Monday, May 2, 2011

To: President Obama Subject: bin Laden's Death

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you as a citizen of the United States of America and as a pastor in an international protestant denomination - the Church of the Nazarene. As the subject of this letter suggests, I am writing you today in regard to the recent operation in Pakistan which lead to the death of al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden. Before I engage this subject, I would like you to know that I have great respect for you as a leader and for your position as the president of our nation. While I realize that a great deal of political work is seen as controversial, I believe whole heartedly that you are working hard to make our nation a better place. While I may not agree with you on every issue, I want to thank you for your service to our nation.

In the war against terrorism, there is no doubt that this event is one of great consequence in the ranks al Qaeda. The removal of their long-time leader will undoubtedly weaken their ability, organization, and resolve. According to news reports worldwide, many people are rejoicing with the news of Osama bin Laden's death. While I have not read any direct testimonies, many are suggesting that this news brings additional healing to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks.

While I recognize the positive consequences of bin Laden's death, I am still faced with several questions and concerns that I was hoping you may be able to help answer or resolve. There is no doubt that you are a busy man (perhaps one of the busiest in the world), so I will try to keep my questions brief.

First, in your televised speech and in several news reports, "justice" is a major talking point. Many have stated (and CNN quotes you as saying this) that bin Laden "has been brought to justice." However, bin Laden was not put on trial in any court. I recognize the difference between domestic and international law, but I also know that if an individual living in the United States orchestrated the death of so many civilians, they would face the legal system and be found guilty before any penal actions were executed against them. In this history of our world, individuals who orchestrated similar horrific acts to bin Laden's faced War Crime tribunals. However, Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation that CNN reports was specifically to take his life. Obviously, if bin Laden lived in the United States, the government would have been accused of ordering a murder. I am not especially familiar with the specific differences between domestic and wartime laws, but I think that you can understand my point. Could you explain to me how these differences make this military action a legal event (I am not necessarily accusing our military of an illegal action here, I am simply stating that I do not understand what laws apply to this situation).

Second, do you believe that the American people are rejoicing over bin Laden's death because he was brought to justice or because of some sense of revenge or retaliation? What was the motivation driving this operation?

Third, how do you feel about a nation rejoicing over the death of an individual?

I recognize Osama bin Laden's death as an event that will spare many people's lives in the future. He is unable to orchestrate any more attacks and al Qaeda has been weakened by this blow. However, I come from a tradition that greatly values life. While I understand how bin Laden's death can viewed as a victory against terrorism and as closure to the families of the 9/11 victims, I am unable to find myself among the rejoicing. Although I am not a pacifist, I cannot bring myself to rejoice in death. I am also afraid that the healing that this victory achieved will only endure until the next terrorist attack.

Mr. President, I understand the significance of this event in the journey against terrorism. I acknowledge at times that military actions like these are occasionally the only option to stop murderous acts. I do not want this letter perceived as an attack on this military operation, but as my way of processing through its meaning and significance in the life of my fellow citizens, friends, and parishoners. I hope you can understand my concern and my desire for our nation to react to situations like these truly out of a desire to bring life and forgiveness and not revenge and more death.

I thank you for your time and want you to know that I live among a people who pray for you and your administration regularly.

Respectfully Submitted,

Keith M. Davenport


  1. Well said.

  2. Keith, many good points. I'd like to present some additional questions and thoughts:

    Do justice and forgiveness go hand in hand? Is there room for forgiveness in our justice system?

    If bin Laden was given a "proper" trial in the US justice system, would he be fairly tried? Does the US have the best justice system to try him?

    What would be the risks associated with giving bin Laden a "proper" trial? Is a trial in the US court system really the best approach here?

    My thoughts on the situation are very similar to my thoughts on President Bush's original response to 9/11. The focus on revenge and "getting justice" that is so prevalent among US government officials (and citizens) only goes to show how flawed and unhealthy the premise of "justice" really is. In justice, there is no forgiveness. Justice rejoices in the death of the accused. None of us would stand for a moment against pure justice; we would fall into helpless self-destruction. How can we, then, be proud and rejoice in the "just" death of another, regardless of a "fair" trial or not? Are any of us capable of making that decision?


What do you think?