Bin Laden, Willful Destruction of Evidence, and the Rule of Law

In what marks a departure from usual form, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz raises several excellent points in the following piece in which he writes, “burying [OBL’s] body at sea constituted the willful destruction of relevant evidence.” As an experienced criminal defense attorney, Dershowitz acknowledges the profound usefulness in subjecting the human body to forensic testing to reconstruct the facts in a homicide case. Nevertheless, that Dershowitz “believes the President acted properly” in violating Pakistan’s national sovereignty to carry out a political assassination in the dead of night is not a surprise, as it is the routine practice of his main client, Israel, as well as the world’s most powerful state actors–Russia and the United States. As always, to so much as raise questions about the legality of an operation that has conferred apotheotic status on President Obama will only invite ridicule and insult. That power and privilege are above the rule of law, both at the state and individual level, is a fact that has held true since time immemorial. In accordance with convention, it is exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible, for an American to take a principled stance on this issue, without being branded an “apologist” for Bin Laden (who uncontroversially was an international criminal), or some equivalent libel. But what is remarkable and indeed promising is that more and more Western intellectuals have taken a conscientious stance in raising serious legal and moral questions about the entire affair, particularly Glenn Greenwald who, since the new’s inception, has addressed this sensitive issue with great tact, poise, and courage.

Gone are the days where men like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Herman were the virtual lone voice in demanding that the United States abide by international norms and apply to itself the same standard of mortality that it demands from the entire world. In my mind, the emergence of an increasingly “mainstream” discourse that has risen in defense of law and justice represents genuine moral progress and only the beginning of a movement that will perhaps one day supplant hollow nationalism and become the gold standard of our nation. As it stands, the “Golden Rule” practiced by those who possess unquestioned power teaches, “the one with the gold makes the rules,” a vulgarity that bares scarce resemblance to the high-minded principle taught by all the world’s great moral traditions, both secular and religious.

My sense is that it is precisely those Americans who are indifferent to the rule of law, and unaware of the immense human suffering that was wrought on the innocent people of Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve this narrow end, who were most prone to engage in the rather tasteless displays of jubilation that ensued immediately after news broke. In a sense, they cannot be blamed for their ignorance as every effort has been made to present the US effort as a war of necessity that has resulted in inconsequential “collateral damage”; how this fiction of just war, proportionality, and purity of arms can be reconciled with the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who suffered an unnecessary and  premature demise, I cannot say. Indeed, it is terrifying to contemplate how readily truth can be turned on its very head.

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