bin Laden

May 2, 2011 • 4:25 am

As President Obama announced last night, Osama bin Laden was killed after a firefight at his compound in Pakistan.  Coincidentally, it happened while I was reading Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which details the evolution of Islamic terrorism beginning with the writings of Sayyid Qutb in the 1950s. (For those who claim, by the way, that bin Laden’s motivations were purely political and anti-imperialistic rather than religious, this book will dispel that notion.)

bin Laden’s body was buried at sea, supposedly in accord with “Islamic custom,” which I take to mean that he was shrouded and bathed, though he could hardly have been buried, as that custom also dictates, facing Mecca.  Clearly the burial was designed to prevent his grave from becoming a kind of holy site for terrorist sympathizers.

Now I am not a birther, and I’m certain that Obama is not lying (the body was said to have been identified by DNA), but are we supposed to go solely on our government’s word here?  Could they at least release a photograph (which, of course, many wouldn’t accept as genuine anyway), or the results of the DNA tests?  For me, at least, some evidence would settle the matter.

And the sight of Americans driving around Washington, D.C., honking their horns and shouting “USA! USA!” is unseemly and embarrassing.  bin Laden was a vicious criminal who killed many innocent people, and his death does constitute a type of justice.  I would have preferred a trial—although its outcome would have been inevitable—rather than execution, but there was presumably no choice. [Updates: Reuters notes that the object of the American mission was to kill bin Laden rather than capture him.]  But his summary execution was a necessary evil, not an excuse for a party.

159 thoughts on “bin Laden

  1. I’m get to see a video clip in which he admits knowing about these attacks in advance. I’ve seen the one video but honestly I cannot convince myself that is the same person, I’ve seen a more convincing look-alike.

    But on to the subject matter. I want to see evidence too. The US government would not be as incompetent as to state this as a fact and expect everyone to just take their word for it.

    1. Another thing that doesn’t go down well with me is the fact that this massive piece of news comes immediately after Libya are complaining about an illegal assassination attempt on their leader.

      A good day to bury bad news!

  2. Jerry,
    Thank you for making such a critical point, almost certain to be lost: his death was a necessary evil. No matter what evil he did (and it was certainly a lot), rejoicing over anyone’s death seems improper. It’s like going to war with joy: it diminishes our own character. If we have to go to war, it should be with a heavy heart that such action is deemed necessary. I’m glad a terrorist mastermind is dead, but I’m not glad his death was necessary.

    1. “rejoicing over anyone’s death seems improper”

      Bin Laden, the mastermind/criminal/mass-murderer stopped being a real person to the USA years ago.

      Americans, I think, are not celebrating the death of Bin Laden the person so much as they are celebrating the death of what Bin Laden represents.

      If I’m wrong, and we are, in fact, celebrating the death of his person, I’m fine with that, too, and do not see the need to bring nuance to the elimination of a person whose continuing mission it was to add to his already high body count.

      Now, had you said it was the American triumphalism that you found unseemly, I would not disagree.

      1. > Bin Laden, the
        > mastermind/criminal/mass-
        > murderer stopped being a real
        > person to the USA years ago.

        I don’t understand what it means to be ‘not a real person’. Does it mean that he should have been denied human rights or that he became a larger-than-life monster that people didn’t regard as a real person? Or something else?

          1. Yes, that’s the context I was referring to and operating within. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

      2. “Americans, I think, are not celebrating the death of Bin Laden the person so much as they are celebrating the death of what Bin Laden represents. ”

        In that case, their celebrations are premature.

    2. if they buried him so quick why didnt they bury his son that got killed the u.s is following islamic tradition why didnt they do it for his son or the other islamic people killed

    3. Evil? What do you mean by evil? It is a loaded term & frankly should not be used by anyone other than religious people. I suggest the following book as a place to start –
      The Myth of Evil by Philip Cole;

      1. I disagree. While the concept of “evil” may be vague, I don’t think it is necessarily a term the religious own. It is only religous if you consider evil to be a separate supernatural force in the universe, and not just the result of human actions.
        Whether you call “evil” or “immorality”, it is still an important concept.

  3. I’m sure a photograph would have been as iconic for some as a burial site. And birther mentality being a widespread phenomenon, any documentary evidence would have been as easily dismissed. After all millions believe the contents of Biblical third-hand accounts of Jesus, and disbelieve the moon-landing.

  4. bin Laden was certainly motivated by *both* politics and religion. But the usual problem is the political motivations are what gets denied – see any statement by Bush for instance. Can you tell me who it is that claims religion played no part? Thanks.

    1. For suicide bombings in general, this argument has been made by University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape (see here), and I heard it just two weeks ago from another Chicago colleague. The argument is that the foundational motivations of Islamic terrorism are political and have little or nothing to do with religion. Wright’s book shows the opposite, at least for bin Laden and his followers. I find it odd that people can dismiss religion so lightly when for many of the faithful it’s far more important than politics. It’s almost as if there is no amount of evidence that could convince the “political-motivators” of a largely religious motivation (and believe me, there is plenty of religious motivation in the case of bin Laden and his followers).

      This idea comes, I think, from accommodationist ideas that religion can’t be responsible for the evils of the world: it must always be something like politics, imperialism, disenfranchisement, poverty or the like.

      But I really don’t want to get into an argument about this right now.

