But the other day, Vice President Joseph Biden - when asked about the Osama bin Laden killing by CBS White House correspondent, Jake Tapper - responded:
"Are you kidding?"People laughed, nobody gave it much thought. Both partisan Democrats (out of partisan hackery?) and Republicans (out of... USA USA USA!!) agreed.
A few people have been talking about it over the last few weeks, and most have been ignored or mocked. Judge Andrew Napolitano and Ron Paul have, of course, dealt with the issue, Salon's Glenn Greenwald as well.
But apart from a handful of outliers, it seems to me that most people simply don't care.
However, let's be real for a second, shall we? Osama bin Laden's death was unquestionably illegal, not only by the standards of international law, but by the standards of American law as well. As I wrote last weekend, "legality" of his killing is less of a concern to me than the morality of ending an unarmed man's life without any form of due process, trial, or eminent danger.
Many people I have talked with in the last few weeks about this issue emphatically remind me over and over that Osama bin Laden didn't allow any of the 3,000+ innocent men and women of the World Trade Center any form of "due process" before he ordered their deaths. True... But that's precisely the instant where Osama bin Laden - for all of his religious moralizing - ceded righteousness. It's precisely why America should NOT have responded in kind.
The thing is, justice means temperance, not revenge. Deliberate thought, not violent emotive outbursts.
America simply cannot be a beacon of freedom, consistency of principle, opportunity and justice if we don't actually act with those ideals in mind. Killing an unarmed man in his home in a country we are not actually at war with (even by the current half-assed and unconstitutional standards) is not acting within American ideals.
Due process is incredibly important to us as Americans and it absolutely needs to remain that way.
Unfortunately, rights to due process are steadily eroding around the US, and it's thoroughly been abandoned in our dealings with other nations. This is a dangerous precedent... and the Osama bin Laden killing is hardly the most disturbing event on that scale.
Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court just shockingly ruled against the 4th Amendment:
"NDIANAPOLIS | Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.Uh... What?? In case you didn't catch that, what Indiana is saying is that if you live in their state, you have no right to resist a police officer entering your home - even if they are doing so completely illegally with no warrant, no cause and no right. Resisting unlawful behavior by the police is now... outlawed. Can you think of a better way to impose a state of fear and intimidation among your citizens short of indiscriminately shooting at people?
In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer's entry."
for suggesting that there were other ways to get Osama bin Laden and that a nation that disrespects international law and tortures prisoners of war is a nation that might very well ignore its own laws in the pursuit of what - even a majority of - misguided individuals believe constitutes "justice" right here at home.
Ask yourself, though: How is the ruling in Indiana not EXACTLY what Congressman Paul was talking about?
If the American government feels perfectly justified in sending armed men into a foreign country and shooting an unarmed man in the head - no matter how bad that man was - then why would we expect that same government to have any qualms what-so-ever about its police officers entering a citizen's home without so much as a "Howdy, ma'am"?
PS... They already do exactly this frequently.
Sure, you might come back at me with the idea that Osama bin Laden wasn't a US citizen, so he's not protected by our constitution - and while that is technically true based on legal precedent, it's grossly missing the point. But if this is what you think, let me remind you of something Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."Notice that Jefferson did not write "All people living within the arbitrarily defined geopolitical boundaries soon to be called 'The United States of America'". He wrote "All men"... which is now interpreted to mean "All people". The philosophy which guided those words is defined by a belief in "unalienable" natural rights, not granted by government, but innately a part of every human being. Thomas Paine further expounded on this idea in "The Rights of Man". He wrote:
"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few . . . They . . . consequently are instruments of injustice."If you believe that people have the right to life, liberty and property as the American revolutionaries did, then you should understand that those rights aren't a function of being "American", but of being human. If you understand that, then you must realize that any instance of international execution, the torture of "enemy combatants" or any other violations of rights perpetrated by agents of the United States, cannot simply be justified by saying "Well, hey, they aren't US Citizens, so the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to them."
What makes the idea of America so great is that the government is not supposed to be above the law, and that the law is defined in such a way to enshrine the protection of people's natural rights to life, liberty & property. Just because the government, or even the entire country hates a person... and no matter how justified that hatred is, the government does not have the moral or constitutional authority to simply kill that person at a whim.
Bin Laden deprived many people of their lives and for that he of course needed to be brought to justice, but the key question here is, what does "justice" really mean?
I know that analogizing Bin Laden is going to be extremely difficult for a lot of people to accept, but the name of this blog is Logicology, is it not?
So let's use some logic.
First, recognize that murder is not a crime simply because it is listed in the law books as a crime (that would be question begging), but because everybody is an autonomous, self-owning individual who has the moral right to exist and act as they see fit and murder deprives people of that moral right. Incidentally, the violation of people's individual sovereignty is the only justification for considering anything a crime (i.e. "victimless" crimes are not crimes at all by this definition).
