I really didn't get enough sleep last night. It was after midnight when I finally got to bed, and 5:40 when I woke up and saw the news that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed by US special forces. Not hiding out in the mountains, but in a fortified compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, a hop, skip and a jump from a military academy. The last place you'd expect - although those are sometimes the best places to hide.
I have to say that my first reaction was a feeling of unease. Don't get me wrong, Bin Laden was a really nasty, cold hearted murderous piece of work and I shed no tears for him. I had hoped, though, that if this man was ever found, that he'd be brought to trial. and punished for his crimes. If the Americans had anything to do with it, that would have involved the death penalty, and there's no doubt of his guilt. Having it proven through a properly convened court, though, would have been a more clear progression of the judicial process. It doesn't look that great for one country to send military personnel to another to kill someone however understandable the circumstances.
I also feel very uncomfortable when I see the scenes of celebration, even jubilation. If the people celebrating had themselves been freed from a horrible oppression, or if the threat of terrorism had been completely lifted, well, maybe. But it hasn't been. And then we have the risk of reprisals and retaliation and more innocent people being killed. Don't get me wrong, being killed in a terrorist atrocity is still quite low risk for most of us, but there are bound to be repercussions of some sort. Bin Laden's death doesn't make the loss so many families across the world feel and it won't fill the void in their lives.
One of the many reasons I totally oppose things like the use of torture in any circumstances is because I think that if we are going to talk the talk about freedom and justice, we need to walk the walk and be totally blamelesss. Otherwise those who would do evil can twist our actions and use them as part of a recruitment promotion. Even though their actions are much worse, a small departure from due process on our part can be give disproportionate ammunition.
To balance things, though, I have to take into account that the decision on this operation was made, not by some right wing hawk, but by a measured, liberal president. I have enough faith in Obama to believe that he did what he did for the right reasons. It would have been preferable to have taken him alive, but I accept that the chances of that happening were slim.
I would urge caution, though, to all those who think that Obama's re-election is assured. Remember about this time, 20 years ago, George H W Bush was at 91% approval rating and seemed unassailable. Eighteen months later, Bill Clinton beat him. Voters will decide the 2012 election based on how they feel about their job security or the cost of living. It's the economy, stoopid, and all that. And let's not forget that there are powerful interests wanting revenge on Obama for healthcare reform.
We live in a world where there are some bad people willing to carry out horrible atrocities, where others live in appalling poverty, with no say over who rules them or much else in their lives. Women often suffer horrible oppression while gay people are persecuted by some states just for being who they are. Bin Laden's death doesn't change any of that. The fairer a place the world is, the safer it's likely to become. There's an awful lot to be done on that score.