      1. Not good to pigeonhole, though. I work with a devout Muslim who is quite pleased at Bin Laden’s death

        What is more concerning to me is the mindless obsession with OBL for the past 10 years. Multiple expensive bloody wars, trampling of freedom, all in the name of a two bit criminal who got lucky… once.

      2. It truly is an absurdity when you think about it.

        On the one hand, we’re told that religious beliefs are deeply important to those that hold them, and that we should show restraint in criticism – restraint that isn’t necessary for criticism of political views.

        Yet these beliefs, so supremely important in a religious person’s life, are never the real motivation for any bad behavior. No problem blaming politics, though.

        Of course, religious beliefs still get full credit for good behavior, even when there’s no strong correlation, as with abolitionism in the 19th century United States (not to mention the completely ignored negative correlation of Bible-quoting pro-slavery folks).

      3. OK, I read the link to Pape. Haven’t seen his research of course, but it would be incredible if religion didn’t play a big role not only in the thinking of suicide bombers, but how their actions were manifested. You know all this of course. But the other stuff he says doesn’t rely on religion not being part of the problem. Take out all his denial of religion as a cause, and what’s left is pretty on the button, both as a motivator for these people and as a means of reducing future violence.

        You can’t leave out religion, but you just can’t leave out the politics either. We’re occupying their countries, for goodness sake. If that happened here, we’d all become Ronald “lock and load” Reagan before you could say “where’s my oil”, but when the shoe is on the other foot, we can’t seem to understand the effect our actions have. See my comment to Garnetstar below for more.

    2. I’ve seen it all over that religion didn’t play a part (can’t pull up all the videos and articles where it’s been said, there are way too many. I believe that Chris Hedges is one such, and that his debate with Sam Harris illustrated that.)

      The point is, no matter how politically motivated, it was religion that motivated the form that bin Laden’s actions took. He was quite explicit about his holy war on the Great Satan.

      His articulated political goals were–what exactly? That the American army base in Mecca be removed leave Mecca, to eliminate Israel (though that seemed more motivated by his anti-Semitism), and etc.

      It seems to be not facing reality to deny the role of religion in Islamic terrorism.

      1. Surely the simple recognition should be that in many parts of the world there is not the differentiation you get in the West between politics and religion, so that in the case of bin Ladin there is small point in trying to distinguish the political intentions from the religious ones in order to say which played the greater part. Basically, they are one.

      2. Garnetstar, as said to Robert Fisk in 1998, bin Laden’s stated reasons for attacking the US (his former employer) were the US base in Mecca, that the US supports Israel oppression in Palestine despite it claiming to be neutral, and the hundreds of thousands of deaths the sanctions caused in Iraq in the 1990’s. He also said his goal was to topple corrupt Arab regimes (particularly Saudi Arabia) and the reason for attacking the US was to provoke a huge over reaction in the mid-East that would radicalize more Arabs to his cause.

        These are mostly political motivations, with only the first related directly to religion. Religion is more like the gasoline poured on the flames. He’s a bat-shit crazy religious nutter, yes, but without real injustices to ground his crusade, there’d be little for this fuel to burn.

        Someone else commented that it’s pretty impossible to separate the political from the religious in this case and I agree with that. But both were needed to result in the terrible crimes of bin Laden. Take away one and the other is not enough on it’s own.

        So what to do? The US can’t control people’s religion, but it can control it’s own actions, i.e it’s foreign policy, it’s politics. Rather than enable new bin Ladens in the future, can we not try something different?

        1. No one says we couldn’t or shouldn’t try something different. But, read Sam Harris, there are no Buddhist suicide bombers or jihadists, despite the most vicious political occupation and suppression of Tibet by the Chinese.

          Bin Laden’s and other Islamists’ religion directed the form of their response, i.e. martyrdom and jihad. One could hardly fancy that people would be OK with killing themselves unless their religion approved of and encouraged it.

          It is their religion that makes them so dangerous, not their politics. Once you have sincerely fooled yourself that god has ordered it, you will do anything. Genocide, infanticide, anything.

          Just ask William Lane Craig.

          1. read Sam Harris, there are no Buddhist suicide bombers or jihadists

            But suicide bombing was invented by the Tamil Tigers, who were not religiously motivated. And Japanese kamikaze pilots were not motivated by religion in the usual sense of the word. Rabid nationalism can also work as a motivation.

          2. The Tamils are Hindus, and their holy books can also be twisted to tell them that they should kill:


            The kamikaze pilots certainly were spurred on by religion, by whatever form of Buddhism (? or whatever) was pushed on them to assure them that suicide was good because they’d be rewarded, or by their worshiping the emperor as a god.

          3. It was not Buddhism, but a manufactured religion, State Shinto, which basically gave a religious imprimatur to extreme nationalism, and the poor boys who were ordered to become kamikaze pilots were in many cases far from wanting to kill themselves; what motivations they had were much the same as the British pilots in the Battle of Britain who set off in the knowledge that they were very likely to be killed.

          4. Sorry, but many say we shouldn’t try something different, which is obvious in that we never have. Obama is little different than Bush, nor Bush different from Clinton in this regard.

            As a gnu atheist, I’ve read all of Sam’s work and agree completely that their religion is a huge part of their being and their reactions to the world. No problem at all with that.

            So again, what to do? “It is their religion that makes them so dangerous, not their politics.” No, it’s both. If there a crazy guy in a tree with a bazooka, do you throw a rock at him? Maybe one guy you can take out. But there’s a billion Muslims or so, do we nuke them all? The morality of it aside, I say it is impossible to deal with a threat that large with violence. Or do we maybe finally end out oil addiction (the easy reserves are running out anyway), and leave them alone.

