication of the war on terror. It was made possible precisely by the vast, warlike infrastructure that the Bush administration created post-9/11, a fierce regime of capture and interrogation, of dropped bombs and commando strikes. That regime, of course, followed the more conventional war that brought down the Taliban, scattered and decimated al-Qaeda and made bin Laden a fugitive.

    Without all of this, the bin Laden operation could never have happened. Whence came the intelligence that led to Abbottabad? Many places, including from secret prisons in Romania and Poland; from terrorists seized and kidnapped, then subjected to interrogations, sometimes “harsh” or “enhanced”; from Gitmo detainees; from a huge bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance and eavesdropping. In other words, from a Global War on Terror infrastructure that critics, including Barack Obama himself, deplored as a tragic detour from American rectitude.

  • ottovbvs

    Boy it’s sure grating the Republican cheese when we see these endless special pleadings claiming credit for Bush (who was asleep at the switch when the 9/11 attack occurred, didn’t get Bin Laden in 7 years, and whose response produced one of the greatest debacles in US history). Suck it up guys. The Quiet Man got Bin Laden not the poseur in the flyboy suit. Now turning to serious matters, this looks like an interesting discussion so I’ll take a look at it later in the day.

  • boogerblogger

    Conservatives have been doing back flips ever since the Navy Seals completed their mission to give former President Bush credit for this great American victory. He deserves none. He gave up on this mission years ago, redirecting our focus from the real war to his pet war, at Tora Bora, by admitting it freely in a March 13, 2002 news conference, and then on his watch allowing Alec Station, the CIA unit tracking bin Laden, to dissolve in 2005.
    On June 2, 2009 President Obama, just a few months after taking office, being handed a mountain of reeking crap from the GOP…. two wars, a worldwide banking crisis, a recession teetering on another great depression, an economy shedding 750,000 jobs a month, mountainous debt, a domestic auto industry on the verge of extinction, and Americas number one enemy still on the run….sent a memo to CIA director Leon Ponetta asking for a detailed operation plan for bringing bin Laden to justice, in effect, signing his death warrant that night. That’s focus, resolve and strong leadership. Game on.
    Now conservatives assail President Obama for going to New York to lay a wreath at ground zero and to meet with family members of the deceased, claiming it is some sort of “victory lap.”
    Here is the contrast between our current and previous Presidents in capturing and killing America’s number one enemy. President Obama got into the end zone, calmly handed the ball to the referee, went back to the sideline and credited his team for the victory.
    President Bush on the other hand, spiked the ball on the ten yard line, put on a flyboy suit, jumped up onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, thumped his chest, did a Texas Two Step and claimed Mission Accomplished.
    President Bush refused an invitation to accompany President Obama to the New York City ceremony not because of what some close aids claim is a feeling of being short shrifted, but out of sheer embarrassment. The man who stood on the rubble at ground zero with a bullhorn, claiming to exact revenge with false bravado like “dead or alive” and “we’ll smoke them out” just couldn’t find it in himself to stand, as a failure, next to the finisher.

    • jerseychix

      +1 well said

      • Smargalicious

        -1

        I almost threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read booger’s absurd post.

        Obama and his team are so wedded to anti-Bush rhetoric that they could not simply admit he was right about prosecuting the War on Terror, and they were dangerously wrong. Now they are being dragged into making that admission, in root-canal interviews like the one CIA chief Leon Panetta gave to Brian Williams of NBC. This strongly reinforces the impression that they don’t understand what Bush did to make the bin Laden kill possible, and are still determined to make all of their old mistakes. In only a few days, they’ve transformed a spectacular victory in the War on Terror into a happy accident they blundered into, using intelligence they previously treated like a plate of liver and onions set before a screaming child. This leaves Americans to breathe a sigh of relief that at least our special forces troops know what they’re doing.

        Obama will kill his poll “bounce” by looking far too eager to inflate and maintain it, while simultaneously looking confused and secretive about the event which produced the bounce. Humility, reverence for the men who actually pulled off the mission, and appreciation for the bold leadership of his predecessor would have made him look bigger. Instead, he is still the shrinking President, a dwindling figure who vanishes when his policies turn into disasters… and makes disasters out of the occasional good decision, by insisting that we formally certify them as great.

