Why is bin Laden dead?

So. Osama bin Laden is dead. I think we’ve all noticed that by now.

Thankfully some of the media and public figures have started to decry the celebration and chanting following his death. It is still the death of a human being and this is not cause for jubilation.

What I’m more concerned about, however, is why he’s dead at all. We’re told there was a “firefight” and that “no Americans were harmed”. We’re also told that he “tried to hide behind women”. This doesn’t sound like an all-out battle to the death to me. It sounds like they cornered him and then killed him anyway.

There’s a name for this: summary execution. It’s illegal under the Geneva/Hague Conventions. And with good reason: killing someone without trial is a violation of fundamental human rights, even if the trial would be an open-and-shut case. It is, and never should be, the prerogative of an army soldier or his/her commanding officer to decide whether a war criminal should die. The days of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” should be long behind us.

And, of course, the death in combat circumstances of a powerful figurehead turns that person into a martyr. Osama bin Laden will never be put on trial for what he has done and so extremists the world over will be forced to make their own minds up. Great.

Now, in recent hours we’ve been told by US counter-terrorism chief John Brennan that “if we would have been able to take him alive, we would have done that”. Is that so? Even though not one of the US soldiers was harmed and the only other casualty was one of bin Laden’s wives that he used as a human shield? Then let’s hear more about why it was necessary to kill bin Laden, rather than merely disabling and capturing him.

It certainly doesn’t sound like it was a fair (read: legal) fight from where I’m standing.


  1. Alasdair Rawsthorne
    May 3, 2011

    Does anyone else find distasteful the picture of Obama, Clinton et al watching the operation in real time in the situation room?Even looking at the picture makes me squirm at my voyeurism.I suppose there is the "if you ordered it, you should have the stomach to watch" argument, but, to show me the watchers?Is this the ultimate TV reality show?

  2. Alex Bennee
    May 3, 2011

    Alasdair Rawsthorne: well the American's do tend to document these things for the historical archives. And it does show who was there at the time and their reactions to it.

  3. Alex Bennee
    May 3, 2011

    @Rich: There is no such thing as shoot to disable. If there is a threat you shoot to kill and deal with the consequences afterwards. Short of a clear video of the assault on the room the only evidence we'll have is the word of the soldiers in the room.Personally I don't find it hard to believe that OBL had a gun in the room and posed a threat to soldiers going in. I suspect that was a deliberate choice by OBL to ensure he did get shot and killed rather than captured and tried. He's stated his intention to die fighting a number of times.

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