The Rule of Law and the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

The rule of law is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of law for any country or government. If the government that is creating the laws can’t be expected to live under their own rules, they cannot expect the citizens of that nation to have any respect for the law either. A somewhat recent case that made me think about this issue a lot was the announcement by Barack Obama that American forces under order from the president had killed Osama Bin Laden.

Upon first hearing this news I was as excited as everyone else in the room I was with. It felt like we, as a nation, were finally getting some sort of closure after 9/11 and that we had done the world a service by getting rid of that evil. I then realized that I was cheering for the death of another person, basically, which was a sobering thought and made me reconsider the situation. The act of ordering the murder of Osama Bin Laden put Barack Obama above the law of the nation, essentially breaking the rule of law in the United States. Osama Bin Laden may have deserved to die for the atrocities he had committed in his life, but under U.S. law he at least deserved due process and a trial before that decision was made.

It is alarming to see how a country like the U.S. that so strongly supports human rights and the rule of law can so quickly abandon them depending upon the political circumstances of a situation. Some people claim that there was no good alternative to killing Bin Laden, but I think that it would have been perfectly fine to send in the team to extract him, with the plan B being to take him out if anything goes wrong. Taking him to court should have been objective number one, not exacting vengeance with a single decision from the president, a decision that simultaneously undermined the rule of law in our country.

Some have argued that we could not have detained him not because it would have been a more dangerous or difficult mission, but because to give him a trial would just give him a crowd to spread his message of violence and hatred. Looking back on similar trials like Nuremberg shows that courts can control these types of proceedings and deliver swift and fair justice. There is no need to go around due process to get a result like this other than political posturing and the gratifying feeling of revenge for the American people that comes from that sort of military action.

The most difficult thing about espousing this particular view that Osama should have been detained and not killed, is that it seems almost un-American to think that way after the way in which his killing was announced and the way the American people reacted. If you act in the least bit unhappy that this happened, most people would just think that you were being an unpatriotic fool. In reality though, acting above the law and taking away the universality of law is the most un-American thing to happen in this situation.


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