Was the killing of Osama bin Laden legal? While that question may seem offensive to some Americans, it’s what the family of Osama bin Laden asked Tuesday in a statement released to the New York Times. On behalf of his family, Omar bin Laden — the fourth son of Osama bin Laden who has publicly denounced his father — condemned the U.S. for the killing, saying that “international law has been blatantly violated.”
When asked Wednesday about the raid’s legality, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he had already addressed the question, adding, “We feel very strongly that the successful mission against a mass murderer of Americans and people around the world was entirely justified.” Bloomberg quotes Vice President Biden giving the simpler answer of, “Are you kidding?” to the question.
Gabor Rona, international legal director for the non-profit Human Rights First, said the family isn’t giving an accurate representation of international law. “Assuming the existence of an armed conflict against al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was targetable unless he was surrendering or so injured as to no longer be apparently capable of engaging in hostilities,” Rona said in an e-mail.
The killing would be considered legal if bin Laden was a military target. Since he declared war on the U.S, he is considered one. To make the killing a war crime, Osama bin Laden would have to be “hors de combat” or “outside the fight.” That would have only occurred if Osama bin Laden had tried to surrender or could not defend himself.
This brings us to the start of Omar bin Laden’s statement. It states that “in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence,” he cannot even be certain his father is dead. He requests the government to release more information to confirm that bin Laden did, in fact, die.
While the government has decided not to release any photographs, NPR has filed a Freedom of Information Act requesting the images. Omar bin Laden may not find an answer in a court of law, but he may have at least part of his request honored.