Osama Bin Laden ‘Dead’: Justice or Revenge…?

In the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama had this to say to the nation, after the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s ‘death’ on the 2nd May 2011:

“Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history.  The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts…

…And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network…” (See full transcript at http://www.newstatesman.com/2011/05/bin-laden-qaeda-pakistan-war)

Without a doubt, it was well delivered and appeals to human emotion to understand why he, Osama Bin Laden, had to die and makes it very clear that it was under his (Barack Obama) direction, that it happened.

That Osama Bin Laden is really dead, is suspect, taking into account that:

– No pictures of him, or rather his corpse have been made available, instead what we have are endless photographs of his compound- which to me doesn’t make sense considering that he is the main story, not his compound. Even if photos weren’t taken at the scene, surely when the body hit American soil, it would or rather should have been done;

– It has been reported that DNA results from the tests conducted on ‘his’ corpse prove that it was indeed Osama Bin Laden, yet these results have not been made available for verification by any independent organisation or anyone for that matter and

– With elections approaching and Obama’s popularity dwindling as it is, there is nothing that could endear him more to the American people, than capturing ‘that monster, who dared to shed American blood’.

There are many more suspect matters surrounding this ‘death’, yet for the purpose of this piece; I shall accept that he is dead and question his death, which to me amounts to nothing more than murder.

As many celebrate his death, talking about how “he had it coming” and “deserved what he got”, I feel that justice has been subverted, in favour of revenge- which is what this comes to. The man was murdered because he is believed to have murdered, nothing more. There is no doubt that, it can be and has been argued that murderers deserve to be killed, but I believe that responding in this way doesn’t serve justice as it degrades society by making us no different to the criminal.

Osama Bin Laden, like every other human being, should have been brought to face the full might of the law. He should have been captured, charged and as prescribed by The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he should have had “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favour and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” The appropriate sentence would have been handed out thereafter.

Merely killing him, just leaves too many questions- questions that will never be answered because the man never stood trial, questions which raise great doubt about his murder being justice served.

These questions include:

– Was he really guilty for the heinous September 11th attacks? Anyone can claim responsibility, it brings about respect from some and your name creates fear- which would make it worthwhile for some folk;

– The authenticity of the tapes in which he took responsibility for the attacks, has never been verified beyond reasonable doubt. With the amount of technological resources available, it is possible to create a taped confession that never took place;

– Was he forced, coerced or paid to make the tapes in which he took responsibility for the attacks? It has never been ruled out that he was possibly under some sort of threat, forcing him to take responsibility for the attacks- or that he was not bought to do it, people have done worse for money. As far fetched as force may sound, it happens. We in South Africa also experienced it under the apartheid regime, when many were forced to confess to crimes they did not commit.

We also cannot ignore that America needed someone to blame for the attacks, not knowing would have created an intense fear amongst its’ citizens, the kind of fear that could potentially have done great harm. It also would have created serious doubt about the government’s ability to secure its people, something which would have seriously dented America’s hegemon status, if it had been allowed to happen. As such, there’s no doubt that it was in the American governments’ best interests that someone claimed responsibility.

Justice is a recurrent theme in all Human Rights declarations and I believe that, just as the sun shines on us all- good and bad alike- so too should justice, which is something reflected by the U.S. Declaration of Independence which proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” So why was Bin Laden murdered- which was retribution and not justice? After all, he too was a human being, irrespective of what he may or may not have done. It is made all the more shocking by the fact that the birth and recognition of human rights are things mostly accredited to America, especially with the 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” drafted largely by Eleanor Roosevelt having confirmed this accreditation.

There is no doubt that some disagree with my view and believe his murder to be justice. However, if that is truly the case, why are they not calling for the murders of other mass murderers. Many like Robert Mugabe, George Bush and the many arms traffickers who supply the arms that kill millions of people, have much blood on their hands, why the silence about it…? If retribution is indeed justice, one would expect calls for it to be applied consistently to such criminals. Why should other mass murderers, like Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, get to stand trial? If retribution is justice, just kill them.

All who believe that Osama Bin Laden’s death is justice, but fail to call for justice in the cases of other mass murderers, are guilty of believing that American lives are more valuable than other lives or else, why would they seek justice for the loss of American lives, but not for others, like the thousands of Zimbabweans who have died as a direct result of Robert Mugabe’s actions. A lack of wanting to see it applied to all mass murderers merely shows they have more of an interest in “the American dream”, than the quest to actually have justice served…

As for me, like Desmond Tutu, I believe that “to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice”, something I will neither celebrate nor play a part in. Reality is, one man’s murder will not change what happened on September 11th, nor will it bring an end to terrorism. All it does is keep the cycle of violence and revenge going- which does not do anyone any good.

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About Koketso Moeti

Mother. Campaigner. Political orphan. Blogger. Activator. Part time professional black. Liker of things. Lover of people. No sense of humour.