Open Thread: We Got Him!

I had a post about marriage equality I was going to put up today, but instead, let me just say this:

Holy shit, we killed Osama bin Laden.

I’m still speechless – this doesn’t seem real. My reactions, more or less in order:

(1) When I opened my news reader this morning, the first headline was a story from CNN, “Stocks set for higher open after death of Osama bin Laden.” I think I did a classic comedy double-take.

(2) The Republicans who were planning to run for president must be crying tonight. There’s no way in hell they’re going to beat Obama in 2012 now.

(3) It’s about time we got this done. Even I almost wish there was a hell so that evil bastard can rot there.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: I wrote this post quickly while still half-asleep, after turning on my computer in the morning and seeing the news headlines. I’ve since had time to collect my thoughts and have written a lengthier account of my position.

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  • Katie M

    I think Clarence Darrow sums up my thoughts perfectly-”I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”

  • laffin

    Good news. But I’m waiting for tha announcement that all our troops will be coming home immediately since Bin Laden was the reason we got involved in the wars in the first place. Right?

  • Tom

    I’m not going to lie, as a soldier I was sort of hoping for a day off, or at least a late call this morning, after hearing the news last night.

  • Ritchie

    As a moderator on a media website my initial reaction is at how quickly conspiracy theories pop up. Almost an a knee-jerk reaction to ‘big’ news. Theories range from the modest to the ridiculous, but the idea that he’s dead is clearly nonsense. He’s obviously living on the secret base on the moon with Elvis and Princess Di.

  • Michus

    I totally understand the hatred for this man, but is it… good that we revel in his death? Did people rejoice at the death of Hilter during the end of WW2? Is this the same? Well, the scale of death is quite different but it’s the same basic formula and I think it’s a close enough comparison.

    But, I mean, is it a morally correct thing to kill this man and crave his death? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that his actions and desires are quite plainly evil, but is it /good/ to destroy him?

    The few people I’ve spoken to and mentioned my concern about this to seem uninterested in entertaining the line of thought, but I think we can do so here, yes?

    As a side thought:

    What if al-qaeda managed to assassinate the president or something and they were dancing in the streets to celebrate, waving flags and so on? Americans would be super-duper pissed and offended not just at the act of murder but of the celebration of it. Ignoring the moral position of either man for the sake of this question…

    It seems to me at least that celebrating a death (even in the name of peace) is a slightly strange thing to do. Perhaps I’m over-thinking this though and should be glad that the charismatic leader of a violent extremist group is dead, to hell with the morality of the path that has taken us here. That might be best for now.

    Oh by the way, I’m not clear on something… does anybody know if Bin Laden was killed in the firefight or was he captured first and then executed either on the compound grounds or some distance away? Wouldn’t that change the morality quite a bit?

    Either way I’m very glad he’s dead, just thinking about the methods.

  • BJ Marshall

    Interesting how few things unite Americans more than a good old killin’.

  • Gino

    They’re saying that he was killed in the firefight. I’m sure some people are going to choose not to believe that, though. Personally, I wouldn’t peg Osama bin Laden as the surrendering type, so the official story gels with me.

  • Lyszandor

    As someone who spends a lot of time refuting conspiracy theories and is annoyed by c.theorists as much as anyone, I’m genuinely skeptical of this now: seriously, why don’t we even have a photo of any sort? The one picture that’s floated around a few various pages is almost definitely fake ( And regarding that DNA testing, how and why did anyone supposedly have previous DNA to compare the body’s to anyway? I leave these as open questions, but they put me at a loss.

  • Dan

    While I think it is probably for the better overall that bin Laden is dead, I’m really uncomfortable with the revelry, especially that coming from our so-called leaders in the U.S. There will be reprisals for this action.

  • Jerryd

    @#5. My dictionary defines justice as, “. . .they were determined to exact justice: punishment, judgment, retribution, compensation, just deserts.”

    If you murder someone–anyone–in cold blood, particularly completely innocent bystanders as happened in 9/11, the only justice you deserve is to be murdered in the same manner.

    My only regret is that he couldn’t have been murdered thousands of times, that would be the true justice this evil being deserved.

    I take that back, that isn’t my only regret. The other, perhaps even bigger regret, is that he murdered those thousands of people in the name of a non-existant mythical god. In the celebration I fear that sobering fact will be overlooked.

  • Whym

    I honestly take no satisfaction in his death because I really don’t think it will change anything about the war. The fighting will continue, even intensify. This war has never been about a single man or even a single army. Bin laden was an effective and charismatic leader. Now he’s an effective and charismatic martyr. Ideologies don’t die when you kill a figurehead.

  • Lyszandor

    Adding to my above comment (#8), I’m still hearing conflicting reports about where his body is: held in custody, or already buried at sea?

    If the latter is the case, then I can’t lie; that seems sketchy in the extreme.

  • Cyc

    Michus (#5):

    I agree with a lot of your sentiments, especially the one about how we would react in a similar situation. I’m not saying his death was not warranted, as that was the only conceivable way of stopping him (if he were captured it would only lead to more fanaticism in his name). But the celebratory atmosphere that followed could very well cause quite a few problems. But those very problems stem from inciting people who thinking killing innocents is ok, so it is not like we insulted their morality.

    What I found interesting is how those who had lost relatives during the 9/11 attacks seemed the most hesitant to react as the crowds did. While they did say they were glad it was done, they mostly stated that it seemed wrong to celebrate a death at all. Granted it was a small sample size and may not be reflective of the sentiment of most survivors, but such reactions have been noted in past events as well.

    And as others have stated, he was killed in a fire fight along with at least two or three other combatants and one female non-combatant who was used as a human shield. For people who have spent their lives convincing others to die for their cause, they certainly weren’t ready to do so themselves.

  • James Picone

    @#5. My dictionary defines justice as, “. . .they were determined to exact justice: punishment, judgment, retribution, compensation, just deserts.”

    If you murder someone–anyone–in cold blood, particularly completely innocent bystanders as happened in 9/11, the only justice you deserve is to be murdered in the same manner.

    If that is ‘justice’, then I want none of it.

    Eye-for-an-eye retribution is not how a moral and upstanding person or government should act. If Osama had surrendered, the correct course of action would be to take him into custody, deliver him to the international criminal court for a fair and speedy trial, then wait for him to be convicted of war crimes.

    Human rights are not revokable.

  • Katie M

    @James Picone-”If Osama had surrendered”

    That’s the operative word-”If”. He refused to surrender.

  • kennypo65

    The guy was an evil sumbitch and we are all probably better off now that he’s dead. However, celebrating his death is unseemly, and I think we are better than that. I also think that nothing will really change. The perpetual war will continue, Guantanamo will remain open, and our rights will continue to be whittled away.

  • Tommykey


  • NoAstronomer

    Quietly relieved. A little smug. Somewhat concerned. Concerned that this really doesn’t change anything on the ground. For example the Al Qaeda group in Yemen was apparently functioning more or less autonomously anyway.

    @laffin #2

    No they won’t be coming home. After all they’ve now got to deal with all the groups we pissed off while we were hunting OBL.

    @Michus #5 “Did people rejoice at the death of Hitler during the end of WW2?”

    Damn right they did.


  • seiyakino

    I’m happy I’m not the only one who felt a little funny about this being celebrated. Noted, with relief that he can’t do anything like that again but with awareness that he was just one zealot and there will be more? Cool. Glee? It was all a tragedy, from start to finish, from the man’s fear of eternity to the murder innocents he and his fellow religionists killed at every turn of this. To celebrate any part of it, including the need for the death of another human being, doesn’t seem quite right.

  • Katie M

    I think Tommykey wins the thread, what do you guys think? :)

  • AshtaraSilunar

    I, too, don’t really understand the celebration. I’m glad he’s no longer going to be masterminding attacks on the US. I’m glad that his organization will likely be busy struggling for power amongst themselves for a while. But I’m not celebrating his death.
    I don’t see anything sketchy about the sparse reporting; I assumed that there were no reporters onsite when it happened, and the military seems more likely to release few details, at least initially.

  • Alex Siyer

    I agree with James Picone, Human rights should not be revokable.

    It doesn’t matter how strong you think your reasons are. Because it’s on the extreme situations when human view become narrow. And it’s when views become narrow that the respect for Human rights prevent horrors to be born from horrors.

    (I’m sorry if it sounds weird, my english become engrish when I’m sleepy)

  • Monty

    Death is never a cause for celebration. It may sometimes be necessary (as it apparently was in this case), but it should never be desirable. Even fundamentalist madmen are human beings.

  • SuperHappyJen

    I understand what he did, but it seems to me that having him killed could not possibly have solved anything. If we are to punish people for their crimes it should a)make people safer and b) act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of commiting similar acts. I don’t see that happening here. In fact, it might prove that the opposite will be true. By that I mean, anger from Osama’s followers will lead to the world being less safe, by resulting in acts of terrorism in retaliation. I really hope this won’t be the case.

  • Wednesday

    Oh, good, that much is over. Now maybe various Americans who didn’t actually know any of the victims on 9/11 will feel like we got our revenge and stop having a knee-jerk “OMG Muslim = TERRORIST!!111 eleventy” and “Brown people = Muslim = terrorist!!” reaction.

    Oh, who am I kidding? Papist or Muslim, Communist or Kenyan, it doesn’t matter what word they use, it’s all about raging against the Other. Gingrich made that clear when he warned of a “secular atheist” America “dominated by radical Islamisists”.

  • Quath

    I wish we could have captured him. I think life in prison would be a far worse punishment than a quick death. But I also think that people may have been divided over killing him versus life in prison and that may have turned into a nasty political issue.

    I guess I am happy that this unresolved issue has been laid to rest. However, I feel the victory may be more symbolic than real. But in a war based on terrorism, maybe the way one measures success is based on how people feel.

  • Rieux

    I endorse P.Z. Myers’ and Jerry Coyne’s take on the news.

    As for the effect on Obama’s election prospects, I don’t see the grounds for the “no way in hell” comment. We’re still a year-and-a-half from Election Day; bin Laden’s death will be very old news by then. If the U.S. economy doesn’t get any better by mid-2012 than it is now, I think Obama’s in severe trouble. If it does, quite possibly he wins in a walk, and would have even if bin Laden were still at large. So I don’t see the serious impact.

    FWIW, here‘s election guru Nate Silver examining the question.

  • Peter

    Americans have been messing with arab states for many years. Many arabs have been killed. If anyone did a total body count the americans have probably killed more arabs. Americans made men like Osama because arabs are pissed at american interference and will continue to be pissed until the americans get the hell out of their lives. I don’t see this as difficult to understand. Throw in the koran plus people willing to blow themselves up and lets not forget world domination by both the americans and the muslims and we have the current mess. I’m hoping both sides lose and sanity prevails but I won’t hold my breath.

  • Dominic Self

    I agree with the other posters: I’m not really comfortable with ‘celebrating’ death. I’m glad that it’s happened, and I hope that those most affected by 9/11 feel some sense of justice, but war just isn’t about “killing bad guys” and “evil bastards” and all the rest of it. That’s the language of video games, not real life, and it feels almost flippant to me. Obama’s serious tone reminded me how much I respect the man.

  • Andrew T.