So, by that definition (and any other I can think of), Osama bin Laden was undoubtedly a criminal - one of the worst of all time. He was a mass murderer to be sure, but to be clear, what I'm establishing here is that... in principle... he was no different than a junkie who kills his drug dealer over a few grams of cocaine. Both are murderers, but there is no principle difference between the two - only a difference in severity & scale.
Are we clear on this? I just want to talk about the principles involved.
Good. Now... Forget about Osama bin Laden. Let's just talk about that hypothetical murdering junkie.
How would you want the US government to react to the junkie who kills his dealer? Do you want cops to take an educated guess about where that junkie lives, kick the door in and start shooting until everybody is dead? Or do you want the cops to resort to deadly force as a last resort, arrest the junkie, give him a trial and send him to prison (or even execute him if you support that sort of thing)?
Now... What if it wasn't a junkie and it wasn't murder?
What if it's a shoplifter who stole a few hundred dollars worth of shoes from a popular department store? How should we go about delivering justice? Do we make an accusation of the person we think is responsible and throw them in jail without trial?
I think on these lesser crimes, most people would answer that of course we don't want the cops to go around arresting and imprisoning people without trial, and we certainly don't want a police force who feels so assured of their righteousness that they are comfortable opening fire on unarmed, non-threatening suspects purely because they are certain of guilt.
So the analogy is this: If you wouldn't be ok with the police instantly killing an unarmed man known to be a murderer, but who poses no immediate threat to the lives of the officers - why should you be ok with the killing of an unarmed Osama bin Laden? Why would you prefer that we did that, rather than capture him and hold him up for all the world to see as not only a symbol of American resolve and tenacity, but as a symbol of true justice.
We have instead demonstrated that justice was merely a secondary concern to revenge.
The framers of the Constitution recognized correctly that the state is force. Government is violence, and in spite of how poorly concealed that fact is, many people still have trouble grasping the concept. Fortunately the men who established our guiding principles as a nation did understand that, and were clear to place restrictions on the government dictating how and under which circumstances violence was appropriate.
Most of our laws stem from these ideas... and rightly so.
Police may shoot a suspect if the suspect is posing an immediate threat to the lives of the police officers. Likewise, our military can shoot enemy combatants if they are being shot at or within the context of a military engagement. Our police are not generally supposed to be allowed (although they frequently do) to break into someone's house and shoot up the place without a substantial amount of due process leading up to it, and there should (although, unfortunately almost never is) be severe punishments for any police officers who shoot and kill anyone - including known criminals - unless absolutely necessary.
Our military is generally not supposed to be allowed to do that either. For example, once an enemy has surrendered, an American soldier that harms or kills that prisoner should be subject to military tribunal and court martial.
The way we treat our enemies says far more about us than it does about them, and for these reasons and countless others, we should not be the nation that sends a team of soldiers to execute an unarmed man - regardless of how bad a guy he is. Would we like to be seen as a nation of thugs and murderers, or rapists and torturers, like so many of our enemies are? Or would we rather be seen as a force for good in the world, acting with violence only when necessary?
I don't particularly want to live in a world where the United States military is nothing more than an international kill-squad... and that is why you should care about the legality - and the morality - of killing Osama Bin Laden.
What I'm saying is, is it morally justifiable for the US military to execute unarmed men (and women, by the way)? To put it a bit more crudely, but accurately, does the severity of a man's crimes justify a lynch-mob?
Keep in mind here that we all know Osama bin Laden was guilty of terrible, terrible crimes against Americans. We all know he was fomenting even more plots to carry out even more crimes against Americans. No one disputes this... And if he was engaged in a firefight with the SEAL team that raided his estate, I see no ethical problem in the SEALs shooting him dead where he stood.
But to kill a man who was not fighting back, and who was not armed... that is a different matter entirely.
Now... One way or another, Osama's killing was illegal. I don't see how anyone, particularly the Vice President of the United States of all people, could be confused by that. There is no legal justification for a group of men entering a foreign country, breaking into someone's compound and killing him. Sometimes, of course, breaking the law is the right thing to do.
This seems like one of those times.
But what is far more questionable, to me at least, is whether or not the ethics of killing him can actually be justified. The more I think about it, and the more I listen to the reactions of people in the United States, in Pakistan, in the rest of the Middle East... The more I believe that that justification simply isn't there.
And it concerns me. We know that the US government no longer feels compelled to draft articles of war, and after Libya, it's clear that the President doesn't even feel a duty to so much as get permission from congress to get the US into still more undeclared wars. We also know that by ignoring the Bill of Rights, and the principles that fundamentally set the US apart from other countries, virtually any government action - no matter how violent, perverse and draconian - can be legally justified. We've seen time and time again that these violations will only get more and more severe.
So as our foreign policy becomes even more antagonistic, our domestic policy is too... and we're apparently at a stage in our nation's development where the Vice President thinks any concern about these things is just a big joke.
Well, Mr. Biden... I'm not laughing.