Every Sunday, millions of Christian’s recite the Lord’s Prayer. They call upon God to “forgive us our trespasses, just as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Being raised Grace Lutheran, I wonder if these words hold any sway over American Christians anymore.
It is striking when the death of Osama bin Laden leads to jubilant celebrations upon hearing the news of the 9/11 architect’s death. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been brought to justice, but I did challenge on my Facebook page whether the deliberate assassination of bin Laden without a formal trial really connotes the kind of justice that democratic countries promise.
I know, criticizing the Obama administration for a technical grievance about the execution of laws in such a matter isn’t very popular. Even if a 1976 U.S. law prohibits the targeted assassination of foreign citizens, why not just be happy with the death of a mass-murderer?
Never-mind that since the administration had carefully parsed their statements the Monday following the raid, they have now admitted that Osama was naked and unarmed when special forces blew his head off. Or that the intelligence gathered was not the result of torture “light”, and this might have some bearing on the debate about the disturbing justification of torture to achieve certain ends.
Referring back to the Lord’s Prayer, I’m not suggesting that we just forgive and forget what bin Laden is responsible for. But I do worry about the brutalizing of the nation. During my days in Lincoln-Douglas debate, the debate community paid a lot of attention to policies that “barbarize” a nation. I think this is exactly what’s happening in America these days.
Refer back to the magazine cover of a bulls-eye on Sadam Hussein. Amy Goodman observed that a more appropriate choice would have been a sniper-scope on a little child, because that’s who dies in war. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are no different. Granted, Americans aren’t exposed to the thousands of images of kids with their limbs blown off, or mothers crying over their dead husbands and children (though the rest of the world has seen such images).
I was appalled several years back when the Pentagon was publicly defending its choice to bomb an Iraqi wedding because “insurgents were present. Therefore it was a justifiable military target.” Never-mind that during the early years of the war with the Taliban, the U.S. Air Force elected to bomb a Red Cross Hospital not once but three times.
Or consider that once upon a time we believed in rehabilitating criminals in the penal system. No one hears about that anymore. Nor do we give convicted criminals a proper chance of an honest living once they emerge from their cells.
When the Bush Administration released the bloody photographs of Sadam’s sons, you can similarly see the brutalization of the American public. And again, we see this effect in the prostrations of the American public at the altar of vengeance with the death of Osama bin Laden. Did you know that within a week of Osama’s death the U.S. conducted a drone attack to assassinate an American-born Muslim? Not concerned that targeted assassinations are now used to target American citizens—maybe because he is a Muslim and a leader in radical Islam?
I argued on Facebook that the extra-legal assassination of bin Laden is an abandoning of a principle that began with the Nuremberg Trials. Though we knew the Nazi criminals who helped carry out the Final Solution were guilty, we held them accountable in the courts to show the world our commitment to international laws and to democratic ideals. We didn’t just execute them without maintaining our dedication to courts of law.
No one can argue that bin Laden’s crimes exceed those of the Nazis. The Nazis were brought to justice after WWII, but America rejoices in the Old Western justice of just shooting a naked, unarmed bin Laden on sight. That’s not how a civilized country operates. The Obama Administration openly violated a well-established law from 1976. It demonstrated to the world that it goes beyond the law in seeking its vengeance.
I refer to the Old Testament law of Lex Talonis, better known as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Despite the presumption of fundie Christians that we are a Christian nation, we refer back to the old Babylonian tradition of vengeance as our precept for “justice”. Hatred is a sure way to hollow out a person.
But not if you hate the right people, I suppose. I myself don’t hate those who I view as leading us on the path to an unpleasant and volatile future. I merely think they are operating based on what they know having been raised in a very deceptive culture. Our culture is the thing that whispers in our ear our whole life and has us accepting assumptions about the world that we’re not even aware of.
But that will be a discussion for another day. I just want to say that seeking vengeance is not the highest good or the most evolved action for “civilized” people. Holding people accountable is fine, but it should be done within the limits of international and domestic laws which maintain the public order and the responsibility of maintaining democratic principles. Such as, no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.
© David Metcalf