Ding, dong, the witch is dead


What a Bank Holiday that was. Two globally significant events, one planned, one a surprise, both of which I was expected to celebrate: a Royal Wedding on the Friday, and a Man Killed on the Monday. I am not a royalist, but neither am I a party pooper, and I think it’s nice that people had the day off because Prince William married Kate Middleton. I personally chose to avoid all live radio, TV and internet coverage of the wedding itself, because I didn’t really feel a connection to it, nor any urge to get involved. I watched the Royal Wedding in 1981 when Prince William’s mum and dad got married, and I was happy for them, even though I had no real reason to be, as their marriage was one of convenience and lies, and doomed to fail. I was 16, and not yet fully-formed, politically, so I failed to spot the hypocrisy of it all. I enjoyed my day off school (or at least, that’s my idealised memory of it – in fact, it happened during the school holidays, as has been pointed out to me, so I was off school already). This time, with a more measured view of the whole circus, and a massive problem with hereditary privilege, I felt it was time to make a quiet protest against it by going to the cinema to see Meek’s Cutoff instead, which we did, at lunchtime, enjoying the post-apocalyptically empty streets. (We passed three street parties on the walk home, which looked to be mainly for the kids, which is fine, and I was happy to see little bursts of community spirit. I am not against that.)

Yesterday looked like it would be one of those Bank Holiday Mondays that meant nothing, and would just pass without anything special to remember it by. Wrong. Having heard on Smooth Radio that Henry Cooper had died, I went online and actually scrolled obliviously past the first story on the BBC News website, which was about Osama bin Laden, to find out how old Henry had been, and how he had died. It was only when scrolling back up that I discovered that bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces inside the walls of his compound in Pakistan. Big news. Poor old Henry Cooper.

I know a lot about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, having read, among other useful tomes, the definitive Al-Qaeda by Jason Burke (whose services were quickly pressed into action by the Guardian – he’s all over this morning’s edition and his obituary, with Lawrence Joffe, of bin Laden is superb, albeit clearly on file, as these biggies tend to be), and The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, which traces 9/11 back to Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb’s visit to America in the late 40s and its impact on his influential fundamentalism within the Muslim Brotherhood. In the latter, Wright records Osama bin Laden at a wedding before the 9/11 attack quoting a line from the Qur’an: “Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower,” which has added potency now. We know quite a lot about bin Laden, at least up until the point where he disappeared into the caves and became number one folk devil in the West. To me, he is more than a symbol. To most, that’s all he is. So his death probably appears symbolic too.

You can understand why those revellers at Ground Zero and the White House felt that bin Laden’s death – not his capture, but his death – was cause for spraying beer into the air and painting their faces red, white and blue in the middle of the night. Many will have experienced the 9/11 attacks at close quarters; maybe some of them had links with people who died. But I don’t mind admitting that I was instantly troubled by the scenes being bounced back from the United States of this unseemly and ill-thought-through triumphalism. At least our street parties on Friday were in honour of a wedding between two people we have never met; these street parties were in honour of the death of a man they have never met. I know how many deaths bin Laden is said to have caused. And I know why Americans, in particular, feel that bin Laden deserved to die, but I am physically unable to cheer and whoop at the death of a person, whoever they are. Surely by wishing death upon someone, we are no better than bin Laden himself. Or, as I wrote on Twitter yesterday at the height of the euphoria, am I being a big softy?

Actually, when I stated that I do not celebrate death, I was pleased by how many spoke up in agreement. One person called me a “big girl” and “a twat” for my views, and another said he disagreed with my views and hoped that Osama would “burn in hell.” Well, if the second person believes in Hell, he must also believe in Heaven, and in what I see as a fairly arbitrary system of qualification for those two destinations, so that must cloud his judgement. I do not believe in Heaven and Hell, so my judgement is clear: murder is wrong. To murder a murderer is to relinquish the moral high ground. I am better than a murderer because I have not murdered. The moment I celebrate his murder, I am no better than him. (It’s the same with the death penalty – if you support it, as many of the beer-spraying patriots at Ground Zero possibly do, then you lose the authority to condemn a murderer, for you too are a murderer, by proxy. Also, bin Laden did not bloody his hands with the dead in the Twin Towers; he also murdered by proxy.)

