Washington: The United States said on Wednesday that killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was an act of national self-defense, countering allegations the raid by US commandos on his Pakistani hide-out was illegal.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said bin Laden was a legitimate military target and he had made no attempt to surrender to the American forces that stormed his fortified compound near Islamabad on Monday, and shot him in the head.
“It was justified as an act of national self-defense,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing bin Laden’s admission of being involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
It was lawful to target bin Laden because he was the enemy commander in the field and the operation was conducted in a way that was consistent with US laws and values, he said, adding that it was a “kill or capture mission.”
“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,” he said.
US acknowledgment on Tuesday that bin Laden was unarmed when shot dead had raised accusations Washington had violated international law. Exact circumstances of his death remained unclear and could yet fuel controversy, especially in the Muslim world.
As the US government debated whether to release photos it had taken of bin Laden’s body to the public, one Senator said she had seen one picture showing his face.
“I have seen one of them,” Republican senator Kelly Ayotte said, adding she believed it confirmed his identity.
Pakistan faced national embarrassment, a leading Islamabad newspaper said, in explaining how the world’s most-wanted man was able to live for years in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, just north of the capital.
Pakistan blamed worldwide intelligence lapses for a failure to detect bin Laden, while Washington worked to establish whether its ally had sheltered the al Qaeda leader, which Islamabad vehemently denies.
“There is an intelligence failure of the whole world, not just Pakistan alone,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Paris. “(If there are) … lapses from the Pakistan side, that means there are lapses from the whole world.
The revelation that bin Laden was unarmed contradicted an earlier US account that he had participated in a firefight with the helicopter-borne American commandos. Al Arabiya television went further, suggesting the architect of the 9/11 attacks was first taken prisoner and then shot.
“A security source in the Pakistani security quoted the daughter of Osama bin Laden that the leader of al Qaeda was not killed inside his house, but had been arrested and was killed later,” the Arabic television station said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday cited the “fog of war” — a phrase suggested by a reporter — as a reason for the initial misinformation.
Bin Laden’s killing and the swift burial of his body at sea have produced some criticism in the Muslim world and accusations Washington acted outside international law.
“The Americans behaved in the same way as bin Laden: with treachery and baseness,” Husayn al-Sawaf, 25, a playwright, said in Cairo. “They should’ve tried him in a court. As for his burial, that’s not Islamic. He should’ve been buried in soil.” Agencies