I think 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’s also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here.Critics have weighed in, including Cristina Odone again in The Telegraph:
Archbishop Williams is a fine man, a good man. But he is dead wrong here. Summary execution, ie killing without trial, is just desserts for some tyrants. And Osama, the hate merchant and death peddler, was a tyrant to rank with some of the worst. His fate should be no better than theirs.
…when he (Williams) addresses the nation, as he did this morning, he should not speak as a Guardian reader but as a religious leader. And as such, surely he sees that drawing parallels between Osama and any other unarmed man is a mistake.I would suggest to Odone that ++Rowan did exactly as she had requested, he had spoken as a religious leader raising moral questions about justice and perception. Actions have ethical implications and unless these implications are carefully thought through then the action may simply exacerbate a situation.
However, the article that really stirred up the hornets nest was N.T. Wright’s comment piece in The Guardian. Wright raised the question of whether the United States seemed to apply different standards to its own behaviour in the international arena to those applied to everyone else. Again this seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable question to raise because the killing of bin Laden involved an incursion into another country, Pakistan, without that country’s knowledge or permission. Wright asked how the United States would feel if the British SAS had run covert operations into its territory to kill IRA terrorists using the U.S. as a haven?
Wright describes U.S. international policy as:
American exceptionalism. America is subject to different rules to the rest of the world. By what right? Who says?The former Bishop of Durham suggests that this approach reflects the acting out of the Myth of the American Super Hero. The U.S. as the world’s self appointed saviour battling injustice and sorting out the bad guys. In this scenario the U.S. is free therefore to take the law into its own hands to execute justice in its own best interest.
The problem with such an approach which, if operating in disregard of international law, can be seen as little more that vigilantism is that it removes the moral basis for challenging others countries that decide to operate in a similar way:
Of course, proper justice is hard to come by internationally. America regularly casts the UN (and the international criminal court) as the hapless sheriff, and so continues to play the world's undercover policeman. The UK has gone along for the ride. What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us?As far as I am aware neither Williams or Wright were excusing or apologising for bin Laden or denying that he should be brought to account for his actions. Rather they were highlighting the legitimate moral concerns of executing a terrorist in another sovereign territory without due process and drawing attention to the potential consequences of such an action which might create more problems that it solves.