There’s another troubling issue here: celebrating the death of a leader of a terrorist organisation is an act of the purest hubris. Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda still exists. If anything, his death – and his burial at sea – make the world a more dangerous place. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. Enjoy your celebration of a murder, I thought, for tomorrow, you will be held up at airports and on your way into public buildings again – let’s see how far you will wish to spray your beer then. (Hey, I know, many American citizens welcomed the curbing of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11 and were more than happy to give them up in the name of the War On Terror.)

I found the dialogue on Twitter to be rigorous and interesting. It took up more of my Bank Holiday Monday morning than I’d planned. Meanwhile, about 50 people forwarded a joke to me about bin Laden making the sea homeopathically evil by being buried in it. This is not unfunny, but it hardened my killjoy position. I really didn’t think this was a time for levity. Also, when a joke has been Re-Tweeted at you that many times, it goes get annoying. Nobody’s individual fault, but it does. So I became a misery yesterday, and wanted to have a serious discussion about the events of that morning, when all around – or so it seemed – triumphalism abounded. I made the mistake of watching some Fox News. I switched over pretty smartly. Most commentators on the proper news sounded notes of caution.

The word “evil” was bandied about. How many people do you have to kill to be officially categorised as “evil”? Are you evil for killing one person? I might say you are evil for swatting a fly. Bin Laden is, or was, “evil” apparently. Having masterminded the deaths of many, he is certainly not nice. You don’t want a bloke that at large, masterminding more attacks on people from his cave. You want to round a bloke like that up and make sure he stops masterminding. But people who use the word “evil” seem confident that they are qualified to decide who is and who isn’t evil. I don’t have that confidence. My moral compass is bound to be different to yours. It’s safer not to use the word “evil”. It gets you in trouble. It’s like Heaven and Hell. Life isn’t that easily partitioned. It’s like the word “hero”; use it too freely and it loses its meaning. Not every soldier who dies can be a “hero,” or what are we to call those who perform actual acts of heroism?

Anyway, the dust has settled somewhat. I suspect, and hope, that the initial euphoria of flag-draped bloodlust has died down a bit in the US. I don’t particularly want to see it, but has anybody seen bin Laden’s body yet? Just asking.

And is Pope John Paul II in Heaven? He’s currently being fast-tracked to sainthood, and was beatified in Rome yesterday. But wasn’t he in charge when all that child abuse was being covered up, and its perpetrators being protected from the police? Surely a man who lets that happen cannot go to Heaven? This is why it’s better to not believe in Heaven and Hell – that way, you can cover up child abuse with impunity, and nobody can call you a hypocrite! Sorry, where was I … ?

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30 thoughts on “Ding, dong, the witch is dead

  1. Surely not all killing is necessarily murder? Obviously you impressively articulate some pacifist principles here, Andrew, but some who have condemned the Bin Laden reaction have been generally non-pacifist, which I find curious. If people embrace (consciously or otherwise) military-industrial complex yada yada then it’s hardly surprising or macabre that the death of a legitimate,significant military target is celebrated.

      • Indeed, I probably should have been clearer about distinguishing your response from the more general “some who have condemned”.

        Tangent, but : am I right in thinking that the form of nominL Islam that Al-Queda invokes is part of the tradition that regards overwhelming military victory as a sign of God’s favour? In that light killing Bin Laden sends a better message that cosy trials and “club Fed”. It’s ironic that some responses to bin Laden’s death(again, not yours, much of which I agreed with) ,condemning western imperialism , still assume that Western, Christian, turn-the-other cheek grandstanding would have the same cache in the Muslim world.

