Like many other people around the world, I am trying to make my own sense about the recent news of the death and burial of Osama Bin Laden.
Upon hearing the news of the killing of Bin Laden, my first reaction was surprise. His name is a haunt from another time, suddenly recalled. His death noteworthy but not immediately meaningful.
As details came out, I felt conflicted. I am enormously proud of our US President Barack Obama who could decide on a priority and follow-through with it. Bin Laden was the master-mind behind the horrible attacks on the US that resulted in thousands of deaths. He was an enemy of all peace-loving people and needed to be brought to justice. But we have evolved from the days of the wild-west, I hope. We have trials and due process. Yet in seeking Bin Laden, the President’s poster might have read “Osama Bin Laden-wanted dead or alive.” And it did not seem likely that Bin Laden would ever have come willingly, so this priority, this determination to get Bin Laden would effectively be a death warrant.
The contrast with George W. Bush, our past president, and his “mission accomplished” was startlingly clear. He went after Saddam Hussein with the same kind of determination, using false claims to justify the use of US force against Hussein. But Hussein was eventually brought out alive, a desperate, mentally confused and physically ill man, but alive. He was tried for specified crimes. He was not the direct enemy of the US and had no part in the September 11 terror attacks, but he had committed crimes against his own people, had a trial, and was sentenced to death. For some of us, the death sentence is always wrong. We believe the decision for death is a decision that should belong to God or nature alone. But if we are going to defend death as a lawful element within our justice system, then certainly we must have the full panoply of justice rights at the least; certainly we must have a trial. We must have some compelling basis for the use of lethal force.
Despite the strong evidence against Bin Laden, there has been no trial. He was not picked off in the midst of threatening or terroristic activity, where our right to self-defense is imperative. He was hiding out in relative peace and comfort and then targeted and attacked in a quick and direct assault. This was an assassination, plain and simple. This was the US saying, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Even if his death can be defended as "justice," I am troubled by the exercise of US power to enter a foreign country and kill someone without official sanction or cooperation from the host country. Pakistan had insisted it is our ally in a fight against terrorism and particularly against Bin Laden and Al Qaida. Could the US imply consent to its actions from such political speech? Of course, the suspicion that Pakistani insiders would leak confidential information to aid Bin Laden’s escape again made sharing the covert operation in advance inadvisable. The immediate aftermath in which Pakistan officials claimed some share of the responsibility for the US’s mission seems like ratification of the US's use of power. Perhaps our entry into Pakistan for this mission is not a great abuse of power in light of all circumstances, although it feels like it crosses the line.
We buried his body at sea. This troubles me, more than anything. I am not so concerned about all those who will criticize our President with lies and accusations that we didn’t really kill the right man—there are always naysayers who deny the truth (like the Holocaust deniers) simply because it does not serve their political ends. But assurances that Bin Laden’s body was handled according to Muslim custom notwithstanding, was this our body to dispose of? Did we have the right to decide what to do with it? No doubt we did not want his body to become the subject of international debate; we did not want to see a shrine built on Bin Laden’s tomb with pilgrimages and homage. But in death, we respect even the lowest human being. He has family. Shouldn’t they have been given his body? This is the most disturbing part of the situation for me. This is the part that tarnishes the reputation of the US more than any other.
I have thought again and again what a difficult and troublesome job the President of the US must have and this event has confirmed my assessment more than ever. President Barack Obama is a courageous man. He is a leader. He made decisions that he believes are in the US’s best intersts and he has accomplished his objective. Surely after 9-11 we all would have agreed to go after Bin Laden. If the hunt had been made then with the same focus and determination (instead of being deflected onto Saddam Hussein), countless numbers of men and women, both military and civilian, of many nationalities, may have been spared untimely death in the wasted wars that have been fought. But now, Al Qaida has developed alternative leaders who may succeed Bin Laden; now we are not sure whether Bin Laden’s death will mean fewer attacks, less terrorism in the world.
I can only hope our President continues to be brave and courageous and a leader. I also hope we pray for Our President’s soul, because every day he must face the treacherous terrain of ethics, morality and law on one hand, and the need for security, the balance of power, and duty to our country on the other.