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In a press conference the Archbishop of Canterbury took questions on Osama bin Laden:

Q: Do you believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is justice for the 9/11 attacks and indeed other attacks? And was the US morally justified in shooting him even though he was unarmed as the White House now admits?

A: I think that 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 is also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know the full details anymore than anyone else does but I do believe that in such circumstance when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a ‘war criminal’ as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed.


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John B. Chilton

Shameless self promotion, wherein I argue it was a suicide.

Rod Gillis

Check out this interview that CBC’s As it Happens did with Donna Marsh O’Connor, spokes person for “9/11 families for a peaceful tomorrow.” It would humble any person of faith. If link one won’t work, click on link two and go to As it Happens for Monday part II. God bless America’s peacemakers.


I would have answered the questions “I don’t know”: I wonder why the ABC couldn’t do the same.

JC Fisher

Richard E. Helmer

Osama Bin Laden was a law unto himself and a threat to peaceful communities everywhere. As a brother wrote me today, he presented us with a moral dilemma not unlike Bonhöffer faced when confronted with Hitler. I agree with the ABC’s unease — none should feel easy — but as Bonhöffer’s witness suggests, imperfect justice can sometimes be better than no justice at all, and occasionally our discipleship costs us our loftiest ideals, including our sense of absolute moral rectitude.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I am probably going to be sorry that I jumped in, but I am not so sure that what the ABC says here is far from what I think. I appreciate that taking him captive alive would have posed practical difficulties, but practicality is not necessarily the ultimate arbiter on all things. Leaving aside what he had done to “deserve” what he got, I do think that had he held up his hands in surrender and we shot him anyways, there would have to be questions about the moral rightness of this. I am not sure that summary execution would be seen as a particular moral high point. If he resisted arrest but had no weapon, then this is more difficult. Could he have been taken without mortal force? In a charged situation, would it have placed those taking him captive in jeopardy not to have fired? It is hard to know without clear details. If he was unarmed but rushed the guards and was attempting to harm them, then again the use of “deadly” force may have been justified.

We have had cases aplenty of excessive force prosecuted against police officers for employing deadly force when it was not required. I think that is what the ABC is getting at when he speaks about being “uneasy.”

I honestly wish that we had a term other than “justice” for some of these issues as well. Overwhelmingly, when the bible speaks about “justice” it refers to economic justice, and this is far different from “criminal” penalties. The criminal codes from the Torah are hard to use in a modern situation given that death was a punishment for many things that none of us would apply today. Our ideas of “justice” are more complex. Does even a terrorist criminal deserve his “day in court” is an important question. The “day in court” in our system is predicated on the presumption of innocence. Does that apply here? Does a court trial have other beneficial effects for society other than deciding whether someone is guilty and what punishment is deserved?

If the ABCs comments are seen as “woozy” or “obscured,” then I can understand it. We are far from unanimous in these important questions.

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