    I have mixed emotions. In a way, it finally indicates the fulfillment of an objective we had for resorting to war nearly 10 (!) years ago, and I feel a sense of released tension from that. But I’m in no mood whatsoever to gloat. It only feels like a symbolic gesture; given the sheer mess that escalated from that: Any real goals were hopelessly muddled or tossed out the window years ago when Bush and the military were content with letting bin Laden slip through their fingers while using religion as a justification for defraying resources and starting new wars in Iraq for no objective reason at all.

  • kagerato

    The celebrations are odd on a lot of levels. Although the human rights question about whether to capture him alive is valid, I set it aside. More important is the issue of whether bin Laden was actually performing a significant role at this point, or if he was a mostly-useless figurehead. If the latter, we may be patting ourselves on the back for something with largely symbolic value alone.

    There is also an open question as to whether this will turn a very limited man into a much less limited martyr figure.

    However, I am glad to see our intelligence services are not completely useless. Considering how much we spend on them, I expected such a result a long time ago.

    Oh, and can we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay now?

  • Miles McCullough

    @Lyszandor #8,

    The bin Laden family is quite friendly with the U.S. on the whole. I’m sure some of them would have already given a blood sample to confirm Osama when/if the U.S. ever thought they got him. Jerry Coyne says the burial at sea was to prevent a holy shrine being made of his resting place, which sounds plenty plausible to me. Pictures get faked for any big story: remember that fallout cloud covering the West Coast after the Japanese nuclear disaster recently?

    I see no reason to doubt the U.S. killed him, and unless Al Qaeda gets someone to claim to be him, I doubt it will ever be anything more than an academic issue anyway. That’s kind of my thought process on the JFK assassination too btw. For many people the evidence will never be definitive, so the truth is whatever they want to believe.

  • Brock

    I remember on 9/11 I was pretty much in shock at first, and then that evening, I saw footage of the crowds celebrating in Cairo and other cities. It was at that point that rage set in, and from the remembrance of that alone, I was concerned about the celebrations here, even before I saw this thread. I think we’re behaving badly by celebrating any man’s death. We’re behaving the same way the religiously brainwashed did on the other side back then.

    By the way, @Katie #20: I agree.

  • Tom

    I’m coming at this from a few directions. First, I’m a New Yorker who did lose someone on 9/11. Second, I’m currently an infantry soldier who has dealt with this conflict first hand. Am I glad the man is dead? Yes. Do I take any joy in it? No. Will I be celebrating? No. At the same time, though, I understand that people in this country, perhaps especially those for whom the attacks were more symbolic than visceral, need this symbolic celebration. It’s cathartic. I tend to think that people who have actually dealt with this entire history of tragedy on a more personal level don’t need or want to celebrate another death, justified though it may be.

    As to how this will effect the military… all I know is that I went to work this morning, I’ll go back to work after lunch, and I’ll keep training for the foreseeable future.

  • Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    I’m with our host.

    I am glad they found him, went after him, and killed him.

    I am glad they did not take him alive and hold him for trial.

    I am especially glad they did not give him up to the World Court for trial.

    I agree with the president that we are at war with Al-Qaeda and their allies and that, in war, selective assassination of enemy leaders can be a legitimate and sensible tool.

    In this case, it was just retribution and an excellent way to send an important message to the would-be OBL’s of this world.

    Now, let’s hope it makes it easier for Obama to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan rather than harder.

    And it will certainly be harder if Pakistan now proceeds to fall apart.

    Recall that Pakistan has nukes and Obama, I hope and believe, would not willingly let them fall into the wrong hands.

    If the Pakistani government starts to fall apart or slide into those wrong hands I think you can expect Obama to send our military into the country in a race to find and capture or disable the Pakistani nukes.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Yeah, I am thinking that it would have been better to take him alive.

    Especially in terms of using his arrest, trial, and sentencing to establish international law, or, I might say, global law with respect to persons and groups acting outside of the current international legal system.

    Especially when we are struggling to establish an international criminal court.

    The Nuremberg trials were instrumental in establishing our current conception of international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law, which no longer addresses many of the problems we face in our increasingly global and interconnected society, in which nation-states are becoming obsolete and meaningless.

    We are all citizens of the world now. And, we need a global legal system, which addresses this status and its attendant legal issues.

  • Ash

    I too am happy they found him and killed him. While some people might be celebrating the death of bin Laden explicitly, I think the outpouring we saw in DC and New York was less about revenge and more about relief. For many, bin Laden represents not only the 9/11 attacks, but an ongoing threat. True, that threat will continue in reality, but I don’t think that takes away from the release of tension many people must be feeling. Moreover, after a decade of failure to find him, the celebration is also about competence; it was egoistically wounding to a lot of people that we couldn’t even find him, much less capture or kill him.

    And I agree that this won Obama a second term.

  • Tommykey

    I agree that this won Obama a second term.

    Unless we have a major terrorist attack on our soil between now and Election Day.

    It would also help if unemployment decreases and the price of gasoline comes down.

  • Tommykey

    Alternate Fox News headline: Pious Middle Aged Muslim Murdered in His Home by Armed Thugs of Angry, Violent Black Man.

  • Paul

    Especially when we are struggling to establish an international criminal court.

    We who? The US is strongly against any international court that does anything other than exactly what we tell it to. Can’t have our politicians indicted for crimes against humanity.

  • Sarah Braasch

    We our emerging global society. We us global citizens.

    Of course the powers that be in the US would resist this we.

    But, it’s inevitable and inexorable.

    So, I’m not sure that those of us who would have wished to have taken this opportunity to further a global society based upon rule of law and human rights and democracy and substantive and procedural due process of law are cheering the assassination of this human being by a clandestine operation by a covert military force by a single nation-state, claiming extrajudicial authority to perform an extraterritorial execution.

  • IlCensore

    Congratulation to the Americans, in the end they did kill Osama.

    In the only country they did not invade.

  • Ceetar

    It’s different than Hitler (not that I’m old enough to remember) because there was a connection between Hitler’s death and the end of the war and American’s returning home safely. This is mostly just symbolic and while we continue to sacrifice human rights and personal freedoms and due process in some ways the terrorists have still won.

  • Jeep-Eep

    Good riddance, but wish we could have tried him.

  • Larry Lillehammer

    I’m waiting for Donald Trump to demand to see the DNA samples and to verify them.

  • Gail

    It is of course difficult to balance our sense of relief that bin Laden is dead with our respect for human life.

    I think my views on death are a lot like the character Dr. Brennan on Bones. In a first season episode, she takes part in a case to see if a death row killer is really innocent, and a lawyer on the case is very surprised to hear that Brennan believes in the death penalty. I’m paraphrasing because I can’t look up the clip right now, but she basically says that some people don’t deserve to be in this world, that the people who committed genocide in Rwanda, who beheaded children at their desks at school deserved death. Yet she obviously has a great respect for life and humanity–her work is dedicated to saving lives and putting faces back on the dead.

    I think her view makes sense. There is a sense of justice and relief in the deaths of some truly terrible people (I’m talking terrorists and genocide here), but it’s distasteful to celebrate them. I think it would be better to reflect upon the lives that were lost at his hand and the hope that fewer extremists are formed now that his influence is gone.

  • Rollingforest

    @Michus: I think it is natural for people to feel glad at the death of an enemy. We didn’t kill him just because we like killing people, but rather because we felt that he deserved it and that the world was safer for everyone with him dead. If the Taliban had killed the President and the Afghanistani were dancing in the streets, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I would understand that some of them believe that he deserves it. It would be wrong, but to them it would seem right.

    So, with that being said, I am celebrating an American victory and justice, not someone’s death (I’m celebrating on the inside. I’m not much of a jump around and howler type of person). I think that is what most other people are doing as well.

    @Lyszandor: Perhaps the DNA testing compared the sample with a DNA sample of one of his sons, some of which are moderates and might have agreed to have their DNA sampled (or might have been tricked into providing it). The US decided to bury Bin Laden at sea because Islamic law requires that bodies be buried within 24 hours and the US probably figured that the Muslims who were on the border between Conservative and extremist might be more accepting of the US action if Bin Laden received a proper burial. Now personally I would have kept the body to see if there was anything we could learn from forensic evidence.

    If Bin Laden was still alive, all he’d have to do is take a picture of himself with today’s newspaper and the US would become the laughing stock of the world. But I don’t think that’s going to happen because it seems he is sleeping with the fishes now.

    @James Picone: The White House has put out a statement saying that Bin Laden would have been taken alive if possible, but keeping the American troops alive was seen as a higher priority.

    @Quath: It is true that if Atheists are correct and there is no Hell then Bin Laden got off pretty easy for his crimes. Spending the rest of his life in jail might have been a bigger punishment. Though others will argue that even existing in jail is better than not existing at all. I’ll let others decide that moral question.

    @Rieux: I agree. I think the 2012 election will mostly be about the economy. Thought had Obama killed Bin Laden in October of 2012, it might have been a different story.

    @Peter: You are missing the hugely important point that American troops don’t purposely kill civilians (Obama even made keeping the civilian housemates of Bin Laden alive one of his priorities. The only civilian who was killed in the raid was killed because a terrorist ducked behind her) whereas the terrorists view killing civilians as their main goal. Merely by believing something besides Fundamentalist Islam, we are worthy of being killed according to Al Qaeda. The idea that if we left Afghanistan and Iraq tomorrow and stopped supporting Israel that suddenly Al Qaeda would forget about us is naïve to the extreme.

    I think the killing of Bin Laden was important because he was finally punished for his crimes and because it revitalized the American moral toward fighting terrorism. Whether it will disrupt Al Qaeda or not is still to be seen, but this can be used as a symbol to those who are on the fence about whether to attack America that America won’t back down.

    PS. The hard core Republicans haven’t given up on their crusade for the Whitehouse. When CBS showed the pictures of the GWU students and others celebrating in front of the White House last night, I saw the image of a Bush political sign and a Tea Party flag (though, to be fair, I also saw a “Latinos for Obama” sign as well)

  • Alex Weaver

    Ignoring the moral position of either man for the sake of this question…

    …changes it so much that even asking is pointless.

    He is not being tortured. We are not revelling in his suffering or degrading him. He no longer exists. Others may name his memory as a motive for their crimes but he himself will never harm anyone ever again. This IS worth celebrating, creepy life-qua-life fetishism from whatever corner notwithstanding.

    Incidentally, burial at sea was freakin’ genius. It’s apparently an acceptable alternative to burial in the ground if there’s a risk of the corpse being defiled, so it fits with Islamic tradition and we aren’t exposing ourselves to accusations of mistreating a corpse, and yet it ensures his grave will never become a shrine or site of pilgrimage.

  • Rollingforest

    It’s funny, I was reading post number 35 and it was written in very short paragraphs the way Sarah always writes. But as I was reading it, I was like “wait, that doesn’t sound like something Sarah would say!” Turns out I was right and that it was Gaius instead.

  • Rollingforest

    Also interesting is that in the statements of the political public figures that I’ve seen, Huckabee is the only one that talked about Bin Laden going to Hell.

  • archimedez

    Glad the U.S. finally got him. I believe Obama made the correct move in not informing the Pakistanis about this secret mission. Forces within the Pakistani intelligence agency and military, it appears, have been involved in hiding bin Laden for years. Now we need something similar to get Zawahiri.

