Sparing Bin Laden: Ethics Lessons From Bill Clinton’s 2011 Admission

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn't matter.

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn’t matter.

Sky News host Paul Murray revealed a previously unreleased audio recording of Bill Clinton speaking to a group of Australian businessman in Melbourne (undoubtedly for an obscene fee, since the Clintons were poor as church mice back then, but I digress) on September 10, 2001.  Clinton’s fascinating answer to an audience question about terrorism has raised a lot of eyebrows:

“Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

Observations from an ethics perspective: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Washington University in St. Louis

Halloween prank

Before we leave the topic of the ravages of political correctness and the excessive fear of  grievance bullies, let’s pause to ask the administrators of Washington University in St. Louis…What’s wrong with you?

On October 30, several students posted a photo (that’s it on the left) on Facebook costumed as three U.S. soldiers pointing super-soakers at another student dressed as Osama bin Laden, with a fifth student holding a large American flag as a backdrop. Several things are not in doubt. 1. This was a Halloween stunt. 2. Osama bin Laden masks and costumes have been relatively common since Halloween 2002, as have been all historical villains in U.S. history since Halloween became a tradition. 3. There is nothing wrong with that. 4. An Osama bin Laden costume  is in no way, shape or form an insult to Muslims. 5. Osama bin Laden himself was an insult to Muslims.

Notwithstanding all this, a typical grievance bully on campus named  Mahroh Jahangiri, was determined to flex her muscles on behalf of her religion and make innocent fellow-students knuckle under and bow to her will. Maybe she thought they’d even let her speak at the next Democratic national convention, who knows? She posted a screen shot of the photo on her website, and wrote,

“This photo makes a costume of the lives of the thousands of civilian Muslim men who have been murdered during our ‘War on Terror’ and the countless others who have been mutilated, robbed, and stabbed to death in hate crimes across the United States. This is disgusting and cannot be tolerated on this campus. There are very few Muslim students on this campus, and our voice is not loud enough. For those of you who had not heard of this until now, now you have. What are we going to do to change this?” Continue reading

Comment of the day: “It Has Come To This”

JC comments in response to “It Has Come to This,” the recent  post about a school suspending a student for the non-bullying, non-threatening, non-defamatory content she wrote to friends on her personal Facebook page in the privacy of her own home. JC apologetically calls it a rant; I don’t think it is. He is providing useful context for the school’s abuse of its power, and illuminates how we got to this unfortunate place, where parents abdicate to the schools, and the schools open the door for government intrusion into our homes and families.

“…Do schools have a legitimate concern? After Columbine, Red Lake, etc. I can understand why schools would be concerned about online postings discussing murder. Often the shooting is mentioned before hand in an online post. How to prevent this school shootings? School officials think that paying attention to students online activities (whether at school or at home) is the answer. There is a world of difference between the student saying I wish teacher X was dead and saying I am going to bring three guns to school and here is the plan on how I am going to carry out my attack. School officials seem to view that difference as a fine line that they would rather be on the safe side of.

“Rant warning. Just so you know.” Continue reading

“The Mentalist” Ethics: Patrick Jane Osamas “Red John”

Red John's bloody calling-card will be found at serial killing scenes no more.

Tonight marked the season finale of “The Mentalist” on CBS, and by happy coincidence, Bruno Heller’s odd-ball murder mystery drama ended with its hero, Patrick Jane (played with brio by the excellent Simon Baker) executing his nemesis, the serial killer “Red John,” in a crowded food court…a Osama bin Laden style killing that, like the death of the Al Qaida mastermind, was both technically illegal and completely ethical.

Bravo.

Red John, for those of you who do not follow “The Mentalist,” is the self-chosen monicker of a brilliant maniac with financial resources, who slaughtered California Bureau of Investigation consultant Jane’s family as well as untold others. Jane has spent the three years of the series in an Ahab-like quest for revenge, wittily solving other murders along the way. In the final episode, Red John plotted the death of Jane’s boss and maybe love interest, Theresa Lisbon, played by Robin Tunney. Red John’s henchman managed to kill two officers and wound Lisbon before he was foiled, leading to a dramatic confrontation between the serial killer himself and the hero. Continue reading

It Has Come to This

…Well, your kids, anyway. But you’re next.

Rundlett Middle School has suspended  a 13-year-old Concord, New Hampshire girl for posting on her Facebook page that she wished Osama bin Laden had killed her math teacher.  Many of the stories published about the incident close with the statement,  “School officials say they can’t comment on the case because of privacy concerns.” While I suppose I should be relieved that they are still concerned about some privacy issues,  their respect for privacy generally leaves a lot to be desired.  So does their respect for basic constitutional rights…but they aren’t the only ones.

The post was stupid, and so what? The teacher was not placed in any jeopardy (Osama is dead, no matter what the school might have heard); no student was bullied (not that this would justify the long arm of the government reaching into the child’s bedroom either); nobody was defamed.    Kimberly Dellisola, the girl’s mother, has told the press the punishment was “too harsh.” Would somebody please tell Kimberly that the school has no business punishing her child at all? That’s Kimberly’s job, or at least was, until schools decided to take over policing what children do, write and say in their own homes. Continue reading

Bin Laden Aftermath Ethics: Deadly Expediency and Incompetence at the Top

Psst! Joe! SHUT UP! You're killing people!