    • kimmah

      [i]Here is the contrast between our current and previous Presidents in capturing and killing America’s number one enemy. President Obama got into the end zone, calmly handed the ball to the referee, went back to the sideline and credited his team for the victory.
      President Bush on the other hand, spiked the ball on the ten yard line, put on a flyboy suit, jumped up onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, thumped his chest, did a Texas Two Step and claimed Mission Accomplished.[/i]

      Best analogy I’ve read in quite some time!

  • SqueekyFromm

    Was Bin Laden HIT Legal?

    Google is our friend!!!

    Noun
    hit
    32.
    Slang . a killing, murder, or assassination, especially one carried out by criminal prearrangements.

    —Verb phrases

    — vb , hits , hitting , hit

    11. slang to murder (a rival criminal) in fulfilment of an underworld contract or vendetta

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  • armordilo

    Obviously much to your surprise, other Americans did not jump for joy on the news of the killing of OBL, but had similar reactions to that of Greenwald. You suggest we all should have been immediately joyous, with no cognitive reaction. Greenwald’s reaction is not unusual or strange. As a psychologist of 30 years, “I know whereof I speak.”

  • tommybones

    How could sending a military operation on a raid in another sovereign nation, without approval of that nation ever be legal? And since when does Frum give a rat’s ass whether anything we or Israel ever does is legal?

  • Katechon

    The White house is struggling mightily to make a hash of what should have been an fantastic publicity coup.
    It’s quite surprising Obama hasn’t gotten more of a boost from this in the polls. Earlier this week I thought the Prez ought to reach above 55% approval by Friday or Saturday. Clearly he isn’t there. Gallup and Quinnipiac have him at 52%…

    Basically everyone is pleased that this kunt Bin Laden is dead. No one is fussed about his wives, the guy was a bastard. Just kill the fucker and have done with it, and bury his vile corpse at sea.

    Yet Obama seems determined to turn this undoubted triumph into a PR calamity. It’s one thing for White House officials to get something wrong in the heat of the moment post-Osama raid, and quite another thing to come up with fanciful stories about gunfights and weapons and human shields when nothing so interesting actually happened. I wish I could suggest a good reason why several administration officials were allowed to trot out such tall tales, only to be soon contradicted, but I really can’t explain it.

    Also, why was Leon Panetta (the future Secretary of Defense, of all people) allowed to say that the Osama death pics would be released when that wasn’t true either? This administration has the most messed up messaging operation of any White House I’ve ever seen. One unforced error after another. And it doesn’t end.
    The endless PR evasions and lies and ambiguities make it all look more and more dubious.

    Obama could have said his men calmly shot Osama in cold blood in the head cuz they were freaked that he had a nuke up his colon.

    But no, Obama chose waffling mendacity: the White House has delivered a series of absolute whoppers and needs to close this down fast. They are trying to by saying no pictures, no more.

    Very stupid. It wasn’t fog of war to come up with that amount of detail at the start about the mission, it was a work of fiction from Day 1.

    As a result :

    “In the parlor game to predict the magnitude of improvement in President Obama’s approval rating after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the weight of the evidence is with the skeptics so far.”

    http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/03/overnight-polls-find-muted-improvement-in-obamas-approval-rating/

  • Primrose

    I find all this “legal’ or not tirade a bit specious. If Pakistan was abetting a known enemy of the United States, then they have committed a hostile act towards us with which we are able to take action on. (Not only did Pakistan have 6 years to find him themselves, he was half a mile from their military academy, in a building all the locals assumed was for someone who needed a lot of security. They couldn’t just wander over and check, coming with a smile and housewarming gift (so to speak. Please.)

    It is entirely reasonable for us to suspect they were in cahoots and not inform them. It is entirely within our rights to protect ourselves from enemies. The point of these international agreements is not so that nations have to take it on the chin, but to minimize conflict. How is keeping Bin Laden an actor on the world stage minimizing conflict?

