John Paul Stevens on the Legality of Killing Osama Bin Laden


The Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin reports that retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of two major opinions upholding the rights of detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, believes the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden was perfectly legal:

In 2004 and 2006, Justice Stevens wrote Supreme Court opinions holding that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention before neutral judges, and that while in custody were entitled to the minimal protections of the Geneva Conventions. His rulings stressed that the laws of war—of which the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the U.S., form a principal part—cannot be ignored simply because the government found it "convenient" to do so.

But on Thursday, Justice Stevens indicated that those same laws of war permit the armed forces to kill an enemy commander who remains engaged in active hostilities against the U.S., as Navy Seals did on their May 2 operation inside Pakistan.  "I have not the slightest doubt that it was entirely appropriate for U.S. forces to do," Justice Stevens said, according to Ms. Amann's account [of Stevens' speech at Northwestern University].

Read the rest of Bravin's report here. I discussed the legality of the bin Laden killing last week.