  2. Andrew, I mostly agree with you. In the same way we found the celebrations in the Middle East on 12/9 – we are British after all – sick, so were the celebrations in the US just as bad. It feels to me that so many people have grown up immersed in TV and the movies and see the world as something like Independence Day or Oprah, with a detachment to the reality of an event but getting off on the emotion. Smacks of a lack of empathy. Your point about the moral compass is bang on.

    Nice post, you big soft girlie-man.

  3. The point of “has anyone seen bin Laden’s body yet?” is a valid question and one that isn’t being asked enough yet and I think it links in with cheering and celebrating. The problem is anyone who raises this question gets laughed at or shouted down as being no better than the birthers and conspiracy theorists.

    Call me crazy but given that bin Laden was the catalyst for two near-decade-long wars, I don’t necessarily trust the word of the same people who sent us into the illegal war on the basis of lies.

    When Mr Bad Man is reported as killed and his body dumped before it’s reported followed by cheering and jubilation, I can’t help but feel a little suspicious. But as people think it’s a time to be happy, anyone questioning this is considered a nutter and loon.

    They lied to justify starting an illegal war which has cost the US over $700b and over 100k people have been killed yet we’re so happy to trust them again that they got their man?

    I’m not saying they didn’t kill him. I’m open to the possibility. But I’m disappointed in the lack of questioning that’s going on.

  4. Great post, I completely agree. Surely it’s not okay to openly celebrate a death. I’ve heard people say that it is good because it gives the families of his victims ‘closure.’ But I don’t think we should indulge their misguided (though perfectly understandable, given what they must have been through) view that his death somehow makes it better.

  5. Enjoyed your blog as ever – my only problem is that in the eyes of people not interested in the royal wedding, or royal family perse, which is their right if course, they cannot find it in them to repsect people who are interested and those who love the royal family, myself being one. It seems at the moment that if you are a royalist and dare say it religious as i am and have a huge historical interest in the royal family, kings and queens of this nation, then those people pillory us – it’s seems unfair to me that I have an open mind enough to accept their views and opinions but am not allowed to say in modern society that yes I am religious and yes i love the royal family, the queen being the head of my church and gods representative to my anglican faith. As such I avidly followed the royal wedding, celebrated it and rejoiced in how it has brought everyone together and restored my faith in how great our country is when it comes to big national events such as this – I certainly respect people opting out of this, after all we live in a democracy, but at the same time allow us to celebrate our beliefs and cultural interests. I do believe however, that some people are so selfish and self centred that they don’t like anyone who has a modicum of power, be that the king or queen, teachers, policemen, politicians – a tiny minority hold this view but it is there. The fact that you demonstrate your open mindedness on the subject is something i wish was more commonplace.
    Best Wishes

    • I respect you for stating your position so boldly, fashionable or otherwise. But the royalist position, and indeed the Christian one, have been at the heart of our society for hundreds of years. That’s changed in the last 50 years or so, and you can understand why there might be a certain degree of crowing from “the other side”. I don’t think we should belittle anyone with faith just because we don’t share it. As long as you don’t think you are better than me, I don’t think I’m better than you. Some with faith – and that includes the atheist faith – act in a superior manner, and that I can’t cope with. I am not going for firebomb anybody who doesn’t agree with me.

      • And that’s what Iove about your blog – you always present a blanced, open minded and fair approach – as far as people thinking they are better than others is one I also find distasteful. However, the person or people responsible for inventing the mini sock are better than most of us.

  6. Northants. County Councillors must have been bastards in the early 80’s. Charles and Diana were married on 29/07/81 so you must have “broken up” particularly late that year. I only remember because my family and I were in the USA at the time and my parents would never have dragged me out of school for a family holiday. I remember watching The Shining at least 7 times on TV during that holiday – much better than any royal wedding.