          5. I do favor a better foreign policy. The current one has never been successful,not to mention how it oppresses millions, so let’s get on with something else.

            The only thing to do about extremist people whose religions teach them that it’s the supreme virtue to kill the infidels is what many Gnus have suggested, a sort of Muslim Enlightenment. Their leaders would have to argue for more moderate, liberal interpretations of their holy book, just as christianity has done.

            Not much we can do about hastening that. But, how about that vast Muslim majority who don’t speak out to condemn the extremists making their displeasure more known?

          6. OK, we seem to be largely in agreement. Will just add that while we may not be able to hasten their enlightenment, we are able to retard it, so a different politics that avoids this clearly has to be the next step.

  5. Osama may be dead. But it will still be Long live terrorism. Americas obsession with him will not remove terror. Even now perpetrators of attack on Mumbai move openly and nothing is done. I do not think the war can be won by selective targets. This almost appears to finding needle in the haystack others remain unlike the Iraq’s WMD. The war on terror can only be won only after all the religious countries are converted to secular state. Till then the war will continue and these theocracies will continue to shut reason, logic and human values to kill all who oppose them. They will usher the new millennia of dark ages if not the death of Human beings . I think ironically it will be tragic truimph of Darwinism

  6. According to a poll on this morning, out of about 14 thousand people, 20% answered ‘No’, to the question “Do you believe Osama bin Laden is dead?” (they didn’t offer the option “has been dead for years”).

    The poll was up for only a few hours and has now been replaced by the question:
    “Are you surprised that Osama bin Laden was found and killed?” (with a more 50/50 result)

  7. I am having trouble “celebrating”. I would have preferred a trial. I’m sure there would have been many problems with a trial and his imprisonment, but that’s the way we do things in a civilized society. I cannot be happy that anyone has been killed.

    If finding him was the reason for the US to go to war in Aphganistan, does that mean the war is over?

    I liked the President’s speech last night until he mentioned god about 5 times in less than a minute. Ugh.

    Something good should come out of this.

    1. The problem is that a trial would have brought out all the legal and moral issues around US handling of detainees and magnified them about a billion times. And any trial and incarceration would have provided a ripe target for more terrorism. I too am enough of a believer in liberal democratic principles to be queasy about assassination (which this most definitely was), but I can understand the coldly pragmatic view that this was the only option.

      1. I look forward to the day when we, as a nation, cease being intellectually dishonest with ourselves. Probably not within my lifetime.

    2. I’m fairly certain a big motivation was that Osama’s testimony would have been embarrasing / damaging to his former employer, the CIA.

      I’m about 30 minutes from Florence Colorado, and I would have been delighted if he had been captured and imprisoned for life there. Much better than turning him into a martyr, IMHO. Too bad about those skeletons in our closet.

  8. “And the sight of Americans driving around Washington, D.C., honking their horns and shouting “USA! USA!” is unseemly and embarrassing. bin Laden was a vicious criminal who killed many innocent people, and his death does constitute a type of justice.”

    I’m not a big fan of out and out killing someone. I don’t think it ever solves anything. But a trial would have been a farce. And Bush’s “bring him to justice” statements were just too Orwellian for me.

    I don’t believe in a faked death conspiracy. Nobody in the Islamic world is disputing that he is dead. You’d still have people claiming “fake” even if you had his head on a pike. How long does it take to get DNA results, again?

    I was also disappointed in the revisionist history in Obama’s speech last night. This did not “all begin on September 11, 2001,” with an unprovoked attack. I’m pretty sure that Obama is not that ignorant of our history in the region. But, I guess, the important thing is where we go from here. Can we bring about a better world from this episode?

    I don’t feel any safer yet.

    1. While I agree that a trial would have been most problematic — not in the least because it immediately raises the question of why all the other Al Qaida captives aren’t being given trials — I would have found it far preferable to summary execution.

      Even if somebody were to walk into the Supreme Court, open fire, and then lay on the ground while shouting a detailed confession, we would still expect the rule of law to be followed despite the clear and incontestable guilt of the shooter.

      Besides which, all but the most barbaric regimes have abolished the death penalty. That the US has not should be a point of national shame. That the US military regularly carries out summary executions of specific individuals, including by means of remote-controlled robots, should set your blood boiling.


      1. Thanks, Ben. Is there “international law” or isn’t there? If we ever want a better world, we need to stop thinking revenge = justice.

        At least Illinois has abolished the death penalty. And with an amazing amount of trepidation, considering our generally liberal status.

    2. ” How long does it take to get DNA results, again?”

      I would assume they made sure there was the appropriate DNA testing gear on board the Navy ship off of which Osama was dumped in the sea.

      For all I know they might carry that stuff normally, in case an American sailor’s body needs to be identified.

  9. Supporting the Afghani rebels against soviet russia and training them in guerilla warfare backfired didn’t it ?

    Supporting the Libyan rebels is I believe the right thing to do. Picture proves they are the good guys.

    (Just looking for an excuse to post a kitteh picture here)

  10. The entire raid was probably videotaped, so they may be able to release photos is they deem it necessary. If bin Laden’s head is in any condition to be recognized.

    I wonder how they got a control sample of bin Laden’s DNA for comparison? Of course, a DNA result won’t “prove” the killing anyway. Soon the Right will latch on to the meme that Obama was lying for political gain.