    The handwringing on this subject frustrates me. It hides itself in the cloak of liberty, but really it is elevating the status of leaders above ordinary people. Ordinary people in a war do not get a trial before getting killed. Why should the man who directed them to do it get special treatment? Not only did he take credit multiple times, but there is enough evidence to suggest that he isn’t lying.

    We are letting ourselves be led astray because he is a non-state actor, but historically war does not require two states, not even city-states. The war of the roses was between two families; obviously a civil war is not between two states, not even often between two regions. That this conflict has the dynamic of a civil war (state verse non-state actor) without being internal is only a minor wrinkle in an old story.

  • Primrose

    I am with Mr. Frum that until we are all democratic nations within a larger structure, you can’t apply the concept of a world with laws. I think it is an admirable concept to work toward, but you won’t increase acceptance by one-sided deals.

    Nor do I think you can apply the terms of a treaty to actors (whether they be states, non-state actors or some mix imbetween) who didn’t sign it. If Al Queda didn’t agree to a term of relations with the US (or any of the countries it attacks), then I don’t think we are bound to somebody else’s treaty. If I make a deal to sell 1000 purses to Jane’s Purse shop, I don’t have to sell at the same rate to Alex’s notions. This is true only more so in International Relations.

    (The problem of course with Gitmo is that we put people who we have no proof of being with Al Queda there, thus we aren’t necessarily at war with them. Also, we haven’t decided what they are. )

    • ottovbvs

      I am with Mr. Frum that until we are all democratic nations within a larger structure, you can’t apply the concept of a world with laws. I think it is an admirable concept to work toward, but you won’t increase acceptance by one-sided deals.

      So the Nuremburg trials or the more recent ones involving genocide in the Balkans or Africa are all illegal and just opportunities for exacting vengeance? And btw this probably made the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein a bit iffy.

  • Primrose

    Mr. Greenwald (do I have the name right) is also misunderstanding the larger Muslim culture in thinking that by taking Bid Laden alive we would mitigate negative reaction. Islam places a high value on one’s social standing. Social death (a slave, a humiliated person) is felt emotionally worse than death. Humiliation is a constant theme particularly for the fundamentalist types. You kill a female family member who has lost standing because that is more important than your feelings of affection. You celebrate a martyr for the same reason for the “honor” or “face” it gives you.

    It is the pictures of Muslims being reduced in power,staus on Al-Jahzeera that arouse the most hatred, and resentment. Listen to the conversations in any conflict in the Islamic world (with the exception of coastal regions but that is another issue) the word humiliation will always be there.

    I can only imagine that what would have happened to Bin Laden in jail (and here I am not talking Gitmo, but ordinary maximum security prison) would have inflamed the Islamic world 1000 times more. You can not tell me that Bin Laden’s fellow American prisoners would have been kind, or restrained. Nor can you tell me that every guard would have taken care with his safety. Both the people who tend to be guards in prison and those who tend to be in prison, come from the same classes that send the most people off to war. Plus of course, he would have been tried and therefore sentenced in New York.

    Frankly, he met a far kinder fate by being assassinated then he would have being sent to an New York jail —and both would have resulted in his death.

  • Rabiner

    David’s argument that no laws govern relationships between two States is convoluted and a pretty poor argument in general. Basically he’s of the feeling that anything goes diplomacy.

    • ottovbvs

      David’s argument that no laws govern relationships between two States is convoluted and a pretty poor argument in general.

      I haven’t watched it yet but if this is what DF actually said he’s just denied the legal rationale for the war crimes trials at Nuremburg. Philosophically there’s absolutely no doubt that this was illegal. I note that when Holder made this assertion the other day he really advanced no serious legal basis for his argument other than that the US had a right to defend itself. Japan could have advanced exactly the same argument as a legal basis for the attack on Pearl Harbor. We entered the sovereign territory of another state and executed someone without due process. This is simply illegal under international law. If you don’t agree, then you’re accepting that the Iranian govt has a perfect right to send agents here to execute members of that Iranian emigre group that has been declared a terrorist organisation by the UN. I applaud what happened but let’s not kid ourselves it wasn’t remotely legal.