  7. I actually went out looking for street parties on Friday and was pleased not to find any. Well done to the local BBC news, then, because they apparently found loads. Everywhere, they were. Monday morning, at the back of a shop in town: a dumpster overflowing with Union Jack bunting, probably made in China. That caught the spirit, for me.

    I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, or good or evil. So I don’t think murder is intrinsically wrong. And I don’t think there’s a high ground to take. We all know that most (but not all) murders are just utterly regrettable moments where people who aren’t murderers suddenly find that – hey – they are. Given the right (or wrong) chain of circumstance, anyone might find himself there. But if you believe in society, community, whatever, then you have to believe that people can’t be allowed to kill people who don’t want to be killed. The State has to make an example. But while The State probably has to be allowed to do things that The Individual can’t do, it surely also has to lead by example.

    I don’t understand the need for revenge. I understand the anger of victims. But I think maybe you have to believe in good and evil – checks and balances – to believe that somehow something is being put right when you kill a murderer.

    The twin towers fall and strange people in a far off land dance around and chant and cheer and tear up photos and burn effigies. Osama bin Laden is killed and something remarkably similar happens. And you can understand where they’re all coming from. But you can see where it’s all going too: the righteous anger of latecomers to the longest story.

    Increasingly it looks like they had no other intention but to kill him. An eye for an eye. It’s justice of a sort, though I don’t understand how. It will play well for Obama, I imagine. And he’s not opposed to the principle of the death penalty. But it *is* a mistake. If they meant only to kill him, it’s a big, stupid mistake.

    The question about the body is surely not about “Did they really get him?”; it’s about “Did he really exist?” You don’t tell the world that you got the bad guy if you don’t know that for sure. But once we accept that they had a dead body to deal with rather than a live one, then the US couldn’t really win whatever they did with it. Perhaps we should give them credit for trying to treat the body with respect (whilst obviously noting that it’s a bit late for that). I’d be amazed if they don’t have evidence and if we don’t see it eventually. But I guess they must understand that the conspiracy question – “Did he really exist?” – is going to run whatever they do.

  8. Apparently the US adminsitration are umming and ahhing over releasing the Bin Laden photos as they are quite gruesome and he has a huge gash over one eye.

    Maybe people need to see that killing a human no matter how evil is not like some computer game where the body just disappears after a few seconds.

    For the record I am glad he is dead but the world is full of nutcases and another one will be along shortly.

  9. Here’s how I feel about the death of bin Laden: it worries me. First of all, if the international community is happy to sanction the killing of political leaders then where does it stop? Should the Palestinians have the right to assassinate American politicians, since America’s support and funding of Israel has led to the deaths of many Palestinians? Nobody’s hands are clean in this grubby world, and as Andrew says, when you kill a man- whoever he is- you become a murderer and no longer have the right to condemn him. Fine, maybe you want to argue he’s killed MORE people than you: but that can’t be said about America, which has just as murky a history as the rest of us. Secondly, although I would have been pleased if he had been captured alive and brought to justice for his crimes, his death achieves nothing good. Al-Qaeda cells can run perfectly well without him, and will even be energised by his martyrdom. Get ready for more fury to be unleashed upon the imperialists (which includes us too). But hey, at least Obama’s got his second presidential term in the bag now.

  10. Completely agree with this (including your thoughts on the death penalty).

    Talking about symbolism, it would’ve been a much stronger symbolic gesture to have caught Bin Laden and put him on trial, I feel, especially after taking ten years to find the man, which to me makes the supposed symbolism of his death quite a hollow thing.

    I mean, if the US had found and killed Bin Laden shortly after 9-11 I could see how that might look powerful to some, a short sharp retalliation (although I still wouldn’t agree with it, I’d still much rather see him captured).

  11. Brilliant posting Andrew. Agree with every word regarding the murder of Osama Bin Laden. Obama said “justice has been done”. He is wrong. It is revenge pure and simple, and will lead to no good, revenge never does. His capture and trial would have been justice.

