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Stephen L. Carter

Obama’s Secret Rationale for the Raid on Bin Laden

Nearly eight years later, the public still knows precious little about how and why the decision was made.

But was it legal?

But was it legal?

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images North America

So it looks like those secret Osama bin Laden memos are going to stay secret a bit longer. These are the written opinions by lawyers at multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, drafted in 2011 at the request of President Barack Obama’s administration, on whether the U.S. had the legal right to capture or kill bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan. The existence (but not the text) of these opinions came to light in 2015, and various groups have been chasing them ever since. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the government did not have to make them public.

A bit of background. In the summer of 2010, the U.S. received information that bin Laden was living in a compound in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan. By the following spring, the Obama administration had sufficient confidence in the intelligence to order a strike on the compound. The successful mission brought Obama well-deserved accolades from across the political spectrum, and became a cornerstone of his re-election campaign.