Was Bin Laden death legal - and does it matter?
Archbishop Rowan William reveals his ‘uncomfortable feeling’ while UN demands ‘facts’
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has weighed in on the growing debate over whether American forces had the right to kill Osama bin Laden when they raided his compound last Sunday.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, he admitted that, "the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling".
"I don't know full details any more than anyone else does," he continued, "but I do believe that in such circumstances, when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal... it is important that justice is seen to be observed."
But the world seems undecided as to what exactly constitutes justice for the man who admitted to being behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that killed over 3,000 people in America.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Cristina Odone said that the Archbishop was "dead wrong". "Shooting Osama," she concluded, "even if he was naked and vulnerable as a baby, was an act of deliverance. No doubt there."
Her opinion echoes USA Today's editorial, which states adamantly that, "Splitting hairs over how [Osama] died might be an interesting exercise for academics or a convenient tool of anti-American activists, but nothing will change the fact that justice was done."
In a legal sense, much rests on whether or not the US can be considered to have been at war with al-Qaeda. If so, Osama was an enemy combatant, and the fact that he was unarmed makes no difference.
If not, Osama's indictment for crimes relating to the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania make him a criminal suspect. By law, he should have been brought back alive and made to stand trial.
In either case, there are those who believe there are moral and ethical questions about the shooting of an unarmed man who was lying in bed at his family home.
The UN has voiced concerns along these lines, with Christof Heyns, the UN's independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, admitting that there was "considerable dispute in legal circles". Today, in a statement, he said the US "should disclose the supporting facts to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards".
But with Obama saying its a matter of national security, and any hope of a post-mortem lying at the bottom of the ocean, the UN's expectation of "facts" might be in vain.
Could Osama have been taken alive? The White House line that he put up "resistance" even though he was unarmed is taken up by Tony Metcalf, editor of Metro US. "Quite what resistance someone who is unarmed can show to a gang of trained US killers armed to the teeth and with death in their hearts, has not been satisfactorily explained," he writes in his blog. "Like it or not, if it turns out the US DID carry out what was effectively a state execution, then the country has a big problem."
The Daily Mirror writes in an editorial: "Governments must never descend to the immorality of cold-blooded killers such as Bin Laden". While the Independent observed that, "the line between summary justice and illegal killing is a fine one, but it is one that must be scrupulously observed by any country with a claim to be civilised and governed by the law."
Ultimately, this was a kill operation, a straightforward assassination of America's most wanted terrorist. As the Telegraph reported, "[Osama] would have had to have been naked for them to allow him to surrender".
But the last word goes to Mary Ridell, who pointed out that: "The Archbishop is right to speak out... Right-thinking people are entitled to feel uneasy when any human, even one as hideous as Bin Laden, is the subject of summary justice." ·
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