June 12, 2011 by John-Charles Duffy
Another al Qaeda leader has been killed; this is the second such killing I’ve been aware of since the assassination of Osama bin Laden (whose death makes three). I’m hesitant to criticize from the safety of my desk chair those who have led the attacks that have resulted in these deaths, but I do feel compelled to ask: Is our government–or the other governments orchestrating these attacks–committed to at least trying to bring these people to legal justice? Or is cowboy justice–just shoot the bad guys and have done with them–the default policy here?
I don’t feel any inclination to celebrate these deaths. And that’s not because I have rigorously pacificistic sensibilities on the subject of killing bad guys. I served my mission in the Dominican Republic, which was ruled by a brutal dictator, Trujillo, from 1930 to 1961, when he was finally assassinated by Dominicans aided, it appears, by the CIA (although the U.S. had earlier supported Trujillo’s regime as a bulwark against Communism in the Caribbean). I feel no ambivalence regarding the assassination of Trujillo. My feeling is: He was a monster who got what he deserved, and it’s too bad someone didn’t riddle him with bullets sooner.
I’m not proud that I feel that way. My point is: I’m not quite sure what to make of the fact that while I heartily approve the assassination of Trujillo, who didn’t touch my life in any meaningful way, I feel much more ambivalent, leaning toward disapproval, about the assassination of people who did, in fact, represent a potential threat to my safety or that of people to whom I am strongly connected. I don’t feel any twinge of regret that Trujillo was killed instead of being brought before an international tribunal to be tried for crimes against humanity; I do feel that regret about Osama bin Laden. Is there really a meaningful difference? Or does approval for the one killing help legitimate the other?