Point • Counterpoint: Was it right to kill bin Laden?


Point: American action against bin Laden legally justified

It’s the now infamous image of Osama bin Laden – old, grey and dishevelled – watching himself on a small and rickety television in the compound which American officials believe he called home for the past several years. In video footage seized by military operatives during the fatal May 1 raid, it is an image of a man carefully calculating how his image is being portrayed; analyzing whether he was coming across as evil enough to the rest of the world.

For the thousands of family members who have dealt with their mother’s, father’s, son’s or daughter’s killer being on the run for ten long and tortuous years, the arguments that the killing of bin Laden wasn’t justified fall on deaf and unforgiving ears.

As a fierce believer in civil liberties and international human rights, I have never been one to advocate for the death penalty, for the execution of the accused. I understand and subscribe to the argument that victims’ families do not decide the perpetrator’s punishment; that the hallmark of an independent judicial system is an objective decision made by the bench and a group of peers.

For me, the murder of bin Laden is not in the same category as a planned execution as a means of sentencing at the end of a criminal trial.

There are essentially two aspects to arriving at the conclusion that the killing of bin Laden was justified: legal and moral.

Legally speaking, the United States had every right to conduct a unilateral mission to take out enemy terrorist number one. Respected former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens remarked that America was legally justified in carrying out the mission. International law allows for the murder of an enemy combatant in times of war. Allowing for the assumptions that bin Laden was neither attempting to surrender nor in military custody, the rules of war allow for this type of operation.

Domestically, President Obama was covered by Senate Joint Resolution 23 which authorized the executive branch to take all necessary action against those organizations, nations or persons involved with 9/11.

The United States did not make a legal error, domestically or internationally. We then must turn to the question of whether this was a moral action. For this, it is ultimately a very personal question. Some will say that it is never moral to take someone else’s life. In terms of the death penalty, I completely subscribe to this view. The death penalty should not be an option for criminal prosecutors to pursue.

Yet, bin Laden was not a murderer
sitting in a jail cell on death row.
He was a murderer on the run and one
that was mighty good at staying
hidden. This was not a decision of
whether to kill a captured criminal.
This was, instead, a question of how
to capture the most dangerous known
murderer in the world – and what to do
if capture proved impossible.

The military team took decisive action to protect themselves and the surrounding area. Not a single person outside of that compound was killed and that is quite a feat.

Even if he had been captured, the ensuing spectacle would have given Al Qaeda a platform to air their views for years into the future and would have given a nation intent on turning the corner and putting September 11 behind them, a burden which no 9/11 family should have to endure.

The questions of what just war is are vital and necessary ones. We should continue to have conversations about what constitutes moral international conduct. For now, though, an evil man no longer walks amongst us. It is not death nor killing we celebrate but the fact that there is a certain sense of closure to the thousands of families who have wrestled with the image of their loved one’s killer. A chapter of American history can now be closed and the next phase of foreign policy begins without a clear and looming enemy.

– Joseph McNinch-Pazzano

Counter-point: Even bin Laden deserved a fair trial

It may have taken nearly ten years but the United States finally got their number one most wanted: Osama bin Laden.

Now before I criticize the United States for killing bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members, I emphasize that I do not support the actions of Al Qaeda and that I simply disagree with the actions of the American military.

My argument against the killing of bin Laden is simple: everyone deserves a fair trial. In addition to this, the ultimate verdict of the trial should have prohibited the death penalty as a sentence. Undoubtedly, some people will find this offensive, as he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Yet, regardless of the crime, he should have been tried in the American justice system.

It is true that bin Laden – and many Al Qaeda members – have been charged with a number of horrendous crimes. The American government, along with many others, argues that all members of Al Qaeda are guilty of terrible acts of cruelty and killing them is justified under international law. They use this assumed guilt as justification for killing or torturing members of Al Qaeda, and other organizations, without trial. What does it say about the strength of freedom when only the cases that administration officials think they can win are put through the courts?

Some critics may argue that had bin Laden been given a trial, he would have been found guilty, and subsequently executed. While this is entirely possible, the fact remains that he should have been given a fair trial where he would have been allowed to explain or defend his actions, regardless of how appalling they were.

The right to be given a fair trial is an inherent right to all American citizens as well as the citizens of most Western nations. Why is it then that we deny this right to those whom imperialist nations view as anti-democratic? Typically, Westerners have no problem denying this right to those we view as different. As soon as we are denied these rights, it suddenly becomes a major concern. Why have we developed this double standard? Why have we chosen to ignore it?

When an unarmed American civilian is killed, there are enormous inquiries and enormous consequences for those responsible for the death. When the person shot is not an American citizen, they seem to turn a blind eye. While some would argue that the case of bin Laden is different, given his high profile, I would attribute this double standard to the racial intolerance of many Westerners.

On a final note, one needs to consider the precedent that the death of Osama bin Laden has set. Like many recent American military operations, the mission to kill bin Laden has been questionable on numerous levels. America’s violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty has set a new and disturbing standard, one where America can breach borders and disobey the laws of whatever country it chooses.

There are numerous question and problems that the killing of bin Laden has created. Whether one believes that it is moral to murder another human being is a personal judgment. Regardless of one’s personal opinions, the precedent that has been set is quite dangerous, one that will be felt for decades to come.

No one contests that the actions of bin Laden were appalling. But, as free and democratic citizens, we must question whether a nation unilaterally deciding to take one man’s life contributes to solving the ills of a violent world or whether it just makes us feel like we have achieved a façade of justice.

– Alex Reinhart

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