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Closure and the death of bin Laden

May 16, 2011

Q Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, was killed last week by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. He was shot to death in the raid and then buried at sea.

President Barack Obama has hailed the death of the al-Qaeda leader as a “good day for America,” saying the world is now “a safer and a better place,” although almost every U.S. embassy around the world has been put on high alert in case of reprisals. When news of bin Laden’s death broke, crowds flooded the streets of New York and Washington, D.C. to celebrate the terrorist’s death.

Now that bin Laden is dead, will his death bring some kind of closure to America?

Let’s hope for closure — closure, that is, as opposed to a further slide down the ethical slope, from viewing assassination as a necessary evil to accepting, and even prizing it, as a righteous act.

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Before the news reports wrapped on the night of bin Laden’s death, there was already talk of his No. 2 right- hand man — talk which felt a lot like we were asking, “Who’s next on our hit parade of people it’s OK to assassinate?”

And where does that slope end?

Every once in a while there is someone so thoroughly evil and murderous that it’s necessary to kill them, intent as they are on the mass destruction of others. But this necessity is no cause for boasting or jubilation. It is a choice to take sin upon ourselves, and that choice should never be a happy one. Sin for the cause of a higher good is still sin; and we must be especially sober in the face of our deliberate choice to commit it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed for his part in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler, wrote that “when a man [sic] takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it.... Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace” (Ethics, p. 244).

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