Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Difficulty for Bush after He Captures Bin Laden

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Difficulty for Bush after He Captures Bin Laden

Article excerpt

Byline: GEORGE WALDEN

President Bush last night said again he wanted to smoke out Osama bin Laden. But how would the world put him on trial, asks George Walden

IF AMERICA fails to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden, and after weeks of bombing and cruise missile attacks he is still sipping green tea and issuing mocking videos from his cave, President Bush will be in trouble. But if the Americans succeed in either shooting him or taking him prisoner, they could be in deeper trouble still. "Wanted dead or alive" George Bush said in the heat of the moment, and there seems little doubt that most Americans would prefer the former.

Yet disposing of him on the spot could be costly in innocent lives.

Whether he was cut down while resisting arrest or shot with his hands up would scarcely matter. Muslim opinion in the Middle East has shown scant interest in the facts, and Bin Laden, already a hero to many, would be consecrated a martyr however he met his end, and his death would be invoked as instant justification for any atrocity you care to imagine.

Even if he were taken alive and put on trial, a terrorist reaction would be virtually certain. Liberal opinion in the West has warned that America must not lose the moral high ground, and until now, the White House has been careful to provide evidence of his guilt insofar as it can without revealing intelligence sources, and to secure a broad UN Security Council mandate as cover for its actions. But playing things by the book and carrying Bin Laden off to America for trial, complete with defence counsel paid for by the American taxpayer, would not solve the problem.

Either he would be released for lack of conclusive evidence, or he would be found guilty and consigned to death row for execution.

No doubt, he would contrive to have himself filmed on the electric chair and exercise his constitutional right to make a final call for a jihad to

avenge his death, so as to ensure maximum carnage. This appalling scenario is probably academic: in the real world, the carnage would begin the moment he was captured, and intensify when he was put on trial. And when the going got tough, I would not rely on Arab states or so-called moderate Muslim opinion to defend the right of America to put on trial a man suspected of conspiracy to murder 6,000 people, however immaculate the legal procedure.

On the contrary we could expect indignant statements by representatives of thuggish Middle Eastern regimes, who murder and torture their domestic opponents without a thought, protesting at the scandalous inadequacy of America's legal system.

Meanwhile, terrorist organisations would presumably not wait to see whether Bin Laden was pronounced innocent or guilty, and do their devilish worst to prevent the trial proceeding. …

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