    1. “I wonder how they got a control sample of bin Laden’s DNA for comparison?”
      They don’t need an original sample of his own DNA – they probably have samples taken from his relatives (I think he was the seventeenth child of his father so a brother or two might have been utilized.) I think he also has children who are not in hiding so a sample from one or more of them could be sufficient.
      As for timing to get a result from a DNA test – I’d have guessed you would be looking at a day or so (considering you would have to take the blood sample to the laboratory, extract the DNA, run the PCR and run it through the analysis instumentation.) The raid happened at about 18.00 GMT so I’m guessing there wouldn’t have been enough time to get a DNA confirmation by the time the public announcement of bin ladens death was made.

      1. This, in combination with the “burial at sea” has got my bull**** meter on maximum.

        No body, no pictures, DNA confirmation in less than 24 hours starting from a Pakistan raid — are they joking???

        1. I saw something on CNN that the US military are currently doing the DNA test – so its not confirmed yet. They are going to look pretty silly if it turns out to be the wrong guy.

      2. Yeah, I was wondering about that. Do they seriously have a forensics lab with PCR etc. out on an aircraft carrier? And started running the samples as soon as the helicopter landed? CSI U.S.S. Whatever, I guess…

        1. They probably could have put that gear onboard, in preparation for the operation.

          The ship likely has a small lab, along with their other medical facilities. With several thousand people packed on board, you’d want to be able to do cultures and such. So there’d likely be the required other gear that might be useful.

          Conceivably they could have something as standard equipment, for identifying personnel (for example, someone burned beyond recognition in a fire or explosion).

    2. “If bin Laden’s head is in any condition to be recognized.”

      Given that he was shot in the head (double tap?) by a SEAL team I think that is highly unlikely.

    3. They probably have a DNA sample on file, taken off a champagne flute, from a Bush family cocktail party.

  11. The missing body reminds me of another story that hasn’t gone away for 2,000 years…

    If events occurred roughly as described it might have been smarter to take the DNA sample & leave the corpse in situ. Hand the diplomatic mess-to-come to Pakistan & OBL’s ISI buddies (but that’s just my quick reaction ~ I guess the U.S.A has had weeks to think this through)

    1. The problem is that it is clearly not the ISI alone who are Osama’s buddies. He cannot have lived where he did for so long without the connivance and cooperation of people in important positions in the Pakistani government, civil service and military.
      And for the record, although it is not something I should want to do, I understand why people should celebrate B-L’s death.

      1. “the U.S.A has had weeks to think this through”

        I’m fairly sure they had thought this through, almost a decade ago!

  12. Bizarre comments here.

    Not fans of killing people? It was a surgical strike. He resisted. He was killed.

    And it seems overly precious to bemoan some celebration in NYC. That event cut a lot of people to the bone. It’s not like the people celebrating are filled with bloodlist. Just relief and closure.

    It will be interesting to see what we do in Afghanistan now. I have no appetite for nation building.

    1. > Not fans of killing people? It was
      > a surgical strike. He resisted. He
      > was killed.

      And it’s always a shame when anyone is killed. Recognising the necessity or inevitability or just the reality of a death doesn’t have to imply approval of killing in general or of any death in particular.

      > And it seems overly precious to
      > bemoan some celebration in NYC.
      > That event cut a lot of people
      > to the bone. It’s not like the
      > people celebrating are filled
      > with bloodlist. Just relief and
      > closure.

      What has been relieved? What has closed? I wonder if people are celebrating the death of a bogeyman rather than something actually worthy of celebration such as people not being killed any more.

      1. No matter what is closed or resolved or who is benefited, the Republicans will continue to push the meme that we should all be afraid (of as many things as possible). That is their main weapon in their hold on political power.

      2. It is NOT “always a shame when someone is killed”.

        It is a shame that people who do evil to others are ever born.

        Failing that, wishing griefers off the planet is the best we can do.

        1. > It is NOT “always a shame
          > when someone is killed”.
          > It is a shame that people
          > who do evil to others are
          > ever born.

          Perhaps we mean different things by “shame”.

      1. I’d give more credence to a non-anonymous source.

        Elsewhere a “national security official” told a reporter that Bin Laden was killed by a drone, which was completely wrong.

  13. As to UBL’s death, if he were indeed alive, don’t you imagine he’d thumb his nose at the USA in a day or two? I’d be the farm, and all the cows on it, it’s the real deal.
    Which brings up the point, if you become a international figure who is as notorious as UBL, be sure your compound includes series of escape tunnels. Walls are good and all that but they keep people in as well as out. Really poor design choices for the son of a construction magnate.

  14. Heard about this last night before I clocked out. Still have no idea what I’m supposed to say or feel about it.

    Say Mr. President, would it be to much to ask that the partners and spouses of lbg service members be recognized?

    1. “Say Mr. President, would it be to much to ask that the partners and spouses of lbg service members be recognized?”

      They are. Did you not notice that lbg service members are allowed to have partners now? Spouses is probably too much to ask, at the moment, given Republican opposition to Federal recognition of same-sex spouses.

    1. ‘I don’t know…he kills us, we kill him. Where does it stop?’

      Is this a sophisticated reaction? Are what bin Laden did and what the US did reciprocal?

      A more accurate wording would be “He masterminded an act of terrorism that killed thousands of innocent people, then we killed him.”

