bin Laden’s death

It’s good news.
It isn’t “justice,” except in a poetic sense.

1. Hurrah! Good riddance to bad rubbish.
2. Obama’s success, after seven years of failure under Bush, won’t change the minds or the mouths of anyone who has been thinking or saying that the President is soft on terrorism. I bet it won’t move the polling data enough to notice.
3. The Republican line is that Bush deserves as much credit for promising to get bin Laden as Obama does for actually getting it done. (Bush’s statement barely a year after 9-11 that getting bin Laden was no longer a priority has been dropped down the memory hole.)
4. The President was wrong to say that “justice has been done.” Being killed in a military raid is a fitting fate for a man of violence, but justice is done in courtrooms, not on battlefields. This was revenge: and a good thing, too.

5. The speech made some good points, but at times the President’s flat affect and level tone don’t fit the circumstances. If you didn’t know English, you might have thought that he was announcing a set of new high-speed rail projects. Surely there’s some happy medium between hubris on a carrier deck and the reading of a laundry list.

6. Obama was polite enough to call Bush before making a public statment. Bush was rude enough to issue his own statement before the President spoke. Typical, twice.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

42 thoughts on “bin Laden’s death”

  1. No, justice was done, just as surely as injustice may be done in a courtroom. Other than that, couldn’t agree with you more.

  2. I saw the flat affect as him struggling to suppress glee. like it or not, it’s his way. much as GWB’s mission accomplished banner was his way.

  3. On #2, Obama has jumped 10 points on In-Trade today. Who knows how much this is just a few trades in a thin market, but at first glance the betting data has Obama at 10 percentage points higher today than yesterday.

  4. To clarify, the betters gave Obama a 59% chance of winning in 2012 yesterday, and they give him a 69% chance today.

  5. I think Bush released his statement shortly after the President spoke. TPM says so, and Bush’s Facebook page shows it as 11:55 EDT.

  6. 1. Exactly.

    5. Yeah, I’ve long wondered why somebody who comes off like a maniquin with a computer voice synthesizer installed is regarded as such a good speaker.

    7. If you think the Pakistani intelligence services didn’t know his location all along, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  7. 8 “Buried at sea in keeping with Islamic law.” Whose idea was that, anyway?

  8. @Brett Bellmore’s #8: Jesus, a woman was killed in the raid. Can’t we just put this thing to rest?

  9. Just to pile on, justice is done when the miscreant’s actions are punished commensurately. What happens in a courtroom is due process.

  10. More re 4: I agree, this is a very syntactic definition of “justice”: what happens in a courtroom. To belabor the point, our hope is that what happens in a courtroom is as much as humanly possible as close to justice as humanly possible. Moreover revenge is one (not the only nor even necessarily the primary) component of justice. So for several reasons I just don’t think Mark’s point here makes a lot of sense.

    Re Brett Bellmore’s point 7, for once I agree with him. The guy’s been living in a huge villa in a small city close to the capital and known as a bit of a vacation spot that also happens to contain some fairly large military installations. It’s almost inconceivable that the Pakistani government, or at least many of its key defense and intelligence elements with which we also happen to do a lot of business, didn’t know he was there. They’ve been protecting him, and either they intended to continue protecting him, or they gave him up as a kind of bon bon to fend off the pressure we’ve been putting on them lately. Not a pretty picture either way.

    And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg (although a big tip to be sure.) That is one seriously weird and dysfunctional country.

  11. Concur w/ C.A.T. The sad fact is that we’ve had KSM in custody for years and haven’t been able to put him on trial. Thanks to the Republican Party, the American justice system is incapable of trying the 9/11 plotters. I’m glad our guys took the head shot.

  12. PREDICTION: All the Birthers will now adopt the line that the killing of bin Ladin is a hoax. (Buried him at sea? Where’s the evidence?) This will end the Birther nonsense and start the Hoaxer nonsense.

  13. The world was watching…
    And the assassination of a fiend is still an assassination.
    Thou shouldn’t gloat or smug it up.

    Call it instead real gravitas…
    Barack’s muted tones were entirely apropos.

  14. Gosh, I’ve defended Brett in the past, and now I’m defending George W. Bush? Jeebus!

    Mark was way off base in characterizing Bush’s actions–whatever they may have been–as typically rude. Bush has behaved very well as ex-President. Cheney has been an utter jackass, but Bush has pretty much avoided doing anything to make his successor look bad.

  15. 5. Yeah, I’ve long wondered why somebody who comes off like a maniquin with a computer voice synthesizer installed is regarded as such a good speaker.

    Brett, it’s because he is not born in America, but belongs to a forgotten Kenyan tribe that speaks exclusively in clicks. I thought you knew that?

  16. koreyel:

    It’s not an assassination if the soldiers are in uniform and are taking hostile fire. Read your Geneva convention.

  17. Well, well, a full-throated endorsement of revenge killing from Our Founder. A hypothetical, Professor: suppose a high official of the United States government were to become a war criminal — I know, a severe stretch, but bear with me. Would the victims be entitled to execute a revenge killing? Would it make a difference if the attack also killed a former first . . . make that an innocent bystander? Just curious.

  18. “Brett, it’s because he is not born in America, but belongs to a forgotten Kenyan tribe that speaks exclusively in clicks. I thought you knew that?”

    I figured it was because he’s letting the teleprompter dictate his timing.

