With the stunning surprise of Osama bin Laden’s death sinking in, many questions both curious and legal are starting to surface.
The demise of the infamous terrorist responsible for the death of thousands of people in mass atrocities was met with shock by some and jubilation by others around the world. But as details of the raid emerged, changed, then changed some more, some are raising questions about bin Laden’s whereabouts, whether his killing was legal in the eyes of international law, and just what Pakistan intelligence and military forces knew about his presence in the country.
BBC news reported in an interview with Benjamin Ferencz, international law specialist and prosecutor during the Nuremburg trials, that the issue surrounding bin Laden’s fate by the US Navy SEALS was whether what happened was an act of legitimate self-defence. Ferencz said that killing a captive who poses no immediate threat is a crime under military law and all other law. But without knowing exactly what happened in the moments leading to bin Laden’s death, definitive judgment is hard. What some law experts fear is a global assassination policy, not that they don’t already exist in some below-radar form.
International law also dictates that one country cannot enter another country without its authorization to capture of kill a national of a third state. Unilateral actions weaken legitimacy and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has already warned of ‘serious consequences’. But that likely won’t amount to a hill of beans given the $20 billion in economic aid the U.S. has shovelled into their coffers since 2001, $14 billion of which was for security assistance. Congress is now debating whether to make changes to aid to this wobbly ally some call unceremoniously the ‘frenemy’.
The al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts have reached almost mythical status in past years. He was seen in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan in 2001 and was then seen in Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal areas around 2005. This was a guy who had banned from his life cell phones and the Internet, was neurotically secretive about his whereabouts and never stayed anywhere for long, preferring the below-radar villages along the Afghanistan border.
The U.S. claims he had been living for six years in Abbottabad at a fortified compound with high walls, barbed wire and security cameras just a kilometre from the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy. For some Pakistani intelligence officials that’s hard to believe. In towns like these, news usually gets out that there’s a character of note in the neighbourhood. Did no one question, suspect, wonder about anything? Once in a while, the kids inside the compound came out to play. Did they never say anything to anyone, even by accident?
Many think it unbelievable that no-one in that country’s military, intelligence or government knew where bin Laden was. His three widows are currently in Pakistani custody and the U.S. is itching for a chance to talk with them.
When the Navy SEALS took custody of bin Laden’s body, they also seized a treasure trove of computers, hard drives and videos in the largest haul of terrorist information ever in one operation. They likened the volume of information to that found in a small college.
There’s no doubt the U.S. has seen Pakistan as an essential partner in their war against al Qaeda. But the queasy question now is whether they knew more than they admitted, covered for bin Laden, or whether their intelligence was completely incompetent at tracing the whereabouts of such a high profile person.
Relations between Pakistan and the U.S. are already at an all-time low. What emerges from further investigation could easily put that relationship in crisis.