      I’d say it stops at the point where people have been held accountible for their actions.

      1. “Is this a sophisticated reaction?”

        Yes. It is sophisticated both for a nine year old, and in comparison to the chest-thumping ‘team america’ responses of both myself and may other adults. At least it shows some reflection.

        “Are what bin Laden did and what the US did reciprocal?”

        No. I’m not sad that bin laden is dead. He’s a bad man who did bad things, and his bad actions (and bad real estate decisions) ultimately led to his death. Killing him wasn’t bad, but our individual and national reaction to his death is worth examining, and is certainly at least dubious.

        1. Your reaction, according to your blog entry, did show reflection. This part alone shows more reflection than your son:

          “I know Bin Laden committed great evil, deserved to die, and was a bad force in the world, but I am cautious to put too much emotional investment in culturally approved hate-objects.”

          Does your son have this understanding? It sounds like he thinks that the killing bin Laden did and the killing the US did were equal. That’s not sophisticated at all. Not to rag on a nine-year old, but there’s no evidence that his thoughts on this matter can be held up as exemplary next to an adult’s. “Live and let live” is a nice storybook philosophy, but it entails not holding people responsible for the murder of thousands of innocents. That’s not really the world I want to live in.

          1. My son’s understanding of the complexity of global politics and moral issues will no doubt deepen as he gets older.

            He said he didn’t know how he felt about Bin Laden being killed, and then made a statement recognizing the way the cycle of violence works. That’s hardly an endorsement of a ‘live and let live’ worldview. It is, however, something that many adults don’t seem to understand.

            I didn’t probe him very deeply on the issue. I thought I’d ask him what he thought, and was impressed that he had a more mature appreciation for the situation than many adults I had seen, and certainly more sophisticated than my initial response of ‘I’m glad that guy is dead’.

            When he gets off the elementary school bus, I’ll let him know that you find his worldview wanting, and will have him write a detailed treatise on the whole situation.

            Or, maybe I’ll just give him a hug, tell him I love him, and help him with his homework.

          2. Oh please. First you present your son’s moral sophistication as something on the level of an adult’s, and then when I criticize his ideas as if he were an adult, you play the “but he’s just a kid” card.

            I was hoping you weren’t going to play that game.

            I would never dismiss someone’s ideas just because they were a child. If someone has a good idea, I’d like to hear it, regardless of how old they are. But don’t present something as an unqualified good idea, and then only after you’re met with criticism, qualify it as being good “for a nine-year-old.”

            I can’t speak for your particular “I’m glad that guy’s dead” response, but did you consider the possibility that the other people who have that response already considered the “cycle of violence” that your son did, and decided that, yes, bin Laden being out of commission is still a good thing that we can be happy about?

          3. I’m not playing any card. The point of my post was to lay out the way that I came to understand the issue of Bin Laden’s death and popular reaction to it from a different angle, and it was spurred by my son’s comment.
            I do believe his reaction was more sophisticated than a lot of adults that I’ve seen, and I explained how that works in the comments above. I’m making no claim that somehow I’m raising the royal tennenbaums over here; I’m aware of the mediocrity principle.

            But I’m proud of my son’s realization that violence begets violence. That is mature. Definitely more mature than the attitude exemplified the ‘idiot america’ that PZ Myers describes in his post on this subject, “which is also Fearful America, which is also Paranoid America, which is also Solve-Our-Problems-With-A-Gun America.”

    2. I wonder when I will stop hearing from parents how very wise their children are.. even on matters which require a lot of worldly experience. In India where I come from, there’s even a saying that roughly translates to “A child’s word is equivalent to Brahma’s(the God) word”, and I learnt that in school.

      1. If a nine-year-old has the worldly wisdom to have great insight into war and peace, who are you to object?

        Did you manage to learn anything else in school?

        1. your wisecrack about school learning aside, you do realize that I am not objecting to the 9-year old from having the insight and offering it, but to the parents from projecting a trivially arrived at thought as a sophisticated notion (one that typically takes all things into consideration).

          1. So you know that’s a trivially arrived-at thought? And your thoughts on the matter are of course sophisticated and take all things into consideration.

            You don’t seem to have learned the dangers and futility of arrogance.

          2. Based on the minimal information presented in the post and the comment, and the general level of education of a 9-year old in such matters, thats all I can conclude.

            I didnt even offer a position on the main issue, let alone a sophisticated one. So dude, cool it.. you are the one who’s getting all arrogant and making personal attacks.

          3. You come to conclusions with knowledge of only a minimal amount of the facts?

            I hope you’re not a scientist.

            (“Dude”? Another arrogant assumption.)

          4. Linguistic point of interest: “dude” has nothing to do with gender when used as a discourse marker.

            Non-linguistic point of interest: This argument is stupid. Whether Spencer’s son’s thoughts were “trivially arrived at” or not, they were not very sophisticated as compared to what adults are capable of. Astrokid is objecting to Spencer’s portrayel of those thoughts as if they were. Garnetstar is… interested in arguing, apparently.

          5. Tim, you continue to misunderstand me. My point wasn’t that my son is operating at a level more advanced than your average adult, my point is that many average adults fail to appreciate the gravity of inter-species conflict. It’s not that my son is operating so far above his level, it’s that many adults are operating so far below their potential.

            And you invented this argument, so I find it amusing that you find it stupid.

    3. > The ‘USA! USA!’ thing is very
      > unseemly, but it’s something we
      > have in common with our enemies.

