Exclusive: President Obama Considered Putting Osama Bin Laden on Trial if Taken Alive
In an adaptation from his new book, The Finish—first reported for Vanity Fair—magazine contributing editor Mark Bowden reveals that President Obama intended to put Osama bin Laden on trial in the federal court system if he had been captured, rather than killed, during the Abbottabad raid. Bowden had access to key players including top national-security officials and the president himself.
According to Bowden in the story—in November’s Vanity Fair—in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”
President Obama tells Bowden that he was aware of the possibility that “The Pacer”—as the team called the figure captured on surveillance video regularly walking around the Abbottabad compound’s vegetable garden—“was some warlord from Afghanistan who had set up shop, the possibility that this was a drug dealer from the Gulf who valued his privacy or had a mistress or a second family.” He also understood that The Pacer might be exactly who they thought he was. Obama had never bought the line that bin Laden “was living an ascetic life somewhere, in some mountain somewhere.”