|US Attorney General Eric Holder
© AFP/File Attila Kisbenedek
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Top Obama administration officials on Wednesday defended the US commando raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a “lawful” operation and an act of “self-defense.”
The White House’s changing story over the attack has raised doubts about US assurances that the US special operations forces sent to bin Laden’s lair in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad were prepared to take him alive.
On Monday, the White House said bin Laden was armed when he was shot dead in his comfortable compound not far from Islamabad.
But a day later, White House spokesman Jay Carney corrected that account, saying the terror chief was unarmed when gunned down by an elite team of US Navy SEALs in what he called a “highly volatile firefight.”
US Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate hearing that the raid “was lawful and consistent with our values.”
Carney reiterated the mission’s international legitimacy, saying there was “no question” it was legal and that the Obama administration had “acted in the nation’s self-defense.”
“Bin Laden was the head of Al-Qaeda, the organization that conducted the attacks of September 11, 2001. And Al-Qaeda and bin Laden himself had continued to plot attacks against the United States,” Carney told reporters.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said “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.”
But, she added, “the United Nations has consistently emphasized that all counterterrorism acts must respect international law.”
Carney insisted that was the case.
“The operation was conducted in a manner fully consistent with the laws of war,” he said in responding to Pillay’s remarks. “The operation was planned so that the team was prepared and had the means to take bin Laden into custody.”
“Exactly,” Holder told Senator Lindsey Graham.
“If he had surrendered, I think — attempted to surrender — I think we should, obviously, have accepted that.
“But there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And, therefore, his killing was appropriate,” the nation’s top law enforcement official added.
The US attorney general said the SEALs had behaved “totally appropriately,” noting “substantial numbers” of women and children were not hurt during the dramatic operation.
“I’m proud of what they did. And I really want to emphasize that what they did was entirely lawful and consistent with our values,” he continued.
The raid on bin Laden’s compound, which President Barack Obama announced Sunday night, is expected to provide a trove of fresh information about his terror group. Navy SEALs hauled away about five computers, 10 hard drives and 100 storage devices.
Holder told the Senate panel that the new information would “probably” lead to additions to the terrorism blacklist, also known as the “no fly” list.
Cyber experts said the cache of computerized information will have to be carefully dismantled, taking care for possible booby traps or triggers that would erase files, before extracting and copying all the stored data.
“They’ll try to wring every drop out of this stuff. There’s a first layer of data they might be to get at quickly, and then there’s additional layers that more technical analysis would provide,” James Lewis, a former State Department official who worked on security and technology, told AFP.
As a wanted fugitive keenly aware of a global manhunt, bin Laden would have almost certainly used encryption to protect at least some of his computer files, Lewis and other experts said.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license