  12. Mr Collins,

    I admire your liberal views most of the time, but I think you’re wrong on Bin Laden. You refuse to say that he is evil – is that just a stubborn refusal to join in the Bin Laden bashing, or is it just semantics. If so, no man is evil: if that’s the point you’re making, fair enough.

    Also: “The moment I celebrate his murder, I am no better than him.”? Really? So David Cameron (say) is no better than Bin Laden? Kevin Smith? Steve Martin?

    Also: “if you support [the death penalty] [...] you too are a murderer.” Suppose you don’t support the death penalty (I don’t either), but support life imprisonment – does that make you a prison guard?

    Pull a thread on your morals ON THIS ISSUE and they fall apart as quickly as religion. I cannot hold my silence and let this pass without comment.

    Even more worrying is your apparent generalisation of Americans… phrases like “flag-draped bloodlust” or “beer-spraying patriots” or “many American citizens welcomed the curbing of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11″ WITHOUT counter-examples seems to want to classify “many” Americans as dumb patriots.

    This follows on from a decade or so of anti-American comedy, including your chums Lee (“tea-cosy”) and Herring (in his OFIF he jokingly suggests that Americans should kill each other), which makes it easier for me to see some anti-American bias.

    The “flag” thing, for instance: yes, Americans are more passionate about their flag than British folks. Is that wrong? Or is it just a different culture? If it’s just a different culture, it can’t be wrong, so why did you use “flag draped” as a specific adjective about bloodlust?

    I like you, Mr Collins, and for what it’s worth I agree with you entirely about the Royal Wedding, but I disagree with you so profoundly on your second half that I could not hold my peace.

    Enjoy life!

    • Point by point, Graeme:

      “I admire your liberal views most of the time, but I think you’re wrong on Bin Laden.”

      Fair enough. We think different things. This makes the world go round.

      “You refuse to say that he is evil – is that just a stubborn refusal to join in the Bin Laden bashing, or is it just semantics. If so, no man is evil: if that’s the point you’re making, fair enough.”

      I thought I’d made this clear enough, but perhaps not. I am uncomfortable with the word “evil” so I find it less problematic not to brand someone “evil.”

      “Also: “The moment I celebrate his murder, I am no better than him.”? Really? So David Cameron (say) is no better than Bin Laden? Kevin Smith? Steve Martin?”

      In my opinion – maybe I should put “in my opinion” before every statement I make, but that seems impractical – you lose the moral high ground if you celebrate a murderer’s murder: you deplore a man for causing death, but you are happy that he has been killed? I too believe that murder is wrong. But to murder somebody for doing it strikes me as hypocritical. I do not believe in an eye for an eye.

      “Also: “if you support [the death penalty] [...] you too are a murderer.” Suppose you don’t support the death penalty (I don’t either), but support life imprisonment – does that make you a prison guard?”

      My comment was merely an extrapolation of the point I explained above. I do not support the death penalty. I’m glad we don’t have it in the country I live and vote in. In the normal run of things, criminals are not murdered in my name.

      “Pull a thread on your morals ON THIS ISSUE and they fall apart as quickly as religion. I cannot hold my silence and let this pass without comment.”

      And nor should you. Although what you seem to be doing is disagreeing with me thus far.

      “Even more worrying is your apparent generalisation of Americans… phrases like “flag-draped bloodlust” or “beer-spraying patriots” or “many American citizens welcomed the curbing of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11″ WITHOUT counter-examples seems to want to classify “many” Americans as dumb patriots.”

      You draw that conclusion. I was writing specifically of those who took to the streets to celebrate Bin Laden’s murder with beer and flags. I saw bloodlust. And my observation about civil liberties is true. If I had said all Americans I would have been wrong. By qualifying it with “some” or “many” or talking about a certain group of Americans, why do I need to “supply counter examples”? I’m putting across my opinion based upon what I see. I’m not writing a legal document.

