WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday defended the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military as an act of national self defense and said the al Qaeda leader made no attempt to surrender.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that bin Laden had no intention of being captured by American forces, which stormed his hideout in Pakistan on Monday.
“Let me make something very clear: The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful. He was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September 11. He admitted his involvement,” said Holder, the chief U.S. law enforcement officer.
There has been some criticism in the Muslim world about bin Laden’s killing and the swift burial of his body at sea, as well as questions on whether Washington acted outside international law.
Navy SEALS shot the unarmed bin Laden in the face when they found him on the third floor of a highly-fortified compound 35 miles/56 km north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
But some U.S. lawmakers said the al Qaeda leader could have been hiding a weapon or a vest packed with explosives to blow himself up if he was on the verge of being captured.
“From a Navy SEAL perspective, you had to believe that this guy was a walking IED (improvised explosive device),” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. “If I were a Navy SEAL and I made a positive ID on this guy, I would want to take him down as far away from my teammates as possible.”
Holder said it was lawful to target bin Laden because he was the enemy commander in the field and the operation was conducted in a way consistent with U.S. laws and values, adding that it was a “kill or capture mission.”
“It was justified as an act of national self-defense,” Holder said. “If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate.”
A week after the 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that killed some 3,000 people, the Congress gave the president permission to use military force to go after anyone tied to the attacks or harboring those responsible.
The joint resolution, known as the Authorization of Use of Military Force, gave then-President George W. Bush authority to use “necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” who were involved or could carry out future attacks on the United States.
Editing by Doina Chiacu