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President Obama and Legal Authority on the Operation Geronimo


Political controversies and divisive episodes related to the grey area of power distribution are an unfortunate part of the President’s career path. Barak Obama is not an exception, with, in this case, operation Geronimo operating as a focal point. To discuss whether President Obama had the legal authority to carry out the operation, this essay first examines the limits of the jurisdiction of the President, and the operation itself. Furthermore, the essay is written under the course of the opinion that President Obama was within his rights to orchestrate the operation in the manner he chose according to international humanitarian law, and the outlined sections are aimed to deliver this point.

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In the United States, such as in multiple other Western democratic countries, the President is an acting head of the executive branch of the government. They act as commander-in-chief of the U.S. army forces, and direct foreign policy, being responsible for the governmental welfare outside of the State borders. Additionally, they hold the power to recognize sovereign governments on behalf of the United States and appoint federal judges. The President is kept within the limits of the executive branch of the government by being prohibited from being a member of Congress, and this notion is protected by an illegibility bill. Said rule is primarily put in place to separate the President from accumulating greater power, preventing an internal conflict of interest in Congress. As one might see, the most well-known guidelines and limitations applied to presidential power are scarce in mentioning any especially dangerous cases that lie outside of the norm.

Operation Description

At 11:30 p.m. on May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the East Room of the White House, informing the American people and the rest of the world that the US had carried out a successful operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the infamous leader of Al Qaeda, the militant jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States. After bin Laden vanished from Tora Bora in December 2001, the US has been actively searching for him for almost a decade. The US military and intelligence organizations conducted a thorough hunt for him. Bin Laden was assumed to be hiding in the isolated tribal territory between Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years, maybe in a cave. He was instead residing in a large, gated complex approximately an hour north of Islamabad. He was hiding at Abbottabad, which is home to the Pakistani Military Academy, which is the country’s equivalent of West Point, as well as another military base.

The operation occurred under the Joint Special Operations Command, SEAL Team Six, and the Central Intelligence Agency as part of a joint US multiservice mission. It was a military operation that emerged within the grounds of an outlined conflict. During the raid, members of the assault team shot and killed many people, including bin Laden, also known as Geronimo. At great danger to the participants in the operation, the US executed the mission by the standards of distinction and proportionality established by international humanitarian law (IHL). That is, the operators went to considerable lengths to discriminate between fighters and civilians11 and to avoid accidental civilian deaths and property destruction following the principle of proportionality.

Discussion and Conclusion

Terrorism has long been treated as a criminal justice issue in the United States and many other nations. The United States responded to terrorist attacks using a law-enforcement paradigm that provided suspect terrorists with extensive due process and a wide range of procedural and substantive rights. Armed conflicts, on the other hand, are governed by a separate legal system with distinct rights, responsibilities, and obligations. In the context of continuous war, the confluence of these two legal frameworks has undoubtedly resulted in ambiguity and backlash, both domestic and international. The conversation concerned, among other aspects, the aggressive foreign policy of the United States is generally disliked around the world and is perceived as remains of colonialism by some critics.

To begin with, international humanitarian law only applies when there is an armed war (or occupation),18 but the phrase “armed conflict” is not defined in the IHL treaties. IHL distinguishes between two forms of armed conflict:

  1. international armed conflicts between two or more opposing nations;
  2. non-international armed conflicts, involving governmental forces and non-governmental armed organizations, or between such groups exclusively (Evans, 2020).

Some legal theorists point out that such definitions need active restructuring and no longer fit their initial purpose. They point out how the definitions and distinctions are rarely analyzed in context, and therefore are unable to reflect the complexity of the modern social, economic and political environment.

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The following and related topic is whether Al Qaeda is an organized armed group under International Humanitarian Law. Al Qaeda has a command-and-control structure, which includes a majlis al shura, as a starting point (or consultation council). The council considers operations and fatwah issuance, among other things. A military council exists inside Al Qaeda that analyzes and approves military affairs. It is a worldwide organization with a variety of linked groups and no defined operating region. Other than Afghanistan, members of linked groups have frequently obtained experience in Al Qaeda training camps or engaged in Al Qaeda wars (for example, in Chechnya or Bosnia).

Second, US political and military officials continued to think that bin Laden and Al Qaeda were a major threat to the direct security of the United States. 60 Hundreds of pounds of valuable papers were seized by Navy SEALs from the Abbottabad facility. Osama bin Laden was preparing an assault on America on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, according to some of the documents obtained. Documents reveal that the tenth-anniversary scheme was still in the works, according to some of the existing claims. To specify, Laden wanted to target Obama and General Petraeus specifically, potentially causing many casualties in the process.


Osama bin Laden’s assassination was legal under international humanitarian law. A detailed legal examination reveals that the US and Al Qaeda are engaged in a non-international armed war. Furthermore, the evidence strongly suggests that Al Qaeda is a well-organized armed force in violation of international humanitarian law. Osama bin Laden is most properly described as an Al Qaeda strategic level commander. For years, he has been involved in the planning and coordination of armed assaults on military and civilian targets, including the planning of strikes commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Considering the President’s role as the chief-in-command of the American armed forces he, therefore, had the jurisdiction to interfere and orchestrate the operation given the armed conflict between Al Qaeda and the United States.


Evans, C. (2020). The Legality and Considerations of Countering International Terrorism. Oklahoma City University’s Undergraduate Research Journal, 1(1), p. 73-81, Web.

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