Afternoon InquisitionRandom AsidesReligion

AI: Ding Dong The Witch is Dead

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” ~Mark Twain Clarence Darrow

As every breathing creature on the planet knows by now, Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US government in a Navy SEAL operation on May 2nd, 2011. He was one of the most despised men on the planet and when word of his death was released celebrations broke out across the land. This guy even shaved his beard. It is an interesting phenomena encountered when the death of a man is cause for celebration. And it brings to mind some interesting questions on morality and issues such as the death penalty.

I can assume we all pretty much agree that this guy deserved to die. Right? At least everyone in the United States agrees. But what if he had only killed my family in his attacks. Would it be a different story then if I wished him dead?

Do you think BIn Laden should have been captured alive or was it better to kill him on the spot? At what point is it ok to wish someone dead? Do they have to kill a certain number of people? How much of an asshole do you have to be before the world is justified in terminating your existence and then throwing a keg party?

Bin Laden’s NYT obituary is here.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

[ED: thanks to tatooed_g33k for the correction on the quotation!]

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Seriously, though, I’m torn on the death penalty. I felt nothing but grim satisfaction for bin Laden’s death. The death penalty in the US is overused and applied in a way that’s slanted against the poor and minorities. But then guys like Scott Peterson, for example, come along and I can’t say I’m completely against the death penalty.

  2. I wouldn’t have minded him being captured, but I’m afraid our exultation might reached the levels of Rome parading Vercingetorix through its streets. I think it’s difficult to come up with some measuring stick to determine “not enough of an asshole” vs. “asshole is dead, let’s start a conga line”, but I think repeated demonstration of a single-minded desire to sow as much death and fear as possible, a clearly expressed disdain for collateral damage and repeated exhortations to his ‘followers’ to rinse/repeat the cycle might qualify for the latter.

    At the same time, I am uncomfortable with the primate-like, chest-thumping style of gloating. I understand it’s only human nature to release so much pent up frustration, pain and rage in celebration, but some of the jingoistic euphoria started grating on my nerves. I was among the many folks in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 morning, and my feelings when I saw the news on my iPod touch were mostly disbelief, shock, relief and a little moment of cathartic crying.

  3. I believe that the quote is a Clarance Darrow quote, not Mark Twain. John Hodgman has been tweeting about it today and shared this link.

    I feel no love lost for the asshole, nor do I feel wrong for cackling like a madwoman when I heard the news. What does make me feel icky is the blatant racist comments that I’ve seen much more of since this happened. A rapper I follow on twitter, @HEEMS, has collected several and they make me feel fucking nauseated.

    I think the US handled it the about the best way possible. Should we have caputured him? That begs the question, then what do we do with him? Put him in Gitmo? That would go over well. <_<

  4. I am opposed to capital punishment. In the realm of run of the mill assholes I don’t think it does any good and has the potential to do a lot of harm.

    In cases like this where the crimes are beyond the pale and the likelihood of him being the wrong guy is so slim I’m not going to sweat it.

    He deserved to die and I rather hope it hurt.

    What’s been bugging me is the keg party. Killing people is a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a necessary thing but I don’t think it should be celebrated.

    Violence is a very bad option and when it becomes necessary the notion that someone really wins starts to get precarious.

    Even if we disregard the Iraq war, how many people have died to bring this guy to justice?

    1. Yep, I agree with you, mostly.. And I too, hope it hurt.

      But, on the other hand, I kinda did celebrate, a little. in an uncharacteristic bout of nationalism. With a completely characteristic bunch of wine and snark.

      He’s better to my world as fish food.

  5. In principle I don’t object to the death penalty for certain types of crimes. In practice I’m not a death penalty fan given the potential screw ups inherent in human systems. I read that the Seals were to take Osama alive if it was reasonable. He was apparently armed and shooting so not much of an option. And while I don’t think his death solves anything, I’m more than okay with a criminal of this magnitude being offed in this manner.

  6. I wouldn’t say there’s a “yardstick,” and I would have rathered bin Laden be captured than killed in the field, but there is no doubt in my mind the man deserved death. I’m generally against capital punishment – if you kill someone, two people, maybe even fifteen or twenty people, you deserve to be kept in prison perhaps for the rest of your life, but you don’t deserve to be killed. However, we’re talking about thousands here. That, I’m sure, is well beyond where any yardstick would fall.

