Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marjorie Cohn: The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden

by Marjorie Cohn, ZNet, May 10, 2011

When he announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a Navy Seal team in Pakistan, President Barack Obama said, “Justice has been done.” Mr. Obama misused the word “justice” when he made that statement. He should have said, “Retaliation has been accomplished.” A former professor of constitutional law should know the difference between those two concepts. The word “justice” implies an act of applying or upholding the law.

Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law. Also called political assassinations, they are extrajudicial executions. These are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework.

Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions noted that “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” The U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International, have all condemned extrajudicial executions.

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