    The notion that bin Laden could likely have been taken alive in this case doesn’t seem plausible to me. From Obama’s previous statements (viz. “capture or kill”) taking him alive was always an option on the table, e.g., if bin Laden surrendered or was otherwise subdued. However, killing him seems to have been necessary in this case since, according to what I’ve read, bin Laden was shooting at, not surrendering to, U.S. forces who raided the compound. Hence, they had to kill him, or be killed by bin Laden.

    Alex (#48), I agree, though I’ve just finished reading an Islamic scholar from Al-Azhar who is objecting to what he deems the sinful and un-Islamic burial at sea.

  • Bob Carlson

    I endorse P.Z. Myers’ and Jerry Coyne’s take on the news.

    Like Coyne, I was really appalled last night to see throngs of people chanting “USA, USA!” As Myers said: “While it’s necessary to stop terrorists, sometimes with violence, it is barbarous to gloat over the execution of an enemy.”

  • Sarah Braasch

    Damnit, I must be getting predictable. I’ll have to work on that.

  • William

    I think that he was ready to die, he was a martyr for his cause. And now thousands of muslims will come out against them.

  • anna N

    I find the whole celebratory action disgusting. celebrating that a person is dead? really? That’s a new low point in American history. It will spark more hatred. AND: several people on Facebook have compared Binladen to Hitler. Those people have no clue and have missed several years of (high-school) history.

  • DavidD

    I’ve been smiling all day. In my view, this was justice not vengeance.

  • Jormungund

    But, it’s inevitable and inexorable.

    I don’t agree. I really don’t see the merit in this claim. There is nothing stopping us from refusing to recognize the authority of international courts and rejecting attempts at weakening our national sovereignty.

    So, I’m not sure that those of us who would have wished to have taken this opportunity to further a global society based upon rule of law and human rights and democracy and substantive and procedural due process of law are cheering the assassination of this human being by a clandestine operation by a covert military force by a single nation-state, claiming extrajudicial authority to perform an extraterritorial execution.

    Or perhaps we don’t want a global society. Perhaps it has been made very clear to the rest of the world that we are out to capture or kill certain terrorist leaders and those who support them. I’m not going going to weep over the covert actions taken to kill Osama bin Laden. There are times in which it is justified to take covert actions. This is one of them.
    If desires for a global society are interfering with our ability and desire to take action with our without the permission of states such a Pakistan, then perhaps we should give up our desire for a global society rather than our desire to take occasion covert action against our enemies.
    I don’t normally like the things that Bush Jr. said, but in the matter of international courts he had a rare moment of brilliance. He promised that the U.S. military would assault any nation that allowed kidnappers to kidnap U.S. politicians or members of the military to take them before any international court. The nice thing about international courts is that you can rob them of their power simply by declaring you don’t believe in them and will turn violent if others force any of your citizens to be subject to them. I fully support that kind of attitude.

  • Sarah Braasch

    We are a global society. The isolationist ship has sailed.

    We have only now to decide what kind of global society we will be.

    If we choose autocratic, there is no guarantee that the US will make it to the top of the heap.

    Choose wisely.

  • Boz

    There are millions, even hundreds of millions, of people celebrating the death of another human.

    This is extremely saddening. I worry about the future of us humans, when such abhorrent behaviour is shown by so many.

  • Ebonmuse

    I understand the sentiments of people who have mixed feelings about the celebrations. It’s a laudable sentiment that we should never celebrate the killing of any human being. But this is one of the very rare cases where I don’t feel the same way. Osama bin Laden’s continued existence was an unadulterated evil, and humanity is significantly better off now that he’s dead. As I’ve written in the past, I support the death penalty under very limited conditions, and this is one of those few times where I believe it was entirely appropriate.

    To be clear, I don’t rejoice over the fact that his death was necessary (as opposed to the conservatives who were positively gleeful at the prospect of going to war after 9/11), but given that it was necessary, I rejoice that it was achieved. Bin Laden was an evil, mass-murdering religious fanatic who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people – and not just Americans, but British, Germans, Spanish, Indians, Egyptians, Afghanis, Iraqis… and on and on. I’m not saying we should have a “Bin Laden Is Dead” parade, that would be crass, but I understand the outpourings of emotion. Can you blame people for feeling catharsis – or, as Ash (#37) suggested, relief?

    I agree with the people who pointed out that his death probably won’t change anything (although it should – “We got bin Laden!” ought to be a potent rallying cry in favor of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, closing Guantanamo, stopping random bag searches on the subway and virtual strip-searches at the airport, and so on). Realistically, the Arab democratic spring has done more to delegitimize and discredit al-Qaeda than anything the U.S. has done or ever could do. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that taking him out was worthwhile for its own sake, even if it doesn’t achieve anything incidental.

    Yeah, I am thinking that it would have been better to take him alive.

    Especially in terms of using his arrest, trial, and sentencing to establish international law, or, I might say, global law with respect to persons and groups acting outside of the current international legal system.

    I agree with you, Sarah, that the best possible resolution would have been to capture bin Laden and put him on trial before an open and fair court – American or international, I don’t particularly care which – so that we could lay out the evidence of his guilt before the eyes of the world.

    But I think that taking him alive was probably never a realistic goal, and even if we had, I doubt there would have been any prospect of having a real trial for him in America’s fear-poisoned judicial system. Just recall the national hyperventilation at the utterly reasonable idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a federal court – the bin Laden trial would have been that times a hundred. The Republicans would have loudly demanded that he be disappeared into a CIA black-site prison and then tortured into giving a confession that would be used to convict him before a military tribunal, and Obama and the Democrats would have immediately given in. This outcome, I think, was actually better. It was rough justice, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it was justice.

    As for the effect on Obama’s election prospects, I don’t see the grounds for the “no way in hell” comment. We’re still a year-and-a-half from Election Day; bin Laden’s death will be very old news by then. If the U.S. economy doesn’t get any better by mid-2012 than it is now, I think Obama’s in severe trouble.

    I don’t know that I agree, Rieux. I know it’s cynical of me to say, but if George W. Bush’s campaign taught us anything, it’s that projecting an image of toughness and military victory goes a long way toward convincing people to vote even against their economic interests.

  • Jormungund

    The isolationist ship has sailed.

    I don’t see how a rejection of international courts is isolationism.
    We can economically integrate ourselves more with the rest of the world and try to cooperate more with other nations while simultaneously refusing to cooperate with international courts.

    Choose wisely.

    I don’t see how choosing to surrender to the opinions of international courts is in our interests. I’m not going to advocated an American run autocratic system. I’m also not going to advocate recognizing the legitimacy of international courts.
    If a particular aspect of any kind of global society movement hampers our interests, then we should resist it and frustrate the work of those trying to advocate it.

  • Rollingforest

    I do find it interesting that the majority of people on this thread are disgusted with the celebration of Bin Laden’s death. I’m guessing if you took a poll of the general (American) population, probably less than 10% would feel similarly (and I might be greatly overestimating that support). I’m guessing this is due to the fact that Atheists are disproportionally Liberal due to the fact that Liberals are known for being more tolerant of others and tolerance of other’s religious beliefs is the first step toward realizing that all of them are bunk (and thus, ironically, becoming more critical of other’s religions). Liberals are more likely to be anti-death penalty, which puts them at more likely to oppose all killing whenever possible, even of their worst enemy. However, I think again it is important to point out that the Americans were not celebrating Bin Laden’s death in and of itself, but rather celebrating an American victory and the final realization of long delayed justice.

    And to be clear, I support the killing because of what Bin Laden did, not who he was. If Bin Laden had dedicated his life to helping the poor, his death would have been a day of sadness for the world. He may have still had an abrasive personality, but I think people would have forgiven him that if he had done some good. But that’s not what he chose to do. I don’t believe in the “born evil” theory, so I do put moral responsibility on Bin Laden.

    @Sarah: I think international criminal courts are good in theory, but the problem is that how would we make sure that they are fair. Many representatives would be from dictatorships and many would be from anti-American parts of the world. I’d be very skeptical about whether they could deliver a fair ruling.

    @Ebon: It is true that while Bin Laden’s death was a symbolic defeat of Al Qaeda, it may have little organizational impact since it is likely that he had little day to day control of Al Qaeda. He might be worth more as a martyr for Al Qaeda than as an actual living leader. The Arab spring revolutions did more to hurt Al Qaeda than Bin Laden’s death. However, his death was good because it brought about justice.

    However, I strongly disagree with the “now let’s get out of Afghanistan” sentiment of some people. Maybe leaving Afghanistan will improve our image with some Muslims, but the terrorists will hate us no matter what. Following the Neville Chamberlin strategy isn’t going work here. Yes, we need to draw down, but only if we can keep Taliban attacks to a minimum. If there is any drastic increase of Taliban attacks on the government of Afghanistan, the US troops need to hold steady and do what they can to stop the Taliban from regaining power. Similarly, airport scanners may be a general necessity in an age when any single person can carry a bomb large enough to kill hundreds of people. And while I think that the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay should receive military trials, I do think there is value to having prisons where any breakouts would leave the prisoners outside American boarders (though it is ironic that a breakout of Guantanamo Bay would drop terrorists right into the hands of anti-American Cuba).

    As a side note, for those who said that Bin Laden should have been taken alive, the Navy Seals gave Bin Laden a chance to surrender but he refused and used his wife as a human shield, which meant that she was killed too when she otherwise would have lived.

    If Bin Laden was taken alive, I don’t think he should have been tried in civilian court, because, while we probably have enough public evidence to prove his guilt, it might require the CIA to reveal some clandestine evidence that they have, which would cripple future operations. The last time a terrorist was tried in civilian court, he was only convicted on one of the charges despite reasonable evidence on much more. We can’t afford the possibility that Bin Laden’s trial would end up like OJ Simpson’s.

    If he was taken alive, I would not be adverse to using interrogation tactics on him to gain information on Al Qaeda (though it sounds like we got a lot of computer data in the raid). I do have limits as far as what tactics I would like to see used, but probably nowhere near as strict as many of the people on this thread.

    For those who think that Obama can just sit back and coast to reelection, it is important to remember how the English rewarded Winston Churchill for winning World War II in the election of 1945.

  • Sarah Braasch

    This is the ultimate expression of autocracy — the unilateral, covert, extrajudicial, and extraterritorial execution of a human being by a single nation-state.

    The cheering and celebrations make me think of an oft-used and much-attributed quote –

    “People get the government they deserve.”

    The best way to defend and protect your own rights is to defend and protect the rights of your worst enemy.

    I would have hoped, as a much maligned minority group in the US, us atheists, that more of us would have appreciated this.

    As far as resisting the creation of global governance, including a global judiciary –

    maintaining the status quo just isn’t an option. The future just keeps coming, even when we shut our eyes.

    Our current international legal paradigm is woefully inadequate to deal with the legal issues of our global society, regarding which we no longer have the luxury of willful and disingenuous ignorance.


    I appreciate your comment, which is why I choose to use the word global and not international.

    Our international legal framework no longer does the job.

    And, you are exactly correct in outlining some of the reasons why.

    Just as Ebon’s response also points out some of the reasons why we should have used this opportunity to establish global law to address our current reality.