    Not that he’s not a better public speaker than me; My teeth would be chattering halfway through a 10 minute public speech. 🙂

  19. Abbottabad? And true enough, according to Wikipedia it
    “was named after Major James Abbott who founded the town and district in January 1853 after the annexation of the Punjab. He remained the first Deputy Commissioner of the Hazara district between 1849 until April 1853. Major Abbott is noted for having written a poem titled “Abbottabad”, before he went back to Britain, in which he wrote of his fondness for the town and his sadness at having to leave it.”
    Abbott was a much better administrator than poet.

  20. Yes, Ken D., here’s a full throated endorsement of a revenge killing. If you can’t endorse the killing of Osama bin Laden, that’s your problem.

  21. While Republican goons and clowns were holding a gun to the head of the federal government, and talking more and more baloney about birth certificates:

    ” … On March 14, Mr. Obama held the first of what would be five national security meetings in the course of the next six weeks to go over plans for the operation.

    The meetings, attended by only the president’s closest national security aides, took place as other White House officials were scrambling to avert a possible government shutdown over the budget. …” (NYT)

  22. DB: “If you can’t endorse the killing of Osama bin Laden, that’s your problem.”

    You can see the necessity of putting an end to bin Laden’s crimes by whatever means necessary without revelling in his death. I was fairly weirded out earlier when I found myself largely agreeing with a post by Kathryn Jean Lopez of all people (with whom I have next to zero agreements on policy issues, and who I normally don’t even consider to be a good journalist), but she pretty much nailed my feelings about killing bin Laden:

  23. Buried at sea, perhaps to ensure there is no shrine or focal point for ObL. Or his family chose that as his final resting spot.

    I’m glad he wasn’t captured alive – the howls to torture him to death would be shameful. And I have no doubt that after a trial lasting 4 years, he would be put to death anyway.
    I’m sure the ACLU would revoke my membership for this, but I would have pulled the trigger too.

  24. Oh, I don’t mind the “at sea” part. Just think he should have been sewn into a pig skin first, and it should have been televised.

  25. “Just think he should have been sewn into a pig skin first”

    I was wondering when someone on this comment thread would jump up to advocate corpse-desecration in the name of religious humiliation and provocation. Thanks, Brett! America tried the neocon stupnad approach for eight years; it’s time for a different tack.

  26. Just think he should have been sewn into a pig skin first, and it should have been televised.


  27. I’m just so glad that I don’t live in a country full of bloodthirsty religious fanatics who dance in the streets to gleefully celebrate the slaughter of their enemies.

  28. Eb, do you think they wouldn’t have been celebrating if OBL had been captured instead? Really?

  29. Right on, eb. I hear that some of those lesser countries, who aren’t so special and great like the USA, would do exactly that.

  30. Brett, you seem to be unclear on the distinction between disrespecting Bin Laden (denying him an identifiable final resting place) and insulting Islam.

  31. What I’m clear on is the need to impress upon Muslims, world-wide, that non-Muslims are not, in any way, shape, or form, to even the slightest degree, obligated to obey Islamic law. The contrary conviction among a large faction of Muslims is, in great measure, responsible for our terrorism problem.

    Maybe wrapping him in pig skin would have been overkill, but making even a trivial guesture in the direction of observing Islamic law in his disposal was precisely the wrong thing to do.

  32. Brett, to the best of my knowledge and in accordance with public health and safety (so the traditional Parsi practice of exposing the dead body or the cliched Viking funeral would not be allowable, for example), we treat human remains according to the precepts of their religions. We do this not to respect the individual, but to respect the religion, the community. We aren’t obligated to do the absurd, the hazardous, or even the terribly inconvenient in the name of these religions, but we accommodate them when possible. You seem to want to spend a special message to 1 billion Muslims that their faith is especially unworthy of such consideration.

  33. Brett:
    It is the policy of the United States since 9-11 that we are not at war with Islam. It is sound practice to act in accordance with that policy. What is so hard about that?

  34. You know, Anon, it’s possible to use one truth to hide another. No, we are not at war with “Islam”. We are, however, at war with a faction of Islam.

  35. And Brett’s plan for winning that war is to add to the faction that’s at war with us all the Muslims who aren’t at war with us. Why didn’t I think of that?

  36. Reactionaries worldwide have common interests. Bin Laden and Bush both had political interests that favored a broad American war against Islamic people. One can only imagine how OBL snickered at the whole “Ground Zero Mosque” thing.

  37. My plan it to let the Islamic world know that rioting doesn’t get them anything but our contempt.

  38. As I said: Americans putting rioters in the same basket as “the Islamic world” is a cherished goal of both American and Islamic reactionaries – and for good reason. It serves both well.

  39. Those folks in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Bahrain were accused of rioting. Taring and feathering sounds like rioting.
    Freedom is not given out by the oppressors for free.

  40. (Mark): “ Brett’s plan for winning that war is to add to the faction that’s at war with us all the Muslims who aren’t at war with us. Why didn’t I think of that?
    Why suppose defiling the corpse would have that effect? Bush II repeatedly called Islam a “great religion”. Bertrand Russell that religions, like wines, tend to mellow with age. While Islam seriously needs a Reformation and Enlightenment, perhaps representing some members as disgraceful schizmatics would not harm the US cause. Insist “Bin Laden is not a true Muslim. Since he has disgraced a great religion, he deserves to be disgraced”. Would it work? No idea.

    The larger problem is that the “war on terror” is not a war on Islam or a faction of Islam but a war on technology. Technology empowers everyone, including embittered losers or megalomaniacs who feel they deserve more recognition. 2000 years ago, if you set out to kill 3000 people, you would need command of a medium-sized kingdom or the army of an empire. Today all you need is a pilot’s license, a rental plane, and some fertilizer, or an MS in Biochemistry, off-the-shelf chemicals, some books, and a kitchen.

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