Mark Hosenball has a Reuters story up which raises the question of whether U.S. forces sent to capture or kill Osama bin Laden were essentially dispatched only to do the latter. Did President Obama send out a squad of assassins?
This issue is a non-story. Without getting too much into the web of international treaties that make up the Law of Armed Conflict, U.S. forces aren’t supposed to kill an enemy who is trying to surrender — but they don’t need to give the enemy a chance to surrender, either. It’s pretty clear that bin Laden was the enemy. In fact, some attorneys argue that the United States can target and kill anybody deemed an enemy, including a U.S. citizen, without providing an opportunity for surrender. (Yes, I know, what about a citizen’s Constitutional rights? By all means, go ahead, weigh in. This is a blog).
It is certainly possible that President Obama’s decision to send a SEAL team rather than a missile was risky for a number of reasons, including the idea that bin Laden might try to surrender and then have to be tried in court somewhere, somehow. It may be that he did not and the Seal team didn’t try very hard to give him the opportunity.