Archive for November 14th, 2012

Means vs. ends: Account of bin Laden’s assassination raises uncomfortable questions

November 14, 2012

Author’s note: I have written two posts inspired by Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book The FinishTuesday’s post reviewed the book. Today’s post considers some of the philosophical and moral issues raised by the book.

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As Mark Bowden makes clear in The Finish, his new book on the killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, several different tales have been told about the notorious terrorist’s final moments.

Obama administration officials initially indicated that bin Laden sought to use his youngest wife, Amal, as a human shield, and that he was killed in a firefight. Bowden and Nicholas Schmidle, in The New Yorker, write that the wife moved between bin Laden and the Navy SEALs who were moving into the compound. I gather that No Easy Day, a memoir by the pseudonymous Mark Owen, a SEAL who participated in the raid, makes no mention of Amal but says bin Laden’s bullet-ridden body was in a much gorier condition than the two journalists have written.

A serious question — prompted in part because of the differing accounts of those final moments — emerged nearly as soon as the world learned that bin Laden had been shot and killed. The question: Why hadn’t the United States captured the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks so he could be put on trial in a court of law?

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