Global Ethics Corner: Bin Laden's Death

May 13, 2011

Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in a mission by U.S. Navy SEALS. Should the U.S. have captured him alive and put him on trial? Was the U.S. justified in entering Pakistan without the consent of their government?

Al Qaeda leader bin Laden was a self-proclaimed mass murderer. Innocent civilians died from his plans. He deserved a death sentence, and would have received one in the United States.

American heroes killed bin Laden within reach of a rifle, in a split second decision, and during a delicate and hazardous mission. They could not know whether he was armed or rigged with explosives.

Their actions appear to be legal domestically and within the framework of the American political system. The process and procedures necessary to target a foreign civilian were followed, and involved the highest levels of government.

Clearly U.S. national interests and American civilian lives were the stakes.

Yet in Europe, the Spanish prime minister questioned the legality of the killing and preferred bin Laden to stand trial. Many add that bin Laden got what he wanted: a martyr's death, not a judicial one.

Bin Laden's killing also occurred on foreign soil, under another political and legal system, and without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities.

Clearly there was no international legal standard or process at work, beyond the U.S. right to self-protection. The major western power that preaches the gospel of human rights and global responsibilities acted on its own. Without international institutions and when overriding interests are at stake, nations act and anarchy rules.

Beside the fact that Americans are safer, how do you feel about this extra-territorial killing? How would you react to another country capturing or killing enemies who lived in the U.S.?

Law and judicial process require police to act within the law. In contrast, anarchy allows the U.S. to act as its own global policeman. On balance and if necessary, which do you choose?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Osama Bin Laden Raid Details Spark Conflicting Reactions In Europe
, The Huffington Post, May 6, 2011.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Seth Anderson
Richard Cahan
Pete Souza
Phil Stearns
Josep Tomas
Talk Radio News Service

Pete Souza
Dan Nguyen
Michael Grimes

You may also like

APR 7, 2022 Podcast

The Doorstep: Pakistan & the Populist World Order, with Atlantic Council's Uzair Younus

A leader asking his second in command to keep him in power. A parliament dissolved. A Supreme Court deciding the fate of a nation. Echoes ...

COVID-19 vaccination line in Nagpur, India, May 2021. CREDIT: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:COVID-19_vaccination_queue_01052021.jpg">Ganesh Dhamodkar/Wikimedia</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">(CC)</a>

MAY 20, 2021 Article

Vaccine Diplomacy versus Vaccine Nationalism: Synthesis or Dissonance?

In response to Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev's blog post on "vaccine diplomacy vs. vaccine nationalism" Samuel Owusu-Antwi, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ghana, ...

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken &  Vice President Joe Biden in Honolulu, July 2016. CREDIT: <a href="https://dod.defense.gov/OIR/gallery/igphoto/2001574265/">Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal/U.S.Department of Defense</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">Public Domain</a>

NOV 23, 2020 Article

Competing Ethics in the Biden Administration?

In this blog post responding to Thomas Wright's recent article in "The Atlantic," Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev outlines the three different "camps" vying for influence ...