"It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field. We did so, for instance, with regard to Yamamoto in World War Two, when he was shot down in an airplane."
Historical back-story. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the Imperial Japanese Navy CinC who masterminded the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that disabled the US Navy's Pacific Fleet. This attack allowed the IJN almost uncontested mastery of the vast Pacific for six months until the Battle of Midway. In the early part of April 1943, JN-25 intercepts revealed that Yamamoto would be doing an inspection. There was enough information to give an almost precise timetable of his flight schedule. Admiral Chester Nimitz, PACFLT, authorized an attempt to shoot Yamamoto down. Or the order came down from on high. So on April 18, 1943 - one year anniversary of the Doolittle Raid - 18 P-38 Lightnings took off from Guadalcanal, flew at low levels over open ocean, and arrived at their intercept point. As they arrived two G4M Betty bombers escorted by six A6M Zeros fighters were spotted. In the ensuing dogfight, both Betty bombers were shot down and Yamamoto was killed along with most of his staff.
Eric Holder really screwed the pooch on this analogy. Yamamoto was a serving military officer of a recognized country that was signatory to the Geneva Conventions. Osama bin Laden was not an officer in any recognized military and belonged to no recognized country.
Both men were legal targets under the rules of war, but for different reasons. Yamamoto because he was a member of the military and it was lawful to kill him on the field of combat. Osama bin Laden was a guerrilla fighter operating outside the rules of war in no uniform, hence he was not protected in any way by the Geneva Conventions and subject to summary execution when captured. A very big distinction that people in Japan are aware of and has provoked a bit of ire because Eric Holder has compared one of Japan's greatest warriors to a terrorist.
For someone who is supposed to be so smart, Eric Holder is making some really boneheaded statements. He could have justified the killing of Osama bin Laden under the Geneva Conventions without dragging in the wholly innocent and much respected Isoroku Yamamato.