Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Best of 2011: The murder of Osama Bin Laden

  • 04 January 2012

'When thy enemy shall fall, be not glad, and in his ruin let not thy heart rejoice.' Proverbs chapter 24, verse 17.

We have not achieved justice, as US President Obama announced, by acting unjustly.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of another Democrat President of the United States, brought to magnificent life on 10 December 1948 provides that:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

The US adopted the UDHR, and it has not ratified any significant international human rights treaty since. It committed itself morally, if not in domestic law, to outlawing the kind of extra-judicial killing that mars the public lives of governments in Africa, South America, parts of Europe and other 'advanced' countries that have presidents, parliaments, and coups and under-classes.

These are killings not authorised by courts and judges after a fair trial. Extra-judicial killings are, as Osama bin Laden's death was, murder. Bin Laden was not brought to justice. His execution by agents of the sovereign people of the United States was a fundamental breach of Article 10 of the UHDR.

Even the Israelis — not renowned for their embrace of the internationally recognised human rights of Palestinians — acknowledged this distinction when, more than 40 years ago, they put Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem, after kidnapping him in South America, to face formal charges that he had planned and facilitated horrendous crimes against humanity.

We have slipped, politically, far from the objectives of both the International Court of Justice in The Hague — where Bin Laden could have been tried — the domestic tribunal that tried (then ordered the execution of) Eichmann, and the extraordinary nobility of the aims of the Nuremberg trials.

It was the US and their second world war allies who set the extraordinary precedent of providing independent courts of justice to address the massive crimes against humanity carried out in Europe by Nazis against their own and others' citizens: not only murder, but genocide; torture, retaliation killings of citizens in response to unrelated partisan atrocities; retrospective laws and politically partisan 'courts' that sent men and women to horrible deaths after travesties of 'hearings'. All of it condemned, and all of it challenged by the concept of justice for all, no matter who wins the war.

I do