Was Osama bin Laden doing law revision when raided by special forces?

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By Judge John Hack on

US spooks reveal the al-Qaeda supremo was leafing through LSE-educated solicitor’s book in the hours before he met his end


The London School of Economics is renowned for some big-name graduates — not least the two notable losers in the last general election, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. Even the prancing Sir Michael Jagger did a couple of years at the Aldwych before dropping out.

But now that branch of London University has perhaps the greatest distinction of all — being the alma mater of Osama Bin Laden’s favourite lawyer.

Not many outside the foreign office will have heard of Anthony Aust (pictured below), but the LSE law graduate was a solicitor with the diplomatic corps for 35 years before retiring in 2002. During that time he did a three-year stint as deputy legal adviser to the UK’s mission to the UN in New York.


But the reason Aust has leapt from obscurity is down to his 2005 tome, “Handbook of International Law”. Published by Cambridge University Press (CUP), the book has been revealed today as having been one of several piled high on the bedside table of the now deceased al-Qaeda chief.


Aust can thank the CIA and doubtless myriad other US intelligence agencies for his new found fame. American spooks yesterday declassified a long list of English language books the special forces team had to push aside before shooting him in a lightning raid on 2 May 2011.

According to the Americans, bin Laden was ploughing through nearly 40 heavyweight books when he was rudely disturbed in his Pakistan hideout by a group of chaps that would later feature in “Zero Dark Thirty”.

Included on the list were “Obama’s Wars”, by Watergate hack Bob Woodward, the “Oxford History of Modern War”, by Charles Townsend and Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”.

So Legal Cheek readers can be just as enlightened as bin Laden, we offer the publisher’s summary of Aust’s book. CUP described it as “a clear guide to the subject”, penned “by an expert who both teaches and practises in the field, it focuses on what the law is; how it is created; and how it is applied to solve day-to-day problems. It offers a uniquely practical approach to the subject, giving it relevance and immediacy”.

Cambridge’s marketing team went on to laud the updated edition in 2010 as having “a concise, user-friendly format allowing central principles such as jurisdiction and the law of treaties to be understood. In addition, it explores more specialised topics such as human rights, terrorism and the environment”.

No wonder bin Laden is rumoured to have had a cache of porn videos in the other bedside table — after a few pages of Aust, even the king of Islamic freedom fighters deserved a bit of fun.

Aust himself returned to the LSE to teach international law after retiring from the glamorous life of global diplomacy. He also had teaching gigs at University College, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies and Westminster University.