Assassinating justly: Reflections on justice and revenge in the Osama Bin Laden killing

From Law, Culture & the Humanities

On Sunday night, May 1, 2011, United States President Barack Obama addressed America and the world. He told them, the “United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden.” This was an act that many had hoped to hear confirmed for a long time to feel justice for the killing of thousands of innocent people that as the terrorist leader he was responsible for. While the vast majority were relieved to hear the news of Bin Laden’s assassination there were a few Human Rights lawyers or supporters who raised concerns as they felt unlike the masses that although the United States was legally justified in violating Pakistan’s sovereignty to apprehend an indicted and active international criminal, it was not legally justified in assassinating him. They felt the just thing to do was to arrest him and make him go through a trial for his offences and face punishment this way. This article argues that assassinations, which under certain conditions are justified under international law, can also be just, but only when they are accompanied by the risk of a jury trial, a trial – even a trial after the fact of the assassination –  this offers the potential to reconcile assassination and justice

Abstract

Assassination has always been part of war and in recent years it has played increasingly important roles in United States military policy. The assassination of Osama bin Laden offers itself as an example of an assassination that nevertheless claims to be just. Comparing the bin Laden assassination with the assassination of Simon Petlura by Sholom Schwartzbard in 1927 and the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, this article argues that assassinations, which under certain conditions are justified under international law, can also be just, but only when they are accompanied by the risk of a jury trial.

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Article details

Berkowitz, R. (2011). Assassinating Justly: Reflections on Justice and Revenge in the Osama Bin Laden Killing Law, Culture and the Humanities, 7 (3), 346-351 DOI: 10.1177/1743872111418172

     
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