    I also strongly disagree with the “now let’s get out of Afghanistan” mentality.

  • Lyszandor

    Just to clarify @ Miles McCullough #32 and Rollingforst #47 who responded to me: information that has come forth since my previous comments has largely dispelled my suspicions, but at the time it was not so much that he could still be alive as that he had already long been dead.

    In any case, I’m still wondering why he was tossed to sea (and so quickly!) out of fear of his grave site becoming a shrine, and here’s why: the Shi’a venerate the gravesites of the Ahlul Bayt. The Sunni typically consider this sacrilegious, and have been well known to go so far as to kill Shi’a over it, considering them infidels.

    Now, the ideology of Bin Laden, and his associates, and al-Qaeda more generally, is a branch of Sunni thought. So would it not be extremely out of character for any person who admired Bin Laden (who almost necessarily would have to adhere to this form of Islam) to treat a grave site as a shrine? If they’d despise and oftentimes kill Shi’a for visiting the grave sites of the Prophet’s own close associates, why would they turn around and do the very same to the grave of a modern?

  • Steve Bowen

    . If we want people punished we should use due process and the international courts. That’s how we maintain the moral high ground and advance democracy and the rule of law, not by deploying hit squads.
    I’m not saying that the world is not a potentially safer place by killing Osama Bin Laden it’s just that celebrating the death of anyone, no matter how dangerous to society, seems wrong.
    We can be pleased, that for now, the game has tipped in our favour. We can accept that our all too human desire for vengeance had been temporarily appeased. But celebrating in the streets at the death of Bin Laden makes us little better than the Muslims that celebrated the assassination of Salman Taseer
    Presumably given his extensive family there will be people who loved Osama Bin Laden as a son, a brother or a father. They will not be celebrating.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “We” got “him”…right?
    It is very disturbingly funny how 2 people can mastermind the whole sale slaughter and destruction of innocent people for a cause, but one gets labelled a terrorist whilst the other sits at home sipping martinis and receiving proceeds from his Decision Points. I hope we all appreciate the fact that the happy joyous la-la-la feeling we have now is the exact same one that shall be felt by the relatives of this victim of our own “terrorist” on his death/murder. [Fallujah Victim]

    In just two days i have lost all hope in people; even us freethinkers are not beyond US versus THEM i guess. How horrible pathetic.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “…However, I think again it is important to point out that the Americans were not celebrating Bin Laden’s death in and of itself, but rather celebrating an American victory and the final realization of long delayed justice.”

    To show the absolute ludicrousness of the statement above i would just replace American by Iraqi and Bin Laden by George Bush. Same crime; different people.
    If you had any modicum of respect for justice you would be rioting in the streets now demanding the trial of George Bush. And that is just one example.

    WTF??? And this is from us freethinkers who value clear concise reasoning.
    [Goess off and shoots himself...]

  • Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Much better no arrest and trial, for lots of reasons.

    One being that right now Obama is holding at Gitmo some people who will never be tried and never be released, and OBL is much, much more dangerous and more guilty than they are.

    Another being that certain members of the American and global left, some of them among the authors of comments in this thread, and the Islamists of the world would have taken the opportunity to turn a trial of OBL into a trial of America, the West, blah, blah, blah.

    Better to shoot him between the eyes and dump his body from a helicopter into the ocean.

    Worse has been justly done to men who were far less dangerous.

  • Katie M

    To those saying we shouldn’t have killed him, how do you feel about the men behind the attempted assassination of Hitler? Generally, I’m against violence, but I wish those men had succeeded.

  • Darth Cynic

    When I heard the news I was certainly not sad to hear of this mans demise, he chose to walk a path upon which he orchestrated the intentional deaths of innocent civilians. He lacked the conviction in his principles to do it himself and utilised malleable lackeys to do the dirty work. He then spewed forth high flown rhetoric, threats and exhortation for jihad from wherever he was hiding. Finally his deeds caught up with him and he has received his just deserts and it’s not often that truly bad people get what they deserve.

    There is some speculation as to whether it would have been better to take him alive if that were an option, that his death now makes him a martyr. I’d disagree, the man was already a figurehead of the fundamentalist cause, a hero character that all the forces of the infidel could not catch, a constant thorn in their side. Had he been captured there would have been a quagmire of legal issues over where to try him and how, what sentence would be sought and so on. He would have had ample opportunity to grand stand and speechify – I think I borrowed that word from Firefly, to thumb his nose to his enemies. His followers would have recourse to kidnapping and murder all the while demanding the release of their leader as long as he lived. Were his sentence death, however long it took, then the fundamentalists would possibly work themselves into a frenzy knowing when it was coming. Better he is gone and his body lost in the depths to any chance of veneration. Certainly risk of martyrdom should not hold us back from taking what action needs to be taken, we look weak enough to these people as it is.

    The reason I heard for the fast interring was that such is required by Islamic custom and they wished to head off any additional accusations of disrespecting Islam as well. Maybe a sea burial is also disrespectful, maybe not, but a site he could be venerated at would probably be worse so the lesser of two evils I think.

    In respect of the celebration, such is a probably not the best idea though I would not equate it with the celebrations of those who did so after 9/11. Those people rejoiced over the deaths of whomever it was had been killed, the celebrated the deliberate attack and murder of civilians, any civilians just once they were Americans or on American soil as they were guilty by association. These people celebrate the death of the man responsible for the act, poor taste it is but there is a measure of difference there. Anyhoo it is also not representational I think. New York for example is a big place, millions live there and out of those millions the TV crews will most easily see the loud yahoos making a spectacle. The strident minority. Perhaps I’m wrong but given the measured response of the families of victims I’ve seen I’m fairly assured that these highly visible folks do not speak for the majority of Americans.

    There will be no sudden evacuation from Iraq or Afghanistan, the situations are too fragile and complex to just up and pull out, fend for yourselves lads. To cut and run would just be insulting.

    In respect of global law and governance, I don’t think this was a lost opportunity, quite frankly I find the notion of a world governance at the moment to be most unlikely. Why is that? Well most nations desire a degree of autonomy in their affairs, that they are not subject to the dominion of outsiders. Nationalism is alive and well, nor does it show any sign of abating. Furthermore global law like international law is an abstract, an aspirational concept that evaporates the instant a sovereign nations government chooses to cast it aside. Law depends on authority, the means to enforce that law. In a sovereign nation that stems from the monopoly of violence enjoyed by the state through the police, judiciary and military. For global or international law to have authority it would require force and that force stems from the independent nations that choose to abide by it, there is no global army or police to independently impose the authority of global law. Thus the imposition of force to enforce a global legal authority means that the reasons for doing so are in accordance with the countries doing the enforcing. Those nations tend to have many interests and they are not mutually compatible, other powerful nations impute ulterior motives to the actions of the opposition hence why getting action or even agreement out of the UN security Council is so difficult. Plus, when it is sovereign nations doing the enforcing then the aims of the court or law are seen as nothing but an extension of those countries interests for their own ends whether true or not. That’s my two cent at any rate.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “To those saying we shouldn’t have killed him, how do you feel about the men behind the attempted assassination of Hitler? Generally, I’m against violence, but I wish those men had succeeded.”

    So…you are against violence except when you are not against violence?
    [Scratches head...Self-serving?]
    Simple question. At what point does a person’s crimes become so gruesome that we all agree to hell with the rule of law?

    We feel the same way about the men behind the attempted assassination of Hitler as we feel about the men behind the assassination of Bin Laden and the men behind the possible future assassination of Bush – We do not make self-serving exceptions to the law. When 2 people commit the exact same crime we punish them in the exact same manner. Isn’t that what the law is for?

  • Katie M

    Osama wanted to die. In a sense, we granted him his final wish. We never would’ve taken him alive-it’s the jihadist mentality.

  • Katie M

    You may find last night’s Daily Show interesting-–howard

    Jon’s perspective is essentially the same as mine.

  • Steve Bowen

    Had he been captured there would have been a quagmire of legal issues over where to try him and how, what sentence would be sought and so on. He would have had ample opportunity to grand stand and speechify – I think I borrowed that word from Firefly, to thumb his nose to his enemies.

    I think you just invented the “Argument from inconvenience”.

  • Sarah Braasch

    If you’re ok with autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of individuals based upon moral outrage, that’s fine.

    But, then don’t complain when they come for you.

    They being either the Muslim terrorists or the US government.

  • Sharmin

    I had a similar reaction, Ebonmuse. I woke up in the morning yesterday, checked my feed reader, and saw the title of a post on BlagHag. At first, I thought it was a joke. Then, I saw it on other sites as well.

    I don’t support the death penalty usually, but in extreme cases like this, I understand the need for it. In most cases, a trial would be better than an attack/killing. However, for someone like bin Laden, if not possible to bring him in, killing him is better than letting him continue doing the horrible things he was doing. I agree with the Darrow quote that Katie M included in comment #1.

    My opinion is similar to Susan Jacoby’s. ( I’m glad he’s gone, but the cheering crowds seem a bit much. I think bin Laden death should be seen as something that was necessary—not seen as an excuse for a party.

    -Ani Sharmin

  • Darth Cynic

    I think you just invented the “Argument from inconvenience”.

    Maybe :D

    Though I was merely attempting to illustrate that a captured Bin Laden was not necessarily a much better prospect than a dead one.

    If you’re ok with autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of individuals based upon moral outrage, that’s fine.

    I believe that it would only be extra-judicial assassination were he not resisting and the story at least so far is that he resisted.

    But, then don’t complain when they come for you.

    If by that you mean don’t complain if you are the random victim – obviously surviving – of a terrorist attack then I would disagree as it is not comparing like with like. Bin Laden orchestrated a deliberate strike against civilians, so unless we do likewise we are by no means similar. That we merely hail from the same land as the government that took action against someone who had attacked that governments civilians does not make us guilty by association, thus a viable target for terrorists.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “Osama wanted to die. In a sense, we granted him his final wish. We never would’ve taken him alive-it’s the jihadist mentality.”

    Funny, all i can imagine is Mohamed Atta repeating the exact same line to himself as he accelerates the Boeing 767 into the North Tower.

    I rest my case.

    “If you’re ok with autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of individuals based upon moral outrage, that’s fine.
    But, then don’t complain when they come for you.”

    Thank you very much Sarah Braasch.

  • OMGF

    For anyone celebrating, think about how you felt watching people celebrating after 9/11. Let’s not celebrate the death of anyone, no matter how loathesome he may have been.

    It would have been better to take him alive and deliver him to an international court, although I don’t blame the soldiers for firing back and killing him in defense of themselves. They did their jobs and I’m OK with that. Still, if he had surrendered it would be much better for us to take him alive and try him fairly and openly. I understand that that would not have happened, but that’s actually an indictment of us and our society. We need to be better than that.

  • Katie M

    “Still, if he had surrendered”

    There’s that “If” again. He was given the chance, and he refused.

  • OMGF

    And, like I said…

    If the soldiers were sent there to apprehend and had to fire back in self defense because OBL refused to surrender and actively fought them, then it is what it is. If they were sent there to assassinate him, then there’s an issue.

    Of course, it sounds like some here would rather have killed him even if he had peacefully surrendered.

  • Joel Wheeler

    “Let’s not celebrate the death of anyone, no matter how loathesome he may have been.”

