I understand the emotions evoked upon hearing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I understand the logical argument for justice. What is lost is any rational discussion of the fact that a government, a government that portrays itself as a moral beacon for humanity, sactions state-sponsored assassination. Anyway you frame it, the USA approves of assassination as a means to attaining state purposes: Bin Laden, Hussein, Al Qaeda leaders, taliban leaders, Gadaffi, etc. Assassination used to be illegal. It was a moral stance that meant ‘we know that real power lies in the moral worth of a people and have faith that moral power will bring justice to our lives.’
I am not advocating that force is never justified. But the policy of pre-emptive war is never justified- the war in Iraq was wrong and the war in Afghanistan, in its current form, is wrong.
Look at the Arab Spring. No amount of US armed intervention could accomplish what people power partnered with social media is accomplishing. Libya is at least a better model that Iraq.
The problems of apprehending Bin Laden, then figuring out how to try him safely, to bring real justice to our lives, are immense. I do not want to diminish these problems- most of which, we need to recognize, are problems of logistics, and not moral problems. We must not shirk the mirror here, if we believe in our own principles, that democracy is inherently superior to non-democratic forms of governemnt, means that we accept the that there are a lot of inconvenient consequences involved with living up to our principles: We choose to err on the side of presumed innocent until proven guilty so we won’t punish someone unfairly; we choose to give criminals another chance, knowing that most of them are extremely difficult to rehabilitate, because our humanity insists we try, insists we rehabilitate those that have the moral fortitude to take advantage of another chance; we choose to believe that human shortcomings can be overcome, that often unjust deeds are mistakes; we choose to not let our enemies drag us down to their simplistic level of what it means to be a human being, what it means to live in a civil society, messy as it might be.
This last point is what we really loose when our youth take to the street in celebration of a human death, because their intire life of political consciousness has spanned a time of war, a time of demnizing others, a time when our government is portrayed as the problem, instead of a vehicle for justice, a time when everyone’s memory is so short they forget that without our benevolent government we lynched human beings for the color of their skin, looked the other way when people were dispossessed and killed because of their religion, allowed robber barons to use workers like tools to be replaced when broken.
I am no longer living in the American that I grew up in, the America that progressed socially and politically, through the codification of human rights, the sanctioning of freedom, of behavior that didn’t conform to societal norms, that took the side of the underdog when it was just to do so, an American that recognized that the majority can easily become a tyranny.
In current discussions of our populations health, our environment’s health, our working conditions, I no longer hear the question: What is the right thing to do? All I hear is: Freedom must trump human rights, because the rich has a right to become richer the less fortunate must sacrifice their right to health care, to a home, to a decent living.
When one human life is de-valued, we are all lesser for it. There is a true sense in which today, Osama Bin Laden won.


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