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UN investigators Call for More Facts on bin Laden Death

Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan

Independent investigators at the United Nations called Friday for the United States to provide more details on the death of Osama bin Laden.

The two U.N. investigators who published a joint statement on Friday said that in exceptional cases force can be used in "operations against terrorists."

But Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and Martin Scheinin, the rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, said terrorists should normally be dealt with by arrest and trial.

Whether or not U.S. forces met international human rights standards when they killed Osama bin Laden, they said, is dependent on the specific facts. And those facts, they said, need to be brought out into the open.

The U.N. investigators are not the first to raise questions over the legality of bin Laden’s death.

Information request

Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s top human rights official, has also called for more information. The International Red Cross has said there aren’t enough facts available to assess its legality and Cuba’s Fidel Castro decried what he said was an execution "in front of [bin Laden’s] wife and children."

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch is another organization that has joined the debate.

"I think it would be very important for the U.S. to give more information, both to show its justification for the legality and also frankly to prevent a lot of other countries from hunting down their opponents either at home or abroad and using this as justification," HRW's Rood Brody said.

He says more light needs to be shed on three main issues. The first is whether Osama bin Laden is considered a combatant in a war. Evidence needs to be provided, he says, that bin Laden’s role was ongoing.

"If you're engaged in military hostilities--you're giving orders to troops in Pakistan, you have some kind of operational role--then you become in effect a soldier or a general, as the case may be, and then you become a clear military objective," he said.

Operation 'Geronimo'

Brody says more also needs to be known about the planning of the operation: what orders were given and whether capturing, rather than killing, bin Laden was an option.

Thirdly, he says, more information should be given about what actually happened in the Pakistani compound where bin Laden was killed. The U.S. has already said bin Laden was unarmed so, Brody asks, what prevented the U.S. forces from capturing him?"

He says there are a lot of questions still unanswered but that does not necessarily mean that the right steps were not taken.

"Obviously in an ideal world, one would have stood outside the Pakistani compound with a bullhorn and said 'Come Out' and Osama bin Laden would have come out with his hands up and would have been captured and put on trial. We don't live in an ideal world," Brody said.

This week U.S. President Barack Obama ruled out releasing photos taken of bin Laden after he was shot.

Obama said that because of the graphic nature of the images, their publication could create a risk to national security.

The investigators Heyns and Scheinin report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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