      “This follows on from a decade or so of anti-American comedy, including your chums Lee (“tea-cosy”) and Herring (in his OFIF he jokingly suggests that Americans should kill each other), which makes it easier for me to see some anti-American bias.”

      My bias is against certain aspects of American foreign policy. I love American culture, as I’m sure you must know. I do not feel comfortable with a president saying “God bless America.” This does not mean I hate America or Americans. Stewart Lee is not my chum. I occasionally see him out and have a civil conversation with him. I am a fan of his work. Why are you bringing other people into this?

      “The “flag” thing, for instance: yes, Americans are more passionate about their flag than British folks. Is that wrong? Or is it just a different culture? If it’s just a different culture, it can’t be wrong, so why did you use “flag draped” as a specific adjective about bloodlust?”

      I saw actual men draped in flags on the news. They were celebrating the murder of a man. I linked the two things. Fair enough? I’m pretty sure I’m not being deliberately opaque. Some British folks are just as passionate about their flag. I see the British flag as one that is steeped in history, and not all of it very edifying. So raising it fills me with ambivalence. Some people see no such ambivalence about a flag. They are probably living less troubled lives than I am. They are lucky in that respect.

      “I like you, Mr Collins, and for what it’s worth I agree with you entirely about the Royal Wedding, but I disagree with you so profoundly on your second half that I could not hold my peace.”

      Again: nor should you hold your peace. This blog is always about a dialogue when matters of a political nature are aired. I have rubbed you up the wrong way with my views, or at least the way those views have been phrased. I have addressed your points. I hope that helps.

  13. Many thanks for taking the time to reply so thoroughly!

    Just to clarify some of my points – I admit I got into a bit of a rant. The reason I brought Lee and Herring into my argument was that it seemed to be acceptable for the comedy establishment to bash American patriotism for a while there. Seems to have died down a bit since Obama, so comedians have gone back to saying people from Norfolk are in-bred again. Sigh. [This is off the point; I've listened to all the C&H podcasts and never heard you make such a slur on Norfolk!]

    I must pick you up on the “God Bless America” comment though: again, I see this as part of American culture, in the same way that, for example, other countries must be confused by our politicians saying “The right honourable gentleman…” in parliament.

    “God Bless America” is not wrong in itself. I think it’s only wrong when it transforms into either isolationism or a superiority complex.

    I never thought you hated America; I only thought that you were falling into the trap of seeing 200 people outside the White House cheering about Osama’s death, and extrapolating that to think the whole country was equally jubilant. The Americans I’ve spoken to since are, like the other news networks you mention, glad he’s dead but are worried about what it might mean.

    Cheers,

    Graeme

  14. Great piece. There’s been a significant absence of this kind of considered, humane response in the media this week. If you’ve ever written anything better, Andrew, I haven’t read it…

  15. Ryan, no not every killing is murder. However, the killing of a foreign national when; 1) One’s own nation is not at war with their nation and 2)In the absence of a court having found the victim guilty of a capital crime … most certainly IS murder, or at the very least, unlawful killing. Terrorists are subject to criminal law. If they are not found guilty by that law, then they are NOT valid targets.

    All human beings (or so we say) have certain inalienable rights. Few would deny that one of them is the right to not get attacked and killed in your own home on the basis of unproven allegations by 3rd parties. It makes no difference if that 3rd party is the President of the US, The Grand Wazoo of Wonga or whoever. Either EVERYONE has human rights or effectively none of us do.

    What the hell kind of message do we send out by simultaneously prosecuting wars in the name of democracy and slaughtering alleged (and until they are convicted by a court that’s what they are, like it or not) terrorists? The US appears to make its own rules….and then not follow them!

    I am actually a secular person of UK origin. I remain skeptical of organised belief systems feeling that they have more to do with society’s elite maintaining control of the populace than any genuine connection with supernatural beings. Islamic, Christian, Hindu or whatever makes little difference to me.

