The decision to target and kill Osama bin Laden is being applauded by all decent
people. Approval to capture or kill this mass-murdering terrorist leader was
given by presidents Obama and Bush. It was the right decision, morally and
Although bin Laden wore no military uniform and held no official
military rank, he was an appropriate military target. As the titular and
spiritual head of al-Qaida, he was the functional equivalent of a head of state
or commander in chief of a terrorist army. From the beginning of recorded
history, killing the king has been a legitimate goal of military action. The
phrase “checkmate” means “the king is dead,” signifying the successful end of a
Yet there are those who claim that all targeted killings are
immoral and illegal. These critics characterize such actions as “extrajudicial
executions,” and demand that terrorist leaders and functionaries be treated as
common criminals, who must be arrested and brought to trial.
operation that resulted in bin Laden’s death was a military action calculated to
kill rather than “arrest” him. It is possible, though highly unlikely, that he
could have been captured alive and brought to trial. The decision to employ
military personnel with guns, rather than a drone firing rockets, was probably
made by generals rather than lawyers.
Had it been militarily preferable
to fire a rocket, that option would almost certainly have been selected – as it
was by the NATO forces that rocketed Gaddafi’s compound. A rocket attack would
have been a pure targeted killing, with no possibility of live capture. The
operation directed against Bin Laden may have been designed, in part, to have
preserved the theoretical option of arrest, though a live capture was virtually
impossible under the circumstances. Indeed, it is likely that bin Laden’s death
was deemed preferential to his capture and trial, because the latter would have
likely resulted in al-Qaida taking hostages and trying to exchange them for bin
Indeed, a US national security official has confirmed to Reuters
that “this was a kill operation,” and there was no desire to capture bin Laden
alive. This was a targeted kill, appropriate for a military combatant, but not
for an ordinary (or even an extraordinary) criminal.
government felt it necessary to announce that bin Laden was shot after he
resisted, thus suggesting he was not killed in cold blood. But it’s clear that
he would have been killed whether or not he resisted, since this was a kill
operation from the outset, and it is unlikely he was ever given the opportunity
to surrender – an opportunity not required under the rules of
ACCORDINGLY, THOSE who oppose the very concept of targeted killings
should be railing against the killing of Osama bin Laden.
these critics include officials in Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the EU,
Jordan and the United Nations. A former British Foreign Secretary once said:
“The British government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called targeted
assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive.”
The French foreign ministry has declared that “extrajudicial executions
contravene international law, and are unacceptable.”
The Italian foreign
minister has said: “Italy, like the whole of the European Union, has always
condemned the practice of targeted assassinations.”
The Russians have
asserted that “Russia has repeatedly stressed the unacceptability of
extrajudicial settling of scores and ‘targeted killings.’” Javier Solana has
noted that the “European Union has consistently condemned extrajudicial
The Jordanians have said that Jordan has always denounced this
policy of assassination, and its position on this has always been
And Kofi Annan has declared that “extrajudicial killings are
violations of international law.”
Yet none of these nations, groups or
individuals have criticized the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden by the US!
The reason is obvious. All the condemnations against targeted killing were
directed at one country. Israel, of course.
Israel developed the concept
of targeted killings, and used it effectively against the “Osama bin Ladens” of
Hamas, who directed terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, killing and
wounding far more Israelis (as a percentage of Israel’s population) than the
number of Americans killed by bin Laden. It was when Israel managed to kill the
head of Hamas that the international community, with the striking exception of
the United States, decided that targeted killing was illegal and
But now that it has been used against an enemy of Britain,
France, Italy and other European nations, suddenly targeted killing is not only
legal and moral, it is praiseworthy (except, of course, to Hamas, which
immediately condemned the US killing of bin Laden).
Well, the truth is
that when used properly, targeted killing has always been deserving of approval
– even when employed by Israel, a nation against which a double standard always
seems to be applied.
Indeed the use of targeted killings by Israel has
been closely regulated by its Supreme Court, and permitted only against
terrorists who are actively engaged in ongoing acts of terrorism. In the United
States, on the other hand, every decision to use this tactic is made by the
president alone, without any form of judicial review.
So let the world
stop applying a double standard to Israel, and let it start judging the merits
and demerits of military tactics such as targeted killing. On balance, targeted
killing, when used prudently against proper military targets, can be an
effective, lawful, and moral tool in the war against terrorism.
writer’s latest novel is The Trials of Zion. This article is also available on
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