Tuesday, May 10, 2011
To Kill A Mocking Bin Laden
I remember liking a film starring Paul Newman, called Hombre. The scene which stuck in my mind was when the baddie takes off his weapons and goes to face Newman (white man brought up by Indians and despised because of it) who, nevertheless, is protecting stage coach passengers who hold exactly those racist attitudes towards him. There is some verbal interplay where Newman refuses to bargain with the outlaw. The outlaw eventually says he’s returning to his men. Newman smiles and asks him why he thinks that is going to happen – and then shoots him. For me it was my first example of a number of films where the hero ditches a code of honour and does the improbable – if you like to believe in fairness, justice and the right to a trial. In fact, last night I was watching yet another episode of Homicide, Life on the Streets (by the team that went on to make The Wire, that beacon of confused and tangled morality, and currently, in season five, one of the detectives is under pressure because he killed a very unsavoury drug dealer and murderer when he could have taken him in. Like Dirty Harry films, he believes that the villain will not see justice in the liberal courts.
So it is with mild surprise that I have not heard or seen anything in the media which challenges the killing of Osama Bin Laden. He could be one of the worst villains around from the West’s point of view, whatever he and his followers believe to be justifiable in their acts but it raises the question of assassination being suddenly regarded as lawful (in David Cameron’s terms and acceptable). Is it? Obama gives the nod, watching streamed images of the attack and there is no jury, just a group of gawping politicians and soldiers. Isn’t most western law so framed as to try murderers through an impartial judicial system? The problem for the Americans and liberal consciences everywhere is that by disregarding it, it brings the whole political game into disrepute. Shooting an unarmed man in cold blood. It justifies everything the Israeli death squads do around the world, the Russians, the Pakistani Mumbai terrorists, Chechnyans, Middle Eastern dictators, African state militaries, secret services everywhere. If you can’t draw a line in the sand over such a high profile killing, then how can we uphold international law?
I am not sure we can use the excuse that to let him live until he is tried and hung like Saddam Hussein would have caused more terrorism. If you are going to export notions of democracy to the world, there have to be hard and fast rules. Haven’t there?