May 12, 2011
Bin Laden’s death was justified
By Andrew Haines *

By Andrew Haines *

The big question lately in some circles has been: Was the death of Osama bin Laden — in the way that it happened — justified?

I think it was. And I think this answer is pretty clear, if we employ some basic principles of justice in times of war.

To be sure, we’ll probably never quite know the details of what happened in the Pakistan compound where Bin Laden was shot. But if we rely on our reason, a well-formed stance on the Church’s teaching, and facts that seem pretty obvious, we can make a judgment that holds real water, and which permits us to say confidently one thing rather than another.

First the facts: Bin Laden was the leader of a terrorist organization called al-Qaeda, which targeted American citizens on September 11, 2001. Bin Laden and his group made, implicitly, an act of war against the United States; and for this, the U.S. government considered him an enemy. A war ensued between the U.S. and al-Qaida.

Another fact is that the duel between Bin Laden and Washington was connected not only to his person as Osama bin Laden, but also to his office as the continued leader of the terror cell behind 9/11. If Bin Laden would have stepped down, for instance, over the last years, then the United States military would (and should) have focused on his capture, while at the same time hunting for the new leader of al-Qaida. After all, Bin Laden didn’t kill American citizens, al-Qaida did. They’re the real enemy.

The final fact is this: Osama bin Laden didn’t step down. He persisted in his leadership of al-Qaida until just last week. He remained not only the man behind 9/11, but the man behind the organization behind 9/11. He did not surrender. And he remained with his trigger-finger on the loaded gun of terrorism.

Now for the murky details. Was Bin Laden killed as an unarmed man? Was there really a “firefight” that produced a “fog of war”? Or is this fog purely rhetorical? Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with these tricky (and probably unanswerable) questions to reach the conclusion about his death being justified. They’re not essential; and here’s why.

Given the facts mentioned above, we can say this: if Bin Laden was shot without a weapon, he was killed not merely as an unarmed man, but as an unarmed man behind al-Qaida (and behind 9/11). In other words, since he persisted in his leadership of al-Qaida — and since he routinely exercised the power of terror to kill thousands of Middle Easterners and Americans, alike — simply calling him “unarmed” doesn’t suffice. In the world of extremism, a domineering mentality is as powerful as a rifle or an IED. If Bin Laden didn’t have a gun, he certainly maintained his deadly powers of persuasion.

For the SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden, then — whether or not he posed an immediate threat to their safety — seems much like an act of self-defense. They defused once and for all a powerful al-Qaida weapon that had brought death to thousands, and would do so again if left unchecked. They shot and killed a man who, although perhaps unarmed in the strict sense, was erratically lethal. And this constitutes not an act of murder, but an act of justice.

Andrew Haines is president of the Center for Morality in Public Life and a PhD student in Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Kathleen, and their son.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus


Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic

Liturgical Calendar

April 18, 2014

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Jn 18:1 - 19:42


Daily Readings

First Reading:: Is 52:13-53:12
Second Reading:: Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Gospel:: Jn 18:1-19:42

Homily of the Day

Jn 18:1 - 19:42


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: