My first reaction upon hearing the news about Bin Laden last Monday was ‘Yes!’, followed by relief, then by shame for experiencing joy at somebody’s death—even if that someone was the ‘most wanted’ terrorist in the world. I am against the death penalty and believe in the rule of law and the justice system. The SEAL commando may have done justice but they did not bring Osama bin Laden to justice. That’s a troublesome thought.
Sometimes doing the right thing involves wrong-doing. Imagine what would have happened had Bin Laden been caught alive. He probably would have been brought to Guantanamo, much to the detriment of those still there, who are counting on quiet diplomacy in conjunction with the painstaking work of human rights activists for their release or more humane imprisonment. The various terrorist cells active around the world would have felt compelled to act to prove their loyalty, and this, I contend, is a stronger motivation than taking revenge. Bin Laden’s fundamentalist supporters and admirers would have experienced similar emotions. Then we would have been confronted with endless, heated and polarizing debates as to where he should be tried, by whom, with what representation, etc. etc.
We have been spared all of the above. What is more, Bin Laden has been robbed of his martyrdom narrative. The information now emerging about his last years is that of a gloomy aging man living like a prisoner in a large but impoverished compound and spending his days watching or preparing videos of himself and worried about his quota. Al Qaeda is not what it used to be. Not only because of the relentless fight waged against it; also, because, like any terrorist organization relying on suicide missions, it faced the problem of a high turnover in a particularly acute fashion. Moreover, as shown by previous research, relying on people willing to kill others by killing themselves is not only pathetic but rather difficult to implement over a long period of time.
Still, it is a troublesome thought that Bin Laden was killed rather than arrested; and, it should remain so. Maybe now, with the ‘big boss’ gone, the time is ripe for a solution to Guantanamo in accordance with the rule of law.