Osama bin Laden:

Adam Stone writes: Re. “Crikey Clarifier: was it legal to kill Osama?” (yesterday, item 12). My knowledge of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) may be out of date, and I’d welcome correction, but Professor Rothwell’s remarks seem dubious in a few important respects.

Firstly, international humanitarian law (as represented by the Geneva Conventions) only applies in situations of armed conflict between States, or in the case of one of the Protocols, situations of armed conflict between States and insurgency groups operating within their own borders. This does not appear to describe the circumstances under which Osama was shot.

Al Qaeda is not a State, Osama was not leading an insurgency group inside the US, and I have doubts that the protracted international intelligence and law enforcement operation against Al Qaeda would satisfy an international court or tribunal that an armed conflict was occurring between the US and Al Qaeda.

The term “armed conflict” in the Geneva Conventions does not apply to any situation in which violence occurs. The violence must reach a certain level of intensity. Otherwise it would always be permissible for States to assassinate violent international criminals rather than seeking to apprehend and try them.

There is also an important question about whether the US violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan reportedly was not aware of the operation against Osama’s compound until after it occurred. Yet the US stormed it with helicopters and troops and killed people inside Pakistani territory.

Unless there was some sort of standing agreement between Pakistan and the US that authorised this kind of conduct, this looks to me like a breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Niall Clugston writes: The accusation that Pakistani authorities were sheltering Osama bin Laden needs to be questioned.

The location of his hideout (hardly a “mansion”) in Abbottabad is presented as compelling evidence, but if proximity proves complicity, then logically this extends not just to a few high level people, but to countless others.

Are we to believe that not one of these people were interested in the reward? By the same token, are we to believe that the world’s most wanted man was happy to live in a neighbourhood in which his presence was obvious? In the absence of better evidence it seems more likely that the audacity of the hideout’s location was the reason it was undetected.

Too much is being read into the statement that Pakistan wasn’t informed of the raid. Very few people would have been informed. And it seems that the local authorities had some kind of warning, given the lack of response by this military town to this armed incursion.

Let’s stick to the facts. We don’t want another conflict based on baseless speculation.

David Havyatt writes: Zachary King (yesterday, comments) has done some impressive work to show that for 20% of Americans to “know someone who was killed or injured in 9/11” means they would need to all have networks ten times the size of the typical network.

The difficulty here might not be with the statistic though but the definition of the word “know”. If I knew John and he knew Mary, then it is possible that I could say I “know of Mary” without actually knowing her.

If you wrote the 20% as the number of Americans who have had a conversation that referred to an individual who was injured or killed by name and included some personal “connection” (i.e. it wasn’t a media story) the number is quite believable.

Fairfax & Pagemasters:

David Moncrieff writes: Re. “Sub standards: Pagemasters to change the way we read” (yesterday, item 15). Margaret Simons is on the money with her comment that subbing standards have been allowed to drift.

When I was a lad, the copytaster used to strike fear in the hearts in the reporters’ room as, face matching his ruddy hair, he’d march down from the top table, a bundle of copy in hand, place it firmly in front of some hapless miscreant and give a terse but apt critique.

No battery caged sub can give such powerful feedback, so  standards will dive all around, not slip. And that man still sits high in my esteem.

As for thinking you’ll get a good sub for $60K … think monkeys and peanuts!

China:

John Addis writes: Michael R. James (yesterday, comments), in his response to my story on the possibility of a China property bubble, has me confused. First, he accuses me of not shedding much light on “how big the alleged China property bubble really is” when that wasn’t my intention. We’ll know how big this bubble is if and when it bursts.

He then questions the suitability of the stats I quoted, saying “they’re dodgy and inappropriate”. That argument could be made for any stats, especially those of Chinese origin, which is why the first half of the story was devoted to anecdotal but powerful evidence. Empty cities, vacant building and unoccupied office blocks simply do not accord with rising prices. Then he ends up agreeing with me; “Well, ok, it is pretty scary”, he says, when commenting on the 64 million unoccupied homes.

So he believes the argument I made but not the evidence I’ve used to make it. Comrade Michael, a vacancy awaits you in the National Bureau of Statistics of China.

Peter Fray

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