Was Bin Laden Executed?

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Ben Cohen
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The White House has offered several different accounts of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and now this (from the Guardian):

Further doubts have emerged about the official US account of the raid in whichOsama bin Ladenwas killed, with reports claiming US Navy Seals were fired on only at the very beginning of the operation and that four of the five people who died, including the al-Qaida leader, were not armed.

Unnamed US officialstold the New York Timesthat the only shots fired from within the compound in Abbottabad where Bin Laden was sheltering came from his courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was behind the door of a guesthouse adjacent to the main house. The US raiding party shot and killed Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse and, on entering the main house, were not fired on again, they said.

If Bin Laden and his men were not armed, then the killing was a outright assassination - the legality of which is highly questionable. Glenn Greenwald writes:

I'd have strongly preferred that Osama bin Laden be captured rather than killed so that he could be tried for his crimes and punished in accordance with due process (and to obtain presumably ample intelligence). But if he in fact used force to resist capture, then the U.S. military was entitled to use force against him, the way American police routinely do against suspects who use violence to resist capture. But those are legalities and they will be ignored even more so than usual.

It appears that those legalities may well have been ignored, and the Seal team engaged in an execution killing.

The argument for following due process, even when dealing with the worst criminals imaginable, goes to the foundation of our democracy. To ignore it is to cheapen the system that places principle above emotion, and inalienable rights above even government and society. While there was no doubt that Bin Laden was a vicious murderer, he has as much right to a trial as anyone else. As Michael Moore points out:

Look at the Nuremberg Trials. We didn’t just pop a bullet in the heads of the worst scum in history. We thought it was important to put them on trial and expose their evil. In a democracy we believe in a system of justice and we believe in a judicial system that gives people a day in court...and then we hung them.

It doesn’t mean we can’t hang them afterward.

From a personal point of view, I hope that Osama did resist arrest. An international trial would have descended into chaos and only given Bin Laden a greater platform to speak to his followers.I am not opposed to the death penalty and think it a good thing that he is no longer able to exert influence on another generation of disillusioned Muslim men, but I do believe in due process. And if Osama was unarmed when we took him out, then President Obama has some serious explaining to do.