Obama’s Legal Authority In Operation Geronimo


Bin Laden is infamous for his part in planning the 9/11 attacks, which led to the tragic deaths of multiple people. For many years, both intelligence and military forces had done their best to search the world and identify bin Laden’s location. Finally, the CIA managed to get the lead in September 2010. Next, the CIA employed agents, monitoring, and other information collecting methods to conclude that bin Laden was hiding at the Abbottabad, Pakistan complex. There was no definite evidence that bin Laden was inside until the strike, only the best assumption possible (Military, 2022). As a result, the world’s most wanted terrorist was killed by the U.S. Special Forces on May 2, 2011. The operation brought an end to the prolonged quest for the architect of the September 11 attack. However, such a decision made by the U.S. government resulted in fierce debates and quite opposing global opinions. At the same time, the legitimacy of the President’s decision and adherence to the regulations of military confrontation was in place. Consequently, the deaths of bin Laden and his supporters were lawful murders under U.S. and international law.

The U.S. legal system adjusted for legitimizing policies chosen by a president regarding terrorism, which means that operation Geronimo was entirely lawful in the country. Namely, following the September 11, 2001 tragedy, the House and Senate enacted votes enabling the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those … persons … [who] planned… [or] committed… the terrorist attacks …” (Coughlan, n.d., para. 2). Therefore, bin Laden’s murder represented justice and revenge for many relatives of the 9/11 deceased, and his elimination was a big success for the U.S. Government and the Americans as a whole. However, the international response to bin Laden’s murder ranged from positive to negative. For example, Geert-Jan Knoops, a Dutch Professor of International Agreements, stated that murdering an opponent is prohibited under international humanitarian law. According to him, “the U.S. regards itself as being in a state of war against terror and … having the right to eliminate its enemies (Coughlan, n.d., para. 3). The supporters of this negative reaction state that such actions are not permitted by the laws of war, but Americans will never be punished for this.

International Law

It is important to consider international law in the question of the operation’s authorization, and it appears to be legitimate as well. Given that 9/11 was widely recognized as a military assault and that Congress later approved the use of military action against those involved, law enforcement is not the sole acceptable U.S. counterterrorism choice. These realities position U.S. covert operations in a distinct position, authorizing the exercise of power derived from international law. Hence, Bin Laden’s assassination should be judged under laws of armed conflict that allow enemy combatants and leaders to be eliminated on sight unless rendered incapable of battle or willingly offering capitulation. The fact that killing occurs distant from any field of battle or that the adversary is not actively attacking is legally immaterial as long as four basic rules of combat principles are met. Namely, any force deployed must be directed at a legitimate military purpose and not at civilian people. If accidental civilian damage is unavoidable, the harm should not be excessive to the expected military gain. Finally, attacks must not be carried out with forbidden weapons.

Compliance of the Operation with International Law

In fact, the participants of the operation did not break any legal principle of armed conflict, thus adhering to international law. When the Special Forces approached the facility, they were required to use the permitted force while following military need, appropriateness, and distinction. Bin Laden had been labeled a terrorist person, and therefore, there was a military purpose to fight him. The latter can be defined as an action to assist the global community’s combat aims against worldwide extremism, meaning that the operation in question actually supported both national and international interests. As the publicly known head of al Qaeda, bin Laden had a negative influence on the organization’s future efficacy and, as a result, his death should abbreviate the fight (Marks, 2021). The choice of a special forces attack over more violent bombing campaigns, as well as efforts to avoid deadly damage to the present women and children, represent consideration for distinction and reasonableness. Since traditional warfare weapons were used, no humanity concerns were raised because that concept is applied in warfare legislation. Finally, power used in bin Laden’s apartment was exceedingly selective, with two well-aimed rounds in the armed services target’s chest and skull.


To draw a conclusion, one may say that operation Geronimo was actually legal and correlated with both U.S. and international law. President Obama had the legal authority to order the operation, representing the American government and citizens who wanted their deceased friends and relatives to be avenged. The U.S. legislation recognized the power of a president to enact military operations against those who provoked and implemented the 9/11 attacks. President Obama’s decision was based on the votes passed by the House and Senate, as well as the need for justice and support of the U.S. people. Moreover, the operation received the status of armed conflict both for the U.S. and international military interests. Consequently, this status enabled the country to eliminate its enemies. Finally, the strike had not broken any principles of combat, which makes it entirely legal. Thus, the U.S. armed forces used traditional welfare weapons not forbidden by the law. Neither the weapon nor the actions of the army hurt the ordinary citizens in any possible way. Additionally, the operation itself contributed to both the national and international fight against terrorism.


Coughlan, G. (n.d.). Bin Laden – a license to kill? Global Policy Forum.

Marks, J. (2021). How SEAL Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. HISTORY.

Military. (2022). The operation that took out Osama Bin Laden.