Executive Branch

Book: 4 federal lawyers OK'd raid in which Bin Laden was slain before consulting AG Eric Holder

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Power Wars

Cover image from Little, Brown & Co.

Working in such secrecy that even the U.S. attorney general was not consulted until the attack was about to take place, four senior federal lawyers drafted legal memos approving in advance the fatal raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.

To ensure that news of the planned raid didn’t leak, the four did their own legal research, wrote on secure laptops and exchanged hard-copy drafts sent by trusted couriers, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports in a lengthy story that relies on unidentified sources. Reporter Charlie Savage says his sources include more than six current and former administration officials. He has written a forthcoming book on the subject of national security legal issues and policy under President Barack Obama, from which the Times article is adapted.

The four lawyers who OK’d the legal issues the bin Laden mission could raise are identified as CIA general counsel Stephen Preston; Mary DeRosa, the legal adviser to the National Security Council; then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson; and then-Rear Adm. James Crawford III, the legal adviser for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Jeh Johnson. File photo by ©Kathy Anderson.

Among the issues they determined to be legally acceptable were an attack on foreign soil without Pakistan’s consent or the knowledge of the U.S. Congress, a potential kill mission, as far as Osama bin Laden was concerned, and burying him at sea rather than in a marked grave facing Mecca, in accord with his religious practices.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Osama Bin Laden Killed by US Forces, President Announces”

ABAJournal.com: “Disclosure that Bin Laden Was Unarmed Has Critics Claiming a Violation of International Law”

Washington Post (reg. req.): “Months before U.S. raid, bin Laden considered leaving Pakistan compound”

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