Foreign Policy

John Paul Stevens on the Legality of Killing Osama Bin Laden


The Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin reports that retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of two major opinions upholding the rights of detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, believes the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden was perfectly legal:

In 2004 and 2006, Justice Stevens wrote Supreme Court opinions holding that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention before neutral judges, and that while in custody were entitled to the minimal protections of the Geneva Conventions. His rulings stressed that the laws of war—of which the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the U.S., form a principal part—cannot be ignored simply because the government found it "convenient" to do so.

But on Thursday, Justice Stevens indicated that those same laws of war permit the armed forces to kill an enemy commander who remains engaged in active hostilities against the U.S., as Navy Seals did on their May 2 operation inside Pakistan.  "I have not the slightest doubt that it was entirely appropriate for U.S. forces to do," Justice Stevens said, according to Ms. Amann's account [of Stevens' speech at Northwestern University].

Read the rest of Bravin's report here. I discussed the legality of the bin Laden killing last week.

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  1. Indiana says shitting on the constitution isn’t enough.
    Court overturns Magna Carta

    1. That’s insane.

      1. True story, it was called “great charter” because it was long not because it was great. And it really wasn’t particularly important in English law until the puritan’s dusted it off during the English Revolution.

        1. It’s about being able to defend against illegal cop raids, not so much about Magna Carta being “overturned.”

          1. I know. I was just being a pain in the neck.

            1. That’s treason under Magna Carta.

      2. Wow.

        Fuck Indiana.

      3. Pro Libertate|5.13.11 @ 1:32PM|#
        That’s insane.

        Step by step, decision by decision, your magnificent constitution is being dismantled.

        I weep.

        1. Me, too.

    2. In Texas:

      (c) The use of force to resist an arrest or search is justified:

      (1) if, before the actor offers any resistance, the peace officer (or person acting at his direction) uses or attempts to use greater force than necessary to make the arrest or search; and

      (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the peace officer’s (or other person’s) use or attempted use of greater force than necessary.

      That would make a hash of the Indiana decision, right there. Glad I live here, not there.

      1. I doubt you’d live long enough for that statute to mean anything to you.

      2. Texas sounds like paradise compared to Fantasy Island. Mr. O’Rourke was a fascist.

      3. Considering half our judges proudly talk about how many people they’ve put away for minor drug charges during their reelection campaigns, I don’t think you’re going to get many who will agree that any force ever offered by a peace officer is “more than necessary”. If a judge ever ruled against a cop like that, he’d immediately be “soft on crime”.

      4. That’s why, if you avail yourself of this statute, you want to make sure the cop isn’t going to be testifying against you in your trial.

    3. “It’s not surprising that they would say there’s no right to beat the hell out of the officer,” Bodensteiner said. “(The court is saying) we would rather opt on the side of saying if the police act wrongfully in entering your house your remedy is under law, to bring a civil action against the officer.”

      Better for the government to ask forgiveness than permission, I guess.

      Here’s the context of the “beating”, to be clear: When the couple went back inside their apartment, the husband told police they were not needed and blocked the doorway so they could not enter. When an officer entered anyway, the husband shoved the officer against a wall. A second officer then used a stun gun on the husband and arrested him.

      No “right to beat the hell out of an officer”? That’s the take away he gets from not being able to resist an unlawful entry? I don’t understand why we keep letting these wussies on the force when they’re so fragile that getting pushed into a wall is getting beat the hell up or when having their video taken interferes with their work.

      1. They have very tiny penises.

    4. If any of you had the stomach to make it to the end, here’s thre last two paragraphs:

      This is the second major Indiana Supreme Court ruling this week involving police entry into a home.
      On Tuesday, the court said police serving a warrant may enter a home without knocking if officers decide circumstances justify it. Prior to that ruling, police serving a warrant would have to obtain a judge’s permission to enter without knocking.

      Who watches the Watchmen?

      1. The other Watchmen. Duh.

      2. just ignore that toilet flushing sound

        1. If you have a toilet capable of quickly flushing enough drugs that should justify a police raid, more power to you (standard disclaimers about whether drugs should be illegal at all apply).

        2. Oh shit, tiny quantities of drugs were flushed, thus preventing the conviction of small-time vice criminals! If we had only given up all our civil liberties, this terrible tragedy could have been averted.

    5. How the fuck can this be squared with current SCOTUS Fourth Amendment jurisprudence?

      Even under the SCOTUS’s fucked-up shitting on the Fourth Amendment, I thought cops cannot enter your house without permission, a warrant or exigent circumstances. How the hell can a state court ignore that?

