Monday, May 2, 2011
I share much of Greg's sentiment about OBL's killing. It's hard to feel any regret for his death. I saw, though, that Reuters is reporting that the SEAL team was under orders to kill, not capture, OBL. Obviously, we won't know the details of this for some time, and we may well never know them with any certainty. But, assuming the truth of the report, I do think it raises some interesting moral questions that, whatever we think of the man himself, are worth reflecting on.
Politically, I can see the reasons for simply killing him, since having him as a prisoner would have been a nightmare for the U.S. government. And I have little doubt that -- legally speaking -- he would have been eligible for -- and received -- the death penalty after a trial. Understanding that we can't know all the facts and likely never will, I'm curious what others think about the morality of ordering his summary execution. The Catholic view of the death penalty allows for its use in exceptional circumstances. Here's what the Catechism says:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."
My own view is that OBL would fit within this exception for permitting his execution -- he would seem to be nearly as much a danger in prison as at large, though it's not clear to me whether this exception is intended to encompass someone who is a danger because of the likely behavior of his followers.
The Catechism doesn't really speak to process, except at the very beginning, where it proceeds on the assumption that "the party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined." I suppose in the case of someone like OBL, the issues of identity and culpability are pretty much satisfied even without judicial process, so the procedural requirements fall out. But do they disappear completely? Is there a case to be made for the regular use of judicial process wherever possible, even where identity and responsibility are established beyond real question? It seems to me that the idea of state acting according to the rule of law, where possible, has some independent value that is signifcantly compromised by state's regular use of targeted killings, even against those who have sworn to violence against it.
In the end, I think the exceptional nature of OBL's case -- the difficulty of finding him and the problem of providing for a secure proceeding given his followers' commitment to terrorism -- cut against any larger impact of his apparet targeted killing on that value. So I don't have much discomfort with the President's actions in this case. But I hope it does not come to stand as a precedent that targeted killings are a legitimate way for the United States to proceed in the war on terror. Again, though, I'm curious what others think.
I've opened the comments section of this post for an open thread on these issues.