Why Not Release Order Directing Action on bin Laden?

May 7th, 2011

By Dan Miller

Target - Osama bin LadenThere have been many calls for the Obama Administration to release further information about the action in Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden. “Experts” from the U.N. Human Rights Council have requested this and so have others. Following release of a mishmash of information, much of it incorrect, a lid seems to have been clamped down; there may or may not be non-political reasons for this. However, keeping national security interests firmly in mind, it is worth noting that in the absence of well supported facts speculation usually fills the void; with sufficient repetition that speculation often comes to be viewed as factual.

I have not yet seen any specific calls for release of whatever document embodied the Presidential Finding, or whatever, authorizing the operation. Was it done on the basis of President Reagan’s 1986 Presidential Finding which laid out in broad brush strokes the procedures to be used in fighting terrorism? Did President Obama sign a supplemental Memorandum of Notification dealing specifically with Pakistan and bin Laden? When?

It is claimed here that “Unlike Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, Obama actually authorized a strike against bin Laden when given the chance.” If there was no such order, that would be quite interesting. Assuming that a Presidential Order of some type was in fact signed and issued, it should be released. It should be redacted, not for political reasons but to avoid only the disclosure of operational details likely to impair future operations and the identities of operational personnel otherwise likely to be put further in harm’s way. Release of such a document seems both harmless and useful.

Release could possibly answer some of the following questions:

1. Did the order authorize the killing of bin Laden and, if so, in what circumstances?

2. Did the order specify any circumstances under which he was to be taken alive and, if so, in what circumstances?

3. If taken alive, what was to be done with him?

4. Did the order provide any directions as to the disposition of bin Laden’s body in the event of his death, and if so what were those directions?

5. Did the order direct that the operation be kept secret from Pakistani authorities and, if so, did it offer any guidance as to how this could, should or must be accomplished? What was that guidance, if any?  Since the operation appears in fact to have been kept secret, no operational harm should occur based on an acknowledgment that President Obama ordered it.  Some of the details as to how it was to be accomplished could be sufficiently sensitive to warrant their redaction.

Additional information could possibly be released without harming national security, but without access even to a redacted copy it is not very useful to speculate as to what.

The release of a redacted copy of the order could itself raise additional questions, some of which it could be appropriate to answer. According to President Obama, his administration is the most transparent in history.

Since President Obama is claiming substantial personal credit for the operation and is receiving it, release of the order could put his actual role in proper context.

(This article was first published at The PJ Tatler.)

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5 Responses to “Why Not Release Order Directing Action on bin Laden?”

  1. Tom Carter |

    One problem with releasing a presidential finding or a MON based on an earlier one is that not only are the contents classified, the very existence of the finding can be classified. If that’s the case, then we won’t know why, by definition.

    However, I think a presidential finding isn’t required in a case like this. Action against al-Qaeda has been treated as a war in general. Congress passed an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), and they’ve repeatedly funded the war it authorized. So intelligence finds a target, the military and the CIA develop alternatives for attacking the target, and the president makes a decision. That’s just one more action against an enemy entity during wartime. So why is a PF even necessary? If — a big if — part of the order was to kill rather than capture (“take no prisoners”), then it may not have been in writing at all, in any form.

    The AUMF explicitly authorized the kind of action taken against bin Laden. Here’s the relevant language:

    The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

  2. Dan Miller |

    Tom, you may of course be correct. However, the language of the AUMF does not seem to cover an execution order against a specific individual, bin Laden, if that’s what President Obama ordered. That’s what many are calling it and that seems to be what happened to the extent that reports are credible. According to this article,

    The SEALs’ decision to fatally shoot bin Laden — even though he didn’t have a weapon – wasn’t an accident. The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.

    Publicly, the White House insists it was prepared to capture bin Laden if he tried to surrender, a possibility senior officials described as remote. John Brennan, the administration’s top counterterrorism official, told reporters on Monday if “we had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have done that.” A senior intelligence official echoed that sentiment in an interview on Tuesday, telling National Journal that if bin Laden “had indicated surrender, he would have been captured.”

    But bin Laden didn’t appear to have been given a chance to surrender himself to the SEALs.

    “To be frank, I don’t think he had a lot of time to say anything,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an interview airing on PBS NewsHour.

    The AUMF covers “all necessary and appropriate force” (emphasis added) against those persons “he determines” (emphasis added) did various types of nasty stuff. “Necessary and appropriate” to what end? Perhaps, based on the AUMF, President Obama personally ordered — as it seems to have been claimed that he did — SEAL action with respect to bin Laden. He probably did not, between a round of golf, a visit to Alabama and various parties, simply order “Get in there, use only necessary and appropriate force to do what’s best but don’t offend any Muslims unnecessarily if you find it necessary to dispose of a body.” That seems unlikely if for no other reason than that I don’t think he places a great deal of trust in the military. If, on the other hand, he issued an order to capture bin Laden alive if feasible without thwarting the intelligence gathering objectives of the mission, and otherwise to kill him, more may have been required. Would such an order have been issued without providing non-lethal means of disabling bin Laden and his associates? Based on the apparently flawed news reports, it sure looks like an execution order to me.

    I assume that whatever order he may have issued had about as high a classification as there is. That does not mean that he cannot declassify all or part of the order, and in view of his claims of transparency, the earlier Administration claims that later turned out to have been hastily made and wrong and the heavy fog still surrounding the mission, that seems a wise course of action, although maybe not politically useful.

    As a side note, I’m quite pleased that bin Laden was killed and hope that the same happens to many of his accomplices. A trial, even by a military commission, would create all sorts of problems and the Islamic outrage would likely be far greater and more deadly as it progressed; it could take years.

  3. Larry Milder |

    Yet some obvious questions arise when you see the “target” in such humane endaviors as in the video released not too long ago


    Makes you wonder if we’re on the right course of action sometimes.

  4. Tom Carter |

    Not quite sure what your point is — because bin Laden was a human being, and could be seen acting like one, we should be more merciful and respectful of his humanity? Hitler loved dogs and children, etc, but how much better off the world would have been if he had been killed prior to 1938 … and many similar examples.

    If you’re spending any time at all worrying about the humanity of bin Laden, you might be better served to think about the thousands of people he was responsible for killing on 9/11 and on other bloody days. Neither he nor anyone else ever gets old or frail enough to escape justice for those kinds of crimes, even in a war.

    And if that wasn’t what you meant, sorry.

    I also wonder about the validity of that video. There’s a lot about it that looks odd.

  5. Luis |

    Violence bgtees violence. I am hopeful that one day we will not wage war but wage peace with our enemies.

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