The Baraawe Raid: A Test for the Obama Administration’s View of al Shabab? [UPDATED]

[Update: 10:10 p.m. (EDT): It now appears that earlier reports were premature–and that the Baraawe raid may have resulted in the death of the senior Shabab leader earlier believed to be captured. But regardless of the outcome of the operation, the legal authority question remains. And ditto for the apparent capture of Abu Anas in Tripoli. Inasmuch as these operations involved the overt use of military force by U.S. personnel, they’re legal under domestic law only insofar as they were undertaken pursuant to the AUMF or a valid exercise of the President’s inherent constitutional authority to defend the country. Hopefully, as we learn more details about both of these stories in the coming days, we’ll also hear from the government about the specific legal authorities on which these operations were predicated.]

A number of media outlets are now reporting that Navy SEALs have captured “a senior leader of the Shabab militant group from his seaside villa in the Somali town of Baraawe on Saturday,” with the operation coming in response to the late-September Westgate Mall attack. If confirmed, it will be interesting to see how the Obama administration handles such a detainee–and whether its response provides any further illumination of its view of al Shabab–and its relationship to al Qaeda–under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). [Jen Daskal and I alluded to this issue in the immediate aftermath of the attack two weeks ago.]

As most readers know, the Administration has been sending virtually all of the terrorism suspects who have ended up in U.S. custody into our Article III civilian criminal court system–and there’s no immediately apparent reason why that measure won’t also be available and pursued here. But in the case of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, the Obama administration detained Warsame on board a U.S. Navy ship for upwards of six weeks before transferring him to civilian criminal custody, ostensibly on the ground that such detention was authorized by the AUMF. If a similar path were pursued here, it might tell us quite a lot about how the U.S. government understands its authority vis-a-vis al Shabab–and provide yet further fodder for the ongoing debate over the scope of the AUMF, and the calls for reform. 

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About the Author(s)

Steve Vladeck

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security and Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@steve_vladeck).