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 20, 2022 Podcast

The Doorstep: Defining the Role of the U.S. on the Global Stage

Global war, inflation, and a COVID-19 resurgence—the Biden/Harris team has been put on defense for first two quarters of 2022. This week, "Doorstep" co-hosts ...

President Biden, Vice President Harris, & Secretary Blinken during a virtual Quad Summit with Australia, India, & Japan at the White House, March 2021. CREDIT: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/51102889275/in/photostream/">Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz</a> <a href="https://www.usa.gov/government-works">(U.S. Government Works)</a>

JUN 2, 2021 Article

Revisiting Fractured Globalization in Year 2 of COVID

As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Global Engagement Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev refelcts on the erosion of international solidarity. ...

Joe Biden in Ocala, FL, October 31, 2012. CREDIT: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/barackobamadotcom/8145324041/">Christopher Dilts/Obama for America <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(CC)</a>.

DEC 7, 2020 Article

How Will the Biden Administration Adjudicate a Clash of Values?

Looking ahead to potential Biden adminstration plans, Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev writes that the "desire to convene a summit of the world's democratic states to ...