Osama Bin Laden was killed at the same time that a new model of Moslem change was emerging in the region, a model that is completely the opposite of Bin Laden’s. Since January, popular uprisings have overthrown the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, challenged rulers in Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Jordan, the greatest change the world has seen since the fall of the Berlin wall. And this revolution was based on non-violence and the public participation honoring law and order in an exercise of peaceful democracy. In contrast, the seizure and killing of Bin Laden was an authoritarian response to the brutal enmity of September 11.
Few Americans are criticizing President Obama for his key role in planning and guiding the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Celebration was the order of the day, as most Americans felt an overpowering need to revenge the massacre when 19 criminals took the lives of almost 3000 innocents in a plot that benefited no one.
Some questioned the killing of the unarmed Bin Laden who did not resist seizure. Others questioned the immediate disposal of the body into the anonymity of the ocean along with the celebration of revenge. Perhaps the most effective critique was of the failure to seize Bin Laden alive, arrest him for his crimes, and then give him a trial on documented charges in accordance with established legal principles.
While there was and is more than enough evidence to convict Bin Laden of capital crimes in a trial, he would have the democratic right of self defense, Bin Laden’s criminal acts would be explored and analyzed, his defenses examined. The whole world would be watching. Bin Laden’s supporters would examine his justifications against the teachings of the Koran and the accumulated legal experience of the centuries. The murderers of September 11 would face the cries and the descriptions of the victims. The trial would be a profoundly religious, moral and educational event based on the accumulated legal tradition dating back to the holy instructions given at Mount Sinai.
Bin Laden could not escape retribution. His crimes would be delineated for Muslim and world opinion. And the world system of law would be strengthened at every human level if Bin Laden had been seized by US troops and kept alive for trial. The Israelis weren’t afraid to keep Nazi murderer Adolf Eichmann alive after they captured him in Argentina. At his trial in Jerusalem he was accorded his rights, confronted with his crimes, did not deny his guilt, and paid with his life. The whole world was watching. The whole world learned the ugliness and destructiveness of anti-Semitism and religious prejudice. The courts, the evidence, the fair procedures, the rights explained and utilized were compelling examples of a democratic society.
Did we miss another rare opportunity for strengthening our legal system and promoting democracy?