    This strikes me as being dangerously close to a Freethought fundamentalist dogma. I think we need to be allowed to feel what we feel, and then respond accordingly and rationally. I think we need to do be careful about “where we go” next. I think we need to make distinctions between celebrating death and feeling relief at the death of a man who caused a great deal of suffering and would have caused more. If he had died of natural causes would it be OK to celebrate? I think that folks need to be allowed to process this news without being scolded for feeling that a kind of justice has been served. The Ungettable OBL got Got. His death represents something—the end of something, or the beginning of the end of something—and that’s what a lot of people are “celebrating.”

    To be sure; Jingoism and Nationalism are gross over-reactions. But to insist that no-one celebrate this seems a little starry-eyed and Pollyanna-ish to me.

  • archimedez

    update, correction to my previous (#51) comment: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reported today that bin Laden was not firing a gun at the time the U.S. special forces entered, but put up resistance.

  • OMGF

    This strikes me as being dangerously close to a Freethought fundamentalist dogma.

    Say what? Sorry that my distaste for celebrating the killing of another human is too close to dogma for you, but too bad. We shouldn’t be celebrating the killing of other humans.

    I think we need to make distinctions between celebrating death and feeling relief at the death of a man who caused a great deal of suffering and would have caused more.

    Fine, feel relief. I feel some myself. But, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” like some people have done is over the top. Again, think about how you felt when you saw people celebrating 9/11. I know it made me sick to my stomach to see people reveling in the deaths of others.

    I think that folks need to be allowed to process this news without being scolded for feeling that a kind of justice has been served.

    Fine, process, but there’s no need to celebration while you process.

    And, try processing this. When Dubya kicks the bucket are you going to celebrate that? He took our country to war on lies and in the process killed more civilians that OBL. Civilians are still dying because of his actions. Is that grounds for celebration when he dies?

  • Bob Carlson

    Osama wanted to die. In a sense, we granted him his final wish.

    Last night Letterman said that theologians had learned that there had been a mixup in the paperwork and that Osama had been greeted by 72 vegans.

  • Polly

    I think all this excessive hand-wringing about killing OBL is indicative either of self-righteous pomposity or mental illness.

    You don’t believe in celebrating? Then don’t.

  • Sarah Braasch

    That’s rich.

    Someone who believes that her moral outrage justifies covert, autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of human beings, but refers to anyone who questions this position as self-righteous.

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, the truth begins to come out.

    I never believed for one second that they attempted to take him alive.

  • Yahzi

    @Fumio Takeshi: a bunch of false equivalence whinging.

    I would respond but really, it’s self-refuting.

    @Sarah: If you’re ok with autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of individuals

    You know what? I’m more OK with it than the collateral damage inflicted by bombing campaigns.

    But wait – weren’t you the one saying that law and morality have nothing to do with each other? So what, exactly, was wrong about this killing? It wasn’t even extra-judicial: the killing was carried out with the full legal authority of the state performing it. The President has the right to whack non-citizens at will; we gave him that right in a number of ways, not the least of which was the War Powers act.

    Perhaps you think it was immoral, but why even bring its legality into question, when you have argued so fiercely that morality should not be a part of law? Could it be that you expect justice from the law, and justice requires morality, and therefore, perhaps, just perhaps, the law requires morality?

    Could it be?

    Back on topic, I am glad the one who inspired so much killing got to enjoy the fruits of his labors, although the cheering crowds waving USA flags was a bit much for me. This wasn’t a victory for the USA; it was a victory for the world. Al Queda has killed more Arabs than it has Americans.

  • Sarah Braasch


    Actually, I am criticizing those who regard moral outrage as justification.

    I am pointing out why the law should be amoral.

    Because moral outrage goes both ways.

    Actually the President doesn’t have the right to whack non-citizens at will.

    I would be careful about that.

    And, if Iraq put together a covert military force to enter the US and assassinate Bush II for his illegal war of aggression?

    Would you cheer then?

    Would that be Iraq’s prerogative?

    What if they’re really really morally outraged about the hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqis?

    Does that make it ok?

    And, everyone who doesn’t want a global society — who is really concerned about US national sovereignty and maintaining the current and antiquated international legal framework.

    Well, what about Pakistan’s national sovereignty? The current intl legal paradigm is based upon a tit for tat treaty framework. So, if everyone follows the US lead of openly violating intl law? Is that what everyone wants?

    The US is arguably in violation of a whole bunch of international laws right now.

    So, I would be careful about saying that we want a world where the leaders of each nation-state have the right to assassinate each other or each other’s citizens based upon moral outrage. Also, it’s really pretty easy to go from assassinating the citizens of other nation-states to assassinating your own based upon moral outrage.

    And, yes, I am still arguing from the position that morality has no place in the law.

    Also, I find it terribly interesting that I am hearing a lot of justifications that sound eerily similar to what I hear from those who kill or attempt to kill abortion doctors.

    So, yeah, be careful with those moral outrage justifications — they tend to come back and bite you in the ass.

    Or, assassinate you with impunity.

  • Alex Weaver

    We feel the same way about the men behind the attempted assassination of Hitler as we feel about the men behind the assassination of Bin Laden and the men behind the possible future assassination of Bush – We do not make self-serving exceptions to the law. When 2 people commit the exact same crime we punish them in the exact same manner. Isn’t that what the law is for?

    No. That’s how the law OPERATES when it’s feasible to do so and attempting to stick to it will not cause far greater harm than either the exception itself or the precedent it sets. Procedure for the sake of procedure is just another kind of evil (albeit, in some cases, though not in this hypothetical, one waiting to happen) when it actually affects people’s lives.

    By the way, the law also permits those enforcing it to use force to restrain those to be arrested, and deadly force to defend themselves if those they’re arresting respond to the attempt at arrest with deadly force themselves.

    Thanks for playing.

  • Alex Weaver

    If you’re ok with autocratic, extrajudicial assassination of individuals based upon moral outrage, that’s fine.

    I’m not sure which mystifies me more – dragging the demonization of “morality” to the point of rejecting a “moral” objection to mass murder and a rational desire to remove the figurehead who inspired it and the plotters who organized it from the category of “people who can take any action to harm anyone ever again” based on that objection, or the fact that you’re characterizing what’s essentially one more criminal who went down shooting rather than being arrested as an “autocratic, extrajudicial assassination.”

    Seriously. If they dictate not acting to eliminate a mass murderer as a threat when we have the chance, then what good are these principles you espouse?

    But, then don’t complain when they come for you.

    If – let’s keep it simple – I ever organize a conspiracy to murder a large number of random people of all ages, for any reason, I’ll totally deserve “them coming for me.”

    If you’re not trying to pretend this is “just ‘some guy’” and a normal situation where a “lawful” solution is even feasible, you’re communicating badly. If you are…

    …for fuck’s sake, why?

    Funny, all i can imagine is Mohamed Atta repeating the exact same line to himself as he accelerates the Boeing 767 into the North Tower.

    I can’t. In fact, I’m mystified by the attempt at equivocation. It’s like you’re comparing apples with orangutans – yes, they’re both carbon-based life forms, but the DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT. Are we being trolled?

    I rest my case.

    What case? All you’ve done so far is smugly and inarticulately proclaim an absurdly rigid, almost fetishistic concept of “the rule of law” which appears completely unresponsive to human realities and thus utterly useless, and otherwise overgeneralized to the point where you appear to have arrived at a perspective less nuanced than “black and white.” “Black and more black,” maybe?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Arguably, the US had no right to enter Pakistan to even attempt to arrest bin Laden.

    And, the White House is now admitting that bin Laden did not even have a weapon and did not engage in a fire fight with the US troops and did not use one of his wives as a human shield.

    And, you have a very curious notion of the law.

    If you want to talk about a far greater harm — weigh killing a single man in an act of retribution to jeopardizing our entire international legal system, including international human rights, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law, not to mention provoking a constitutional crisis in the US.

    I’m going to say it’s not worth assassinating him.

    No matter how morally outraged you think you are.

  • John Nernoff

    I haven’t read all the comments here as I don’t wish to be influenced. I have always been for the death penalty for certain criminals. Life is not an absolutely precious commodity; the universe doesn’t give a damn about humanity and neither should we uphold a human life as a holy object. Sure, everyone has a presumptuous right to live, but certain circumstances may cause you to forfeit that right. Food and water for 3 but there are 5 people. 2 have to go. Sorry. If you are a mass murder. If we catch you, you have forfeited your right to live. None of this “life in prison without the posibility of parole.” Nope. That doesn’t wash for me. Some SOB SISTER is gonna want to save the bastard’s soul. Nope. I will step up and pull the switch. Some parole board will dream up an excuse for Manson or Hinckley to be given a break. No. I will pull the switch. I will feel no remorse, no guilt as having been morally wrong. Osama? Death. Nothing else. And it was done. Good bye. No parole for him. No Jailbreak. No escape. Next is Kim Jung il of North Korea –he drank fine cognac and indulged in luxury while millions suffered. Reprehensible. That bastard deserve death. pure final death and nothing else. Good riddance.

  • Alex Weaver

    For anyone celebrating, think about how you felt watching people celebrating after 9/11.

    How many mass murderers went down shooting on 9/11?

  • Sarah Braasch

    I really don’t get how people don’t understand that moral outrage is not a good enough reason to chuck our whole rule of law thing.

    Laws are for defining our interpersonal relations. We can do this without making moral claims or imposing our personal moral worldviews upon one another.

    There is a really good reason why morality has no place in the law.

    It’s really pretty easy to be morally outraged.

    Anti-abortion activists are morally outraged. Some of them think it justifies murdering abortion doctors.

    I’m morally outraged by the Republican Christianists attempting to impose Christian Sharia upon American women and turn them into sex slaves and strip them of their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights.

    Arguably many more women will die as a result of their actions than were murdered on 9/11.

    That’s the problem with tossing around moral outrage — it burns those who try to wield it.

    I’m pretty sure that I provoke moral outrage on pretty much a daily basis.

    Which is why I don’t want to live in a world where moral outrage justifies murdering whomever we please.

    The problem with moral outrage is that everyone thinks that their moral outrage is the correct stance, and it makes it really really hard to understand how anyone else could possibly feel differently.

    And, people who are morally outraged feel justified to do really horrific things.

    Like assassinate people.

    It’s a lot like religion in that regard.

    And, everyone thinks that they could never do anything that would provoke that type of response. But, guess what? You can, and you probably do. I don’t think it should be so hard to explain this point to a bunch of atheists.

    And, trust me when I say that I know what it is to be so morally outraged that you would enjoy nothing better than to slay the persons who have harmed you, and you would feel morally justified in doing so.

    And, this is why I understand that morality has no place in the law.

  • Alex Siyer

    I’m going to say it’s not worth assassinating him.
    No matter how morally outraged you think you are.

    In 9/11 died ~3000
    What about when a country thinks a foreign autority has caused the dead of ~10,000 protecting foreign interests.
    Does this give this country the right to kill in retaliation? NO! it’s awfull.