  • SqueekyFromm


    You Boys Done Good!!! You Even Threw Away Your Litter!!! (Judge Roy Bean after dismissing the case against Seal Team Six)

    It has long been joked about that Texas has a legal defense to murder known as the “He Needed Killin’” Defense.

    It supposedly occurred in the Old West and the entire trial transcript ran:

    Defendant: “Your Honor, he needed killin’ “

    Judge: “You got that right! Case dismissed!”

    I submit that should either Obama, or Seal Team Six, ever be brought to Court over the double-tap to Bin Laden’s head, such an action be brought in Texas. Because down here, that defense isn’t really a joke. Allow one minute for the trial. Twenty four hours for the After Party.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    • ottovbvs

      Actually this just about sums up the legal basis for those that argue this was legal. Cowboy movies. When are some of you guys going to grow up and recognise there’s a difference between applauding an outcome (as I do) and being able to understand that it’s completely contrary international law. Countries have started wars for less provocation than this.

  • zephae

    I don’t buy either of their arguments, but I do side with David Frum. To me, the reason that Greenwald’s argument falls flat is because the agreements that we made both directly with Pakistan and internationally rely on the idea that both states are acting in good faith. Pakistan has repeatedly demonstrated that they are not and instead play an endless string of double-games with us. Thus, the objection to taking a military action in a sovereign nation without their knowledge holds no water because consulting with them (especially with the Pakistani military) would’ve had a very good chance of tipping OBL off, giving him the chance to escape. If you’re of the “legality” crowd, how do you get around this problem? Do you simply say “oh well”?

    As for the surrender issue, I think Glenn is right that a live and incarcerated Bin Laden is more valuable than a dead one, but I don’t think that escaped Obama or the SEALS team. However, that is a risky and dangerous proposition, one much more difficult to pull off. I bet OBL was given a window to surrender, but it was probably a very small one that he wasn’t interested in taking anyway – he’s better off as a martyr than rotting away in US custody.

    • ottovbvs

      Thus, the objection to taking a military action in a sovereign nation without their knowledge holds no water because consulting with them

      So who decides this then? The Israelis in taking people out in Dubai? The Russians taking people out in London? The Iranians taking out people in the US? Or is Iran justified in taking people out people in the US without consulting the US govt because in your words they don’t think the US is acting in good faith

  • Moderate

    Thanks for posting this! I always enjoy these conversations.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    No one has any evidence that this was not sanctioned long ago between Obama and the Pakistanis, that if Americans got actionable intelligence they need not go through Pakistani chain of command.

    No one there reacted, not at the Military academy nor at the local Police station, they were there 40 minutes yet not even one police car showed up at the door? Obviously they were told to stand down and they stood down.

  • nikhil_gupta

    I do not think that Glenn is the highest form of liberal opinion. His opinions are so ideological that you wonder whether even he believes them. Most liberals like the fact that bin laden is dead.

  • Rob_654

    Like I freaking care if taking out bin Laden was legal or not.

    Reports are now coming out that they are finding, from the information taken from Osama’s place that Osama was much more directly involved in acts than what was previously thought.

    Another huge win for President Obama!!! While Bush, Cheney and the rest dropped Osama to go after Iraq, Obama cam into office, put the focus back on bin Laden and scored a huge victory for the United States and all people who are in this fight against terrorists.

  • Nomad13

    Killing Osama must have been legal as he was a legitimate military target during armed conflict. Of course that does mean you have to accept the rationale of Bush that we will treat all insurgents as lawful combatants. Btw, it couldn’t have been a ‘hit’, because US policy to to conduct ground operations as capture/kill, with CAPTURE being the first option, within reasonable limits.

    As for violating the sovereign status of Pakistan, that is really only on the same level as the drone attacks. It is not any more or less of a violation to conduct a drone attack as it is to conduct the raid on OBL. American troops move around Pakistan on a daily basis, so the Seals being IN Pakistan isn’t an issue. It’s the conduct of military operations w/o Pakistani consent. Pakistan complains about the drone attacks, but they still take our money. If Pakistan doesn’t eventually decide to lodge a formal complaint against the US, no other country has any basis for disagreement. It was Pakistani space, if they don’t formally complain, they consent after the fact.