    However, even from that position, I can find no argument to morally justify the killing of bin Laden. I could not stand face to face with the most militant Islamist and tell them they are wrong, that their viewpoint is distorted by superstition. If the US had behaved in legal and moral manner I would have been able to do so. As things stand I can only conclude that both sides are as morally bankrupt as each other.

    As it would have been equally easy to capture bin Laden as to kill him, I must conclude that his death was a policy decision. It was a decision based outside any kind of legal framework and therefore must have been driven by US self-interest. Probably to avoid the inevitable revelations a trial would have produced.

    We already know that the US (through the CIA) funded the creation of Al Qaeda, supported and trained them so they could be manipulated to support US interests in overthrowing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One cannot help but wonder just what revelations the US is trying to avoid.

    Al Quaeda and bin Laden acted outside the law, driven by religious commitment. The US acted outside the law driven by self interest. History will probably cast both as villains.

    One final comment. After World War II, the US was (correctly) insistent that the German Nazis should NOT be summarily executed, but instead should by legally tried for their crimes. What has changed?

    • Hi R. I think it can be problematic when people conflate the moral and legal argument, not least as surely it’s easy to conceive of theoretical examples where the two might be in conflict and where the moral would naturally take precedent over the legal. For all GW Bush’s ugly innovations, it was sainted Lincoln who suspended Habeus Corpus…

      As Gore Vidal said, the “War on Terror” makes no sense, as “Terror” is an abstract noun. G.V. also said that you don’t deal with the mafia by bombing Sicily. So, even from a liberal perspective, I’m not sure about your claim that :
      “However, the killing of a foreign national when; 1) One’s own nation is not at war with their nation and

      A terrorist is exactly that, and it’s surely *more* sensible, and less damaging to talk in terms of individuals – who have committed specific acts – instead of nation states. Ethically, I don’t see why a person has to be a member of a state at war with the U.S.A. to be a legitimate enemy of the latter.

      >>>All human beings (or so we say) have certain inalienable rights. Few would deny that one of them is the right to not get attacked and killed in your own home on the basis of unproven allegations by 3rd parties

      Is there really any doubt that Bin Laden was responsible (alongside Khalid Sheikh Mohammed etc ) for the 9/11 attacks? I would not put his culpability for 9/11 in the category of “unproven allegations”.

      >>>However, even from that position, I can find no argument to morally justify the killing of bin Laden

      Which deserves respect, as does the fact that many, in good conscience, many and do indeed find compelling moral arguments to justify the killing of Bin Laden that are in no way predicted upon monotheism. For example, if one wanted to take the point that military victory has a cache amongst Al-Queda hotbeds that Christian forgiveness does not, then killing Bin Laden is – in the long run – a potentially justifiable act even if it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Killing Bin Laden is comparable to taking out al-Harithi for the USS Cole bombing.

      No disrespect, but : to be honest, I find the idea of telling a “militant Islamist” that their world-view is superstitious – and presumably hoping to be successful- utterly comical. I don’t think that being able to boast that Bin Laden was standing trial would make it it any more sensible.

      >>After World War II, the US was (correctly) insistent that the German Nazis should NOT be summarily executed, but instead should by legally tried for their crimes. What has changed?

      Yes, but the likes of Amon Goth were, after being found guilty, still executed. Was that murder too? It could be argued that there is substantial evidence (not least the 2004 video confession) that Bin Laden was guilty, like Goth, of murdering thousands of people and, like Goth, was executed. So I’m not sure that there is a self-evident moral gulf between the Nazi trials and the US’ actions in killing Bin Laden.

  16. No, not every killing is murder. However, the killing of a foreign national when; 1) One’s own nation is not at war with their nation and 2)In the absence of a court having found the victim guilty of a capital crime … most certainly IS murder, or at the very least, unlawful killing. Terrorists are subject to criminal law. If they are not found guilty under that law, then they are NOT valid targets.

