New Brouhaha: Was Killing Osama Legal?

Some call it an unlawful execution
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2011 9:41 AM CDT
This picture provided by Time magazine shows the cover of a special issue of the magazine on the death of Osama bin Laden, to hit newsstands on Thursday, May 5, 2011.   (AP Photo/Time)

(Newser) – In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, some are denouncing the US operation as an illegal execution or assassination, but a senior congressional aide says there was only one way the al-Qaeda honcho would have been allowed to surrender: naked. US officials say troops were told to accept bin Laden's surrender only if they were sure he did not pose a threat, such as having a bomb hidden under his clothing. The White House stands by its claim that bin Laden resisted capture, and Jay Carney notes that "resistance does not require a firearm." In fact, most officials, experts, and analysts rounded up by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Christian Science Monitor agree that it was a completely legal mission, being that bin Laden was a legitimate military target—not to mention "extremely dangerous," says one.

“If he’s nodding at someone in the hall, or rushing to the bookcase or you think he’s wearing a suicide vest, you’re on solid ground to kill him," he continues. Others noted that the Navy SEALs were moving quickly through dim rooms while under fire: “They say he was unarmed now, but did the SEALs know he was unarmed?” But der Spiegel and Reuters find many who disagree. Justice is "not achieved through summary executions, but through a punishment that is meted out at the end of a trial," says one international law professor. It's especially problematic that the operation occurred not on an Afghan battlefield but in Pakistan, a sovereign foreign power. Still, it could have been worse, notes Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "They could have sent a Predator with Hellfire missiles and killed everyone in the place. They didn't do it." (Speaking of all things legal, the New York Times notes that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are expected to ask a judge to dismiss all charges against bin Laden this week.)

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