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Justice for All

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Justice for All

And for Osama bin Laden, finally May 2, 2011

“Justice has been done.”

With those four words, President Obama made the momentous announcement that Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network, the evil mind behind the 9/11 massacre of innocents, the corrupt heart that reveled in those innocent deaths, had been killed in an operation led by the CIA. American intelligence, working with Pakistani informants, had traced the mass murderer to a compound in Pakistan. American operatives stormed it and shot bin Laden to death in a firefight.

It was justice beyond question. The Saudi-born killer and his organization were also believed responsible for the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed hundreds and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 servicemen, along with countless other assaults on undefended lives. He had escaped punishment for 9/11 for nearly ten years, occasionally sending out videos that taunted and threatened those who hunted him. And though he was an enemy of the Judeo-Christian world, he was no friend to Muslims either, as the president rightly pointed out. He slaughtered Muslims as he did anyone who opposed him.

As jubilant flag-waving crowds gathered outside the White House, the president recalled our unity as Americans in the aftermath of 9/11 and called for us to recreate that unity now. In a democracy, where truth is meant to rise through debate and opposition and resolution leading to more debate, unity can be overrated. But perhaps we can unify around this: there must be justice. Justice is a moral necessity of the human heart. We cannot live without it.

This is a harsh truth because justice is a harsh good. It is not gentle like mercy. It is not stagnant like equality. It is not a soft, shapeless word to be slapped on bumper stickers or chanted during rallies in order to inflame one’s own sense of virtue. Justice is an exact description of a specific social interaction: the awarding to men and women of the outcome they deserve. This does not exist in nature, not in this life. It’s something we do, something we give and often, too often, when evil has been committed, it has to be delivered at the end of a gun. There is sometimes simply no other way.

It’s too early to know the ramifications of bin Laden’s death. Coming as it does at the very start of the Taliban’s spring offensive in Afghanistan, it may give us a huge psychological boost in the war against global jihad. Or it may set off a storm of retributive terror. Or it may change exactly nothing. We don’t know. But whatever happens going forward, this is a good day. Bin Laden slaughtered thousands. Bin Laden has been killed. Justice has been done.

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