Was the killing of Osama bin Laden necessary? This question is prompted by the recent update that bin Laden was not armed when he was shot twice in the head. First reports had indicated that he was armed and had shot back at the Navy Seals who burst into the house where he was staying. And the earlier revelation that he had hidden behind a woman, presumably his wife, and was thus a coward is also not true, according to this update.
This new revelation disturbs me greatly. If bin Laden was shot because he was armed and shooting back, while using a defenseless woman as his shield, his killing is perhaps justifiable. But to shoot a defenseless man, apparently in front of his daughter, is a highly questionable act.
I am not a lawyer who is versed in international law. I am a theologian, and for me the killing of bin Laden is not justifiable. I have so far only read one newspaper report that has questioned the killing of bin Laden. But I did raise this question already on Facebook a few days ago, where I wrote that I questioned the ethics of killing people as a matter of government policy. George W. Bush some years ago ordered that bin Laden be taken "dead or alive." President Obama approved the mission to kill bin Laden, and apparently watched the whole drama in real time from the White House. As I asked on my Facebook page: "Is this proper for any government leader, much less a committed Christian like Obama?"
While I am not a pacifist, I am an advocate of active non-violence. I do not want to debate any perceived inconsistencies in my position. For many years already, I have questioned the just war theory, especially after having taught about this theory to students all over the world. I am Reformed, not an Anabaptist. But many, like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who have also pleaded for active non-violence, were neither.
I do not want to upset those who lost loved ones on 9/11. I too watched with horror as planes smashed into the two towers of the World Trade Center. In my case, 9/11 inconvenienced me only a little, since my return to Moscow was delayed a week. But I did not lose anyone close to me.
Does the "war on terror" justify killing people like bin Laden? Would bin Laden have been killed if he had been American, or if the killing had taken place in the United States? Even if the killing pf bin Laden is justifiable according to international law, where do the killings stop?
Admittedly, bin Laden's death means that the world would not have to witness the legal fighting that would surround his trial. Where? By whom? And so on. The questions are endless. Now those problems have been eliminated. But this too does not justify his killing. Was justice done? In spite of many claims that it was, my position is a contrary one.
This blog is not the proper venue to debate the ethics of assassination, but I do want to use it to raise some important questions. I welcome your response.
Terrorism will not end with the death of bin Laden. Al Qaeda, according to reports, is still capable of bloody retaliation. Violence has not been eliminated from this world. On the contrary, by killing bin Laden we may be feeding this monster.