Was Killing of Osama bin Laden Legal Under International Law?


Should U.S. Have Captured Bin Laden Instead?

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., referred to the "chatter out there" about the use of force against bin Laden and sought to bluntly set the record straight.

"From a Navy SEAL perspective, you had to believe that this guy [Osama bin Laden] was a walking IED," an improvised explosive device, said Graham.

"I think the SEALS had to believe that the moment they encountered [bin Laden] that they were well within their right. Shooting him as soon as possible probably protected everyone, including the SEALS, women and children," he said. "The moment they saw bin Laden they had to consider him a threat. "

Graham praised the entire operation and called it "within the law."

Pakistan: Violation of State Sovereignty?

Officials in Pakistan have raised another legal question: Should Pakistan have been notified about the attack.

In a press conference in Pakistan Thursday, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir questioned whether the U.S. raid was legal under international law given the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

John B. Bellinger III, who held Koh's job under the Bush administration, said under the United Nations Charter, the United States would normally be prohibited from using force inside Pakistan without obtaining Pakistan's consent.

But in this instance, the United States had legal justification for not doing so.

"The U.S. was justified in concluding that Pakistan was unwilling or unable to stop the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, and that Pakistan's consent was not necessary because of past concerns about the close ties between Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban," Bellinger said, "and the fact that bin Laden was in a house, on a street right down the road from a Pakistani military base. "

Waxman said it's a complicated question. "Under international law, it would normally be a violation of a state's sovereignty to launch this sort of raid, unless the state consents or perhaps because of an overriding necessity of self-defense."

But Waxman said the United States had a good argument that Pakistan was probably not willing or able to deal effectively with this situation.

"The Pakistani government should not be surprised by this. President Obama said during the presidential campaign that he'd do this if we had good intelligence, and he meant it," said Waxman.

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