Magazine article The Spectator

In the Name of Justice

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Name of Justice

Article excerpt

It is the season of peace and goodwill towards men. Or perhaps we should this Christmas prefer the narrower, shrewder formulation of the Latin Gloria: it is the season of peace towards men of goodwill. Because there is at least one man who, by international consent, does not deserve to share in the general outpouring of benevolence.

It may be that by the time you read these words Osama bin Laden will have already been decapitated by a daisycutter in the frigid fastness of Tora Bora. Or perhaps the Saudi millionaire will shortly die at the hands of the Northern Alliance, felled by a ten-rupee jezail. There is little doubt that in the Pentagon and in Whitehall, this is the climax for which the planners are most devoutly hoping. There remains, however, the uncomfortable possibility that he will neither be killed nor even - after encouraging so many deluded young men to commit suicide - have the courage to take his own life. It may just be that Western forces will shortly capture Osama bin Laden; and we will then face a dilemma.

There will be a temptation to dispense with the rules of war, to shoot him before he can become a martyr or make more use of his genius for propaganda. It may be that US forces have already been ordered to assassinate him, and to hell with any kind of judicial process. That would be a mistake, and not just because Western actions would be subjected ever after to Pilgerish criticism, with interminable essays in the Guardian about whether he was making a gesture of surrender at the time, or reaching for his pistol. By far the best outcome would be a trial, in New York, the place of the biggest massacre he orchestrated.

By putting Osama bin Laden on trial, Western civilisation would be making the profoundest and most eloquent statement about the difference between our values and his. He wanted to kill as many innocent people as he could. We want justice. It was a trial that concluded the tragic cycle of the Oresteia, and asserted the triumph of reason over madness and revenge. It will be objected that no judge would be safe from Osama's suicide squads; that no jury could be empanelled. Indeed, as distinguished an analyst as Mark Steyn makes that point in these pages this week. That objection is not quite forceful enough. If the safety of judges and juries were the paramount concern of justice, then no Mafia hitman would ever be imprisoned. We cannot allow our system of justice to be warped and bullied by the potential actions of terrorists. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.