Osama bin Laden and the Wild West

If the United States is so keen to espouse the virtues of good governance including the rule of law to others, then it is time for it to end its ‘Wild West’ mentality and practice what it preaches

Nearly ten years after the Taliban's offer to turn over bin Laden to the Americans was rejected by George W Bush, America's public enemy number one has finally met his demise. In the process, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands, of innocent civilians have paid with their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq - far more than those who died in the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

Contrary to initial reports, it has emerged that bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot in the head in the presence of his wife and daughter, although he was apparently 'resisting arrest'. Resisting how? By hurling his sandals at the advancing US Navy SEAL? It is increasingly obvious that from the outset, this was an assassination mission – or, as the Israeli euphemism goes, a ‘targeted killing’.

That this mission was also a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty and bypassed the most widely accepted norms of international law cannot be ignored, no matter how heinous bin Laden’s crimes. Even senior Nazi war criminals received a court hearing. If the West is so keen to espouse the virtues of good governance including the rule of law to others, then it is time for it to practice what it preaches and end the ‘Wild West’ mentality that has characterised its policies following September 11, 2001. What more perverse indication of this mindset than use of the codename Geronimo for bin Laden.

Perhaps capturing bin Laden dead rather than alive reflects a fear of what he may have disclosed during a trial – recounting the assistance he received from the CIA during the 1980s, for example or revealing his former high level contacts in the Saudi intelligence services. Taking bin Laden alive would also have presented the Obama regime with the difficult issue of where to house him and raised the ugly spectre of the hundreds of inmates still languishing in legal limbo at Guantanamo.

Unfortunately, senior UN officials and international NGOs generally so quick to make shrill pronouncements about extrajudicial killings elsewhere, especially in small, third world countries, have been conspicuously muted in their response in this instance. Once again, when it comes to adherence to international law, it would appear there are two sets of rules - one for the West, another for the rest.