Debate Forum Topic: 5/17/11

Osama bin Laden Death Raises Questions about U.S. Conduct

By Glenn McCoy

The dust is beginning to settle over the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden by the elite U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6. In most circles throughout the U.S. – Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal – the killing of bin Laden is viewed as a positive event in this country’s war on terror. The mastermind of 9/11 who was responsible for the killing of 3,000 people has finally been brought to justice.

In the aftermath of the strike, some members of Congress and within the Obama administration have questioned how bin Laden could have stayed hidden in Abbottabad without Pakistan’s knowledge. The Pakistani army, in turn, has blasted the U.S. for violating the country’s sovereignty and has warned that any similar raids will prompt Islamabad to reevaluate its relationship with Washington.

Two aspects of the surgical strike, which took out the most wanted fugitive in the world, have all  the talking heads, pundits and erstwhile political analysts playing Monday morning quarterback. First, there is the question of what role enhanced interrogations techniques, specifically waterboarding, had in gaining the intelligence, that led to tracking the trusted courier who led the U.S. to bin Laden. Secondly, the U.S. clearly entered Pakistan to deliver the strike without advising the Pakistan government about the operation. The U.S. flew their four stealth-equipped Black Hawk helicopters through Pakistani airspace and onto sovereign Pakistani soil and launched the attack on the Abbottabad bin Laden compound without first alerting Pakistan, let alone gaining its permission.

In each of these two aspects of the attack, has the U.S. overstepped its legal authority and if so, in this instance, do the ends justify the means?
There is still debate as to how important the information gathered as a result of enhanced interrogation methods was in ultimately tracking bin Laden. Although Obama’s CIA Director, Leon Panetta, has confirmed to NBC News that enhanced interrogation helped lead to finding bin Laden, those who oppose the enhanced methods argue that the same results could have been achieved without using what they consider to be torture. Even if we assume arguendo, that the enhanced interrogation techniques do work, is that sufficient justification for sanctioning the use of those techniques by the U.S.?

The U.S. relies on Pakistan as a key ally in the Afghan war. Despite that fact, American officials have repeatedly criticized Pakistan for failing to target Taliban militants who use its territory to launch cross-border attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. In addition, there have been some U.S. operations that have been compromised by leaks after the Pakistan government was advised of the operation. The claim by Pakistani officials have said they were totally in the dark about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, in a compound one kilometer from a school run by the army and only two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, stretches beyond believability.

There was concern that had they been advised that the operation was being launched, the Navy SEALs Team 6 would have found an empty compound. During the campaign Barack Obama said he would, if necessary, conduct military operations into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden. In doing so, did the U.S. overstep its legal bounds?

Forum Question:

As a means to an end, are the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and secret military operations in a foreign country justified?

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