      Do you mean “but” or “and”?

  15. “Look, nobody enjoys shooting penguins. But if you have to shoot penguins, well, you might as well enjoy it.”

  16. I haven’t read the comments, since I have so much else to do just now, but I did want to say how much I appreciate this judgement. I was troubled when I heard of dancing in the streets. Whether an enemy or not, this still resembles the kind of thing that happened on the Arab street after 9/11, and it was unlovely then. Dancing at the death of your enemies, no matter how dastardly, is an inappropriate response for a civilised people, and those who joined in the dancing should be ashamed, in my view. Much better to consider it an act of justice done — though taking him alive would have been a better thing to have done, if it had been possible — and go on with life, safe in the knowledge that one of the chief person’s responsible for the 9/11 outrage was now dead, and that the promise to hunt him down has been fulfilled.

    1. Dancing at the death of your enemies, no matter how dastardly, is an inappropriate response for a civilised people…

      A number of people whose opinions I respect are saying this, but I don’t quite understand it. Sure, I find it strange that some people are so filled with mirth over bin Laden’s death. I’m an American, but the guy’s death doesn’t directly benefit me in any way. I suppose it’s a good thing that he’s out of commission, but the thought doesn’t make me want to celebrate.

      Still, if it did, why would that be worth criticism?

      1. I think so, especially since so many American rightly condemned the dancing in the Arab street after the 9/11 atrocity. It sends the wrong message, which should be a measured sense of justice done.

        1. I think what you’re saying is that celebrating the death of the enemy is a bad thing, right?

          But saying that “it sends the wrong message” seems to just put a name to it without really explaining why it’s a problem. The message “should be a measured sense of justice done”? Where do you get that ought from? And if someone’s response isn’t a measured one, how is that so bad as to warrant the term “uncivilized”?

          1. I suppose it depends on if you are a humanist or not. Can a true humanist feel pleasure at the demise of another person?

            Clearly the people expressing American triumphalism are not doing something that they think is wrong. I would say that they are reacting without thinking, probably because they are politically right-wing & jingoistic. You might think them naïve or say they are expressing an unsophisticated view. If I were to say that I might be thought to be arrogant & making a pretence of superiority, & I confess that do I find such behaviour vulgar.

            Nonetheless, I am not prepared to stand in judgement. We should accept that it is a deeply rooted human emotion, to feel joy at the death of an enemy. Recall the famous words of Genghis Khan – “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”

          2. It does seem to be a natural human response under certain circumstances.

            However, I don’t think most of the people here are feeling “pleasure at the demise of another.” You must be very specific here. What we find enjoyable is that bin Laden is no longer going to be seeking to harm us. That is what is good and happifying about this. The fact that a particular sentient bundle of atoms has ceased to exist is not what makes my day any brighter.

      2. It’s well accepted that the Clinton administration’s policy of sanctions against Iraq resulted in the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.

        Would a mass celebration of Clinton’s murder by Iraqi citizens seem somewhat perverse to you? It sure would to me, even though I regard Clinton as a criminal (with a far higher death toll than bin Laden).

        1. I know nothing about that issue, so I’m afraid my answer won’t be as concrete as it should be.

          Clinton’s moral culpability would reasonably be based on what his intents were, and how clear-cut the causual relationship was between action and consequence. IF the predicted effects of Clinton’s policies were so clear-cut that it would be like he was signing a death warrant for those .5 million children, and if he was fully aware of this and proceeded anyway, and if he was not enacting some much greater good through those negative consequences, then I see no reason why his policies wouldn’t be deserving of harsh condemnation. And, if that were the case, I see no reason why Clinton shouldn’t share some responsibility for those deaths. And if someone killed him as retribution for that, I would hardly find it perverse for Iraqis to be happy about it.

          This is, again, all dependent on the assumption that what Clinton was anything like what bin Laden did, which I doubt it was. But if it was, I don’t see how you can claim that celebration is uncivilized.

  17. I, for one, will not miss him.

    Will his death “solve” anything? Well, it solved the problem of “what to do about bin Laden”, that’s for sure.

    I was in New York on 9/11; close enough to the towers to see it, smell it, hear it. The train station I took into the city every day was littered with at least a half-dozen cars whose owners did not return to claim them that day or ever. These were my neighbors. And yes, I blame him.

    I am unalterably opposed to capital punishment, and if bin Laden had been captured alive and brought to the US for trial, I would have opposed the death penalty for him.

    But at present, there’s more than a small feeling of relief that he’s dead. That doesn’t make me hypocritical, unethical or immoral — just human.

  18. I don’t think I’ll shed any tears for Bin Laden. I doubt whether his death is going to improve the terrorism situation, though. He seems to have been out of the loop for a while.

    Of course, it seems obvious that he’s had been helped by powerful people within Pakistan, who (for whatever reason) have only now given him up.

  19. his summary execution was a necessary evil

    No. His summary execution was a necessary good. Machiavelli’s chapter on “How Princes Should Keep the Faith” is not about leaders adhering to fixed moral precepts, but rather adapting to necessities and acting as a “fox or a lion” accordingly.

    In practice, I doubt that any of us could improve on the description of Obama’s actions as they were described by my (Muslim) wife to a four-year-old who asked what the news we were watching meant:

    “There was a bad man that hurt and killed a lot of people, so Obama caught him and killed him and threw him into the sea.”

