A BlogPost reader, James, writes in:
Why have there been virtually no expressions of concern from those who normally uphold fundamental due process, as well as from civil libertarians? Could he instead have been disabled and disarmed? Was a serious effort made to capture bin Laden, or was this basically an assassination of bin Laden? What happened to the concept that even the worst of us is entitled to due process and a fair trial?
James is right — there were few condemnations over the killing. Hamas, the radical Islamist group in Gaza, made one of the only public statements that criticized the killing. I write killing, because it is not clear if it was an assassination, at least under legal definitions.
Political assassinations have been banned since President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905, but President George W. Bush signed into law Public 107-40, which authorizes the president to “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
This idea that certain killings were exempt from the assassination law was reitereated in March by the legal adviser to the State Department, Harold Koh, during a speech. “The use of lawful weapons systems — consistent with the applicable laws of war — for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful,” Koh said. “And hence does not constitute ‘assassination.’”
Bin Laden also reportedly resisted capture, a fact that the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin sees the government could use to justify the death.
President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have all called it an act of “justice,” a sentiment echoed to some extent by Amnesty International. Claudio Cordone, director at the British human rights organization, said in a statement, “Osama Bin Laden took credit for and supported acts around the world which amounted to crimes against humanity. He also inspired others to commit grave human rights abuses. His death will put an end to his role in organizing or inspiring such criminal acts. We do not know the full circumstances of his killing and the others with him and we are looking into that.”