Zero Dark Thirty: A Critical Evaluation of the Legality of the Killing of Osama Bin Laden Under International Humanitarian Law
Sarah Cunningham, 'Zero Dark Thirty: A Critical Evaluation of the Legality of the Killing of Osama bin Laden under International Humanitarian Law' (2013) 26(2) Journal of International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict 56
8 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2014
Date Written: May 7, 2013
With the release of Hollywood blockbuster ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ renewed attention has been paid to the Operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed, and questions have again begun circulating about the US programme of ‘targeted killings’ more generally. Using the framework of international humanitarian law, this essay critically evaluates the legality of this particular targeted killing. By determining whether the US was participating in an international or non-international conflict against Al-Qaeda; whether bin Laden was a legitimate military target; and whether the Operation itself was conducted within the parameters of international humanitarian law, that is whether it satisfied the requirements of distinction, proportionality and (arguably) necessity, this essay reveals the Operation was most likely illegal under international humanitarian law. The essay concludes by discussing the inadequacy of international humanitarian law as it applies to targeted killing, and offers some general lessons to be learned from the Operation.
Keywords: International Law, International Humanitarian Law, Terrorism, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Targeted Killing
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation