Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said, “If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that.”

. . . reported the Associated Press.


. . . a U.S. national security official told Reuters. . . . “This was a kill operation,” . . . making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.

And, in fact, Osama bin Laden, though unarmed, was shot. At the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin writes that

. . . it’s worth noting that the apparently universal acclaim for the killing represents a major shift in American perceptions of such actions. Following the revelations of C.I.A. assassination plots by the Church Committee, in the nineteen-seventies, President Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (later 12333), which stated, No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.

Humanitarian concerns and legality aside, what about strategic considerations of bringing him back alive? Despite the computers, storage devices, and documents seized, the man himself might have eventually provided a font of information, especially from the point of view of a nuclear-arms specialist such as myself, on not only terrorism networks but his attempts to acquire nuclear know-how, technology, and fuel.

Many claim the trial — whether in a civil or military court in the United States, or in the International Criminal Court — would have been a circus. But is that a reflection of a fear they might share with the U.S. government — that despite what was seized, the evidence might be insufficient to convict bin Laden?