      1. OK, I just gave it a bit more thought, and it seems that the Indiana court is agreeing that the entry was illegal – i.e., the cops action violated the Fourth Amendment – but that you don’t have a right to use force to resist the officer’s illegal act. In effect, rendering the Fourth Amendment right hollow.

        Interesting thing – in my looking about just now, I came across this SCOTUS case from 1900, which states that you have a right to use force to resist an unlawful arrest. I haven’t researched whether this case has been overruled or mooted, though.

        1. It put the remedy on you to sue the cop/city in civil court. Wasn’t that part of Scalia’s “new professionalism”

  2. Truly insane.

    1. The Indiana thing SIV linked to, I mean.

      1. glad to see you back 🙂

  3. I don’t remember Osama caring about the law when he killed 3,000 Americans. So why should I care about the law when it comes to his death?

    1. So by this logic, someone accused of a criminal act isn’t to be afforded any rights because he didn’t respect the law (that he/she was accused of breaking) in the first place?


    2. our enemies conduct doesnt define ours

      1. Certainly influences our actions big time. The P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act couldn’t have been passed without 9/11.

        1. Paternalists

        2. Doesn’t ^^that^^ stand for:


    3. Osama was in his bed, wearing his Sponge Bob PJs, reading the Laws of War to one his children when a US Navy SEAL shot him in the head. Osama was beginning to understand that his interpretation the Koran didn’t match up with the more sophisticated, secular western laws that governed warfare.

      1. “”Osama was in his bed, wearing his Sponge Bob PJs”‘

        His wives said he giggled like a child when he watched Sponge Bob on DVD.

  4. Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer’s entry.

    What about his fucking exit?

    1. That’s kidnapping. Unless you’re the cops.

  5. People in Indiana have nothing to worry about. The police go through rigorous training and have to say an oath that bars them from doing anything unlawful. If they burst into your house shouting: “Stop resisting, stop resisting!”, just take your beating/tasing/gunshot like a man.

    1. The New Professionalism.

  6. On the Indiana cop thing, here’s something that’s always bugged me. I, as a 17 year old buck private in the Army who barely graduated high school, was expected to recognize and refuse an unlawful order. How come cops, who have way more training and education, aren’t? Seriously, WTF?

    1. having fun private? get back to shoveling dirt outta my ground maggot

    2. How come cops, who have way more training and education….

      Whatever gave you that idea?

      1. I won’t say it’s statutorily required, but most cops down here have a Criminal Justice degree. Also, the academy course is six months as opposed to the 4 months I got in OSUT.

    3. The police don’t have to worry about trivial things like that. They have lame union bosses to cover their asses when they trample a person’s rights; or they just plant evidence or lie. The military has a sense of honor and duty.

      1. ^^This^^

      2. “”The military has a sense of honor and duty.””

        Not that all military personnel abide by that honor and duty. The difference is the military will move to kick you out where cops and their union act more like the mob and try to protect.

        1. Since becoming a reason-reader, in particular Balko’s works, I never cease to be amazed at the behavior and tactics police use.

          Anecdotally, A friend of mine is was going through a police academy in Arizona after getting out of the Army. He was an infantry guy who spent a tour in Iraq before getting out. His class was discussing various SWAT and dynamic entry techniques and he was stunned that tactics under discussion were things they wouldn’t do in Iraq.

          No-knock raids are too risky for them to be used by Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan when trying to apprehend people making bombs. But they’re perfectly fine for the guy growing pot in his closet.

        2. cops and their union act more like the mob…

          Well, if I pay my protection money to the mob, they won’t come into my house, shoot my dog or confiscate my car. OTOH, if I pay my taxes to support the police…

  7. This headline is priceless:…..RK20110513

    I call bullshit though. This reeks of a not-very-sophisticated attempt at propaganda. If porn was there why wouldn’t they have announced it sooner?

    1. Really? I’d be more surprised if they didn’t find porn there.

  8. Is there anyone seriously questioning whether Osama is a legitimate military target? Every thing I’m reading is a question of whether he could be killed by US Special Operations while he is hiding in a part of Pakistan that Pakistan controls.

    The specifics of Osama’s death might change whether Osama him self should have been killed (“did he surrender and cease resisting?” for example), but as the head of a terrorist organization engaging in active hostilities against America I don’t see how he doesn’t constitute a legitimate target.

    1. I have no problem with Osama being offed. It would have been preferable to have captured him and brought him to the US for trial, but I prefer him dead to any of the men who went in being killed in an attempt to be righteous.

      I have never understood the notion that it is somehow wrong to kill the guy in charge, but OK to kill thousands of poor sods who got put on the front line.

    2. I agree.

  9. His rulings stressed that the laws of war?of which the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the U.S., form a principal part?cannot be ignored simply because the government found it “convenient” to do so.

    How about claiming war powers without a declaration of war?



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