Cal Poly Student Carleigh Lake Ethically Analyzes the Killing of Osama
I am so pleased to use two of my accounting ethics students' ethics blogs on my own blog site because they illustrate the quality of writing and thoughtfulness of students in the Orfalea College of Business at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Today's blog is by Carleigh Lake on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Tomorrow, Lindsey Franz will blog about the sexualization of women in the media.
As the news of Osama bin Laden’s death ran viral around the world on May 1, 2011, some people rejoiced while others
were disheartened; still others were deeply saddened by the act. My question is: In a world where ethical values have been diminishing for years, how do we respond to the death of Osama?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you can murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.” Through our violence have we increased hatred of the U.S? Is it right to condone the murder of a person because he was a mass murderer himself? Is it right to question such a murder from an ethical perspective?
We live in a society with the basic values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Under our laws, Osama Bin Laden should have received a fair trial with a jury present. Some believe that it was unethical to kill him since he was unarmed at the time of his death. Others believe the killing was justified since it was in the best interest of the world and qualifies as retributive justice – “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
Osama used his followers as a means to an end by having them kill themselves at the same time they were killing others. This is an ethical issue in itself since he was sacrificing his own people in his pursuit of slaughtering his opposition including fellow Muslims. Many have justified Osama’s death as self-defense of not only the American people but the greater, peace-loving world. This is a debatable proposition but we should realize the normal “standards” of warfare that say we should try and take prisoners and not kill them hardly applies in the case of a mass murder of innocent people, all in the name of a cause – or because of hatred of others.
Another ethical aspect to consider is the method in which Osama was buried. John Brennan, chief counterterrorism advisor to President Obama, informed the American people in a statement shortly after the death, that Osama was buried in accordance with “strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices.” This included burying the body at sea, performing a ritual prayer, washing and shrouding the body and then burial 24-hours after death. This shows respect for a culture and the person himself. However, a contrarian might question whether Muslims should have been allowed to decide what a proper burial in this situation is. Obama’s failure to follow this path can be criticized from the perspective of the virtues of caring and empathy for another. In other words, how would we like it if one of our perceived heroes was given a burial by our very own enemies who killed that person?
Finally, to me the most interesting ethical issue is whether people, the American public, should have been out in the streets celebrating the murder of Osama as if our team had just won the Superbowl? Does that make us any better than those who celebrate in the streets after the capture of an American soldier? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? President Obama attempted to set the proper somber, not celebratory tone, in his speech informing the nation of Osama’s death. His position that we shouldn’t release photos of Osama's body and circulate them or treat the death and body as some trophy is ethically proper. To do otherwise would have shown disrespect for the Muslim religion and may have stoked the flames that burn inside radical Islam.
We devoted nine years, lost thousands of lives and spent trillions of dollars in the pursuit of one man. True, he is a symbol, perhaps the most glaring symbol, of hatred for America. True, he committed an unspeakable crime on 9-11. However, we must be realistic about what this one killing may do in the war on terrorism. Dr. King said by killing the terrorist you do not kill terrorism. I suppose the message our leaders want is for the world to learn that America will stop at nothing to hunt down a terrorist and bring him to justice, even if the decision is made to kill the individual rather than capture him to avoid dealing with the consequences of a trial and prolonged ridicule. It’s been almost six weeks since Osama’s death and it has all but been forgotten – at least by the media. But let’s not forget that this shouldn’t become part of our national strategy in fighting an enemy that hates us or we risk being labeled the haters ourselves.
Blog by Carleigh Lake posted on Ethics Sage, June 9, 2011