A Murder on Millions of Hands

November 29, 2011

Political Theory


On May 2, 2011 a man was murdered.

The day began like any other day for him.  He was residing in his house surrounded by his wife and fellow co workers.  Around 1 A.M that night, masked foreign men raided his house.  After a struggle this man was fatally shot in the head and ultimately fell to his death.  After this man’s death instead of people being outraged or infuriated, thousands took to the streets to celebrate his demise.

Who was this man?

This man was Osama Bin LadenHe was the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organizations, and one of the masterminds behind the September 11th attacks, when 2749 people were killed when airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, The Pentagon in Washington DC, and a field in Pennsylvania.  That day, one of the biggest manhunts in history began.  Osama Bin Laden became target number one, and the American army would be willing to do anything to make sure that he was captured, and or killed.

It is stated in the ten commandments thou shall not kill.  In America first degree murder is defined as killing a person in a premeditated and intentional manner.  In order to be convicted of murder you need to plan a murder and carry out that plan.  This crime carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, and in some states first degree murder warrants the death penalty.  In the case of Bin Laden, his death fits that crime exactly.  In my opinion there has never been a more premeditated murder than in the case of Bin Laden.  The CIA, the FBI, and two Presidents have spent almost ten years looking for this man and planning his death; however, after Bin Laden was killed President Obama was not sent to jail and neither was the member of Seal Team Six who pulled the trigger.

The question you may have is why? why are some people able to get away with murder? Because this is a classic case of the dirty hands problem.

The dirty hands problem is the situation where an immoral action is taken by the state to further the greater good.  This is explained by Martin Hollis: “But, granted that the government was legitimate and national unity a proper aim, there is a utilitarian case for making a bloody example.” A utilitarian action is one that benefits the greatest number of people.

The assassination of Osama Bin Laden fit this mold exactly.  We had seen over the years that Bin Laden was a danger to American society.  When given the opportunity, he was willing to kill thousands of innocent Americans.  The government and President Obama felt that killing him, an action against the law, was necessary for the overall safety of the American people.  Because of what Bin Laden did on 9/11 I believe that his assassination was justified and can be considered an example of dirty hands.

But whose hands are actually dirty?

In the case of Bin Laden I would say that the dirt extends beyond the hands of President Obama and the member of Seal Team 6 who pulled the trigger that night. I would argue that every single person who chanted U-S-A that night, every person who celebrated in the streets, and every person who let out a sigh of relief has a bit of dirt on their hands.  I believe if any American was given that gun with a clear aim at Bin Laden they would have taken the shot.  Millions Americans wanted him dead, and we all celebrated when he was killed.  Most Americans wanted him dead and did not question the morality behind his killing because we all felt that his death was justified, and we showed no remorse over it.  Killing Osama Bin Laden was for the greater good of America, and we all have a little dirt on our hands.

Do you agree? Did anyone object to his killing? Was anyone appalled by the celebration that night?

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About adamstillman2011

Student at the University of Michigan

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3 Comments on “A Murder on Millions of Hands”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    This is a really interesting perspective on Osama Bin Laden. I’ve put a little bit of thought into his death and the massive manhunt that led up to it, and when it comes down to it, I think it was premeditated murder, and I have no problem with that. I don’t think that it’s accurate to say that my hands are dirty because Bin Laden was killed, however.

    The way you put it in the introductory paragraph pretty much sums it up. The US government planned and orchestrated an attack to kill Bin Laden in particular; that would fall under the legal definition of premeditated murder. Granted, Bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks; as you point out, those killed far more people than his one life will ever be able to compensate for, but the principle here is begging the question: do two wrongs make a right? If we count murder as a wrong, then I think in this case, most of us will say that yes, in a funny sort of way, two wrongs do in fact make a right. Bin Laden killed thousands in his attacks; we take his life. The death penalty works under the same principle. You are also right in saying that no one will be punished for it, either. The government ordered it to be so; obviously Obama, his advisers, the men in the government making the decisions, and the Navy SEALs who executed the order are not going to do time in jail for their actions, and because they did something “morally wrong” to get something good, their hands are dirtied.

    It does not seem to follow from that, however, that my hands as a citizen are dirtied. The dirty hands conflict implies that those whose hands are now dirty could have done something different or influenced the outcome in some way; in other words, to say that my hands are dirtied is to say that I could have somehow prevented the Navy SEALs from killing Osama Bin Laden. I do not believe that I could have. You may say “well, you could have elected someone different,” but 1) I could not vote at the time because I was not yet 18 and 2) even if McCain or someone else had won, it’s highly probable that any other president would have done the same thing that Obama did. Many of the people involved in the decision making process are not even elected officials, so there is no way for me (or for any other citizen) to change their influence or remove them from their positions. While there are some things that may be prevented by electing different leaders, I don’t think that the killing of Bin Laden falls into that category because any president would probably have done what Obama did; thus, the citizens cheering over Bin Laden’s death do not suffer from the dirty hands dilemma.

  2. yonglee92 Says:

    While the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, could be argued as a means to prevent future attacks on our nation, the celebration of his death in a festive manner was unnecessary and tasteless. Osama Bin Laden, being former leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organizations and one of the masterminds behind the September 11th attacks, was fully capable of devising and plotting another attack on our country. Considering that the September 11th following his death was the ten-year anniversary of the original attack in 2001, it was fortunate that we were able to find him and eliminate him. I say this out of concern for our friends and families, not because I wanted someone killed simply for the sake of killing.

    Granted in America, first-degree murder is defined as killing a person in a premeditated and intentional manner. Yes, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden fits this definition. However, there are other circumstances that come into play. If you are against this type of murder, you cannot say that you are content with police officers carrying weapons with the intention of shooting criminals (if the situation warrants it). By extension, why are you okay with a military at all? In its most basic form, one of the primary means a military keeps us protected is by defeating the opposing side. In other words, killing the enemy, murdering the enemy, assassinating the enemy. Whatever you want to call it, it still qualifies as an act of taking life.

    I am afraid I am going to have to go with Machiavelli on this one, since the assassination of Osama Bin Laden could have thwarted another national attack, the ends justifies the means.

  3. maddycaroline Says:

    While I do believe it was wrong for an entire nation to celebrate the death of another human being, and it is an issue of dirty hands, it was a kill or be killed type of situation. I live about 45 minutes from New York City, so the aftermath of the events of 9/11 were felt to the greatest extent. Most of my classmates had at least one parent working in the city at the time of the attacks and our fire stations were called into the city to help. One of those firefighters never came home. My father was working in the city that day and, from his building, saw the first plane crash into the towers. As scary as it was for us children anxiously waiting for our parents to return, I can’t even imagine what it was like to have actually seen it happen.

    For the terror that Osama Bin Laden caused, I believe that Obama was right in giving the orders for his execution. Is this situation really any different than using the death penalty to kill a criminal? Like any other mass murderer, Ted Bundy for example, Bin Laden deserved what he got and even if he had been captured alive he would have most likely would have been sentenced to death. Especially in dealing with the threat of another terror attack, the ends really justified the means. My opinion may be due to the fact that I support the death penalty (in cases of sociopathic mass murderers), but even those who are opposed to it still celebrated Bin Laden’s death.

    It is hard to deny that even though many people were disgusted by the fact that our government orchestrated Bin Laden’s murder and that it was celebrated, did not feel some facet of joy. He was one of the most, if not the most, hated man by the american people. He could have planned another 9/11 and caused even more hatred and fear in the hearts of the american people; it is better that we eliminated that threat altogether.

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