It would appear as if the 24/7 news cycle has moved on to debating the ethics of what President Obama ordered last week when he sent in American armed forces personnel to kill Osama bin Laden. On Michael Smerconish's afternoon show, for instance, I heard of how Rosie O'Donnell has held forth that the assassination of bin Laden was unethical in that it denied him his due process rights.
I'm not admitting that O'Donnell is a journalist.
However, her viewpoint has been expressed by others.
Bin Laden represented a threat that occupies a gray area between crime and war. Criminals are deserving of due process. A police officer who has an alleged criminal in his crosshairs can't just drop him if there is any chance of apprehending the subject. To do so would be criminal, ammoral, and a violation of . . . due process.
Meanwhile, we don't normally wage assassination campaigns against the heads of state of nations with which we are at war. The nations of the West agreed on standards, some codified and some unwritten, about conduct in times of war. Heads of state are, for some reason, off limits. Perhaps to prevent a descent into barbarity. Enemy soldiers captured in uniform are accorded specific rights. Enemy combatants not in uniform are not. Though war is savage, war has custom that in some ways, ironically, protects some life.
Bin Laden, meanwhile, committed an act of war against the U.S. but did not represent or lead a state. He led an amorphous entity that carried out policy and war, but has no recognizable population, borders, or government. It claims no sovereignty.
But Al Qaeda was, without doubt, a threat. And citizens of a nation look to its head of state to protect them from threats. When threats aren't recognized and met, more threats emerge. President Obama had a moral obligation to the American people to confront the threat bin Laden represented. Bin Laden did not lead (or even pretend to lead) a state. He did not claim U.S. citizenship and he was persona non grata through most of the world. Obama had no choice. The American people can't afford hesitation over resolving a threat that so defies the customs of international relations and the life of American citizens.
Though I believe our president did the right thing, there's a sadness that he had to do it. One doesn't like wishing ill (or death) on another. One of the grave responsibilities our presidents take on is the power to order the likely death of others. In some ways, what President Obama did last week was no lighter than what Truman decided to do in August 1945 or Lincoln in April 1861. A somber awakening for me is that one of many prices one must pay to be president is that as president one is tasked with dilemmas that push the boundaries of what is ethical and just. Perhaps this is why churches often pray for our elected leaders.