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Similarly, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser of the U.S. State Department, said in 2010 that "under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute 'assassination'."[186]

executive order 12333 [signed in 1981], because the action was a military action in the ongoing U.S. armed conflict with al-Qaeda, and it is not prohibited to kill specific leaders of an opposing force. The assassination prohibition does not apply to killings in self-defense.[186]

Similarly, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser of the U.S. State Department, said in 2010 that "under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute 'assassination'."[186]

David Scheffer, director of the Northwestern University School of Law Center for International Human Rights, said the fact that bin Laden had previously been indicted in 1998 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for conspiracy to attack U.S. defense installations was a complicating factor. "Normally when an individual is under indictment the purpose is to capture that person in order to bring him to court to try him ... The object is not to literally summarily execute him if he's under indictment."[187] Scheffer and another expert stated that it was important to determine whether the mission was to capture bin Laden or to kill him. If the Navy SEALs were instructed to kill bin Laden without trying first to capture him, it "may have violated American ideals if not international law."[187]

In an address to the Pakistani parliament, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said, "Our people are rightly incensed on the issue of violation of sovereignty as typified by the covert U.S. air and ground assault on the Osama hideout in Abbottabad. ... The Security Council, while exhorting UN member states to join their efforts against terrorism, has repeatedly emphasized that this be done in accordance with international law, human rights and humanitarian law."[188] Former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf denied a report in The Guardian that his government made a secret agreement permitting U.S. forces to conduct unilateral raids in search of the top three al-Qaeda leaders.[189]

In testimony before the U.S. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self-defense. It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field." He called the killing of bin Laden "a tremendous step forward in attaining justice for the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans who were murdered on September 11, 2001."[190] Commenting on the legality under international law, University of Michigan Law Professor Steven Ratner said, "A lot of it depends on whether you believe Osama bin Laden is a combatant in a war or a suspect in a mass murder." In the latter case, "you would ... be able to kill a suspect [only] if they represented an immediate threat".[187]

Holder testified that bin Laden made no attempt to surrender, and "even if he had there would be a good basis on the part of those very brave Navy SEAL team members to do what they did in order to protect themselves and the other people who were in that building."[190] According to Anthony Dworkin, an international law expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, if bin Laden was hors de combat (as his daughter is said to have alleged)[146] that would have been a violation of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.[191]