Osama Bin Laden’s Assassination and International Law

This 2006 article from the Harvard International Review describes the law and practical ramifications of political assassination sponsored by states, including the United States’ May 2 raid on Osama’s compound in Pakistan, which we now know was meant to kill rather than arrest bin Laden.

The Geneva Convention forbids “treachery” (killing a leader outside of the battle space counting as “treachery”) as did an executive order signed by President Ford.

Who cares, right?

Well, the Duke of Wellington had a clear shot at Napoleon at Waterloo but refused to give the order.

The assassination of leaders as a political tool was considered “treachery” in the ancient world; the assassination of Julius Caesar, which started the civil wars in Rome that transformed Rome from a republic to an empire, was thought so evil in Dante’s time that Dante put Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the plot, in the mouth of Satan at the bottom of hell.

Assassination of a political leader by an individual is a crime. It doesn’t become a legal act merely if a state authorizes the action.

Political assassination enjoyed a revival during the Renaissance and Reformation. Like the assassinations of Ghandi and Yitzhak Rabin, it tended to target not the real tyrants; instead it tended to target the peacemakers including William of Nassau in the Netherlands and Henri IV of France and Navarre, both men seeking to reconcile Catholics and Protestants. Osama wasn’t anything like these men, of course.

But the chaos of the Thirty Years War, a struggle between Catholics, Protestants, and then Bourbon and Hapsburg which used Germany as its killing field, caused leaders to try to define the battle space so as to exclude civilians and leaders who did not choose to lead their men personally into battle.

This tendency reached its zenith in WWI and then started to change. Today, the killing without trial of bin Laden is called “justice” although technically, “justice” would seem to involve a trial.

And…whether or not the killing of Osama was treachery, it is sure to be interpreted as such. Screw international law: the consequences of the US action are in Rumsfeldian, unknown unknowns, from nothing, to the assassination of President Obama on September 11, 2011…something which the surviving members of the al Qaeda franchise may try.

The killing will also be perceived as racist. No attempts were made to take out Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s leader during the Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s, despite his numerous war crimes. Israel has long targeted Arab opponents without trial. But it gave a far more serious international criminal (Adolf Eichmann) a trial in Jerusalem in 1960.

The Nazi war criminals were given trials. The wogs are attacked indiscriminately in their households.

The perceptions of racism and a lack of justice are also reality. Obama’s stunt may have in fact restarted the attacks on America that started in 2000, before Sep 11, with an attack on the United States destroyer Cole and embassies in Africa.

The only pragmatic reason for adhering to international law is to have some surety that the enemy will ALSO allow the Red Cross to check on POWs, not use poison gas, and not attack your leaders outside the battle space.

However, in a signal act of foolishness, Obama has pandered to the macho right (mostly, men trapped in lousy little white collar jobs and sexless marriages and who overcompensate for feelings of impotence) for domestic political points.

And note that in many of these incidents (such as last week’s attack on Libya as well as the killing of Osama) we hear of the drive-by killing of innocent women and children, members of the leaders’ families or servants; a woman was injured in the attack on the bin Laden compound and many of these “targeted” assassinations cause fatal casualties. The “battle space” I’ve referred to above was designed in the 18th century to exclude noncombatants, but beginning with the use of indiscriminate civilian bombing by Nazi air support in the Spanish Civil War of workers, it’s been breaking down.

The “battle space” has flexible and permeable boundaries in woggish countries, while Americans take it as given that Manhattan should not be battle space. A Reuters cameraman and a child were killed in May 2007 in Baghdad because in a wog country, you’re in battle space and your camera might be a gun.

Whatever the objective rights and wrongs, we can ruminate on differences. American Moms who don’t let their sons fight (which is sometimes a healthy thing) willingly assent to children in wog countries being subject to daily sights, sounds, causes and effects of violence.

