Holder was left out of decisions about bin Laden raid

Holder was left out of decisions about bin Laden raid
© Getty Images

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was not included in legal discussions about the plot to kill Osama bin Laden until just a day before the 2011 raid occurred — and after all the legal wrinkles had been ironed out, according to a new report.

Just four people were primarily responsible for writing legal arguments to support the raid, according to The New York Times, which published an excerpt Wednesday of an upcoming book about national security law under the Obama administration.


Those four officials — top lawyers from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff — worked for slightly more than a month to come up with a sound legal rationale for launching a secret military operation in another country without its permission. The former Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson is now the Homeland Security secretary.

Five secret memos authorizing the mission were written just days before the May 2, 2011 raid, according to The Times, in case the Obama administration needed to justify its actions.

Some officials had reportedly discussed bringing Holder in on the secret raid ahead of time.

According to the newspaper’s sources, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, suggested including Holder in the discussions on April 28, “just to make sure.”

However, then-National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon rejected that idea, The Times reported.

Ahead of the secret mission, lawyers were reportedly barred from speaking with aides and restricted to secure modes of communication, so as not to leak word of the impending mission.

The assignment to kill or capture bin Laden drew covert U.S. forces deep into Abbottabad, Pakistan, under the cover of night.

Among other issues, lawyers grappled with violating Pakistani sovereignty by entering its borders unannounced, and the possibility that bin Laden would be taken alive.   

In an initial conversation in which Johnson was only told that the U.S. had found “a very high-value target,” he suggested that the target could be brought to Guantanamo Bay, despite the White House’s policy to close down the detention facility there.