On May 1st, 2001 I checked my smartphone phone before I went to bed and saw that the President of the United States was preparing an important press announcement and would be addressing the nation live. A late-night, unplanned, Presidential address; something big was happening. Feelings of dread filled me as crawled out of bed, went to the living room, and turned on the television. Did we get attacked again? Was there another natural disaster on the horizon? Were aliens spotted in Nevada – not the human kind?
For the first half hour there was nothing to see – just the scrolling banner on every channel saying that the President was coming on soon. Then, in started trickling the news in advance of the address; Osama bin Laden was dead; killed by an American drone.
This was history. Even though it was a school night, Carey and I woke the kids and brought them into the living room. With only the flickering of the television providing light in an otherwise dark house, we all watched as the news story about bin Laden unfolded.
I was telling my kids to remember this; where they were and what they were doing when the news of bin Laden’s death reached them. I remember vividly watching the Challenger tragedy with my father from the side of the road in Orlando when I was 15-years-old. I remember, as a 19-year-old, the Berlin Wall coming down. Similarly, I will remember the death of Osama bin Laden – and my kids will share that memory with me.
As I waited for the President to come on I was tweeting with the rest of the world. (see image) My children and I were having philosophical discussions on war, peace, the Middle East, tolerance, and the state of America post-9/11. With the rest of America I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the President came on and confirmed bin Laden was killed. I, too, smiled and celebrated at midnight with my family. The mastermind of 9/11 was dead. Small consolation to the families and victims of 9/11, but justice had been served.
Or had it?
As more and more details came out it became clear that there really was no “capture alive” directive for bin Laden and that it wasn’t a carpet bomb that did him in. A team of Navy Seals surgically went into the compound, killed any possible resistance (the men in the compound) and left alive the women and children. This wasn’t a crazy firefight – it was a superbly executed tactical mission and the goal was evident; kill Osama bin Laden.
That’s not justice. That’s revenge.
While I do not argue that bin Laden needed to executed for his crimes, his verdict should have been dispensed by the courts of law in the world. To unilaterally go into a country with whom we are not at war and kill bin Laden without the benefit if a trial is not the American way. It’s the kind of tactics that, were they used on American interests, would spur a massive counter-attack and a media blitz of inhumanity and injustice.
The more I think about it the more shocked and appalled I am by this action of our government. Even the Nazis, who killed millions and performed much, much more appalling and criminal acts than bin Laden got the benefit of a trial. The world got the benefit of the Nuremburg trials. We proved, with no doubts, that we were better than the bad guys and that no matter how much provocation was levied against us we would not succumb to the same uncivilized behavior. The Greatest Generation indeed.
Had we captured bin Laden alive and given him a trial I am sure he would have hung from the neck until dead – but we’ll never know because revenge was more important justice.
America is supposed to set a standard for the world. Somehow we’ve lost our way.