The PJ Tatler

Why not release the order directing action against bin Laden?

There have been many calls for the Obama Administration to release further information about the action in Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden. “Experts” from the U.N. Human Rights Council have requested this and so have others. Following release of a mishmash of information, much of it incorrect, a lid seems to have been clamped down; there may or may not be non-political reasons for this. However, keeping national security interests firmly in mind, it is worth noting that in the absence of well supported facts speculation usually fills the void; with sufficient repetition that speculation often comes to be viewed as factual.

I have not yet seen any specific calls for release of whatever document embodied the Presidential Finding, or whatever, authorizing the operation. Was it done on the basis of President Reagan’s 1986 Presidential Finding which laid out in broad brush strokes the procedures to be used in fighting terrorism? Did President Obama sign a supplemental Memorandum of Notification dealing specifically with Pakistan and bin Laden? When?

It is claimed here that “Unlike Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, Obama actually authorized a strike against bin Laden when given the chance.” If there was no such order, that would be quite interesting. Assuming that a Presidential Order of some type was in fact signed and issued, it should be released. It should be redacted, not for political reasons but to avoid only the disclosure of operational details likely to impair future operations and the identities of operational personnel otherwise likely to be put further in harm’s way. Release of such a document seems both harmless and useful.

Release could possibly answer some of the following questions:

1. Did the order authorize the killing of bin Laden and, if so, in what circumstances?

2. Did the order specify any circumstances under which he was to be taken alive and, if so, in what circumstances?

3. If taken alive, what was to be done with him?

4. Did the order provide any directions as to the disposition of bin Laden’s body in the event of his death, and if so what were those directions?

5. Did the order direct that the operation be kept secret from Pakistani authorities and, if so, did it offer any guidance as to how this could, should or must be accomplished? What was that guidance, if any?  Since the operation appears in fact to have been kept secret, no operational harm should occur based on an acknowledgment that President Obama ordered it.  Some of the details as to how it was to be accomplished could be sufficiently sensitive to warrant their redaction.

Additional information could possibly be released without harming national security, but without access even to a redacted copy it is not very useful to speculate as to what.

The release of a redacted copy of the order could itself raise additional questions, some of which it could be appropriate to answer. According to President Obama, his administration is the most transparent in history.
Since President Obama is claiming substantial personal credit for the operation and is receiving it, release of the order could put his actual role in proper context.