News / Asia

Bin Laden Raid Re-ignites Debate About International Law

Pakistani women walk past covered graffiti that reads "Usama bin Laden toun" (Osama bin Laden town) in Abbottabad on May 6, 2011, where bin Laden was killed by US commandos in a secret raid on May 2.
Pakistani women walk past covered graffiti that reads "Usama bin Laden toun" (Osama bin Laden town) in Abbottabad on May 6, 2011, where bin Laden was killed by US commandos in a secret raid on May 2.

Multimedia

Audio
  • Analysis by Refik Hodzic from the International Center for Transnational Justice

The decision by the Obama administration to go after Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan without informing the government in Islamabad has officials there angrily denouncing the mission as a violation of its sovereignty.

Several days after the U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden, the Pakistani military warned that any future U.S. operations on Pakistani territory will result in a review of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States.

And Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir used harsh words last week,  warning of "disastrous consequences" for any nation that carries out unauthorized military actions in Pakistani territory.

For its part, top U.S. officials have said they did not give Pakistan, America's key ally in the war on terror, prior warning because of concerns that bin Laden or his associates might be tipped off.

The highly risky military operation, performed by an elite squadron of U.S. Navy SEALs, has raised questions about its legality under the confines of international law.

VOA's Paul Westpheling discussed the issue with Matthew Waxman, an associate professor of International Law at Columbia Law School in New York City.

Was this raid on bin Laden's compound outside the Pakistani capital a violation of international law in the sense that in infringed on the country's sovereignty?

"In normal times, it would be a violation of a state's sovereignty to launch this kind of raid without their consent. On the other hand, there are circumstances in which a state would be entitled to take action against the terrorist organization or terrorist agents in another state's territory when that state is unwilling or unable to take its own action against it. In this case, I think there is a good argument that the United States was justified as a matter of self-defense."

What about this unwilling or unable test, is this a consideration when one is debating whether or not international law has been breached?

"This is a contested area of international law, in part because, while there have been many previous cases involving self-defense against non-state groups, this is not a very common pattern in international law. And so the law of self-defense in this area is contested. I think there is a substantial body of opinion that would hold [that] the use of force in circumstances like this, if the host state is unwilling or unable to take action itself, would be legal so long as it comported with certain constraints, including that the use of force was necessary, that the actions taken were proportionate to the threat that was being faced, [and so on]."

When the United States invaded Iraq, for example, the U.S. knew who the enemy was, knew where they were. Here governments are trying to combat an organization called al-Qaida, which appears to have no home base. So does it come down to following them and taking the battle to where they are?

"I do agree with the idea that the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida and its allies, a non-state enemy. Unfortunately, it's now possible for terrorist organization to now wage violence on a level of intensity and sophistication, previously only achievable by states. As you point out, this leads to some difficulties in applying the laws of war because the boundaries of that enemy organization are not always as clear as they would be when you are fighting against another state."

Chapter 7 of the United Nation's Charter talks about self-defense, how does that apply here?

"The U.N. Charter contains a baseline prohibition on the threat or use of force. But then it goes on to explain that states retain their inherent right of self-defense. So in a sense, a self-defense carves out an exception to the general prohibition on the use of force. In this case, the United States is relying on that exception, that it faces an ongoing threat from al-Qaida, a non-state actor with which the United States is engaged in an ongoing armed conflict."

How about the idea Pakistan's point of view? The American Society of International Law writes on its website "that the facts and politics in this case make it unlikely that Pakistan's defense of its sovereignty would find significant international support."

"Part of the reason why this is a very difficult issue of international law is we're seeing the clash of two important principles on international law. One is a principle of territorial sovereignty and another is the principle of self-defense."

You May Like

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid