WilmerHale partner Benjamin Powell, who was general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration, disagrees that the legal lines were blurry. “The President was on firm ground,” he says, noting that under the Charter of the United Nations, a country has a right to self defense that would cover this weekend’s strike against bin Laden.
Also up for debate in the legal world today is whether bin Laden’s death will actually make us safer. Williams & Connolly partner David Aufhauser, who served four years within the intelligence community, including during the 9/11 attacks, thinks bin Laden’s death will have “a measurable impact” on improving national security. Even though bin Laden was no longer planning terrorist attacks himself, Aufhauser says the fact that he “remained the spiritual, moral, and titular prince of evil” makes his death “a terrific accomplishment.”
Baker, on the other hand, says the death is a victory for the US because “it puts future imitators of bin Laden on notice that they’ll die, too, sooner or later,” but “as a practical matter,” he says we are no safer today than yesterday.
Jamie Gorelick, former deputy attorney general and general counsel of the Department of Defense during the Clinton administration, says she was struck by the level of covertness involved in taking out bin Laden because putting stealthiness above using a large amount of force is risky. In the past, says Gorelick, the US government’s desire to go into similar operations with enough force to avoid US casualties has undermined its success. “Here, it’s clear we dealt with that,” she says. “We went in light enough to be effective.”
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