    A example case here:

  • Jormungund

    You are mentioning moral outrage about once per sentence. I don’t feel moral outrage here.
    I don’t think that anyone is arguing that moral outrage is the source of our government’s actions in this.
    We didn’t use moral outrage as an excuse to violate international law. Our government rejects the authority of all international courts. No amount of appealing to international law will make Americans or our government care. Bin Laden has been on our most wanted lists since before 9/11. Afterward he shot up to number one. So we attempted to capture him when given the chance. He didn’t fully cooperate with Team 6 so he was shot. Since the Pakistani government can not be trusted to support us against terrorist leaders, we didn’t bother informing them of our plan to kill bin Laden. That is a violation of their sovereignty. We don’t care. We’ll do our best to patch things up with them. Hillary is trying to smooth talk them and I’m sure we’ll be real nice to them for a while.

    Do you see the slippery slopes you are proposing here? A complete collapse of international treaties, the government assassinating its own citizens, etc.
    This isn’t the first step toward a collapse of the rule of law/the government hunting down you and I and killing us.
    Assassinations and extractions happen. We just aren’t informed about it usually. This wasn’t anything special other than the fact that the government decided to announce what it did afterward. We really shouldn’t get worked up over this. It isn’t special or unique. Osama bin Laden is just yet another enemy of America killed by U.S. special forces.
    Do you get worked up reading about how we killed Che? Had an American shot Hitler in the early 1940s would you see that as a terrible thing?

  • OMGF


    It wasn’t even extra-judicial: the killing was carried out with the full legal authority of the state performing it. The President has the right to whack non-citizens at will; we gave him that right in a number of ways, not the least of which was the War Powers act.

    That’s a rather dangerous statement, isn’t it? Do you want all countries to have this right or only ours?

    Alex Weaver,

    How many mass murderers went down shooting on 9/11?

    How many went down shooting a couple days ago, because the latest reports are indicating that OBL was unarmed.

    But, Alex, perhaps you can tell us whether we should celebrate the death of Dubya when he dies? Perhaps when some Iraqis or Pakistanis or someone else decides to avenge the deaths of more civilians than OBL killed in 9/11 decides to assassinate Dubya you’ll join in the celebrations with them? I stand by my words that we shouldn’t celebrate the death of anyone. That humanity resorts to such measures as killing each other represents a failing of us all.

  • Eurekus

    Too many comments to read through, so I’ll just write this. If this man was taught science properly in High School he would not have turned out this way. He’s a victim of religious hatred common to the quran and the bible. He is responsible for his actions, but religion needs to bear some of the blame.

    About my atheism, 911 was one of many factors that caused me to consider it.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “I can’t. In fact, I’m mystified by the attempt at equivocation. It’s like you’re comparing apples with orangutans – yes, they’re both carbon-based life forms, but the DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT. Are we being trolled?”

    Fortunately no. I’m just a lurker who decided to comment for the first time Alex.
    Please forgive my legal and moral idealism.

  • Sarah Braasch

    So, Jormungund,

    You’re basically arguing that our intl legal framework won’t be jeopardized, and I shouldn’t worry about it or about the US setting a precedent for assassination anarchy across the globe,

    if the US is the only nation-state who engages in exceptionalism and isolationism, and

    if the US maintains its position of superpower, able to cow all other nation-states into acquiescence, no matter what international laws the US violates, or which nation-state’s sovereignty the US violates, and

    if the US is the only nation-state who engages in extrajudicial, covert, unilateral assassinations, and

    if the US only assassinates the citizens of other nation-states, and

    if the US only does this covertly, and

    if the US only does this on rare occasions, and

    if the US only does this for extremely egregious acts, and

    if the US only does this when it is and the American people are particularly morally outraged.

    That’s a lot of ifs.

    Too many for my comfort level.

    I think that is pretty much wishful thinking that that is what’s going to happen.

    And, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the US is the only nation-state who can assemble special forces to infiltrate whichever other nation-state to assassinate their citizens in a covert and unilateral and extrajudicial manner.

    Is this really the path we wish to tread?

    I sure as hell don’t.

    And, if we go down this might makes right international road, there is NO guarantee that the US will come out on top.

    That is a crucial error in judgment.

    The US is fallible.

    I am a bit shocked that so many atheists are taking this position.

    We can’t do whatever we want and trample the rights of others without repercussions.

    I would have thought that we would have learned that lesson by now.

  • Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Archimedez @ 51.

    “Capture or kill.”

    I could easily be wrong, but I always got the impression from the way Obama said these things that in his eyes the preferred move was just to kill the guy.

    I got the impression he was adding the allusion to capture more to avoid political flak than because he really wanted it.

  • Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OMGF @ 81. Yes.

  • kagerato

    Talk about the usual suspects… Yahzi, Alex Weaver, John Nernoff, Jormungund…

    My, these opinions all seem very familiar. Where have I heard them before?

    Perhaps you all should try actually addressing the issue that was raised to you. Do countries really have an extraterritorial right to invade and assassinate high-profile figureheads on the basis of previous acts of murder, terrorism, and/or other unjustified killings ?

    Or is it only the United States that has that power, and only for certain figures that meet a certain “kill popularity” threshold?

    Will you say that the Vietnamese had a right to enter the United States and assassinate Johnson and McNamara? They authorized extensive, broad-area bombing campaigns that killed so many civilians we have trouble even counting them all. (Operation Rolling Thunder alone killed tens of thousands of civilians, by the most conservative estimates. The actual figure is probably over 150,000.)

    Perhaps one will claim that there is some kind of difference between the slaughter of civilians through a terrorist attack and the slaughter of civilians through organized bombing campaigns during a proxy war. However, any such difference surely doesn’t matter in the slightest to the people killed and their families.

    Sarah is correct. No one has the right to issue or attempt assassinations based upon moral outrage, nor even prior crimes. The entire purpose of law and order is to prevent exactly these sorts of behaviors. They don’t become right or just merely because you agree with those particular actions.

  • OMGF

    As James Picone said in #14:

    Human rights are not revokable.

  • Jormungund


    morally outraged

    There’s that term again. For all of your talk about it, I still don’t get why it is being discussed. Who here claimed that moral outrage was what motivated the U.S. government in this?
    I’m at a loss here what you are trying to claim by constantly mentioning moral outrage.

    US is the only nation-state who engages in … isolationism

    I already said that I don’t agree with this statement. We aren’t isolationist. We also hold hold certain things such as international courts in very low regard.

    might makes right international road

    That is the way things are whether we like it or not. Have you ever taken a political science course? Do you remember such statements as ‘nations exist in a state of anarchy on an international scale’? And as the currently mightiest nation on Earth, we have a vested interest in keeping things that way. When we become dwarfed by another state or coalition some day, then let’s advocate a system of international law that shields weaker states. Advocating a rejection of might makes right while you are the only superpower in existence is madness.
    I would prefer that we didn’t start multiple unwinnable wars though. We should be a lot more selective with our applications of force. But in the particular matter of attempting to capture bin Laden, I personally approve.

    I don’t like using the term ‘right’ like that. Nations do not have a right to invade one another or carry out assassinations. Rights and these matters have nothing to do with one another. The only thing that matters in this context is the ability and will to carry out some set of actions. And while we should use force as sparingly as possible, in this one case I don’t see a problem.

  • Sarah Braasch



    So, you’re advocating for social Darwinism on a global scale, because you think that the US is the most powerful, and F everyone else and their rights and their humanity.

    That’s great while the fun lasts, but the problem with that is that our world is changing very very rapidly. The very concept of the nation-state is becoming obsolete. I know that you want to maintain the status quo, but, guess what? You can’t.

    The problem with just waiting until the US declines in power (which, BTW, is already happening) is that there is no guarantee that the opportunity to create a global legal/political system based upon rule of law and democracy and human rights and substantive and procedural due process of law will still exist.

    The problem with F everyone else is that those persons who will take power when the power of the US declines will remember how we treated them.

    At this point in human history I would have hoped that we would have learned from our endless cycles of oppression and victimhood.

    Or, do we have to go thru a few more rounds before we get the message? BTW, we may not have the luxury of enough time to go thru a few more rounds.

    Oh, and FYI — Ebonmuse began this thread with a post justifying the assassination of bin Laden based upon moral outrage, to answer your question. And, it remained a thru line during the entire thread. Also, the US refusing to participate in the ICC, as well as refusing to subject themselves to the UN Human Rights Committee, and the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, is both exceptionalism and isolationism.

    I understand that you are advocating for his assassination based upon pure might makes right social darwinism, but I am trying to point out that that position is not in our best interests either.

    Unless you’ve figured out a way to stem the decline of the US or to keep nuclear or biological weapons out of the hands of those whom the US feels free to beat upon.

    This is just like the Christianists in the US who want to destroy secularism and implement an American Xtian Theocracy while the Christianists are still in the majority.

    But, guess what?

    A time will come when the Xtianists are not in the majority, and if they’ve destroyed secularism, then where will they be?

    They will be a pretty sorry lot when they have to submit to Sharia.

    And, then they will wish that they hadn’t undermined our secular, liberal, constitutional democracy.

  • Sharmin

    Ebonmuse (comment #60): Thanks for the follow-up on your view. I think my standard for the rare instances when I’d support the death penalty is even more stringent, since I wouldn’t support it even in the Christian terrorism case you described, but maybe that’s just me.

    Katie M (comment #73): Thanks for suggesting the clip. After thinking about serious things, I needed a laugh.

    OMGF (comment #81): I agree with you that my view depends a lot on the details of what happened, including if the soldiers were fighting back or just assassinating. I definitely think that capturing him would have been much better, as it would have provided an opportunity for a fair trial and to show that justice is what we’re after. Hearing the varying details of the story now, with people saying that bin Laden wasn’t armed makes me wonder about the details, if he was resisting, etc. It’s not that I’m upset about his death, but I wish our government held itself to higher standards. (Plus, what did the government think would happen? I mean, if they captured him and took him to an international court, it’s unlikely he would have been found not guilty and let go again.) Mostly, I’m glad that he can’t continue harming more people, though I wish it could have been brought about in another way—though if that’s realistic or not, I really don’t know. Maybe I’m just being idealistic.
    -Ani Sharmin

  • archimedez

    For those interested in arguments for the legal basis of bin Laden’s killing:

    Bin Laden killing was legally justified, Holder says
    ‘It was a kill or capture mission … He made no attempts to surrender’
    By Pete Williams Justice correspondent NBC News

    The bin Laden aftermath: Abbottabad and international law
    By Mary Ellen O’Connell, May 4, 2011

    Bin Laden killing, legal basis. May 2, 2011 Author:
    John B. Bellinger III

    Quick Thoughts on UBL’s Killing — and a Response to Lewis
    by Kevin Jon Heller

  • archimedez

    While details about the raid should probably be viewed as tentative at this stage, there is this, from a May 4th NY Times article by ELISABETH BUMILLER (excerpt):
    “[CIA Director] Mr. Panetta said the commandos made the “split-second decision” to shoot him — the unarmed Qaeda founder had a rifle within reach, an American official said Wednesday — when they found him in his third-floor bedroom.
    There was no debate among former Seal members that whoever had shot Bin Laden had done the right thing.
    “It’s dark; there’s been a lot of bullets flying around, a lot of bodies dropping; your mission is to capture or kill Bin Laden; who knows what he’s got tucked in his shirt?” said Don Shipley, 49, a former Seal member who runs Extreme Seal Experience, a private training school in Chesapeake, Va. Mr. Shipley was reacting to earlier Obama administration accounts of an extended firefight at the compound, but on Wednesday, administration officials revised the narrative, saying that the only shots fired came at the beginning of the raid, from a courier.
    “It happens in an absolute blink of an eye for these guys,” Mr. Shipley said. “And there’s that target in front of you. Second chances cost lives.”
    Lalo Roberti, 27, a former Seal member who teaches at Mr. Shipley’s school and took part in a gruesome rescue mission in Afghanistan in 2005, concurred. “For us to take a shot, it has to be bad,” Mr. Roberti said. “Especially for the ‘6’ guys.”