    It’s as simple as that. These actions were good and in no way evil. And Obama “kept the faith” in a way praiseworthy by Machiavelli.

    Obama also did the right thing (contra Harris) emphasizing that this isn’t a war against Islam, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    1. I am against the death penalty. I am also not sure that killing him was the best option, if avoidable. If caught alive he might be the source of valuable information.
      That said, I can’t really compare the Americans cheering his death to the palestinians celebrating on 9/11.
      What the palestinians were celebrating was the indiscriminate killing of thousands of people. What people in DC and New York were celebrating was the killing of one mass murderer. The two are not the same.

    2. Yeah, I take issue with the portrayal of this as evil. Apparently, it’s immoral to do bad things, and it’s immoral to punish people for doing bad things?! That doesn’t seem like the scales of justice are at all balanced.

      Is it mainly the killing of bin Laden that people here have a problem with? I agree that capture would have been best, but I also think that IF taking him dead meant that there was less chance of the troops capturing him coming to serious harm, then I’m all for it.

      1. Agreed. I thought my friend Alice put it into an interesting perspective:

        “If there is a man who has killed multiple people, who is holed up in his house, the police get their SWAT gear on, assault the place with guns at the ready, and demand he surrender to the authorities. If he chooses to answer with gunfire, the police will return with the same, and the murderer will end up dead. They call this “Suicide by cop”.
        Substitute Osama and Navy Seals, and you have what happened in Abbottabad, Pakistan.”

        An interesting perspective…

      2. Is death a ‘punishment’? I am not sure. Perhaps you have to be alive to be punished? In the USA you have judicial execution of people found guilty of killing in many states – even when they are innocent in some cases I have heard of (though I could not quote chapter & verse). This is a way of dealing with criminals that most civilized countries have now stopped. Either you approve of killing people or you do not.

        1. “Is death a ‘punishment’? I am not sure.”

          There’s always the moments of terror leading up to his death, as he realized the jig was up.

  20. And the sight of Americans driving around Washington, D.C., honking their horns and shouting “USA! USA!” is unseemly and embarrassing. bin Laden was a vicious criminal who killed many innocent people, and his death does constitute a type of justice.

    I wonder how many of those ‘partying’ were outraged when some people in the Middle East were similarly ‘partying’ when the towers went down.

    1. I can’t agree with you because there is no parallel between the celebrations. The celebration of the Twin Towers destruction was over the death of innocents; the celebration of bin Laden’s death was over the death of the guilty. There is no moral equation between these actions.

      1. True– but it was still damned uncomfortable to watch it on tv with my husband and Japanese in-laws. That’s not what leapt immediately to mind for them (well, for my husband, anyway–he was just thought it was, as others have said, unseemly and likely to inspire more terrorist acts). I had to point out to him that people all over the muslim world did the same thing after 9/11, making the same distinction you did (killing of thousands of innocents versus one guilty person).

      2. Perhaps I do you a disservice but that view suggests you really have no idea why the US is so disliked internationally or you do not care. I think the US government reaction has been mature & measured. The reaction of some ordinary people is understandable but unhelpful if you want to win friends & influence people as a nation.

      3. “the celebration of bin Laden’s death was over the death of the guilty”

        From the perspective of the celebrators after 9-11, they were not celebrating the murder of thousands of innocents ….

  21. I do not think it either unseemly or unnatural to feel both happiness and relief when learning of the death of someone who has done you great harm. I wouldn’t throw a party for it (nor attend one) but I can’t criticize anyone who pumps a fist and shouts “We got him!” a couple of times.

  22. I guess we’ll see what happens next. I do fear a violent knee-jerk response from the fundamentalist fringe of Islam, but I feign no prophesy for the near future.

  23. I’ve got no moral qualms about killing him. But the conspiracy theorist in me has always worried that Bin Laden served as some sort of Emmanuel Goldstein character, justifying perpetual war. Dragging him back, alive and kicking, rather than shooting him in the head and dropping him in the ocean would have helped me dispel that silly notion. Now…

  24. The actions of my compatriots reminds me of Osama’s own faithful cheering on the slaughter of thousands at the WTC and the flight which crashed at the Pentagon. People can be so blind to what beasts they are when they are filled with self-righteousness. It is good that Osama is dead and gone, but that is not the end of religiously inspired terrorism.

    1. “People can be so blind to what beasts they are when they are filled with self-righteousness.”

      When I think of the children on the planes, and what terror they must have experienced in their final moments, the difference is clear, between last night’s celebrations and the people celebrating after 9/11.

  25. Could they at least release a photograph (which, of course, many wouldn’t accept as genuine anyway), or the results of the DNA tests? For me, at least, some evidence would settle the matter.

    What evidence would be more than just symbolic? Unless you’re asking that the DNA be independently verified, I don’t see any option other than taking the government at its word.

  26. Bin Laden appears more to have been a symbol than a threat, so unless he was made a larger threat by prosecuting him, it would have been preferable.

    He did instigate civilian killings enough to warrant being a war criminal, and constraints are different from civilian death penalty so I won’t argue that this was too aggressive.

