Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has told the CBS 60 minutes programme that incidents such as the killing of Jean McConville happen in wars.
In an interview due to be broadcast in the United States on Sunday, Mr Adams also said he was not a member of the IRA, and that he had never pulled a trigger, ordered a murder or set off a bomb.
In the interview, Mr Adams says "I don't disassociate myself from the IRA. I think the IRA was a legitimate response to what was happening here."
He adds that while he will not disassociate himself from the organisation, he was not a member.
Ms McConville - a widowed mother of 10 - was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972.
Asked by his interviewer Scott Pelley "How do you orphan 10 children?", Mr Adams replies "that is what happens in wars...That's what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do, that's what happens in every single conflict."
Mr Adams was questioned by the PSNI last May about her killing.