Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bin Laden: Corpus Delicti

(cross-posted to Vote Obama 2012)

I'm astounded... no, why should I be astounded by this familiar pattern of events. After a few hours of faint praise for Obama, the second-guessing starts.

There is, as I see it, a legitimate moral question as to whether the Osama bin Laden assassination (call it by its name) should have been undertaken in the first place. Had we elected a Buddhist abbott to the White House, he might not have approved it. We didn't. We elected a hard-headed pragmatist with the expectation that he would take responsibility for the nation's business both at home and abroad. World leaders are required to make decisions most of us would shrink from making--including, alas, in a world inhabited by wicked humans as well as by the well-intentioned, decisions about war and peace. Violence is sometimes, for such people, not an option. My own personal qualms about taking a life, in this case, are easy enough to debate because they have no real-life implications or consequences. They are, in a sense, a luxury. And even with those qualms, my thinking is balanced in this case by a sense of justice accomplished.

Once we're past that debate, however, we risk descending into small-minded contention and absurdity. There are thus far four fronts of attack. The first was opened up by the revelation that bin Laden did not have a gun in his hands at the moment of his demise--as though this were some 1950s Hollywood oater whose conventions require the bad guy to draw first. No, this was an assassination, pure and simple. Clearly, from reports I have heard, had the man come forward with his hands in the air in an act of overt surrender, he would not have been gunned down. He did not. A fire fight was in progress. He was, as it were, commander of the fort that was under assault and providing fierce resistance. I'm no expert on the rules of war, but once I'm past my Buddhist qualms, I have no problem with this one.

Next, of course, is the burial at sea. Was it Muslim enough? And why dispose of the corpus delicti? Who will now believe that he is actually dead? We should have preserved the body as evidence... I actually thought this was a rather brilliant solution. No place of burial, no martyr's shrine. A Muslim ceremony to show respect for the religion, not the man. And slip the corpse into the ocean, an anonymous presence in an anonymous location, and hopefully lost to the world's consciousness.

And then the photos. The hunger for evidence, in part perhaps, but also for sensation. Obama's choice was a wise one, in my view. He reminds us frequently to ask ourselves, what kind of a country do we want to be? Do we want, in this instance, to be the kind of country that makes public exhibition of its violence? To produce the bloody pictures would be the equivalent of that gruesome medieval practice of impaling the victim's head on a pike and raising it above the castle walls. It would be an open taunting of those to whom we wish to show our humanity, a further provocation and incitement to violence among those to whom we wish to preach the values of peace and tolerance.

And finally, Geronimo. I confess that I was taken aback at first by the code name that seemed to have been assigned to Osama bin Laden. But then I read, in the exhaustive New York Times report, I think, that it was the operation that was code-named Geronimo; bin Laden's code name was "Jackpot"--a far more appropriate association. I'm hoping/assuming that this was a confusion promulgated by the media. It would have been insensitive, to say the least, to have honored this mass-murderer with the name of a brave man who had the courage and audacity put his life on the line in the service of his people--in much the same way as those intrepid Navy Seals who conducted the operation. If I have it right, it would seem entirely fitting and in no way disrespectful to the history of our native Americans, but rather a fine way of honoring their hero.

I have yet to see this last point clarified. I hope I'm right. On all other points, I support the President's decisions and remain in awe of the cool-headed, meticulous planning and execution of this unpleasant but historically necessary operation.

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