More than a year ago, April 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to President Obama urging him against the very practices that finally introduced Osama bin Ladin to the justice he deserved. The letter, signed by the ACLU Executive Director, Anthony D. Romero, decried the practice of killing terrorists in non-combat zones as a violation of international law and the United States Constitution. According to the ACLU, “Even in an armed conflict zone, individuals may be targeted only if they take a direct part in hostilities, for such time as they do so, or if they have taken up a continuous combat function…Propagandists, financiers, and other non-combat ‘supporters’ of hostile groups cannot lawfully be targeted with lethal force.”
The recent killing of bin Laden in a non-combat zone and while he was reportedly unarmed directly contravened the ACLU’s interpretation of United States military authority. Good thing President Obama did not heed the ACLU; otherwise, bin Laden would still be alive today. Perhaps the ACLU will consider retracting its position in light of recent events?
We have the best military in the world, no doubt, but to ask them to fight with one hand tied behind their back, as the ACLU would have essentially required, is a little much. The ACLU exalts form over substance and would cripple our government in one of the few areas where it has a legitimate role—in protecting its people against mass murderers and securing justice.
The war against terrorism is not a conventional one. There are no “Braveheart” battle sequences where one standing army fights another on a well delineated battlefield. We are fighting countless terrorist cells, and the battlefield is worldwide. Our war strategy is more analogous to a corporeal war against a relentless, infectious virus. Every member, leader or financier of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, with a stated goal of ridding the world of non-Muslim influences through violence and mass murder, is a legitimate military target. A virus. Al-Qaeda might not be a sovereign state, but their shared murderous intent and collective action to execute mass murders make each member equally culpable.
Bin Laden deserved nothing more than the assassination that was bestowed him. He founded al-Qaeda. He orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks around the globe and on American soil: the 1992 bombing in Aden, Yemen; the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; the 1996 assassination attempt on former President Clinton; the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa; the 2000 suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole; and the 9/11 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The innocent blood of thousands dripped from his fingers. He trampled on the non-aggression principle with impunity.
In addition to the loss of lives, bin Laden’s economic toll was staggering. Insurance losses from the 9/11 attacks exceeded $40 billion. New York lost 430,000 jobs following the attacks—a total of around $2.8 billion in lost wages. Businesses were displaced. Families broken. Bin Laden’s terrorism changed our very way of life. Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, estimates that the annual cost of the extra wait time alone, generated by post 9/11 airport security measures, is around $8 billion per year (or $80 billion in total). And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The effects of bin Laden’s terrorist attacks rippled throughout our entire economic system, making the total losses almost impossible to calculate.
If ever there was a villain who deserved an assassination, bin Laden was the one. The fact that bin Laden was killed unarmed only sweetens the justice. It’s fitting, really, given his penchant for killing the defenseless. Might we have benefited from keeping him alive? Maybe. Perhaps he could have offered some beneficial intelligence. But the message the assassination sends to other leaders of terrorist organizations is invaluable: if you murder innocent Americans, you had better sleep with one eye open. I, for one, will sleep better knowing that the terrorists out there are not.