Is this right? Is it wrong? Who the fuck knows? All we know is that Arabs, especially educated Arabs, must be tired of this shit. They must be real tired of collective punishment as in the withholding of tax payments from the Palestinian authority this week in “punishment” for its demarche with Hamas (what would it mean in international law for a country to “punish” another country? What would it mean for a stranger in an ordinary town to “punish” a stranger?”)

The law is not the will of the judge, the law is not what the judge had for breakfast. International law, at least, is the shit that will happen if you violate it. One is trying to be as “analytic” as possible, as reductionist. International law starts with “the Holocaust must never happen again” (and no exception is granted to the victims of the Holocaust, to start it again).

Obama has reverted to the 1980s, creating a perception that “real men” aren’t ordinary soldiers who try to respect international law and the boundary of battle space, but overtrained and psychologically damaged stosstruppen and elite forces such as the Navy Seals who “took out” Osama.

Note that the Seals are trained to kill children who witness their operations in order to avoid compromising secrecy.

The perception of the impotent is that smash and grab is justified if you are in the right, that is, you are, well, you.

Meanwhile, what has changed? What earthly good does this assassination, this further act of terrorism, accomplish?

The real story is that 60% of the industrial plant of the USA in existence in the 1940s, industrial plant which created jobs and decency, has been dismantled and in effect shipped to China.

Many Americans (such as a waiter in North Carolina who asked me what I was reading at table) literally have lost conceptual tools needed to make sense of politics

The waiter thought my book, a history of Britain, was a fantasy novel.

Which was where you got apes and monkeys baying U!S!A! in the 1980s.

This was a decade in which I was told that “intelligence” was not what I thought it was after all. In business, I learned that it was strictly defined only by success at smash and grab. CEOs were “intelligent”, the rest of us pretentious and verbose.

The general idea, I have come to believe, was that an international class of investors needed a home base and this was to be a deindustrialized and militarized USA that would be able to assassinate foreign leaders, overthrow elected governments, and so on, while the rest of us would…process data.

The result is a moral decline astonishing in scope, in which it now appears that Osama was unarmed when taken.

Dang, that was a typo, since I’ve corrected “Obama was unarmed” to the above. Our situation has aspects of the metaphysical and demonic when we vote for Obama and he’s a terrorist too.


3 Responses to “Osama Bin Laden’s Assassination and International Law”

  1. I’ve been looking around for an intelligent analysis. You express wholly my opinion on this state-sponsored assassination. Revenge has never brought things to a close (although as you point out it panders nicely to the masses / electorate). Where’s old-fashioned statesmanlike dignity and ‘leading the way by example’ gone? If we treat others with this sort of ‘justice’ (however wicked they may be – indeed perhaps the wickeder the more essentially, and I’m no OBL apologist), we can fairly expect to be treated precisely the same. What’s good for the (cooked) goose is good for the gander, unfortunately. To truly ‘man-up’ is to behave with honour, humility, dignity and, yes, eventual forgiveness. Shame on you and your grubby execution, Obama! ‘Justice’ indeed…

  2. spinoza1111 Says:


  3. spinoza1111 Says:

    I’ve corrected the post. Osama’s third and youngest wife was injured and not killed. It also appears that the Navy Seals had some training, perhaps more than Israeli commandos, in minimizing civilian casualties in these sorts of operations.

    Which doesn’t change their immorality, which men of ancient times would remark upon immediately. The immorality is the confusion of battle space with civilian space and it’s a fundamental violation of the laws of God and man.

    If I punch a guy in a bar as I did twelve years ago in a sweet sucker punch, they call the cops. When I was a kid you could fight other kids. Today, Westerners insist on safety in their personal lives. They don’t always get it, but they insist upon it. Therefore, Charles Manson, Eichmann and Milosevic get trials. Obama pops a cap into Osama for domestic political advantage because a society that insists on an almost overly peaceful public space, one in which “consultants” are hired to fire people so as to use psychology to quell their rage, wants to see blood on TV.

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