Osama bin Laden is dead because President Obama followed the rules of war and the policies and procedures left to him by President George W. Bush rather than the rules of civil procedure.
During a White House press briefing Sunday night, a senior administration official credited post-9/11 "detainees" with providing the links of information that led to bin Laden's $1 million dollar compound in Pakistan. According to a transcript of the call, a senior administration official said:
Detainees in the post-9/11 period flagged for us individuals who may have been providing direct support to bin Laden and his deputy, Zawahiri, after their escape from Afghanistan.
One courier in particular had our constant attention. Detainees gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.
Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden. But for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location.
Four years ago, we uncovered his identity, and for operational reasons, I can't go into details about his name or how we identified him, but about two years ago, after months of persistent effort, we identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated. Still we were unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to extensive operational security on their part. The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.
The New York Times, no fan of Gitmo or enhanced interrogation of terrorists, disclosed Monday that it has information indicating that the detainees are likely housed in Gitmo: One of the Guantánamo detainee-assessment files disclosed recently to WikiLeaks and obtained independently by The New York Times may provide a clue about the origins of the intelligence that led to the breakthrough. That document, an assessment of Mr. Libbi, who was transferred from a secret C.I.A. prison to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006, discusses his interactions with a courier for Bin Laden - who is identified in the document by the initials UBL - in Pakistan. Footnotes to those sentences cite what appear to be C.I.A. accounts of interrogations of Mr. Libbi in 2005 and 2006. "Waterboarding" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during his detention in an overseas prison was crucial to Sunday's operation, according to Rep. Peter King (R-New York), appearing on Fox News O'Reilly Factor on Monday night. King linked his comments to his briefing by the White House Sunday night. The Freedom's Lighthouse website summarizes:
"The intelligence that led the United States to find the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden came through the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM). The nickname for a courier of Bin Laden's was obtained from KSM through waterboarding, later confirmed by another detainee that was interrogated in 2007, according to King. It took U.S. Intelligence four years to identify who the courier actually was and follow him to the compound where Bin Laden was hiding."
Bin Laden is dead because our intelligence officers who toil anonymously and our magnificent military operated under the law of war, not because a band of lawyers operated under the rules of civil procedure.
We're told that bin Laden was given a chance to surrender. He chose death rather than surrendering ultimately into the hands of lawyers.
As recently as March 7, Obama reiterated his commitment to close Guantanamo Bay. It remains open with no sign of closing. We also know that if Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had had their way, terrorist detainees would be housed somewhere inside the United States, all lawyered up and claiming a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
We have reviewed the four challenged legal memos. As we will discuss below, they add up to 124 single spaced pages of careful legal reasoning reviewing all applicable statutes, treaties, cases, and word definitions, and applying that law to a thorough discussion of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques utilized under President Bush. We find not only that these memos involve a thorough, well-reasoned, praiseworthy legal effort and analysis. We find that their conclusions are correct under applicable law.
Obama rightly credited the intelligence and military heroes who brought bin Laden to justice Sunday night:
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.
If Obama intends to be "relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies," he should reject once and for all the policies and procedures that would treat war as mere criminal conduct. We must continue to avail ourselves of the courage, skill, and professionalism of the men and women serving in our intelligence community and our military.
It is altogether fitting and proper that the last thing a war criminal sees is the American flag on the helmet of the American military bringing him to justice.
Jan LaRue is senior legal analyst with the American Civil Rights Union.