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The death of Osama Bin Laden: "Justice has been done?"

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19 May 2011

by René C Padilla – 13 May 2011


The killing of Osama Bin Laden by order of President Barrack Obama has become the most debated topic in recent times globally. On May 2nd, as soon as Obama announced that the Commando Navy Seals killed the top al Qaeda leader, there was, in the United States, an unleashing of a collective effervescence comparable to that of soccer fans in Brazil or Argentina held after a defining victory as world champions after a long struggle.

Thousands of U.S. citizens took to the Times Square in New York and the White House in Washington DC shouting "USA! We got him! ". For those people, the death of Bin Laden concluded a period of almost ten years of searching for a way to give their due to the mastermind behind the terrorist attack of September 11th 2001, on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, which left a toll of 3,000 dead and caused the "war on terror" declared by President George W. Bush. To the celebrants of the death of Bin Laden, and probably for many others, no doubt, as Obama said in his speech on May 2, "Justice has been done."

Such an interpretation of justice, however, is unacceptable from several points of view. For starters, the death of Osama was not in compliance with a decision rendered by a court of justice at the end of a trial: it was a political assassination in revenge for his crimes. The U.S. President is a lawyer and knows the law, knows therefore, that the minimum requirement for applying the death penalty is that the criminal be tried by a court formally and officially sentenced to death. Thus came the Allies at the end of World War II in connection with twenty-four prisoners of Nazi war criminals. Although they could execute them without further delay, they chose to prosecute them and demonstrate their respect for the law. In his keynote address in the Nuremberg Judgement, Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor of the Court, said:

"The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a serious responsibility. The offenses trying to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that it cannot be forgotten because it is impossible to repeat. That four great nations are victorious and refrain from revenge injuries and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the law suit is one of the most significant tributes that Power has paid to Reason."

As a result of the Judgement of Nuremberg, all the criminals were punished, eleven of them sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment. It is obvious in the case of Osama Bin Laden that there was not the slightest intention of capturing him for trial and justice. Justice was not done, they executed vengeance. Power triumphed but not reason.

And the triumph of power over reason does not spell the elimination of terrorism in the world. On the contrary, it increases hatred and violence. Proof of this is renewed threats from Al Qaeda to avenge the death of their leader. Osama is dead, but Al Qaeda continues, exacerbated by the recent hate murder in the name of justice.

In November 2001, a group of people, including several relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the Twin Towers, made a trek from New York to Washington D. C, carrying a banner that read: "Our grief is not a Cry for War." At the end formed a group called "Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" to express their conviction that the security we all want is not based on violence and revenge. We who confess to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, we can not but agree with that conviction, willing to renounce all forms of violence and to take seriously our commitment to work for peace through justice practice.