  • archimedez

    (Summary in Dari appended)
    Matt Waldman
    Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
    Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
    June 2010
    Link to pdf

  • David W.


    I apologize if you’ve answered/explained your position on this. I agree that killing simply because of moral outrage is ridiculous. However, you’re much more versed in international law than I am, as such, could explain to me what your position is regarding the point someone raised above? I.e America is officially at war with al qaeda and in this regard, Osama is a known enemy combatant, thus in the absence of explicit surrender on his part, there was no violation/disregard of international law in killing him.

  • Sarah Braasch

    This is the exact debate that was had when Bush II declared his war on terror, including the use of torture, black CIA sites across the globe, Guantanamo, and abductions/kidnappings/illegal and extrajudicial arrests and detentions of persons across the globe. This is the exact same debate as when Pinochet was arrested and finally placed on trial for his crimes against humanity.

    If it wasn’t ok when Bush II did it, then it’s not ok when Obama does it.

    This is why I say that we should have used this opportunity to establish global law that addresses our new global society and persons and organizations that act outside our current international legal framework.

    First of all, Congress has to declare war.

    Second of all, are we just going to declare a perpetual war against anyone who perpetrates crimes against US citizens?

    Third, then if the US is at “war” with terrorists, all terrorists, and if the US is going to scour the globe for “terrorists”, arresting them, detaining them, torturing them, interrogating them, and assassinating them, then the US at least has to follow jus cogens, customary international law, and well-established international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law, including the Geneva Conventions. The US actions in assassinating OBL is yet another attempt by the US to undermine the Geneva Conventions, which also protect US military when the actually do go to war. International law is most often established via treaty, either bilateral or multi-nation treaties/conventions.

    Why does the US have the right to violate the national sovereignty of whichever nation-state it says has “terrorists” within its borders?

    What if another nation-state did this to us?

    Also, if the US is going to just scour the globe for “terrorists” with complete disregard for the national-sovereignty of other nation-states (and it is their responsibility to arrest him and then participate in his extradition), then the US has to subject itself to the international courts.

    Or, the US at least has to make the US courts available to those who have been harmed by the US’s violations of international law.

    And, the US has consistently refused to do so.

    If the US doesn’t like the current international legal framework, and neither do I, then they should have taken this opportunity to change it.

    But, the current international legal framework is what it is, and despite its many flaws, it’s what we have to work with to keep the globe from devolving into a dog eat dog all out social darwinism, might makes right battle to the death.

    It’s based on the concept of national sovereignty and agreement between sovereign nation-states.

    But, what it boils down to is that the US doesn’t really want to change the current international legal framework, because then they would be held accountable as well.

    The US just wants to keep throwing its weight around, and violating the current framework with impunity, and not being held accountable for all of its violations of human rights.

    Think about it.

    Do we really want to say that nation-states can just declare “war” on whichever entities or persons or groups of persons they wish, and then they can go about hunting down and kidnapping/killing those persons on a whim, anywhere on the globe, with no judicial oversight whatsoever, and do we really want to deny those persons any recourse to a subsequent day in court?

    If the US gets to do this, then everyone will say that they also have the right to do this, and it will be the fall of our international legal system.

    This is exactly the type of actions that our international legal system is supposed to prevent.

    If people would just think about this for more than one second, instead of just running with their initial knee jerk reaction, I think they would see why the US should have worked with Pakistan (which it seems obvious that they didn’t), or, at the very least, they should have arrested OBL alive, and turned him over to the ICC.

    Think about this for a second:

    Pakistan has implemented legislation which makes it illegal for anyone on the globe, citizen of Pakistan or no, to disparage Islam or the Prophet online.

    As we all know, under Islam, this is an offense, which can be interpreted as justifying the death penalty, and, which has resulted in the deaths of untold numbers of persons across the globe.

    Should Pakistan be able to declare war on all persons who have done this?

    Which would include me for sure, and probably most of you?

    Should Pakistan be able to assemble a military force to enter the US and assassinate me?

    Should Pakistan be able to arrest me and torture me and hide me away somewhere with zero judicial oversight?

    And, if I should finally be freed, should I not have recourse to the judiciary to seek recompense for the crimes perpetrated against me?

    Should Pakistan not be held accountable? In intl courts? Or, at the very least in the courts of Pakistan?

    I don’t have time to do a complete international law tutorial, especially for international humanitarian law, but I’ll grab some links and post them in a subsequent comment.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Without judicial oversight, it’s just murder.

    Even the Geneva Conventions require some kind of judicial oversight, even if it’s just a military tribunal set up on the battlefield.

    And, that’s just to detain prisoners of war.

    And, no, I don’t believe for one second that the US ever had any intent to even attempt to take OBL alive.

    And, even his arrest, if he had been taken alive, would have been illegal under current international law.

    It would have been the abduction by one nation-state of the citizen of another nation-state in violation of the sovereignty of yet another nation-state without any judicial oversight of any kind.

    Doesn’t sound like the world I want to live in.

    Does it?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Some news article which describe the legal debate and point out that it is hardly a settled debate that the US acted within the constraints of international law, especially international humanitarian law and the law of war.

    The Geneva Conventions also protect US soldiers.

    If the US doesn’t have to follow the international law of war, then no one else does either.

    And, here we go. Now, India is saying that it would be justified in violating Pakistan’s sovereignty in the same as the US did, because India is also at “war” with “terrorists”.

  • Sarah Braasch

    So, when India and Pakistan begin assassinating each other’s citizens inside of each other’s borders they will both point to what the US has done to justify their actions, which will probably precipitate a nuclear war between the two nations.


    Anyone still think the unilateral and extrajudicial assassination of OBL was a good idea?

  • Ebonmuse

    I share your concerns about extrajudiciality, Sarah. Our constitutional rights, and the rights of others around the world, have suffered greatly from the “war” on terrorism. The way the U.S. has violated Pakistani and Yemeni sovereignty with a secret war of drone attacks, many of which turned out to be on innocent bystanders; the way that Obama has effectively asserted the power to kill even American citizens without a trial, as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki; the way his administration continues to assert that the prisoners at Guantanamo inhabit a legal limbo and have no rights – all these things are outrageous, repugnant to anyone who believes in the rule of law. Any other time, in any other case, I’d be happy to join that debate. But not in this case.

    It does now appear that killing Bin Laden was the goal, and no serious effort was made to capture him. As I said in my earlier comment, in an ideal world, that wouldn’t have been my preference. I would rather have seen him put on trial. But in the real, non-ideal world, if he had been taken prisoner, he would have become the political football to end all political footballs. The Republicans would never have let the U.S. hand him over to an international court, and he’d probably have been tortured or otherwise treated in ways that would only have muddied the clear and bright issue of his guilt. Rough as it was, I think killing him was not only just, but a preferable alternative. It’s not as if there was any room for doubt about his guilt, or any other issue we’d have needed a trial to resolve. He was a terrorist and a mass murderer; he admitted it, he gloried in it, and the world is better off without him. In this case, and in this case only, I’m not going to quibble about the method. It’s better that it was done, however it was done.

    As far as the sovereignty of Pakistan goes: it’s been pointed out repeatedly, most recently and eloquently by Salman Rushdie, how strange the circumstances of OBL’s discovery were, and how many questions they raise. Bin Laden wasn’t hiding in a cave in a remote tribal region. He was hiding in a huge, custom-built, high-security mansion in a residential area that was literally within walking distance of Pakistan’s most prestigious military academy. It’s inconceivable that no one in the Pakistani government or military knew, or at least strongly suspected, that he was there. It’s long been said that Pakistan is playing a double game – if not the whole government, then sections within the government that are acting autonomously – and I think this is the most conclusive evidence of that.

    If you accept this, our options become limited. Declare war on Pakistan? But we’re not an enemy of Pakistan; we’re not seeking to conquer them or destroy their infrastructure. What, realistically, would you have us do when a country isn’t belligerent or hostile but is giving safe harbor to an enemy of humankind? Ask Pakistan to issue an arrest warrant? He would have just disappeared, and the elements that were already protecting him would have helped him to do it again. I find the thought of letting that madman slip through our fingers again to be intolerable. Again, in this case only, I’m willing to countenance an exception.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Here is a super awesome report by the NYC Bar Association, which I have relied upon repeatedly in the past.

    It is explicitly about torture, but also addresses extraordinary renditions and whether “terrorists” are enemy combatants within current international law.

    It is also super comprehensive. So, if anyone wished to educate themselves, this would be a fantastic place to start.

  • Alex Siyer

    A little comment: Talking about OBL in a “oh, poor thing fashion”, it’s killing his “hero” legend :)

  • Sarah Braasch


    I think, at the very least, after they had arrested him, they should have immediately turned him over to the ICC.

    Obama still would have been able to say — “We got him.”

    But, then, at least, he would have been in the hands of an international court to face trial.

    I know the ICC only has jurisdiction over acts perpetrated since 2002, but OBL did plenty of bad things since then, AND

    the whole point of arresting him and having him face trial is to establish new global law, which adequately addresses persons just such as him, operating outside of the current international legal framework.

    They should have just swung over The Hague and dropped him off.

  • Alex Siyer

    Ok, the “oh, poor thing fashion” is a big exageration. (I would delete that if I could)

  • Sarah Braasch

    Creating a new global legal system and judiciary is going to be messy.

    There’s no way around it.

    People still argue about the legality of the Nuremberg Trials, which is the basis of so much of what we now consider established international law.

    They say that people were being tried and punished for ex post facto crimes, which, arguably, they were.

    But, we still have to do it.

    We have to.

    What is the alternative?

    Everyone operating as the US has done?

    That will be a catastrophe.

  • Steve Bowen

    Everyone operating as the US has done?
    That will be a catastrophe.


  • Sarah Braasch


    Exactly. Israel totally does this as well.

    And, just look at the repercussions.

  • Jormungund

    @#122 by: Sarah Braasch
    We don’t recognize the legitimacy of the ICC. You already know that fact. You already know that any plan that ends with ‘and then we turn over a terrorist leader to the ICC’ will not be accepted by the U.S. government or people.

    @Comment #115
    This is a mix of naked assertions, falsehoods and scare mongering.
    I’m finding it hard trying to find how to express the low regard I hold this kind of drivel without openly insulting you.

  • kagerato


    The problem is precisely that actions of this sort never end with “this case only”. The various combinations of unwarranted actions we have taken will ultimately be used as precedent. When they ask you why the next big-time terrorist doesn’t deserve summary execution, what will you tell them?