    That would make this thing legal, no?

  • SteveT

    We obviously wouldn’t have pursued Bin Laden into China if he was hiding there.

  • LFC

    OK, I agree that the killing of Osama bin Laden was legal. For this high profile a target, I also don’t care. Next.

    Now that I think about it, if going into a sovereign nation to kill/capture a person who had murdered U.S. civilians is illegal (and I agree that it is), then attacking an entire sovereign nation to kill/capture its leader who had not murdered U.S. civilians must really be illegal. Mr. Bush, please report to the nearest international war crimes tribunal.

  • Nanotek

    the arguments to one side for a moment, I’d like to see if the same people voiced such concern when Bush declared that the U.S. would get bin Laden dead or alive.

  • shediac

    So if Cuba sends someone to assassinate the Luis Posada Carriles one of the people said to have been responsible for Cubana Flight 455 and the death of 78 people…that would be OK? Just asking?

  • jerseychix

    Here’s the problem.

    We decided to fight in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban decided to fight in Pakistan. Pakistan can’t figure out which side it is on.

    Was it legal? What court of law? What set of laws? Someone planning on bringing Obama up on charges in the Hague? That’d be a fun precedent.

    Asking about legality is just one more way for the GOP to cover its ass that 9/11 happened on their watch, and their response to it was beyond ineffective, but actively created a climate where more people would perpetrate acts of terrorism.

  • anniemargret

    The endless analysis will go on. For some Republicans it will be become their ‘raison d’etre’ to pick apart this event in the hopes that a smear will rub off on President Obama.

    It won’t.

    Listened to ten minutes worth of Limbaugh today at lunch. That’s about all I can stand – 10 minutes. He was relentlessly trying to tear apart the operation, but instead sounded as if he was critiquing the Seals – a big no-no, wouldn’t you think? In his desperation to try to make the event less bright for Obama, he only sounded more petulant and stupid, and insulted the whole operation.

    Of course he is paid to do this, so why does anyone bother to get his opinion? It will never be balanced or nuanced. His primary purpose is tear down, destroy, mar, denigrate and insult. So for those Republicans who think Obama overstepped his boundaries, Limbaugh’s their man.

    For the rest of us, the legality of it is lost behind the enormity of the event – a watershed moment for Obama, because Republicans are going to have a very difficult time now defining him as being ‘soft on terror’ or ‘a bleeding heart liberal’…

    The perception of it is enough. The symbolic head of the terrorist attack against the US in which thousands of innocents died, the ‘capo di capo’ of al Quaeda, is finally, utterly dead. As a Christian, I must not rejoice in his death. I can ask God to have mercy on his soul.

    But in truth, I am rejoicing. Because justice was done. Allowing him to remain alive, as a taunt to all those who suffered so much under his leadership would have been more immoral than a justified attack against an enemy who declared war on the US and its interests.

    Legality? Who cares? Obama did the right thing and the SEALS did a magnificent job. Bravo to them both.

  • Rabiner

    If you think that invading ones sovereign territory for military operations is legal then that leads to a very slippery slope where any nation could rationally go into another’s territory without their permission and conduct an operation. I’m not a fan of that scenario even if I’m pleased by the result of this illegal action taken by the United States.

  • anniemargret

    Rabiner. I certainly understand your pov. But couldn’t we say that Obama was a mastermind, the leader of thugs who waged war by stealth, killing thousands of innocents on American soil? So what they did was illegal, no?

    In my mind, not a legalistic one of course, I see this as defense. The mastermind of a worldwide terrorist group was killed. It wouldn’t have mattered if he were killed on Pakistani soil, Afghani soil, or was hiding in the mountain villages of Brazil.

    I don’t know the legality of it, I’ve been hearing both sides of that argument. But morally, this was completely justified. If bin Laden had been caught and dragged into a holding cell, and given his ‘rights’, the results would have been chaos.