    Locally the reactions have been everything from positive acceptance (politicians) to negative criticism (terrorist experts). The later has so far raised two points:

    1. Bin Laden/Al Queda has been disempowered by US economical tactics cutting them off from their support basis.

    2. US has been disempowered by going after BL/AQ. The proponent for this is Per Jönsson of Utrikespolitiska Institutet, Scandinavia’s oldest independent foreign politics institute:

    “the hunt for bin Laden … US is but a shadow of what it was ten years ago. It has completely teared down the position of the nation in the world and the Middle East.” [My translation.]

    bin Laden’s body was buried at sea, supposedly in accord with “Islamic custom,” which I take to mean that he was shrouded and bathed,

    It is claimed to refer to burial before 24 hours after death occurred.

    1. Actually I forgot a third point from a local political (I think) representative in Afghanistan, which has positives:

      In the short term, possible instigator of violence in Afghanistan. In the long run, possibly putting pressure on war chefs that ultimately there are no safe houses to escape to.

    2. On him being merely a symbol, wasn’t he still issuing militant propaganda statements just a few months ago? We really don’t know how disconnected he was when he was shot yesterday. I also read that they recovered a goldmine of intel from his luxury compound which means there is a chance he was still involved in the network in a big way.

  27. Could they at least release a photograph (which, of course, many wouldn’t accept as genuine anyway), or the results of the DNA tests?

    It is claimed he was shot in the head, identifiable but perhaps not “presentable”.

    But mainly images have a tendency to move people; his death was enough martyr & political material as it was. I think it would have been a disservice to the public for the responsible to release such, and I think they made the same analysis.

    1. The putative fact part seems correct.

      The speculative analysis is likely shot: local papers say that the US administration is claiming it will try to put over that bin Laden is dead, I still think images would be detrimental (and DNA analysis surer).

  28. When you say he was buried at sea, supposedly in accord with “Islamic custom,” they MUST have provision in their religious rules for sailors who die at sea, surely?

    1. It is claimed by media that the ops included asking an islamic expert. Also that Saudi Arabia and other nations refused to accept burial when asked.

    2. Especially before the advent of refrigeration.

      I doubt the 15,000 Turks killed at the Battle of Lepanto were carried home stinking and decaying on deck.

  29. So now we have no international law, the USA can select someone for termination at will while transgressing the borders of an allied country (on whose authority?) In the process killing one of his children and a women. Where is due process of the law? Do we have revenge instead of justice? Are we (the West) terrorists now?

    This leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth.

    1. “God is on the side of the big battalions” – in other words realpolitik wins out over ethical politics – if ideed you can have such a thing. Perhaps it is another liberal dilemma as with Prof’s next post, damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

      1. … my point does not follow from that quotation (Napoleon), I meant to say something like ‘might is right’. Because the USA government can do it, they do do it. It has everything to do with power. Substitute China for the US & ask what the reaction would be.

      2. Inter arma enim silent lege – Cicero.

        Our enemies can kill and main us but only we ourselves can reduce our values and our humanity.

    2. I have a lot of the same feelings. I was all for a police action, arrest, trial and life imprisonment.

      Now he’s a martyr.

        1. …except that the White House is now saying the human shield story was false, and the wife wasn’t killed, but injured.

          …oh, and that Osama was not fighting back. It will be nice when the story stabilizes.

    3. Um, what, terrorists? We have the ICC that guards against war crimes, if not terrorism.

      On the other hand I doubt that they bother with such small time putative crimes.

      And of course US has not ratified ICC. Among half of the worlds nations of course. But you expect US to put out, maybe lead. Not to fail “the community”.

  30. I am curious about how Al-queda will respond to the death of their cult leader. I suspect violence will be countered with more violence ad infinitum…On a less interesting point, atleast for the meantime we will not have to suffer through anymore nonsence about a fucking wedding!

    1. I was going to correct the typos and define my position in an effort to be more clear as to my stance. Please forgive the post as I find it less than good.

  31. I both agree and disagree with Dr Coyne here. I agree that a trial would have been preferable killing bin Laden, preferably by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity (see Geoffrey Robinsons excellant book “Crimes Against Humanity” for a good explanation why). While 9/11 was his greatest atrocity, he committed and promoted crimes around the world. And while I agree that hoons driving around, honking their horns and shouting “USA! USA!” is unseemly, I disagree that bin Laden’s death is not a cause for celebration. He was afterall, a spectacularly evil man, and the world is a better place now that he is dead (presumably – I share Dr Coyne’s reserved scepticism regarding the matter.) Now they just need to get al Zawahiri, who is probably even more dangerous that Bin Laden was.

    1. Then I asked again are we the West terrorists now? If not why do we flout international law.

  32. “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” — Martin Luther King, Jr

  33. This Globe and Mail article was mentioned on a Canadian blog

    See especially the enigmatic last sentence :

    ‘”Eight hours and about 35 tweets later, the confirmation came: “Osama Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Mr. Athar reported. “There goes the neighbourhood.”’

    Cross posted on

  34. The news media should have held off on showing all the people acting like complete morons. I’m all for going outside and waving the flag around, and even cheering, but they seemed to find the biggest morons in the crowd and focus on them. It’s a wonderful day of justice for America, but when your on national television tone it down just a bit.

  35. Wouldn’t have wanted an Osama bin Laden circus at Guantánamo, & such a prisoner there would cement Congress’s refusal to give Obama funds to close the place. Trials & reviews thereof are the purpose of our system, but a trial of ObL would take years to plan. Unfortunately, for the last 10 years we have planned only his death. How could we legally pick up a person in Pakistan, without Pakistani permission, and bring him to the US? Think only an international court would be proper, & we haven’t agreed to be full participants in the ICC.

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