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U.S. Defends Killing of Bin Laden as Son Challenges Legality

Omar Bin Laden
Omar Bin Laden, son of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, seen here in Rome, on Feb. 4, 2008. Photographer: Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

The Obama administration rejected allegations by the sons of Osama bin Laden that the U.S. had violated legal norms in killing him, saying the justifications for the operation are clear.

“I’ve addressed the legal foundation” for the raid, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Washington today. “We feel very strongly that the successful mission against a mass murderer of Americans and people around the world was entirely justified.”

The White House is seeking to neutralize criticism outlined by Omar Osama bin Laden in a statement published yesterday by the New York Times.

The son, who wrote that he disagreed with his father’s “ways,” said the U.S. military team that raided his father’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, should have arrested bin Laden, who was unarmed, and sent him to trial. He cited the example of trials for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

“We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems” and justice must be done, the statement said. In addition to violating international law, the U.S. action contradicted the American right to a fair trial, the younger bin Laden wrote, adding that his father was “summarily executed.”

The U.S. deemed the terrorist leader a combatant, a U.S. official said, citing al-Qaeda’s declaration of war on the U.S. and bin Laden’s pride in killing Americans. Article 51 of the United Nations charter guarantees a nation’s inherent right to self-defense, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lengthy Pursuit

President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have trumpeted the death of bin Laden as a milestone in their goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda. The May 2 operation capped a lengthy pursuit of bin Laden since the U.S. lost track of him in Afghanistan during the invasion that followed al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attack that caused almost 3,000 deaths at the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon near Washington, and in a Pennsylvania field.

Vice President Joe Biden, asked on his way into an unrelated congressional negotiating session yesterday to respond to the allegation of illegality, said, “Are you kidding?”

Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the killing of bin Laden complied with the law.

“The operation against bin Laden was justified,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a May 4 hearing in Washington. “It’s lawful to target an enemy commander in the field.”

Bin Laden ‘Targetable’

Holder said bin Laden took no steps to surrender, and the U.S. actions were “consistent with our values.”

The New York-based nonprofit group Human Rights First said bin Laden’s son didn’t accurately describe international law in yesterday’s statement.

“Assuming the existence of an armed conflict against al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was targetable unless he was surrendering or so injured” that he couldn’t have engaged the U.S. troops, Gabor Rona, the group’s international legal director, said in a statement on the group’s website.

Omar bin Laden said in his statement that he is the al-Qaeda leader’s fourth son and that he represented an unspecified number of brothers. He said he “always disagreed with our father regarding any violence and always sent messages to our father that he must change his ways and that no civilians should be attacked.”

Going to Court

The New York Times said it obtained the statement from American author Jean Sasson, who helped Omar and his mother, Najwa bin Laden, write “Growing Up bin Laden,” a 2009 memoir. A shorter, slightly different statement was posted yesterday on a jihadist website, the newspaper reported.

The son criticized the special operations forces for also killing another of bin Laden’s sons and a woman during the raid and shooting another woman in the leg.

Omar bin Laden warned that in the absence of satisfactory answers, he and his brothers would force the issue in international courts with a “panel of eminent British and international lawyers.”

He also called for more evidence that the body the commandos took from the compound was that of his father. The U.S. military said it buried bin Laden at sea within the Islamic tradition’s requirement of 24 hours from the time of death.

Obama administration officials have cited evidence of identity that include verbal identification by one of bin Laden’s wives in the compound, facial recognition techniques, DNA samples that matched those of family members and al-Qaeda’s own statement last week confirming the death.

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