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Was Killing Osama bin Laden Legal?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 04, 2011 6:45 AM

While some are taking the time to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, others are beginning to ask questions about the President's decisions and their basis in law.

The U.S. was arguably on shaky ground when it covertly entered a foreign country to carry out a military mission, but, as of now, the general consensus amongst legal scholars is that killing Osama bin Laden was legal.

For the curious, here is where the law stands at this time.

Was killing Osama bin Laden legal under U.S. law?

As a rule, political assassinations are illegal under U.S. law as provided by an executive order enacted by President Ford. But, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, President Bush authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force against those responsible for 9/11.

This authorization arguably includes the use of force against Osama bin Laden.

Was killing Osama bin Laden legal under international law?

This is where things get a bit more tricky.

According to a group of well-respected legal scholars, the actions taken against Osama bin Laden were legal because the United States has affirmatively declared war with al Qaeda, reports Reuters. Acts of war are generally accepted, even if they target a unique person.

Some scholars also point to the Charter of the United Nations, which grants countries a right to act in self-defense. This weekend's attack was arguably in defense to al Qaeda's repeated attempts to attack the United States.

Keep in mind that these opinions may change as more information becomes available about why and how the U.S. acted. One fact can change the entire analysis.

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