  7. A headline in my local newspaper reads:

    ‘It looks fishy’ Skeptics Doubt Bin Ladin’s Death.

    Be prepared.

  8. I’m a death penalty opponent. However my personal opinion is that if you commit murder you deserve to die. My opposition to the death penalty comes from the acknowledgement that our legal system is somewhat imperfect.

    In this case however it was probably best that he was killed in a shoot out. A trial would have been messy, would have taken years and we would almost certainly have been faced with kidnappings and demands for release of OBL.

    He had ten years to give himself up. Bit late when the SEALs come knocking.


  9. I can’t say that I am for the death penalty at all.

    I would have to ask myself ‘why do I want him dead?’

    If the answer is to punish him, I don’t see death as a punishment.

    If the answer is retribution I’m not sure whether that’s a good enough answer. Or at least not a civilised one.

    If the answer is to make me feel better or safer, again I don’t think that is a good enough answer.

    If the answer is because he orchestrated the killing of a large number of people, I still don’t see death as a particularly suitable or worthwhile response.

    1. I understand your points, and I agree with them. But I don’t think that is why. I think he had to die, because circumstances made it too difficult to take him alive. And, he had to be taken. Because him living in that mansion, untouched by ten year’s and many hundreds of millions of American dollars’ efforts, inspired others. It inspired bombings in London and Madrid and India. It inspired dumb-asses with explosives in their underwear and their shoes.

      But these guys might still remain inspired, for now. But the next guy that fills OBL’s shoes, the next guy who thinks he can get the lime light and take the credit while brainwashed and desperate kids take all the risks, that guy is going to remember that sooner or later, a US Navy seal will put a bullet in his face.

      And I’ll have another unreasonable celebration, then, too.

      1. I think his death is no cause for celebration. However, it is indeed the best possible outcome in this situation. Any alternative scenario would most likely have caused a lot more problems (and I do assume the original intent was to capture him alive).
        Still, the open celebration that did take place is going to anger precisely those people you don’t want to upset any more. To them, he is now a martyr, although less of a dangling carrot than if he’d still been alive. I expect more shit is going to blow up (or people will at least be trying to do so) by the time the 10-year anniversary of the twin towers collapse rolls by …

  10. So far as I know, they were going for the capture but not realistically expecting to go that easily. I have no problem with that.

  11. I guess latest is that he resisted. Egypt learned the hard way that keeping these guys in prison is very dangerous. It leads to hostage situations where people are held…and release of the terrorist is demanded. Then there is the UK thing with the Libyan that was released for medical reasons that appears to be still alive today. I don’t like killing, but then again, when the 9-11 survivor said on tv she felt some justice was served when she thought that Ossamas last sight was an American giving him the double tap…well, and he did have to wait through at least 30 minutes of a fire fight…eh…

  12. I am against the death penalty because our justice system is so flawed. i live in Illinois and applauded when George Ryan (who is currently in jail) suspended the death penalty (the only worthwhile thing he did as governor as far as I’m concerned).
    Between 1977 when capital punishment was reestablish in the state and 2001 when it was suspended Illinois executed 13 prisoners; in that same time 13 prisoners were exonerated by DNA evidence. That is a ratio that we can not live with regardless of any possible benefits (none of which hold up IMO).
    I used to believe that certain crimes were heinous enough to warrant death (treason, terrorism, etc.) but while it may be cathartic I know longer believe that it is worth it, the Rosenbergs prove that the higher courts are no less open (and perhaps more) to manipulation for political reasons.
    As far as celebrating the death of an enemy; it’s something that we skeptics are not above. Besides, it can be fun.

  13. I can’t justify celebrating anyone’s death; and I’m disgusted to see the same celebration of death here in the western world that so shocked and appalled us when we saw others celebrating 9/11. It’s morbid, and sick, and disheartening. But I find myself feeling the same way I did after Falwell died; that I certainly do not mourn the death of someone that made the world a worse place in which to live.

  14. We have lived for so long without the death penalty in Australia ( a bipartisan position ) that it’s application in the USA is as abhorrent to me as it is in Iran, China, et al.
    However, your country, your rules, your responsibility.

    It’s just a pity that others, like the 40,000 Pakistanis who have died at the hands of Al Quaeda and USA drones, may have to pay, yet again, for the action of others and their geographic position.

    We may never really know what transpired on May 2nd in that so called ” mansion “, but one thing is for sure.
    The Al Quaeda spin will be, he died as a warrior in the service of Allah, assassinated by the infidel.

