A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"He Looked Like He Was Reaching For A Weapon." Just Say That

The more I hear about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the more I feel like I'm listening to a press conference by the local chief on the shooting of a suspect in the dark streets of Miami at night.

But its not as succinct.

First I heard, "this was a kill mission, there was no intention of capturing him alive."

Then I heard he had a weapon.

Then I heard he didn't have a weapon.

Then I heard there were "threatening moves." Hint: we and the case law call them "furtive movements." Use "furtive." It has more meaning to someone in a robe.

Then I heard he looked like he was going for a weapon.

Then I heard he "resisted."

Then I thought - maybe we should stop explaining this, maybe we should stop trying to justify why we blew his head off. We're not doing a very good job.

My recommendation is that any government or terrorist organization or fringe group that wants to know why we killed Bin Laden, should be told to Google "world trade center airplanes September 11," and click the link to "video." Find the long video that shows people jumping out of the twin towers.

Yes, I am an anti death penalty criminal defense lawyer who believes in due process. Yes, making an exception here may make me a hypocrite.

But I've been called worse.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter


  1. W. Clermont9:49 AM

    He had a weapon in one hand. No wait it was a sock. No wait it was a weapon. No wait, he had a sock on one hand and a weapon in the other hand.

    Wait he was reaching for something. Maybe it was his wallet. Maybe it was a pair of sunglasses. Perhaps it was the standard swiss army knife he usually carries in his pocket in the open unlocked position.

  2. It's really irrelevant whether he had weapon or was resisting or running. Unless the fighting had died down and Bin Laden clearly and unmistakably surrendered after no one on his side was still fighting back, the SEALS were well within their rights to shoot him. Post hoc review is one thing, but thinking that that situation was anything other than a high-adrenaline mess is just idiotic.

  3. Anonymous10:57 PM

    Criminal justice and war are not the same thing. I am (quite correctly) expected to have any force I use at work subject to court scrutiny when effecting an arrest for a violation of law. That force must be "reasonable" (as decided by that bizarre alchemy that is the legal process) or I lose everything I currently own, everything I ever will own, before I lose my job and go to jail. Needless to say, I don't use any more than the bare minimum of force at work. With Osama it was an act of war. That raid was more akin to shooting down Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's plane during WW2. We weren't seeking to serve an arrest warrant and the rules that apply to domestic civilian law enforcement did not apply here.

    So, don't worry about the hypocrisy. You are using the wrong set of rules. A battlefield is not a court of law. The day the ACLU manages to make that the case is the day we lose our next war.

  4. Todd Doss4:21 PM

    I agree that all the explaining diminishes and tarnishes what happened. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Quaida are sworn enemies of the United States and got what they had coming to them as enemies that killed thousands of Americans and were in what they considered a holy war against us. I am also anti-death penalty, however, that does not apply to defnding the country against sworn enemies.

  5. I don't think Yamomoto was reaching for a gun the moment we shot him down, either.