    All human beings (or so we say) have certain inalienable rights. Few would deny that one of them is the right to not get attacked and killed in your own home on the basis of unproven allegations by 3rd parties. It makes no difference if that 3rd party is the President of the US, The Grand Wazoo of Wonga or whoever. Either EVERYONE has human rights or effectively none of us do.

    What the hell kind of message do we send out by simultaneously prosecuting wars in the name of democracy and slaughtering alleged (and until they are convicted by a court that’s what they are, like it or not) terrorists? The US appears to make its own rules….and then not follow them!

    I am actually a secular person of UK origin. I remain skeptical of organised belief systems feeling that they have more to do with society’s elite maintaining control of the populace than any genuine connection with supernatural beings. Islamic, Christian, Hindu or whatever makes little difference to me.

    However, even from that position, I can find no argument to morally justify the killing of bin Laden. I could not stand face to face with the most militant Islamist and tell them they are wrong, that their viewpoint is distorted by superstition. If the US had behaved in legal and moral manner I would have been able to do so. As things stand I can only conclude that both sides are as morally bankrupt as each other.

    As it would have been equally easy to capture bin Laden as to kill him, I must conclude that his death was a policy decision. It was a decision based outside any kind of legal framework and therefore must have been driven by US self-interest. Probably to avoid the inevitable revelations a trial would have produced.

    We already know that the US (through the CIA) funded the creation of Al Qaeda, supported and trained them so they could be manipulated to support US interests in overthrowing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One cannot help but wonder just what revelations the US is trying to avoid.

    Al Quaeda and bin Laden acted outside the law, driven by religious commitment. The US acted outside the law driven by self interest. History will probably cast both as villains.

    One final comment. After World War II, the US was (correctly) insistent that the German Nazis should NOT be summarily executed, but instead should be legally tried for their crimes. What has changed?

    • RMcGeddon, thanks for the post, you raise a number of good points but as with some other comments doing the rounds of the blogosphere (terrible word) at the moment I think you miss the one crucial point. Osama bin Laden had declared war on the United States in both 1996 and 1998 and consequently actions against him, as a self-declared enemy combatant, fall under laws of armed conflict (as defined by Geneva conventions) rather than International Humanitarian Law that relates to the rights of individuals (based on the UN Charter and Human Rights legislation developed post-1945).

      There are legal problems with the laws of armed conflict and their application to the “war on terror” because the laws were drawn up to codify conflict between state-based actors and al-Qaeda by their own admission are non-state actors. There are further problems with the issue of state sovereignty, i.e. what rights does one country have to pursue an enemy to another country (but it appears the United States had an existing agreement with Pakistan – see the New Yorker piece below).

      Law of armed conflict requires the prosecuting army to justify their action on a set of criteria, which I did use to know off the top of my head once (I used to teach it at Sandhurst). This criteria will take into account if an action is justifiable and proportionate. They will take into account the collateral damage that any action is likely to result in. For example, a raid by soldiers on a compound, destructive though it is, will cause less collateral damage than a bombing raid that flattens the compound and parts of the surrounding area. If the United States government works in the same way that the UK government does the President will have been provided with reports on expected collateral damage as part of the decision making process.

      Of course, none of this may make it morally acceptable to you – and that is a perfectly valid standpoint – but this will be the legal justification and the legal framework with which the Obama administration was working to.

      Two final points.

      1. The CIA didn’t fund or set up Al-Qaeda. Read the Jason Burke book Al-Qaeda (it’s very good) or read his top ten myths about Osama bin Laden (it’s on the Guardian website).

      2. Ideally, everyone should be captured and tried in a court of law. I am fully with on this. However, I think this judgement is easy to make in abstract. The realities on the ground may make it more difficult to implement. I don’t know. But given that neither of us were there at the time we are both guessing.

      There is a really good piece on the New Yorker website about all of this. I thoroughly recommend it.

      http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/bin-laden-the-rules-of-engagement.html

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