Monday, May 09, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two weeks, I expect you know this.  Actually, make that under a rock in a remote cave.

Certainly nowhere in the United States.

As Jon Stewart said, I suppose I should be ambivalent about the killing of another human being...

But as Jon Stewart also said, uh, no.

Yes, I rejoice in the death of this man, the same way I would have rejoiced in the death of Adolf Hitler had I been alive in 1945.  There are just some people who deserve to die.*

 However, it was not, contrary to what the President said on that Sunday night, justice.  Was it necessary?  Possibly.  Was it completely justifiable?  Damn straight.  That does not make it justice, except in perhaps the most abstract and universally karmic way.  In the casually metaphorical way we speak of people getting what's coming to them.

Thomas Nachbar wrote an excellent article for Slate which dissects the difference between an act of justice and a military action.  He does a better job of analyzing this issue than I ever could.  It is an important article and I encourage you to read it. Even more than that, I would urge you to read what Terry Karney has to say on the subject: he points out what we have lost by not allowing justice to be done

For me, I am most concerned about the role that torture may have played in the operation.  Apparently, some of the information was obtained through the use of "harsh interrogation techniques."  USA Today, in rosy-eyed view of the American public, stated "It's a safe bet that most people would accept torture if it were the only option for catching the most hunted villain in U.S. history. Indiscriminate use of torture is another matter entirely."

They're absolutely wrong. If they thought it would give them a small amount of security, the American public would be more than willing to torture just about anyone. Because who's to say that the next terrorist we stop through use of torture is not a Bin Laden in the making? Or worse?

But how many terrorists will we be making through torture?  And what damage are we doing to our own psyche, both as a nation and as individuals?  Do we have a right to ask people to become what they must to be able to torture another human being?

And there is a glaring question that needs to be answered.  Was there a way to get this information through other means?  According to USA Today, one of the ways that the CIA was able to confirm the importance of a Bin Laden courier was because other high ranking Al Qaeda figures lied about him after being waterboarded. The question is, if they had enough information to know that the people were lying, why did they need to torture?  For confirmation?  Am I the only person that is bothered by that? Anyone? 

There are roads you don't walk down because  they may prove so enticing that it will be impossible to come back.  Way leads on to way, as Robert Frost noted, and it is possible to lose your identity -- personal or national -- so much that you can never reclaim who you were.  Yes, Virginia, there really are slippery slopes.  Torture is one of them.

I once said that there are fates worse than death, that I would rather risk dying as a free and ethical woman than support torture to make myself more secure.  That the rule of law and due process and the moral requirements for how human beings treat each other matter more to me than whatever I might gain in exchange for throwing them away.

Nothing that happened to Osama Bin Laden changes one damn bit of that.  And any regret or sadness I may feel over the death of one of the most justly reviled men in history would be that it will be a continuing justification for those who will continue to do evil in my -- and my country's --name.

*Given my unalloyed opposition to capital punishment, for me this is a very small group indeed.

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