The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms Martin Scheinin believes the killing of Osama Bin Laden was legal.

“The United States offered bin Laden the possibility to surrender, but he refused. Bin Laden would have avoided destruction if he had raised a white flag”, Scheinin said on Tuesday.

According to Scheinin, apprehending a dangerous criminal like Osama bin Laden means that one must be prepared to use force. He noted that killing is permissible under international law only if the person being apprehended resists, and if there are no other means available.

Scheinin said that the United States was prepared for the possibility of catching bin Laden alive, noting that the operation involved a commando raid on his hiding place, and not a missile strike.

Scheinin is no American patsy. He previously served as special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism and has called Guantanamo a “legal black hole.” He has been  sharply critical of the America detention policies and the military commissions to try terror suspects.

Meanwhile, the top UN human rights official Navi Pillay also gives a wink and nod to the U.S. operation.

“I note that the United States has clearly stated that their intention was to arrest bin Laden if they could, I fully understand that this was always likely to have been difficult,” she added.

“This was a complex operation and it would have been helpful if we knew the precise facts surrounding his killing,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights said. All counter-terrorism operations had to respect international law, she added.

This all goes to show that the United States fumbled a little bit when Obama administration officials quickly changed their story surrounding the precise details of Bin Laden’s death. First, they said, he raised a weapon to resist –so the shooting was clearly justified and legal. Now, they say, he was making other threatening gestures, which would also justify his killing. However, if he was shot while trying to surrender then the legality of his killing becomes less clear.  That’s why human rights officials like Pillay have to tread somewhat carefully here.

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