The killing of Osama bin Laden was legally justified, and would have been even if the al-Qaida leader had made some sign that he wished to surrender, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
“The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “He was the head of al-Qaida, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September 11th. He admitted his involvement and he indicated that he would not be taken alive. The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self defense.”
Holder said bin Laden was a legitimate military target and he had made no attempt to surrender to the U.S. forces that stormed his fortified compound near Islamabad on Monday. He was shot in the chest and head.
It was lawful to target an enemy commander in the field and the mission was conducted in the way that was consistent with U.S. laws and values, Holder testified, adding that it was a “kill or capture mission.”
Five people were killed in the raid, officials said: bin Laden; his son, Khalid; his most trusted courier, a man who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti; and al-Kuwaiti’s wife and brother. The latest White House account leaves open the question of whether there was any gunfire from bin Laden’s defenders in his room before the commandos shot him.
Bin Laden was buried at sea from a U.S. Navy ship scant hours after his death.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said “you have to believe this guy was a walking IED,” and that any of the Navy SEALs would have wanted to kill bin Laden as far away as possible from the other members of the American team.
The attorney general agreed with Graham that there was a sound legal basis for the raid.
Holder was under a second day of oversight questioning on Capitol Hill; Tuesday he was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee.
Even as many European leaders congratulated the U.S. government on the operation, many said the slaying was of symbolic value. They pointed out that the terror cells working in Europe have long functioned independently and may try to avenge bin Laden’s death.