Shooting of Unarmed Bin Laden Draws Increasing Scrutiny

Holder Insists Killing Was 'Self Defense' on a National Level

The Sunday narrative of the killing of Osama bin Laden in an intense firefight played quite well, but as officials have allowed the real story to emerge, the truth is drawing increasing questions about legitimacy under international law.

Attorney General Eric Holder insisted that the killing counted as “self defense” on a national level, and that there “would be a good basis” to kill him even if he tried to surrender to the troops, saying it is “lawful to target an enemy commander if the field.”

Which of course leaves open-ended whether the second-story bedroom of a sketchy house in Abbottabad counts as “the field.” Likewise, human rights officials doubted whether shooting an unarmed man in the face counted as “justice.”

Administration officials remain unrepentent on the killing, however, and the Obama Administration appears keen to use what happened in Pakistan as a precedent for other summary killings in the future. The argument that bin Laden was a special case, then, becomes less important to the overall question.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.