WASHINGTON — A new book says President Barack Obama hoped to put Osama bin Laden on trial, showing the U.S. commitment to due process under law, if the al-Qaida leader had surrendered during a U.S. raid in Pakistan last year.
In “The Finish,” journalist Mark Bowden quotes the president as saying he thought he would be in a strong political position to argue in favor of giving bin Laden the full rights of a criminal defendant if bin Laden went on trial for masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Associated Press purchased a copy of “The Finish,” which is due to come out Oct. 16, a few weeks before the presidential election. The revelation that Obama hoped to capture bin Laden may provide political fodder for Republicans who have criticized the Obama administration for trying to bring terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and overseas to trials in U.S. courts.
“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-Qaida, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr,” Obama is quoted saying in an interview with Bowden.
Obama believed that affording terrorists “the full rights of criminal defendants would showcase America’s commitment to justice for even the worst of the worst,” Bowden writes.
Obama had expressed similar views as a presidential candidate.
New York congressman Peter King said he would have been “totally opposed” to a trial.
“To give him a forum and all the constitutional protections that a U.S. citizen would receive when he was clearly a war criminal is part of the defensive and apologetic attitude” of the Obama administration, the Republican said Wednesday.
U.S. officials have said the Navy team was ordered to capture bin Laden if he surrendered or kill him if he threatened them. Bowden asserts that the SEALs could have taken bin Laden alive but had no intention of doing so.
The recounting of the raid matches most previous versions. But Bowden also offers new insights in what sounds like the first-person perspective of the officer who commanded it on the ground, Adm. Bill McRaven. Scott Manning, a spokesman for the publisher, says “McRaven is not identified as a source in the book.”