This week, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the United States assassinated the terrorist Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans, including 700 from New Jersey. Notable for his extreme brutality toward civilians, bin Laden was a truly evil human being. His elimination is a positive development. In Judaism, there exists the concept of the rodef, the individual who is coming to kill the innocent. In Jewish law, it is permissible to kill such an individual.
Americans are an impatient people. For years now, many have criticized this administration and that of President George W. Bush for their failures, up till now, to capture bin Laden. Perhaps some criticism was warranted, but the fact that the Obama administration and U.S. Navy Seals, as well as the CIA, executed this operation with care is to the good. In its careful planning and steady competence, the successful mission is reminiscent of the daring 1976 raid by the Israel Defense Forces on a hijacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda, that freed 103 hostages and burnished Israel’s reputation for decades.
Exciting as such successes may be, the reality is that much counter-terrorism is a slow, painstaking, as well as, in the words of former Vice President Dick Cheney, “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” In America, even harsh interrogation methods – whether or not one approves of them – are reportedly carefully considered, supervised by medical personnel, and subject to legal review before they are employed on even the hardest-core terrorist. U.S. counter-terror specialists must, unlike America’s enemies, work within the limits of U.S. law. That reality makes this success all the more hard-won and impressive.
The interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was among the three hard-core terrorists subjected to waterboarding by the Bush administration, reportedly yielded the nickname of the al-Qaida courier who ultimately led the United States to bin Laden. The White House has stressed that a variety of sources contributed to this successful operation or, in the words of CIA Chief Leon Panetta, “We had gathered an awful lot of intelligence.”
Perhaps as we acknowledge the necessity of eliminating the rodef, it is worth also considering that while the United States can, and must, operate within the limits of the law, monstrous individuals cannot always be handled with kid gloves. In fact, doing so may be inappropriate – and even unethical, if it will jeopardize the innocent.
Good job on this one, Mr. President.