No Justice in bin Laden Killing

  Justice Undone

May 2, 2011

Justice Done or Missed Opportunities?

On Sunday, President Obama announced that the United States conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, and strongly proclaimed “justice has been done.” [1]  “Justice has been done” was then reiterated throughout our nation and the entire international community. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Osama bin Laden's death claiming that he was personally “relieved that justice has been done.”[2]  Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berusconi, further stated that bin Laden’s killing was not only “a great result for the United States but also for all democracies,” and Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said that “getting rid of bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide.”[3]  Americans chanted in the streets and sang patriotic songs.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), US Section extends our hearts to all people who have suffered as a result of violent acts of terrorism, but deeply challenges the belief that “justice has been done” when the blood of another has been spilled – even if it was a person who caused great harm. In choosing, once again, to use force rather than to pursue justice through established rules of law, the US. Government missed out on profound opportunities to advance universal guarantees of human rights, strengthen peace and security, and open pathways for greater understanding and reconciliation.

Lost opportunities:

  1. If Osama bin Laden had been captured and prosecuted in a judicial forum, the US government, and other interested parties, would likely learn a great deal more about his and other suspected terrorists’ involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that could lead to the further strengthening of U.S. security, as well as advancing international goals to end global terrorism.

  2. Through the judicial process of witness testimonies and hearings, families of 9/11 victims would have an opportunity for reconciliation and healing that comes from true justice, and a deeper understanding of shared humanity.

  3.  By upholding and advancing “the rule of law” over a “rule of force”, the U.S. could have stood as an international model for democracy and fundamental freedoms – grounded in both U.S. and international laws – thereby holding itself, and perhaps other nations, to a higher standard of engagement and ensuring a more secure and peaceful world.

  4. A fair trial of Osama bin Laden could bring about relief for those who have felt persecuted for their beliefs as Muslims, or association with the so called “Axis of Evil,” as the facts surrounding Al-Qaeda and bin Laden’s terrorist acts are brought to light and Western understanding broadens. New paths of dialogue or diplomacy could open.

  5. If the U.S. had sought justice for the heinous acts allegedly committed by Osama bin Laden in any way other than by also resorting to violence, we could legitimately condemn such violence rather than perpetuating its cycle. 

WILPF works to end ALL forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which assure peace, freedom, and justice for all, including those whose acts we deplore. As peace women we loudly proclaim that any effort to overcome evil with evil is the unequivocal path towards perpetuating human suffering, and we question how the extrajudicial killing of any person benefits democracy or is good for the cause of advancing peace and freedom. Just as the United States’ invasion and continuing occupation of Afghanistan is not an act of justice, the U.S.’s strategic military operation that killed Osama bin Ladin was not an act of justice. Rather, the Government’s decision to raid bin Laden’s private compound as a special forces “kill operation” [4] adopts the same violent means promoted by the very “terrorists” it seeks to denounce, and perpetuates a chain reaction of hate that can never lead to true peace.

According to reports, bin Laden was shot twice in the head during a raid by U.S. Special forces at his home compound in Pakistan, where other family members also resided. The White House is now reporting that bin Laden was unarmed but resisted arrest.  U.S. forces then removed bin Laden’s body, performed a DNA test from a sample taken from his deceased sister’s brain tissue, whose body had been subpoenaed by the FBI several years earlier when she died from cancer in a Boston hospital.[5] The US Military then reportedly performed a Muslim funeral before disposing bin Laden’s body in the ocean which was claimed to be in accordance with Islamic traditions. The head of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s most important seat of learning, condemned the decision to dispose the body at sea, and Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said that the U.S. actions ran “contrary to the principals of Islamic laws, religious values and humanitarian customs.”[6]

So, again we must raise the question: Do the facts above constitute “justice” and the principals of freedom that the U.S. asserts”?  Values of democracy and human rights would call for due process: an arrest, which could have been coordinated with local forces; and a trial, where testimony from victims could be made part of the historical judicial record; and the accused would share his narrative, hence providing a lesson in state-sponsored justice as opposed to state-sponsored killing. The U.S. as the world’s preeminent democracy promoter has the duty to uphold such standards.

Lastly, we should question the extent to which our human community’s failure to ensure “justice” and human rights for all – including  economic, social, and political equalities and freedoms – continues  to create the landscape for present and future terrorists to emerge and manifest. Killing Osama bin Laden does not in anyway address the root causes of violence and oppression, and without addressing such merely leaves room for others to take his place. “Justice” such as this perpetuates anger and hatred directed at the U.S. and strengthens opposition forces, leading to greater insecurity and thwarting any hope for peace.

[1] “World A Safer Place Without Bin Laden.” BBC News –May 2, 2011.

[2] “Osama Bin Laden's body 'identified by sister's brain'.” The Telegraph, May 3, 2011.

[3] BBC News – World A Safer Place Without Bin Laden. May 2, 2011. (Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said disposing the body at sea was an affront which ran “contrary to the principals of Islamic laws, religious values and humanitarian customs.”)

[4] Transcript: Obama announces the Death of Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011-

[5] “U.N Chief Ban hails bin Laden death as “watershed.” Reuters, U.S Edition, May 2, 2011.

[6] “Osama Bin Laden’s Death: Political reaction in quotes.” BBC News –May 2, 2011.

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