Secretary of Defense William Gates told a group of Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden were concerned about their safety and that of their families. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death  exposed President Obama’s inner circle, not for the first time, as inept and reckless in the responsibilities and priorities of leadership.

Mere days after the successful raid on bin Laden’s compound, Vice President Biden spontaneously announced the name of one of the men in charge of the SEALs team at a fundraiser in Washington, saying, Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Sen. John McCain

Arizona Senator John McCain has seriously tarnished his reputation for integrity  since losing the Presidential election in 2008, particularly during his last campaign for re-election to the Senate. The best of McCain was on display this week, however, as he delivered a strong and eloquent denouncement of torture (a.k.a “enhanced interrogation techniques”) on the Senate floor, in response to the ethically offensive arguments being put forth by many conservatives that the successful elimination of Osama bin Laden somehow magically transformed the evil practice of torture into a respectable tactic of national security. It is an important, courageous and persuasive statement from a U.S. Senator with special qualifications to make it, as one who had been tortured himself, and as fine a legacy as McCain, or any Senator, could aspire to.

Sen. McCain said, in part (you can read the entire text of his speech here)…

“Mr. President, the successful end of the ten-year manhunt to bring Osama bin Laden to justice has appropriately heightened the nation’s appreciation for the diligence, patriotism and courage of our armed forces and our intelligence community.  They are a great credit and inspiration to the country that has asked so much of them, and like all Americans, I am in their debt.

“But their success has also reignited debate over whether the so-called, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ of enemy prisoners, including waterboarding, were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are necessary and justifiable means for securing valuable information that might help prevent future terrorist attacks against us and our allies and lead to the capture or killing of those who would perpetrate them.  Or are they, and should they be, prohibited by our conscience and laws as torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Jaundiced Eye of Noam Chomsky”

You can find the original post here, and under it, my response to this comment by reader Trafford Gazsik. I’d say that Christopher Hitchens’ rebuttal to Chomsky, linked in the post, and my post about the ethics of bin Laden’s execution address the issues raised, make up your own mind.

“I like Chomsky and as a non-American, I can assure you that rather than filling my head with anti-American sentiments, his writings have reassured me that America remains a country populated with mostly decent people and that the world at large should not give up on the place just yet.

“I’m interested to know which part of Chomsky’s analysis you do not agree with:

– Do you disagree with the assertion that the Bin Laden ‘takedown’ was an assassination?

– Do you reject the assertion that the assassination took place within the territory of another sovereign state without the knowledge or permission of the government of that state, in clear contravention of international law and customs?

– Do you deny that Bin Laden had not been tried in any court, and was for legal purposes, an innocent civilian of Non-US nationality residing in Non-US territory? Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Osama’s Assassination: The Ethics Elephant in the Room”

First time commenter Margo Schulter delivers a powerful, passionate and eloquent absolutist rebuttal to my post asserting an ethical defense of Osama bin Laden’s targeted killing/assassination/execution by U.S. military personnel. My immediate response to her can be found in the comments to the original post here; I don’t want to re-post it with this post because Margo’s thoughtful comment should be read and thought about prior to considering my rebuttal. Ethics Alarms is blessed with many sharp and persuasive comments, and this is one of the finest. In the grand tradition of absolutism, her answer to my question about firing the bullet that would kill an unarmed and submissive Osama  is “I wouldn’t fire that bullet to save the whole universe.” And she explains why:

“Please let me try to put my best foot forward, and keep a spirit of civility and friendly inquiry, as I say that my whole being — my guts, heart, intuition, and intellect –cry out, “No exceptions! Executions, extrajudicial or legal, are _wrong_!” I wonder what an MRI might show, and what neuroethics might say, about how people in the U.S.A. and elsewhere have such different reactions to what I would call a consummately evil and dehumanizing act.

“Please let me also apologize for the length of this comment, nevertheless just the starting point for a dialogue with lots of ramifications. How do pacifists like me see the scale of moral evils in different kinds of violence, and when might we consider using certain forms of nonlethal force? Also, there’s a way that President Obama might have modified his strategy a bit to fit Frances Kamm’s Doctrine of Triple Effect (DTE), illustrating what I see as the dangers of this intellectually intriguing concept. I’d love to join a dialogue going in any or all of these directions.

“It’s curious. You write, “I assume you shoot him dead.” And my whole being cries out, “You assume wrong!” While I’m not a physicalist, I do recognize that while we’re in this world experience and behavior are mediated through the brain, so I wonder what an MRI or the like would show for
people who have these radically different intuitions. Continue reading

Osama’s Assassination: The Ethics Elephant in the Room

You are one of the Navy Seals raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. Bin Laden rushes out, with a white flag, shouting “Mercy!”, “I surrender!” and “I’m so, so sorry!” He throws his flag down, puts his hands up, and falls to his knees, pleading for his life. What do you do?

I assume that you shoot him dead. I would. Is this ethically defensible? Continue reading