    I’ve never felt this way before, but I suspect I am one of thousands right now who are thankful this man who was responsible for so many deaths is dead.

  • PatrickQuint

    The idea that this was somehow legal is laughable.

    It’s as if the Mexican army chased a Colombian drug lord over the border into Texas and shot him to death, then left for Mexico again. Such an operation would be ten kinds of illegal, but I think the State Department wouldn’t try all *that* hard to prosecute these fictional Mexican personnel or the commanders who ordered the chase.

    Some people seem to be confused about who is casting aspersions on what. To be clear, David Frum is arguing that the US should be able to ignore international law as it pleases, making the operation legal. His opponent is arguing that the US must be subject to international law and US citizens subject to the laws of other countries while in their jurisdictions. David Frum is arguing *for* Obama in this case, where his opponent is arguing against.

    The drone bombings are also quite illegal. Those are military strikes on the citizens of a sovereign nation without declaring war.

    • baw1064

      “It’s as if the Mexican army chased a Colombian drug lord over the border into Texas and shot him to death, then left for Mexico again. Such an operation would be ten kinds of illegal, but I think the State Department wouldn’t try all *that* hard to prosecute these fictional Mexican personnel or the commanders who ordered the chase.”

      Your analogy would also have to involve 1) the U.S. government exercising no effective control over half of Texas, such that said drug lords effectively controlled the border; 2) a large portion of U.S. intelligence service personnel supporting the drug lords.

      The key problem that applying international law in such a case is the following: Can you declare war on a failed state, or on a state that effectively doesn’t control a large portion of its territory?

  • Rabiner

    PatrickQuint:

    Exactly right. If we had this discussion and instead of using Osama bin Ladin we used ‘person X’ then most people would be swayed to agree with Greenwald’s POV over Frums.

  • Nomad13

    First off, the members of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban hiding in Pakistan are generally NOT Pakistani citizens. Especially the Taliban yahoos spend half the year on each side of an arbitrarily generated border.

    Second of all, and I must repeat myself here…there are members of the US military in Pakistan EVERY DAY. They have meetings with them on a regular basis, traveling across the border willly-nilly. Pakistanis conduct operations in Pakistan based off of US intelligence gathered IN Pakistan. There are certain criteria for which it is okay for us to bomb the other side of the border, since there are targets on both sides of the border within small arms and light artillery range.

    So you don’t have to worry about whether or not we invaded Pakistan. We didn’t. We conducted an unauthorized (publicly) unilateral military operation. That’s not the same thing. And nobody except Pakistan has any right to call us on it. If they don’t (and so far they haven’t), then they consent. If they were going to formally complain, they would have. They are over it, why aren’t we?

  • Headlines | The Daily Slog

    [...] Questions Nobodies Are Asking “Frum & Greenwald: Was bin Laden Hit Legal?”–headline, FrumForum.com, May 6 [...]

  • Rabiner

    Nomad13:

    “So you don’t have to worry about whether or not we invaded Pakistan. We didn’t. We conducted an unauthorized (publicly) unilateral military operation. That’s not the same thing. And nobody except Pakistan has any right to call us on it. If they don’t (and so far they haven’t), then they consent. If they were going to formally complain, they would have. They are over it, why aren’t we?”

    So we can’t invade but we can conduct military operations? Seems arbitrary based on the size of the military operation since an invasion is by definition a military operation. Also, if Pakistan objects now, they’ll just piss off the US. The lack of public objections doesn’t mean they gave permission. Permission through lack of objection isn’t a defense.

  • Arms Merchant

    Greenwald trounces the might-makes-right interventionist, Frum.

    I’ll take an honest liberal any day over a power-mad Statist.

  • Rabiner

    Arms Merchant:

    Don’t agree with you too often but I give it up to you here. I just can’t believe how Frum simply dismisses John Adams ‘because I don’t like him’ when he’s amazingly accurate in that this is a country of laws, not men.

  • nuser

    It wasn’t legal nor moral, but Oh,what a justified satisfaction.