Obama’s Legal Authority on Operation Geronimo

At a glance, terrorist threats posed by Islamist groups have spread concerns to every corner of the world. Some harmful military troops include Al Qaeda from Arabian Peninsula, the Islamic State in Iraq, the Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia. In a public address in 2014, President Barack Obama mentioned that the most direct threat to American society and abroad is terrorism for a successful and peaceful future. The challenge does not originate from centralized groups but decentralized extremists and affiliates (Brookman-Byrne, 2017). From this notion, the president inferred that the approaches to counter threats require more selective and flexible methods. From this perspective, the paper argues that President Obama had the legal authority to order operation Geronimo and to execute the plan.

Before analyzing the legality of the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, it is imperative to account how the activity was conducted briefly. The capture or kill operation was the most prominent mission, involving the raid against Osama bin Laden in 2011 in Pakistan (Brookman-Byrne, 2017). The operation was conducted by a team of US Navy Seal, who entered the state’s airspace using a helicopter from a base in Afghanistan. Typically, law officials point that penetrating a nation’s sovereign airspace is available for the right missions and benefits. However, speculations may surface concerning secret deals that involve high levels of governments, intelligence services, and the military.

The decision to hunt down and cease al-Qaida terrorist leader was a primary mission from the moment Obama took office. The criminal was responsible for the September attacks on New York that left 3000 people dead (Brookman-Byrne, 2017). The US intelligence department had identified Osama’s most trusted courier, and this led the investigating team to conclude that the criminal was hiding in a guarded compound near Pakistan city of Abbottabad. Admittedly, the risks of chasing Osama were high, supposedly, if the leading information would turn out to be wrong. An incorrect conclusion that it was Osama in the identified place could have resulted in a significant blow with the foreign state. However, when it comes to deciding whether to engage or not, members of the security team and high intelligence were paramount.

Based on findings and concrete information from highly intelligent teams, there were sufficient reasons to think Osama was hiding in the established area. Moreover, the President had to make moral and legal decisions for the country and future generations. Arguing from a theoretical perspective, there is no single system of justice that can meet the interest of all citizens. The decision to engage the attack on Osama in Pakistan can be argued either way (Soherwordi & Khattak, 2020). However, applying the practical approach, the system of justice led by President Obama made a decision that would bring the greatest total amount of happiness to society. In support of this notion, if the President did not take action as an ultimate decision-maker, the terrorist leader might have slipped away, and his disappearance would take a much longer time before resurfacing. Speculatively, there would have been more attacks and murders of innocent people initiated by the perpetrator.

Given that the event of September 2011 was recognized internationally as an armed terrorist attack, Congress had to authorize military force against individuals responsible for it. Typically, law enforcement is not the only legitimate counterterrorism option in the US. Such facts placed the US approach on a special footing to allow the deployment of authority from the law of armed conflicts. The White House took such a perspective when dealing with Osama’s assassination plan (Shabbir, 2019). In conducting the raid of Osama, the US leadership under President Obama acted in full compliance with principles set forth by international law. As a matter of international law, the US was in armed conflict with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban force.

On the other hand, in domestic law matters, Congress gave orders to use necessary and the right force through the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Such local and international laws are effective up to date. The al-Qaeda group had not shown signs of abandoning the intent to attack the US (Shabbir, 2019). With the ongoing conflict, the country had the authority under international law and responsibility to citizens to use necessary force, including lethal action, to defend itself. Obama’s administration had carefully reviewed the regulations governing targeted operations to ensure that mission was carried consistently with the law of war (Soherwordi & Khattak, 2020). Precisely, the leadership took into account the first principle of distinction, which requires attacks to be limited to military objectives and civilians should not be objects of attacks. Indeed, the raid of Osama was conducted by a military team of Navy Seals.

The other legal principle which Obama’s plan considered while engaging in executing Osama was proportionality. The standard prohibits attacks that can result in incidental loss of civilian life, injuries or damage to civilian objects, or a combination of those. In the US operation against al-Qaeda and associated forces, the consideration was taken with care per the principles in planning and execution. As a result, only legitimate objectives were targeted, and collateral damage was kept to a minimum.

Taking a stance from the other side of an argument, some people hold that the act of targeting Osama as a terrorist leader and nation’s enemy violates the law of war. Critical commentators assume the upfronts that the operation to raid Osama under president Obama can be judged under human rights law standards (Brookman-Byrne, 2017). In evaluating the issue from this edge, there are little doubts that the mission was problematic. International law bars law enforcement in foreign territories without the states’ explicit consent. Arguably, personnel is obliged to capture the target alive, and lethal force is permitted when self-defense is necessary.

To counter the arguments against the legality of President Obama’s order to raid Osama, the US had the legal authority to wage actual armed conflicts. The killings made by Osama should be evaluated under the law of armed conflicts rules that allows enemy fighter and leaders to be killed on sights unless there voluntarily surrender. Furthermore, the use of force is intended to bring hostilities to a successful end, and Osama’s killing cannot be assumed to have been geared by vengeance. Otherwise, that would violate the law of armed conflicts, which the international law had confirmed following the terrorist attacks.

In summary, given the unquestioned leadership position of Osama bin Laden and his continued operational role, there is no doubt that he was a leader of an enemy force to the state. The criminal continued to pose imminent threats to the US, which engaged the nation’s right to use force. Under the circumstances, it is unquestionable that Osama presented lawful targets for the use of lethal forces. Thus, President Obama had the legal authority to order the operation Geronimo.


Brookman-Byrne, M. (2017). Drone Use ‘Outside Areas of Active Hostilities’: An Examination of the Legal Paradigms Governing US Covert Remote Strikes. Netherlands International Law Review, 64(1), 3-41. Web.

Shabbir, T. (2019). American Imperialism in Post 9/11 Era: Perspective from Pakistan. Stratagem, 2(2), 59-79.

Soherwordi, S. H. S., & Khattak, S. A. (2020). Operation Geronimo: Assassination of Osama Bin Ladin and its implications on the US-Pakistan relations, War on Terror, Pakistan and Al-Qaeda. South Asian Studies, 26(2). 349-357. Web.

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