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Wednesday, 26 August, 1998, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Were the US air strikes legal?
The seal of the President of the United States
Presidential powers: Rights to act in nation's self defence
US officials are moving to head off a possible United Nations challenge to the Sudan and Afghanistan bombings, saying that they were completely within their rights to act in their own self defence.

The Sudanese Government has already signalled its intention to take the matter to the United Nations, complaining that President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of a chemical factory in Khartoum without first obtaining international backing from other countries.

United Nations building, New York
United Nations: Sudan could lodge complaint
But the US is expected to tell the UN Security Council that it was exercising its right to self defence after identifying bases linked in a anti-American terrorist network headed by the Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.

According to the BBC's World Affairs Correspondent, Nick Childs, there is growing acceptance that self defence can encompass tackling more than just direct threats to a company's territory and can involve taking pre-emptive action.

"If the evidence Washington says it has against Osama bin Laden and its supporters is compelling as it claims, it would seem to have a good case," he says.

He also notes that neither general international law nor the UN Charter would require the US to consult the Security Council before an attack.

US Justice Department officials said that the president had the power to order the attacks under the country's own constitution and anti-terrorism laws.

Bert Brandenburg, spokesman for the Justice department, said: "The president acted pursuant to his constitutional authority, including that as commander-in-chief and his authority to protect national security."

Officials cited President Ronald Reagan's 1986 air strike on Libya as a precedent.

The president's right to order the attack was also backed by the fact that the administration had sought to consult congressional leaders in advance, Mr Brandenburg said.

Casper Weinberger, former US Defence Secretary
Casper Weinberger: "Timing suspicious"
But former defence secretary Casper Weinberger questioned Mr Clinton's legal right to launch the bombing raids to destroy an alleged terrorist training camp and chemical weapons factory.

He said that in previous situations the US had said it was unable to act because its hands were tied by the lack of agreement at the United Nations.

"It is certainly correct to attack known terrorists who have attacked US embassies," said Mr Weinberger.

"It is correct to do as much damage as you can to terrorists like bin Laden.

"What I find suspicious is the timing.

"When there is a known terrorist like (Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein, we found ourselves unable to do anything, we could not get United Nations approval.

"Here we have a situation where we can bomb a terrorist without even mentioning the UN."

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Casper Weinberger: "This attack was done without mentioning the UN"
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BBC World Affairs Correspondent Nick Childs: US is in a unique position to act
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