    A martyr is created and the fanatics queue up to strap the vest of evil to their chest and murder a few more people doing the shopping.

  15. In the end, Osama Bin Laden stepped into the war theater with his support of Al-Qaeda. While I don’t believe he encompasses all that Al-Qaeda is, he helped fund, lead, and recruit people for Al-Qaeda. After September 11th, the United States began it’s War on Terrorism. Being former military and having other family members in the military, I believe in the role the military fulfills to protect our country and interest. (I know that is anecdotal, but anything I say will be justified by all the brainwashing I have been subjected too :) ) When I think on the theater of war, things like rules of engagement and special military missions come into play. To the question did he deserve to die, he didn’t choose peaceful demonstration, he choose to participate in war.

  16. I’m not concerned that he was killed, given that it’s unlikely that he could have been taken alive. Screw him.

    What concerns me is not him, but the rest of us. He hasn’t had his day in court, and therefore justice has not been done. Nobody’s death justifies the kind of jubilation that we normally associate with people firing guns into the air in those countries.

    Relief, that I could understand. Not joy.

  17. I just wish we could have captured him alive long enough to get photographic evidence in legitimate press to shut up the worst of the conspiracy theorists. So far I’ve heard he’s been dead forever and Obama just wanted the birth certificate fiasco over with quickly in the press so he found something else for them to focus on. I’ve heard it’s all a lie without the body to prove it.

    I am really disgusted by the parties and cheering. And the crap that his death will end terrorism or make us safer or any of that bull. Not much will change and soon enough there will be another asshole to take his place.

    1. Yeah, that birther ‘logic’ always makes my head hurt…I mean if this were the case, then wouldn’t it make more sense for Obama to hold back this news until next spring or summer so he could ride the wave into November with ease? Conspiracy theorists just have to overcomplicate everything.

    2. You know very well that no amount of evidence ever impacts the theorists :)

      I’ve read that the dominant theory in Pakistan is that he was actually killed years ago, but that it was covered up and released now for political reasons.

  18. As someone else put it: “Does this mean that children will no longer be molested by airport security?” OBL’s death changes nothing, really. The world is no more safe now than it was on Saturday. There are a lot of other high level leaders in Al Qaida. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    He gave this country a serious black eye, and it took us ten years and who-knows-how-much money and resources to FINALLY find him, not hiding in a cave, as I was led to believe, but in a grand mansion in the center of a city in a country whose government swore they were looking for him. It’s hard for me to consider that “justice served.”

  19. Damn You! I read the headline and thought that Thatcher had finally kicked the bucket.

  20. I don’t agree that anyone ever deserves to die. And even if they do, I don’t believe that anyone deserves to kill them.

    I heard a suggestion that he should have been taken alive and made to go through airport security for the rest of his life. I like that one.

  21. Emotionally I’d want him alive but I can see how that would be more difficult/dangerous. I’m not bothered that we killed him.

    At what point is it OK to wish someone dead? When they write your instead of you’re.

    Do they have to kill a certain number of people? Back to being serious – no amount of evil justifies killing in and of itself. If that evil exists and killing someone will save other lives or stop them from being at a serious risk then it is justified to kill someone.

    As for the last question grief and fear are pretty primal emotions, when someone has done something that promotes those kind of very strong emotions then we really should not be demanding that they express that in any particular way as long they aren’t hurting anyone else. Let people celebrate Osama’s death; some of them lost loved ones, let them grieve how they want to grieve.

  22. Here’s the thing –

    Death happens to everybody. Period. Doesn’t matter whether they deserve it or not. The death penalty is harsh, yes, but only taking the uncertainties out of the inevitable. We all die anyway.

    In this case, the son of a bitch deserved to suffer for intentionally inflicting suffering on as many other human beings as he could possibly manage.
    I think he got off too easy.

    As for the death penalty, I’m all for it as long as A) there is solid proof of guilt and B) it is reasonable to believe the person would continue to be a threat if left alive.

  23. I would have preferred a fair trial, so he could face his own crimes and justice could be seen to be done fairly. I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I also think it’s a poor punishment. The man is dead. Is he suffering now? Unlikely in my perception of the world. Has he been made to see the magnitude of the suffering it is claimed he caused? No.

  24. I don’t think we should have killed Bin Laden, but I don’t have any problem celebrating his death. It’s kind of a natural response to the end of a conflict. Those who win celebrate and those who lose sulk, or die.

