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The Case for Taking Bin Laden Alive

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I wasn’t planning on chiming in on the whole Osama bin Laden thing, since it’s been covered ad nauseam in the media following his demise, but that was before I read that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendelhall had opined on the matter. While many NFL players were quite positive about the military finally getting bin Laden and laudatory of our men and women in uniform, Mendelhall had some rather brash things to say about Sept. 11 and bin Laden’s death.

Speaking from his Twitter account, here are a couple of his posts:

What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…


@dkeller23 We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.

In these comments, Mendenhall appears to be referencing certain conspiracy theories that claim the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were enacted by our own government, that the World Trade Center buildings were imploded artificially, and that the whole thing was a farce. I will not speak on the absurd notion that the Sept. 11 attacks might have been executed by our own government as an excuse to invade Iraq. I will concede that George W. Bush was exceedingly incompetent as a leader and probably led us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses, but even I can’t indict Bush for orchestrating a massive plot to raze the World Trade Center, sacrificing 3,000 Americans as an excuse to invade Baghdad.

I agree with Mendenhall that celebrating death, any death, is questionable, but I don’t share his religious misgivings about judging bin Laden or his crackpot suggestion that bin Laden might not have been behind 9/11. We know that he and his organization were behind the Sept. 11 attacks. This isn’t in dispute because he admitted it in 2004, lest Mendenhall or anyone else forgets. As bin Laden said at the time:

We decided to destroy towers in America. God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind.

But celebrating bin Laden’s death is misguided for a different reason: I’m not convinced that we should have killed the man in the first place, or at least not without a trial. First, his death may incite future attacks, possibly more so than would have his capture and trial, and second, we actually did him a favor by cutting his life short, at least based on his religious worldview and the worldview of his followers. By killing him, we essentially raised bin Laden to martyr status in the eyes of fringe Muslims and members of al-Queda.

According to this report from the Atlantic, the official story about what happened in the minutes leading up to bin Laden’s death was either misleading or an outright untruth. The original story was that bin Laden was killed amid a firefight, which implies that he was armed and putting members of a U.S. operatives group in harm’s way, thus leading American forces to fire on him. We now know, however, that bin Laden was unarmed when SEALs personnel shot him in the head and chest. As the Atlantic story says:

A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.

The public stance from the White House, however, is that the ops group would have taken him alive if they had the opportunity. It seems to me if he was unarmed, the SEALs would have had that opportunity, whether bin Laden was belligerent to them or not. The Atlantic article also implies that if the U.S. had captured bin Laden alive, an ensuing trial would have been a bureacratic and diplomatic boondoggle:

Capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges… 

A bin Laden trial, even before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, would have attracted enormous media attention, potentially giving the terror mastermind a high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views, and also could have inspired more terrorist attacks.

Boondoggle or not, the Obama administration is beginning to look more and more like the cavalier, let’s-go-get-’em outfit that presided over the last administration, or perhaps, even more so, since the Bush administration at least captured some suspected terrorists and informants, rather than cutting a fiery path of “justice” across the Middle East.

Michael Moore made a cogent point this week on Piers Morgan Tonight. He said that even high-ranking Nazi officials, who were at least partially, indirectly or directly, responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, received a trial and were not just executed firing-line style.

Or, in Moore’s words:

I just feel … we’ve lost something of our soul here in this country. And maybe I’m just an old-school American who believes in our American judicial system, something that separates us from other parts, other countries, where we say everybody has their day in court no matter how bad of a person, no matter what piece of scum they are. They have a right to a trial. 

The question then becomes: should modern terrorists be treated more harshly than other war criminals, like the Nazis? I don’t see how anyone could possibly make the case. Hitler and the surviving SS members had millions of people’s blood on their hands. Bin Laden had 3,000 Americans. Does just one American equal thousands of European Jews, thus justifying killing terrorists who harm Americans rather than putting them on trial like we did the Nazis?

Let’s work this out mathematically. If we take the six million Jews killed in Europe and the 3,000 people killed in New York and equated them, what would we find? We would find by simple division that the death of just one American would equal 2,000 Jews in Europe (6,000,000/3,000). Or, to put it another way, to kill one American means that 2,000 Jews in Europe would have to die to justify the same amount of justice. If all human beings are counted as equals, as they should be, and using the Obama administration’s logic, we should have just shot all captured SS officials without batting an eye and been happy about it all the while.

But we didn’t. We allowed a group of deluded and racist individuals to have their day in court in the wake of Auschwitz, the gas chambers, and the mass graves that littered the fields and towns of Europe. But when a fanatical Muslim terrorist kills 3,000 of our own, our justice system is too good for the man. Only the barrel of a gun would do. Thus, a martyr was born.

Since a trial would have surely damned bin Laden to the death penalty anyway, something about how events played out should, at least on some level, chafe us all. Like Moore, I’m glad we finally found him, but even people who admit guilt are given a trial. Why should bin Laden have been any different? We essentially immortalized the man by treating him as if he were somehow different than any other person charged with crimes against humanity. A trial would have said to the rest of the world, especially to the radical Muslim world, “No, this man is not different. He will face a trial, and he will bow to the justice system like everyone else.”

We missed an important opportunity here. When celebrations break out in the streets after we gun down one of our national enemies execution-style without the use of the machinations that judge the guilt of every other mortal in the modern world, our collective soul may, indeed, have suffered an irreparable blow.

[Photo credit: Getty Images – Hundreds of Pakistani Jamaat-ud-Dawa activists prayed in Karachi for Osama bin Laden, whom they regard as a martyr.]
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About Jeremy Styron

  • Justmyopin

    I believe they’ve got him alive and are interrogating him as well. It would be a total waste not to. The Seals are extremely highly trained professional specialists, they can do either job equally well, (dead or alive) They had no need to kill him, by the time they surrounded him he was completely defenseless. Probably shaking in his boots like a school boy, I know I would have been. But the fact of the matter is exactly what Babu said, the US can’t say they got him alive or it would cause too much chaos around the world, this way he’ll be secretly interrogated by water-boarding till the cows come home and the lefty’s like Eric Holder can’t do a damn thing about it to protect him or read him his miranda rights as some of the liberals would love to do after hiring him a defense attorney to be tried in a civilian court bc they can’t prove he’s alive! Then when he is no longer useful, then they will shoot him in the head take a picture and post it six months from now or right before the election.

  • Thanks for reading Justmyopin.

    I think you misunderstood me. I wasn’t making the case that I thought bin Laden was still alive. I don’t. I was making the case that, perhaps, we should have taken him alive and put him on trial, since even SS officials were given that right. And they were responsible for many more deaths than was bin Laden.