A few days after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a daring nighttime raid in Pakistan, a clearer picture is emerging of his death: When he was shot, bin Laden was reportedly unarmed, acting "confused," and within reach of two guns. The fact that he was unarmed, and questions over whether there was ever a plan to take him alive, have raised red flags for some legal scholars. So did U.S. troops lawfully kill the head of a militia at war with America, or did America "murder" an unarmed criminal defendant?
The U.S. was well within its rights: It doesn't matter that bin Laden was unarmed, or that the SEALS were in the country without Pakistan's permission, says The Washington Post in an editorial. Bin Laden declared war on the U.S. in 1998, and Congress reciprocated in 2001: Under the international laws of war, al Qaeda's leader was fair game, regardless of how he reacted to being caught.
"In killing Osama bin Laden, U.S. had the law on its side"
Actually, Obama has some explaining to do: It's unclear that al Qaeda still qualifies as a group with which America is legitimately at war, says Thomas Darnstädt in Der Speigel, or that bin Laden was an active "combatant." Even if he was, the legal way to handle "a man who is sought globally for commissioning murder would be to arrest him, put him on trial, and ultimately convict him," not summarily execute him.
"Was bin Laden's killing legal?"
It may have been legal... but it wasn't just: The SEALs weren't law enforcement officers making an arrest, says Thomas Nachbar at Slate. They were on a military mission, and "by virtually any account of the law of war, Osama bin Laden was a valid military target." But just because the raid was lawful doesn't mean that "justice" was done. That's an important distinction, because "only principles like justice" can defeat the ideology bin Laden represented.
"Is it 'justice'?"
Let's just call a spade a spade: "Common sense tells you [bin Laden] was executed," says filmmaker Michael Moore, as quoted by The Wrap. It would have been better to bring him to trial, like we did with the Nazis at Nuremberg, and then hang him. But we didn't, so let's just be frank about what happened. We're all glad Osama's dead, and we can handle the truth.
"Michael Moore: 'Bin Laden was executed'"