Today it was reported that Attorney General Eric Holder, chief law enforcement officer and chief legal adviser to the United States government, has informed the Senate Judiciary Committee that the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by a team of US Navy Seals was a lawful act. Irrespective of any future revelations and investigations, it is improbable that Mr. Holder's office could eventually espouse any other position—and too many Americans don't give a whit about the legalities anyway.
Nevertheless the UK's well known human rights attorney, Geoffrey Robertson, seems concerned. He was quoted by BBC as embracing a very controversial stance: "This man [bin Laden] has been subject to summary execution, and what is now appearing after a good deal of disinformation from the White House is it may well have been a cold-blooded assassination."
And in more general terms according to BBC, Dutch international law specialist and professor at Utrecht University, Geert-Jan Knoops, has told the Reuters news agency: "The Americans say they are at war with terrorism and can take out their opponents on the battlefield. But in a strictly formal sense, this argument does not stand up". Most likely it would not withstand intense and disinterested international legal scrutiny.
In any case a majority of today's Americans would say that bin Laden "had it coming". Of course that same logic was videotaped by bin Laden in October 2001 when disclosing certain aspects of 9/11. His three core rationalizations for seeking revenge and retribution are contained on that tape and are well presented by Chalmers Johnson in the Prologue to Nemesis. They include:
- 1. sanctions against Iraq since 1991—"One million Iraqi children have thus far died although they did not do anything wrong".
- 2. US policies toward Israel and Palestine—"I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine"
- 3. US military bases in Saudi Arabia—"and before all the army of infidels [American soldiers] depart the land of Muhammad [Saudi Arabia]".
There is no consolation in learning that the attacks on American soil were acts of vengeance and retribution for perceived wrongs but it is crucially important to understand that the perpetrators were not "protesting our existence" in 2001 as declared by POTUS MISLEADUS in 2004 when addressing the Air Force Academy student body. Revenge motivated 9/11 just as revenge motivated that recent, successful cross-border Seal team operation in Pakistan—coincidentally well timed for public relations purposes.
Public opposition to drone use, cross-border operations, CIA military operations, and excessive collateral damage had been growing steadily before this well spun success provided popular justification for bending international rules in order to get the job done.
The more tenacious critics will continue to righteously harp about the many obscure legal issues surrounding US operations in general and cross-border operations in particular.
Perhaps someday soon international courts of law can be charged to rule on the status de jure of this decade's controversial US operations. Let's hope so—ultimate alternatives to continued rule of law include global subjugation by military despotism.