He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster
Now that some time has passed from the news of Osama’s death and everybody (including yours truly) has had time to think and reflect upon the death of Osama bin Laden it’s time to lay out some of my thoughts about the issue. After a lengthy and a rewarding discussion with one of my most insightful friends regarding the ethical nature of the killing I have two important points regarding his death that I want to make absolutely clear:
1. I am not sad that Osama bin Laden is dead. As I said in my previous post I despised him as human being and I genuinely think the world is a slightly better place without him.
2. If it is true that this was a so-called “kill operation” and that the Americans went in with the intention of killing bin Laden then it is nothing short of murder and I condemn the act.
I think most people will agree with me on the first point, but the 2nd one will surely cause a lot of disagreement. I am an avid supporter of human rights and I agree with the immortal words of George Carlin: “If your rights can be taken away they are not rights they are privileges.” Thus even terrorist leaders have certain basic fundamental rights that should be respected – including the right to live and the right to be trialed for their crimes instead of a summary execution.
I know that Americans have a different approach to human rights since they don’t often see death penalty as a problematic issue. I vehemently oppose the death penalty because I believe that nobody – whether it be a person, a government, a jury or a judge – should have the power to take anyone’s life and that the acceptance of the death penalty undermines the base of all human rights. After all, the right to live is the most fundamental of all human rights and if one believes that it can be taken away by a court then the rest become utterly meaningless.
Is this what we're about to become?
But even if we acknowledge the fact that the American approach to death penalty can create a mindset where Osama’s assassination is an acceptable tactic it still remains problematic. Osama was seen by many as the Hitler of the 21st century. He was the personification of evil, the incarnation of anti-western values. One of those anti-western values was disregard for human life, especially the lives of those who did not agree with him. We loathed him for that and now it seems we have dropped down to the level of the man we so hated and we are cheering his death with no interest in how it occurred.
Obama said recently that “Osama got what he deserved – anyone who questions the fact that a mass murderer got what he deserved should get his head checked.” This illustrates perfectly the flaws in American moral landscape and especially in their public ethical discourse. Obama’s statement indicates that Osama “deserved” death. This has a lot to do with their approach to capital punishment that I talked about before but it also brings up a more important and much more horrific fact that apparently there is a limit on which a human being deserves death without a trial.
The somewhat famous secular Youtuber Pat Condell recently stated that killing Osama wasn’t a crime or unethical because he was “a field commander” of a terrorist group. His stance – and the stance of many others – is the US was effectively in war with Osama/al-Qaeda and thus killing him is just a part of warfare. But that approach also has several problems, the two most important being:
1) In order for the United States to be in war, the constitution requires the congress to officially declare war upon the opposing party. This has not been done (in fact, the US has not conducted a legitimate war since the Second World War).
2) Even if America could be seen as being in war with al-Qaeda, it still does not mean that the troops are authorized to kill unarmed personnel. Willfully depriving a surrendering enemy combatant of a fair trial is a grave breach of the Geneva convention.
So, despite of how satisfied many are to the death of Osama, I must concur that if he was unarmed at the time of the raid then his killing was unjustifiable and should be treated as a crime, because according to western values that the US is so keenly claiming to defend from people like Osama, even criminals and mass-murderers have rights. If we ignore this point the whole moral basis of the western civilization collapses, as rights become a thing that can be easily ignored when needed.
As many critics have pointed out, terrorism is not an enemy. It is a tactic. Because the United States itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics, the slogans of today’s war on terrorism merely makes the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world. A prudent American president would end the present policy of “sustained hysteria” over potential terrorist attacks..treat terrorism as a serious but not a strategic problem, encourage Americans to regain their confidence, and refuse to let al Qaeda keep us in a state of fright.
-William Eldridge Odom, former 3 star general of the US army