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Should the U.S. have taken bin Laden alive?
By killing the world's most influential terrorist, the Obama administration may have missed the opportunity to wring valuable intelligence out of him
 
Osama bin Laden supporters during a protest: As more information unfolds about Sunday's raid, some critics say the al Qaeda leader should have been captured, not killed.
Osama bin Laden supporters during a protest: As more information unfolds about Sunday's raid, some critics say the al Qaeda leader should have been captured, not killed.
REUTERS

George W. Bush famously said the U.S. wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." According to U.S. officials, the elite Navy SEALs who shot bin Laden were prepared to take him alive if certain circumstances had prevailed, but outside military analysts challenge that statement, saying that the mission was clearly conceived as a "kill raid." Meanwhile, legal analysts point out that prosecuting Osama bin Laden would have been a legal nightmare. Still, might it have been more strategic to capture Public Enemy No. 1 alive?

Yes, you can't interrogate a dead man: Killing bin Laden "brought a rough measure of justice" to the mass murderer, says John Yoo, who famously authored Bush's "Torture Memos," in The Wall Street Journal. But if Obama had sent in more SEALs, or if they'd used nonlethal weapons, we might have taken him alive. Interrogating bin Laden "would have provided invaluable intelligence," and capturing him alive would have "been an even greater example of U.S. military prowess...."
"From Guantanamo to Abbottabad"

No, the symbolic power of his death trumps any intel: Bin Laden would have "been a valuable intelligence asset, but not quite as valuable as one might think," says Bruce McQuain at Hot Air. After a decade on the run, he was mostly a symbol. The decision to slay him sends the "incredibly powerful and important message" to would-be or on-the-fence jihadists that America will find you "and we will kill you."
"Is OBL more valuable alive or dead?"

But assassinating Osama was illegal: "Bin Laden's killing, as immediately satisfying as it may seem, has started to raise some perplexing issues," say Gideon Boas and Pascale Chifflet in The Sydney Morning Herald. If, as recent facts suggest, he was unarmed and the plan was to kill him all along, that's not "justice." Justice would be trying a living Osama for his crimes in a court of law. And despite what the Obama administration says, "extrajudicial killing" is simply illegal.
"Order for execution was illegal"

Strategic or not, killing bin Laden was certainly legal: It's easy for armchair generals to second-guess the "split-second choice by a Navy SEAL to shoot the unarmed al Qaeda leader," says The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. But bin Laden could have been reaching for a gun, or a trigger to detonate an explosive. This was a "tough call" made in the heat of the moment, but it's hardly illegal — "in 2001, Congress had authorized such force."
"The killing of Osama bin Laden: Was capture really an option?"

 

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