Let there be no doubt: The decision to kill Osama bin Laden was perfectly legal. The Heritage Foundation’s Cully Stimson explains in National Review Online’s “The Corner” that Congress empowered the president to take action:
Bin Laden declared war on the United States twice in the 1990s. As the leader of al-Qaeda, he was responsible for September 11, 2001, and numerous other terrorist attacks. By joining in war against the U.S., bin Laden acted to ensure that the law governing police or human-rights law wouldn’t be applicable to his fate.
In passing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, Congress gave the president the authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against the persons responsible for September 11, 2001. All force includes lethal force. Bin Laden was a lawful military target. As one law of war expert has said, “A lawful target has lost his right to life and may be killed on sight.” The SEALs could have killed him if they found him sleeping or shot him in the back as he ran from them — that is war. Bin Laden would live only if he offered his unambiguous surrender to the SEALs or was hors de combat. The SEALs had no obligation to solicit his surrender.
Stimson also notes that the killing was legal and justifiable and that “even an unarmed bin Laden was a lawful target.” At the end of the day, it was up to the SEALs to make the call within the rules of engagement.
Read Stimson’s full article at National Review Online.