It seems as if a lot of people have no problem with a defenseless Osama being shot to death. That's wrong.
A Twitter fight broke out yesterday. Like all Twitter fights, it was silly, but unlike all Twitter fights, this one was somewhat interesting. One person employed by a liberal media outlet was arguing with another person employed by a liberal media outlet, and their fight concerned the killing of Osama Bin Laden. One guy brought up the fact that Bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot, something that's happened to young minorities far too often in America. The other liberal's response? I'm paraphrasing here, but basically: "Most everyone who died on 9/11 was unarmed, too. So who cares."
Welcome to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, an incident that's got even liberals saying it's cool to shoot unarmed men in the face, without any semblance of a trial whatsoever.
Know this: I think Bin Laden was a bad person. I'm not particularly religious, but I believe that if there is a preternatural thing called "evil," Bin Laden was it. He killed without regard for who perished. That's the scariest thing about people like Bin Laden: Believing themselves to be at war against all freethinkers, their definition of "enemy" is nebulous. Children are soldiers by virtue of being born in America. Senior citizens are targets because they're not Muslim.
If anyone deserved to die, it was probably Osama Bin Laden. And unless he was surrendering—the White House says he wasn't—there's no legal reason why the Navy SEAL team shouldn't have assassinated him. Military law is a bit different than federal law when it comes to killing, and things get even more lax when it comes to the laws governing the CIA, which had authority over the Bin Laden mission. By all accounts, shooting him was legitimate. But was it justified?
That's a harder question. We know Bin Laden was 54, diabetic, with an enlarged heart and kidney stones. In other words, without a weapon, he was probably no match for a physically elite, well-trained team of soldiers armed to the teeth. And though the heat of battle can make people do rash things, the commandos at least had the time, resources, and wherewithal to handcuff people in the compound in zip ties. If others were cuffed, why not Bin Laden?
Beyond that, we also know that when the team stormed the room in which Bin Laden was hiding, his wife attacked the troops and was shot in the leg. Bin Laden, on the other hand, was killed immediately with two bullets to the head. Again, if they were shooting people in the legs to spare their lives, why was a defenseless guy 10 years away from being a senior citizen shot in the head on a mission the White House swears was "capture or kill" (as opposed to just kill)? Why are some national security officials under the impression that this was a kill mission, meaning the intent from the beginning was to prevent Bin Laden from ever having a fair trial in a court of law?
To be honest, just bringing up these questions feels kind of icky, like you're in danger of siding with monsters. Ask any defense attorney whose job it is to defend rapists and murderers if hers is an easy road and she'll likely answer no. Nevertheless, when talking state-sanctioned violence, we would be remiss in not demanding answers to these kinds of queries. That more people are not demanding answers is frightening. That even self-described liberals are not, thereby absconding from their mission to protect the humanity of even our most wretched, is downright incomprehensible.
The Twitter fight I watched yesterday ended with one of the guys promising he wasn't a racist while the other guy called his comparison—between the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden and the extrajudicial killings of people of color—"stupid." Actually, they're both wrong. The comparison isn't stupid, but it does fail to address one thing: Osama Bin Laden confessed his heinous crimes multiple times over, and vowed to commit more, whereas many unarmed black kids killed by cops are totally innocent. Still, were we to make a Venn diagram of the two, in the middle would be a deep-seated hatred, a hatred that says its OK to kill this person because they're less human than me and my family and my community.
Nobody except the people who were in that room in Pakistan can say whether the SEAL team killed Bin Laden unnecessarily. But if they did, and if everybody's willing to rally around them for doing so, this is a tremendous blow to the American ideal. In a truly great America, everyone gets a fair trial no matter how terrible their crime. Otherwise we're no better than Bin Laden himself, firing at will at nebulous targets until everything becomes an enemy.
photo of Navy SEALs courtesy of the US Department of Defense