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As the United States continues to wreak terrible vengeance upon Afganistan for Osama bin Laden's cowardly and despicable acts, we draw ever nearer to a decision upon which the fate of the world is balanced like a sumo wrestler on his tip-toes. This reckoning will come when bin Laden is within the power of the U.S.--an inevitability, as the civilized world cannot accept less than full victory in this war. Some woefully misguided analysts, including George W. Bush, have called for bin Laden's head on a silver platter. But making a martyr of bin Laden would be the worst mistake the U.S. could make.
The only moral course of action is to capture bin Laden and bring him to trial. Then the real work of justice begins.
The consequences of killing Osama bin Laden would be disastrous. As a result of his success in attacking the "Great Satan," the Saudi terrorist is a hero to millions of Muslims around the world. The Taliban has already declared jihad, or holy war, upon the United States, signaling the beginning of new efforts to attack our homeland. The death of such an admired figure, far from halting this terrorism, would simply encourage greater violence in reaction--Newton's Third Law applied to global politics. Most dire of all, bin Laden's martyrdom would precipitate a political struggle likely ending the ascendancy of Muslim radicals in Pakistan, a nuclear power. World War III could be around the corner.
Bin Laden has dumped a can of gasoline on Uncle Sam; proponents of assassination advise lighting a match.
Cultural ignorance is ultimately at the root of the calls for bin Laden's assassination. Death in jihad, for a Muslim, means immediate ascension to a heaven of tasty fruit and nubile virgins. Bin Laden, or indeed any Muslim terrorist, can imagine no fate more agreeable than a glorious death in jihad. As Israel has learned from its numerous assassinations of terrorists, certain death only attracts Muslims like teenage girls to a Backstreet Boys concert.
Even if assassination were not so ill-advised for practical reasons, it would not be just. Following the biblical law of "an eye for an eye," the most just death for bin Laden would be collapsing a 110-story building on him approximately 6000 times. But this would no more be justice than it would be feasible. For when the World Trade Center collapsed, not only did thousands of Americans perish, but so too perished the loves, hopes, and dreams of countless others, whether they be the family and friends of the victims, the hundreds of thousands now waiting in unemployment lines, or those millions who suffered through the cancellation of their favored sporting events. Instead of healing the life-long wounds of 260 million Americans, killing bin Laden would trivialize our suffering by supposing that we have achieved some form of closure through his mere execution.
Clearly, then, our efforts must be focused on bringing bin Laden to trial in the United States. But after his conviction, we cannot execute him, or we again create a martyr; we might as well share a collective glass of poisoned Kool-Aid.
But can we allow bin Laden, the biggest mass-murderer in history, to rot away in the relative comfort of federal prison? Let us not forget that this terrorist has spent recent years of his life in luxurious Afgan caves. While it would not be as attractive an option as glorious death for Muslim fanatics, federal prison is a marked improvement over the conditions in, for example, the West Bank. Such a mild punishment is no punishment at all for most Muslims. We cannot afford to issue such an open invitation for terrorists to target America.
No, there is only one punishment for bin Laden both practical and just: torture.
There is no question that torture is the most--indeed, the only--efficacious deterrent for terrorism. As matters stand, the worst that a terrorist has to fear is failing in his mission and falling short of heaven. But what terrorist would attack the United States knowing that he would suffer decades of hell before reaching the bliss of paradise? More likely, he would seek quick gratification at the expense of Israel or local politicians.
Furthermore, torture comes closest to achieving justice for the thousands who died on September 11. Although bin Laden's punishment would be a pale shadow of the suffering of countless Americans, while he yet lives, his hoarse screams would serve as balm to the deep psychological wounds we all suffer. Could we say the same of a Delta Force bullet or a quick jab with a needle?
The many well-established methods of torture provide a wide array of options for the United States; among U.S. allies, Israel has a particularly deep reservoir of experience to draw upon. Yet we must ensure that the torture not be too physically taxing, risking bin Laden's untimely death. Therefore, however satisfying they might be for spectators, we must categorically rule out burning him at the stake, drawing and quartering, or flaying his skin from his body. Even breaking bones, stretching him on the rack, and burning his skin with hot pokers could have deleterious effects on his health, and should only be employed after consultation with government physicians. Consequently, relatively moderate physical torture must be supplemented by appropriate psychological measures. But there can be no doubt that the infliction of substantial suffering on bin Laden would be well within our power.
Unquestionably, many foreigners and leftists would question the
morality of such measures. But these naive spectators must realize that we
live in a different world than that of September 10. With the attacks on
New York, the rules of engagement changed. We can no longer afford the
luxury of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses of the framers of
Convention. We must find the courage and fortitude to do what must be done. A failure to act is to invite further tragedy.