Thursday, 5 May 2011

Murder in Pakistan

It is perhaps a bit reckless to venture an opinion on the killing of Bin Laden until we have more information, especially given the somewhat contradictory versions that the United States has been providing. Credible reports indicate that when he was killed, Bin Laden was in his bedroom and he was unarmed. He was accompanied by his wife, and apparently a child was also present. He did not, contrary to early reports, use his wife as a 'human shield' although she may well have tried to prevent her husband from being killed, which should not surprise anyone. He was in his mid-50s and has been on kidney dialysis for many years.
If these facts are true, the killing of Bin Laden should be described as murder. In international human rights law, we would use the term 'extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution'. Such murder is obviously contrary to international law, it is contrary to the laws of Pakistan and it is contrary to the laws of the United States.
I don't even think that it is very useful in these circumstances to look at cases of 'targeted killings' using drones or other remote devices. This is a situation where the victim appears to have been under the physical control
of the perpetrators at the time he was killed.
Almost a year ago, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued an important ruling concerning the execution of Latvian peasants who had apparently sided with the Nazis during the Second World War. Many years later, the war hero who was responsible for the killings was prosecuted for war crimes. The European Court confirmed that summary execution was a war crime some 65 years ago. Nothing has changed since then. There is no legal exception that allows American soldiers to sneak into a country, confront an unarmed man in late middle age and to kill him, whatever the nature of the crimes of which he is suspected.
One can sympathize with those who lost their loved onces on 11 September. But the sort of grotesque gloating that was shown on American television reminded me of the 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead' scene in The Wizard of Oz. I was rather shocked yesterday to hear the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs being interviewed on the subject. When asked about whether the killing of Bin Laden was legal, all he could do was repeat trite phrases like 'the victims of 9/11 were also killed without warning or trial'. He meant this as a justification for the US action. But in reality, he was saying 'the US are no better than Al Qaeda'.
According to international human rights law, Pakistan has a duty to bring the perpetrators of this murder to justice. Bin Laden had a right to a fair trial, like anyone else.
I have couched these comments in a caveat about knowing more facts. The United States government is the only body in possession of the facts. It has a duty to make things clear. There can be no doubt that the whole business was well-documented and that the soldiers involved had video-cameras on their helmets. Possibly, they were acting in self-defence. But in any court of law, he or she who invokes self-defence as a justification for killing another human being has a burden of proof to demonstrate that the action was proportional, and that the threat to the lives of those who did the killing by the victim was genuine. Case law would not provide many precedents to suggest that armed intruders who surprise an older man in his own bedroom can invoke self-defence successfully. There are other means - Tasers, tear gas, etc. - that enable a suspected criminal to be taken into custody if there is a fear of life-threatening response. Case law on this is also quite clear: see the European Court decision in McCann.
But who knows? So show us the films and we can all decide.


Olivia Danai said...

I agree with your comment and I think it is very disturbing how political leaders started to comment on Bin Laden's death. E.g. in Germany Chancellor Merkel has said she was "happy" about him being killed. Where will this development end if it is possible to kill criminals in such a way? Even the imposition of the death penalty in countries that still practice it requires a fair trial in which all the circumstances of the crimes, the defendant has committed will be examined.
The Obama administration seems to have adopted the same erroneous approach - like the Bush administration - that terrorist is considered to be a civilian person taking part in hostilities.

mihai martoiu ticu said...

This is one of the greatest flaws of International Law. His relatives cannot sue the U.S. at an international court and challenge the U.S. legal argument. Whatever the U.S. says, goes. We should enact such a court or courts, for instance an International Court of Human Rights.

Luís Paulo said...

I completely agree with you. Bin Laden's murder has been a show of numerous violations. It was vengeance, not justice. If the US was serious about rule of law and human rights they would have arrested him and tried him in a court for the whole world to see. This summary execution was much like Stalin's wish to hang all the nazi leaders after the 2nd World War. Back then the US pushed to create the IMT at Nuremberg. It is a shame to see that today they would rather kill Bin Laden and dump his body on the seabed. Most of all it is one further disappointment for all those who thought Obama would change practices banalized by the Bush administration. It is despairing to see the head of the CIA admitting that torture was used to get information of Bin Laden's whereabouts as if that was a great achievement. Shame on the US.
Once again, if we are to believe in human rights, we must affirm that everyone, even Bin Laden deserves a fair trial and respect for his life.

Chema Arraiza said...

We'll have to wait for wikileaks to know what happened. In the meantime, it is interesting to reflect on this in the anniversary of Eichmanns capture and trial.

K said...

You make some really good and legitimate points here, the blatant disregard for law is appaling, and opinion which seems almost absent in the media much to my frustration. The other thing that has frustrated me about what has happened is why the world seems to accept as truth anything that the American Military Establishment comes out and says? How is this journalism? we have no proof, and no body...
I dont want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but i think its ridiculous that they have apparently thrown his body into the sea... this is the worlds most wanted man and there has been no independent verification of what happened and the worlds media seems to think that that is acceptable....and nobody seems to be questioning it.

Anonymous said...

What an odd coincidence! I cam across this very nice, measured, post of yours by chance, but when I first wrote about Osama's death, I too drew a parallel to the Wizard of Oz:

And then today, when summarizing some of the readings I'd done around the issue ( I also linked to an event at the Castan Centre in June, where you are speaking! Looking forward to it even more now.

Thanks! :)

Unknown said...

As Ghandi once stated: 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind'. Americas' blatant disregard for human rights has been excused as 'a war against terrorism'. Consequently, it has lead to an endless and costly war. It is sad to think that their scheme to avenge was a scheme to revenge. I can only imagine how different it might have been if the states had handled this differently.