    The main worry with Bin Laden is that his death may have created a martyr.

  25. I do not think it is ever completely okay to wish someone dead or to celebrate when someone dies. I will admit that I felt glad when I heard the news of bin Laden’s death, but it was a guilty pleasure. To glote serenely and self-righteously over the misery or misfortune of someone else, without even a twinge of guilt or self-questioning, simply because the person being gloted over had caused misery to others, is highly uncivilized and very American.

      1. Tut, tut. rasmur did not say “wholey American”, rasmur said “very American”. In which point rasmur is quite correct.

  26. Thought experiment: George W Bush caused the death of a lot of innocent Iraqis and his stated reasons (arguably, let’s not get sidetracked) don’t hold water. Switch the hats and GWB looks a lot like OBL. Suppose an Iraqi hit squad guns him down, claim they wanted to arrest him but had no option.

    Still celebrating? Why not?

  27. As an atheist, I’m against the death penalty. Why? Well, pretty simple actually. If you let someone die, you give them oblivion. No afterlife, right? If you let them live in prison, you take away someone’s freedom. That’s much more of a punishment than death.

    I think the death penalty only works if you believe in punishment after death. Otherwise it’s just an easy escape.

  28. I side eye any American who isn’t celebrating his death. September 11th hit me very hard, I’m a New Yorker and to see my lovely city which is full of immigrants and has always symbolized the best that this country has to offer, turned into a war zone made me angry. My father had to work the WTC crime scene for months, he was witness to the bits of people found in the wreckage and placed into small, plastic bags. He still has a hacking cough from the toxic atmosphere down there. I celebrated Osama’s death, I REVELED in it and no one will tell me that I am wrong. My only regret is that we could only kill him once.

    1. Eugh. This is why Europe has been looking at the US with fascinated disgust this week. It’s never right to celebrate the killing of another human being – cross reference the Middle Eastern dancing in the streets when New York was hit on 9/11.

      1. There was wide-spread condemnation of the 9/11 attacks in the Islamic world, and many mass protests against the attacks, including mass vigils and 60,000 people at a soccer stadium in Iran observed a minute of silence. The few celebrations appeared to be mostly in Palestinian refugee camps and were condemned and minimized by the Palestinian National Authority. They may also have been staged or over-hyped by the media trying to drum up controversy. I got most of this information from Wikipedia, but it jibes with my memory of the events.

  29. The whole thing reads like a cliche revenge-plot Mel Gibson movie. People are told what to believe, what to feel. Fact is we are a murderous lot. As a US citizen I frequently think of the native Americans slaughtered mercilessly to gain this land. Dig two feet down and the soil is still blood red. Waive your flags kids, oh, and text me.

  30. I support the death penalty with sufficient evidence of guilt. I don’t support mutilation as punishment, for example, castration or cutting hands off. A quick death and be done.

    But in this case, I’d have drawn and quartered him on The West Lawn, and mounted his head on the White House Fence.

    I’m not concerned about his followers wanting revenge, as they make up reasons to call us infidels and kill us anyway.

  31. I’ll not shed any tears for OBL. But I’ll also note that I think it would have been preferable to have caught him alive and given him a proper trial. It would kind of show that we are, in fact, committed to this whole pronciple of proper criminal justice that we keep going on about.
    But he wasn’t caught alive and for all I know, the navy SEALs weren’t able to take him alive. Them’s the breaks.

    I’m opposed to states having death penalty as a possible criminal sanction.
    However, I’m not necessarily opposed to murderong people in every circumstance. When the resistance here in DK were executing Gestapo snitches during the occupation, I’m unable to think of that as being anything other than entirely justified.

  32. > Heard on a podcast: I would have been fine sending him to the > Phantom Zone.

    Like *that* hasn’t led to disaster before.

    Myself, I’m not gloating, but I’m relieved that he’s dead. Just to Godwin out for a second, if we were right to execute top Nazis for crimes against humanity, then the death of Bin Laden is probably right too.

  33. I am fine with him being dead. I don’t know if this makes the death penalty okay (though I still lean towards a “no”) but with an asshole of this sheer magnitude, I feel no qualms about his death.

    Certainly not sorry that he’s gone. I also don’t care that people are dancing on his grave. Just so long as it is not a victory dance. He accomplished far too much of what he wanted to do for us to be patting ourselves on the back, I think.

    Those are my thoughts. :D

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