This is a problem for a lot of people; it leaves them with the idea that Paul would prefer bin Laden not face consequences for his purported role in multiple terror attacks over the last two decades. This is not Paul’s position at all, but it bears some scrutiny.
First, it’s worth mentioning that Paul called this one as far back as October 2003:
His analysis of our relationship with Pakistan hasn’t changed since that time, and it’s clear that he was ahead of the game early on. Paul didn’t have some secret information that lead him to be correct in 2003 — he simply used his understanding of our foreign policy in the Middle East and applied it to what he was seeing.
He was against spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was against risking thousands of military lives and those of countless foreign civilians to go after a terrorist who was in neither country. He was against attacking and occupying a sovereign nation without a declaration of war.
He was not against finding Osama bin Laden and bringing him to justice.
In November 2001, Paul introduced H.R. 3076, aka. the Marque and Reprisal act of 2001. He listed Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda by name as the targets of the proposed letters. These specifically grant the President authority to hire “privately armed and equipped persons and entities” to go outside U.S. boarders to seize bin Laden and any co-conspirators. The Constitution (Article I, Section 8) provides for Congress to grant letters of Marque and Reprisal to the executive branch as a response to threats against our national security.
The main idea behind this is that a relatively surgical force would be used to apprehend Osama bin Laden and any of his co-conspirators rather than an occupation force. Incidentally, it is a surgical force like this which actually achieved the goal of eliminating Osama in the end (of course, they were military rather than private).
So, given these facts, what is Ron Paul’s beef with the way things went down?
- Osama never stood trial nor had the chance to provide us with intelligence.
- We used our military to invade a sovereign nation without permission.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda operative accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, was apprehended in Pakistan in 2003 by Pakistani intelligence forces. He is being held at Guantanamo Bay and is set to be tried by a military tribunal for the crimes of which he is accused. If he is convicted, he will almost certainly face the death penalty.
Paul’s argument here is that if bin Laden was a higher-priority target than Mohammed, we would ostensibly want to gain intelligence from him and have him face trial as well. The current version of the raid holds that bin Laden was unarmed. He could have been captured alive. He almost certainly would have been executed after trial. It makes little sense to me that we would not want to gain intelligence from him nor want to see him tried.
Incidentally, not everyone in Paul’s non-intervention camp agrees on this issue. Michael Scheuer is the former head of the CIA’s unit on bin Laden, and has sided with Paul on Afghanistan, Iraq, and blowback. He recently posted, “The death of Osama bin Laden is great news for the United States, and it is much better that he was killed rather than captured.”
This is hardly a concern for most Americans — we’ve been doing that for a long time without regard for the Constitution. Some would argue that we’re entitled to go wherever we want with impunity to avenge 9/11, but I disagree strongly. My most concise argument is to reverse roles:
Imagine that a private citizen of the U.S. has planned a successful attack on civilians in Pakistan. Our government is either incapable or unwilling to apprehend this citizen, and the Pakistanis want justice. Would they be entitled to enter our airspace and carry out a military operation without our permission? How would we react in that situation?
The real question is whether we’re entitled to disregard the sovereignty of another nation just because we have superior military force.
In summary, Ron Paul was not opposed to capturing Osama bin Laden, nor to having him face justice. His concern is that we make our foreign policy and national security choices in a way that follows the Constitution and makes us safer in the long run.