The extrajudicial killing of Osama Bin Laden was an act of state sponsored killing.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was “uncomfortable” about Bin Laden’s extrajudicial killing the sub text was clear; He was saying that it was morally and legally wrong and the only problem was that Bin Laden was one of the most detested men in the world, so to highlight this was indeed “uncomfortable”. It is comparable to the resounding silence anti-death penalty campaigners made during Saddam Hussein’s execution. However deplorable the victim is, the state still has an obligation to up-hold basic human rights standards.
Those who argue his death was justified have to sit comfortably with the state ordering an operation that involved storming a house in a foreign country at night and shooting dead an unarmed man, eliminating four others in the process and then dumping the body in the sea. It increasingly looks as if it could have been entirely possible to have captured Bin Laden and put him on trial. This would not only have been legally right, but it would have ensured the US maintained their purported support for human rights.
Those who wish to defend the execution point to the atrocities Bin Laden ordered. If we can learn one thing from this however, it is that illegal and immoral killings are not moral trade off tools, they are deplorable whatever the circumstance.
This argument does not draw away from the detestable nature of Bin Laden’s actions. What it does is to suggest we have to rise above the overtly aggressive mindset that would suggest murder is a suitable punishment for those who have murdered. One of Bin Laden’s driving propaganda tools was the raw memory of civilian deaths inflicted onto populations by western forces. The aggressive imperialistic foreign policy of countries such as the US served as justification for his global campaign of Islamic jihad. This execution is morally comparable.
The moment we confuse revenge with justice is the moment we lose our moral credibility.