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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid