By Alan Silverleib

Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger and CNN's David Gergen both argue the killing of Osama bin Laden was legal.

Was the killing of Osama bin Laden legal under international law?

The administration says yes, absolutely. Experts are unsure.

Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s compound was lawful “as an act of national self-defense.”

“He was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th,” Holder said. “It’s lawful to target an enemy commander in the field.”

The raid on Obama’s compound “was conducted in a manner fully consistent with the laws of war,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Carney declined to offer specifics, but said “there is simply no question that this operation was lawful. … (Bin Laden) had continued to plot attacks against the United States.”

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had all issued orders to kill or capture the al Qaeda leader.

“The authority (during the raid) was to kill bin Laden,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Tuesday during an interview with PBS. “Obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered, and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

A number of experts have said the question of actual legality may come down to bin Laden’s response at the moment U.S. Navy SEALs burst into his room.

“If a person has his hands in the air, you’re not supposed to kill him,” said Steven Groves, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

U.S. officials have revised their account of what happened during the assault on the compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden was not armed during the 40-minute raid, they now say, but he put up resistance to U.S. forces.

The al Qaeda leader was moving at the time he was initially shot, according to a U.S. official who has seen military reports of the incident. The official declined to describe the movements more specifically. Read more…

Video: see what experts have to say about it.

As published in www.cnn.com on May 5, 2011.


CJ May 6, 2011 - 5:43 pm

Whats the difference in legality between OBL killing and the Killing by drones of targeted individuals or groups in Pakistan?

CJ May 6, 2011 - 5:52 pm

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