  • archimedez


    re your comment #115, re the point about Pakistan, I quite agree that Pakistan should not be allowed to wage war against other countries in response to slights against Islam. However, under international law, they would have another option. Via international law, most countries in the world agree with Pakistan and the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) countries that those who criticize Islam or Muhammad should at minimum be legally punished. That’s what the majority of countries at the U.N. have voted in favor of, with only a small minority (U.S., Canada, France, etc.) disagreeing. In other words, adhering to international law would mean that we would either have to punish blasphemers in our own legal systems that are adapted to the international laws, or we would have to turn them over to some international court to be tried and punished. If we failed to turn them over, the international court would have the legal power to send enforcers in to take the blasphemer by force and bring him or her to be tried in an international court. All of that would be perfectly legal according to what you are proposing.

    You wrote: “I don’t have time to do a complete international law tutorial, especially for international humanitarian law, but I’ll grab some links and post them in a subsequent comment.”

    I don’t think knowledge of international law is the issue. Clearly there are many knowledgeable people in this area who think that bin Laden’s killing was okay within international law as it exists today.

    Anyways, let me ask you this, since you are claiming that international law ought to be applied to the top U.S. officials who authorized what you are calling a murder: In your view, should Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, et al., be sentenced to life in prison, or should they be executed?

    If your answer is that you don’t think they should be legally punished, then you aren’t accepting the logical implications of what you appear to be arguing.

  • Sarah Braasch


    Pretty much the consensus of the world outside of the US, was that the assassination of OBL was in violation of international law.

    It is only truly a debate amongst American legal circles. (In fact, I don’t think that the people who are arguing that the US assassination of OBL was a legitimate act of war actually believe that. I think they are just trying to justify American exceptionalism.)

    I absolutely think that American officials should be held to the same standards as everyone else.

    If they felt so strongly that their actions are not in violation of international law, then they would subject themselves to the intl courts.

    Regarding free speech and blasphemy laws —

    I completely agree that our current international legal framework is totally flawed.

    That’s why we should have taken this opportunity to work toward establishing a global legal system based upon human rights and rule of law.

    The acts of the Muslim states at the UN to try to criminalize blasphemy are abhorrent. It is another might makes right act to legitimize group rights, which do not exist.

    This is an example of why we need to establish an amoral global legal system based upon individual human rights and rule of law.

    Groups do not have rights — not religions, not tribes, not nations, not races, not ethnicities.

    All of that is illusory and arbitrary.

    People have rights. Everything else is fantasy. The very concept of the nation state is fantasy.

    There are no borders.

    We are one global human family.

    And, until we come to terms with this, we have no hope of surviving.


    Go ahead. Insult me. Given my low regard for your position, I would take it as a compliment.

  • archimedez


    “I absolutely think that American officials should be held to the same standards as everyone else.”

    So, in your view, Obama, Hilary, et al., should be punished with what, execution or life imprisonment?

  • Sarah Braasch


    I would say that the US should submit to the authority of the ICC, as well as the Human Rights Committee, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

    The UN wishes to conduct an inquiry into the assassination of OBL, to determine its legality. I would say that the US should fully cooperate with that inquiry.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I just want to point out, again, that, according to some of the arguments and reasoning in this thread, Iraq would be completely justified, legally, to put together a covert military unit to enter the US and assassinate Bush II for his illegal war of aggression in Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, without judicial oversight or any recourse to intl courts.

  • archimedez


    Fair enough, but I asked a more specific question about the punishment, given that you believe the actions were illegal [brackets added]: In your view [according to which crimes, including murder, have been committed], should Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, et al., be sentenced to life in prison, or should they be executed [if the international body finds them guilty]?

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, the ICJ.

    Basically, states take other states to task at the ICJ.

    The ICC can prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, etc.

    There are some current obstacles for prosecuting heads of state, but, basically, the international community is moving towards an interpretation of crimes against humanity, torture, etc. — that they can never be considered part of a head of state’s duties and heads of state do not receive immunity for such crimes, even when perpetrated while in office.

    Individuals can also appeal to the Human Rights Committee, but I think they still need their state to submit the request for adjudication, unless the state has agreed that individuals from their state can submit such appeals without the intervention of the state.

    I believe that individuals can just straight up appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

    And, there are US citizens and other citizens from the Americas who have done so, and achieved favorable rulings against the US.

    But, of course, the US doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Court of the OAS.

    But, the US has no problem using the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, when it suits them.

  • Jormungund

    @#133 by: Sarah Braasch
    We wouldn’t retaliate to that by running to the ICC.
    We would retaliate with with military force.
    So, yeah. Pretty much. If a group of Iraqis tried to kill some U.S. politicians, they would never appear before an international court. Our government wouldn’t bother with that.
    I mean, do you really think that our government would seek recourse in international courts in such a scenario? We both know that it would not.
    We aren’t making all those new reaper and avenger drones to go crying to a international court if Iraqis start killing us.

    the US should submit to the authority of the ICC, as well as the Human Rights Committee, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

    But the problem with these institutions is that refusing to voluntarily cooperate with them robs them of their power. And we refuse to cooperate. It is that easy for our government to trivialize them.

    And, there are US citizens and other citizens from the Americas who have done so, and achieved favorable rulings against the US.

    I don’t suppose that anything came of those rulings?
    I’ve read UN announcements against the U.S. and Israel for various acts. But the we don’t care so we ignore them without punishment.
    Robbing these institutions of their power is as easy as ignoring them.

  • Sarah Braasch


    I am against the death penalty.

    I obviously don’t have a problem giving my opinion as to the legality or illegality of the US’s actions. But, I hesitate when asked to invoke a particular sentence.

    That is why we have judiciaries.

    Obviously the US has no problem playing judge, jury, and executioner across the globe.

    But, I do.

  • David W.


    I see the points you’re making, but disagree with a couple of things:

    1. I believe it’s emotion rather than morality that has no place in law (NOTE: I think human rights are an issue of morality and cannot be soundly justified outside that)

    2. I disagree with you on the claim that this would have been a perfect opportunity to rework our international legal framework. Dealing with a case like OBL would require an already fully matured legal system. Attempting to do it in our current environment would have been disastrous at best (as several people have mentioned). As per point 1 above, I believe Using OBL’s case to try and drive a new international legal framework would mean a legal framework driven by emotion…I don’t want that.

    3. Where exactly was OBL going to receive a fair trial? Let’s face it, I doubt you could find any impartial people when it comes to OBL, any trial held would have been a mockery at best.

    I completely agree that International law needs to be seriously reworked (Israel and America have set a dangerous precedence that they and the entire world will soon start to feel the sting off as other nations become more and more powerful…hell, we can already see it with China). However, if we want this done right, I certainly don’t believe it should have been done using a hot button emotional issue like OBL.

  • archimedez


    I don’t see why the question is so difficult; if you can opine on the legality of it, why not on the punishments? It would be a mere academic exercise without the punishments. I would guess then from your answer and previous comments that you would go for something like life imprisonment, if the international body found Obama, H. Clinton, et al., guilty?

    While I’m not an American myself, and while I do have objections to American exceptionalism and unilateralism, cowboy justice, etc., in other cases, I don’t really have a problem with this case due to the complexities of the situation with Pakistan and its involvement in Afghanistan and with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. On the one hand, there is evidence that Pakistan is indirectly engaging in warfare against the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Pakistan has at least officially and publicly consented in principle to the idea of killing al-Qaeda members, including bin Laden, on its own soil, and has not only allowed the U.S. to engage in military operations within Pakistan but has participated in these operations, on its own and apparently in cooperation with the U.S.

    Pakistan’s position of course is not very consistent. With good reasons, due to past incidents, the U.S. had reason to suspect that informing Pakistani authorities in advance of this covert operation could have led to bin Laden being tipped off and escaping once again. As I see it, the U.S. was faced with a choice: Either take the unilateralist and covert course and ensure a reasonably good chance of getting bin Laden, or at least notify Pakistan and possibly others of the mission in advance and possibly give some among them the chance to tip off bin Laden. Given the problems with Pakistan, I believe the U.S. chose the correct course of action. Moreover, it would be extremely difficult for Pakistan to argue that the U.S. action of killing bin Laden was illegal in their view since they had already agreed to killing him, in principle. The only objection would be related to the technicalities involving the covert and unilateral nature of the particular mission, which the U.S. can easily justify by citing the evidence they have of Pakistan’s untrustworthiness (and much worse).

    Even if Pakistan hadn’t consented to allowing U.S. or other international forces into its country to apprehend (or if necessary kill) bin Laden, then the onus would clearly be on Pakistan to apprehend him (i.e., where there is a reasonable expectation that he could be killed in the attempt). Otherwise, without a genuine attempt on their part to do so, they’d be in violation of international law. If they were harbouring bin Laden, then other countries who have grounds for capturing or killing him should be able to obtain permission to do so with or without Pakistan’s knowledge or consent.

    If Pakistan genuinely wished to capture or kill bin Laden but they alone did not have the ability, the technology, the specific knowledge, etc., to do so, then they would be obligated to cooperate with those who do have the capability (i.e., the U.S.). If they failed to cooperate, again they’d be in violation of international law, and other countries (as suggested above) ought to be able to obtain permission to do so.

  • Sarah Braasch
  • OMGF

    So Jormungung, might makes right?


    But in the real, non-ideal world, if he had been taken prisoner, he would have become the political football to end all political footballs.

    So, should we simply kill all prisoners that might lead to difficult court situations? Should we have simply killed OJ?

    The Republicans would never have let the U.S. hand him over to an international court, and he’d probably have been tortured or otherwise treated in ways that would only have muddied the clear and bright issue of his guilt.

    How is this not an instance of blaming the victim? Because others may react badly to OBL in prison we have to kill him? There are Muslims who react badly to cartoonists that draw Mohammed, so does that mean we should disallow cartoonists to do that?

  • Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Sarah @ 36

    Assuming any world government wouldn’t be a dictatorship of the Occident it would be overwhelmingly dominated by anti-democratic governments representing peoples with values profoundly, potently, and irrevocably opposed to liberalism.

    It’s not a good idea.

    And it won’t be any time in the foreseeable future.

    It is notable that in this age of clashing civilizations the most profound and even violent opposition to the modern, secularist, republican, and democratic Occident and its core values comes from the Islamic world.

    The leading nations of that world are already doing their best to influence international law, most notably in order to suppress freedom of expression throughout the globe in the name of Islam.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights actually was a Western dictat.

    Efforts to revise it to accommodate illiberal values, especially those of the Muslim world, are the barest hint of what a world government would be like.

    Such efforts will be increasingly successful as time goes on.

    That is not something to cheer about.

  • Ebonmuse

    Just as one more update to this, there’s this post by Matthew Yglesias, which points out that the U.N. Security Council and the Secretary-General both seem to think that Bin Laden’s killing was legal under international law. (HT: Slacktivist)

  • kagerato

    When it comes to the member states of the security council versus the rights of other countries, the United Nations has a track record less than brilliant. I’d put it at the level of “dim candle”.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I feel like both sides have said everything that needs to be said, and I have no desire to reopen the discussion at this time, but I thought that this is too perfect not to share.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    “But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of
    voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through
    the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings,
    bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of
    the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played
    an ace of spades simultaneously.
    Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question,
    now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked
    from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already
    it was impossible to say which was which.”

    Conclusion of Orwell’s Animal Farm.