Thursday, 5 May 2011

Extra-judicial execution

President Obama says of the death of Osama bin Laden: "Justice has been done". Much comment refers to the death of Osama bin Laden as being justice achieved on behalf of those who died in the attacks on America on 11th September 2001, and in other terrorist attacks inspired by Al Quaeda.

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is reported as having a "very uncomfortable feeling":
Dr Williams, asked about the death during a press briefing on Thursday, said: "I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn't look as if justice is seen to be done.

"In those circumstances I think it's also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help.

"I don't know the full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal in terms of the atrocities inflicted it is important that justice is seen to be served."
One might be very dissimulating and try to distinguish between the process leading to Osama bin Laden's death and the outcome, and suggest that the descriptor "justice" applies primarily to the outcome and that the process is of no significance. I really don't think that wears at all. Compare it to the following two rights contained in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

10. 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.
It is difficult to see the death of Osama bin Laden as it can be understood from news reports as being anything other than an execution.

It is difficult to see the processes leading up to the death of Osama bin Laden as involving a judicial process of any description at all.

Which makes it an extra-judicial execution. Whatever one's view of the evil perpetrated by the man and by those under his leadership, and whatever one might want to make of the outcome as being in itself "justice".

To use the form of words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, justice is something that needs to be seen as being done as well as being done.

According to the BBC news report cited above:
A spokesman for Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the Church would not be commenting on Bin Laden's death.
Protect the Pope reports on other relevant reaction that suggests that Christians have a duty of prayer for the souls of Osama bin Laden and of all of his victims. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these bold, thoughtful words. It is beyond question that bin Laden was an evil man. However, what has been in my mind disturbing about the media coverage of his killing is the near total lack of discussing the extra-judicial nature of his execution. It is indeed a slippery slope when we start undermining the rule of law, especially when justified by what seems to be vengeance alone.