(WASHINGTON) — Since the death of Osama bin Laden Sunday, administration officials have repeatedly said that the mission to kill him complied with domestic and international law.“Let me make something very clear,” Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Wednesday, “the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful. He was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that conducted the attacks of Sept. 11. He admitted his involvement.”But as new details of the operation emerge, and some Pakistani leaders protest the U.S. incursion into their state, legal experts say the administration must more forcefully lay out its case.Law professor Kenneth Anderson, who specializes in legal issues related to war and terrorism, said that differing government accounts as to whether bin Laden was armed or invited to surrender or even involved in a firefight have muddled the legal debate and left the administration open to international criticism.“Holder was not direct in stating that of course it was legal to target Osama bin Laden, legal to target with lethal force, legal to target without warning or invitation to surrender,” said Anderson, who teaches at American University Washington College of Law. “And that has always been the U.S. legal position.”“The United States actually has firm legal views on these points, which unfortunately, probably for reasons of operational secrecy, the senior leadership hasn’t properly communicated,” Anderson added.To justify the use of force, the Obama administration relied on the Authorization to Use Military Force Act of Sept. 18, 2001, which allows the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons who authorized, planned or committed the 9/11 attacks, as well as international law derived from treaties and customary laws of war.The Obama and Bush administrations have argued that the use of force is allowed under international law because of the continuing conflict with al Qaeda, and the need to protect the United States from additional attacks.
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