Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

The two major ways nations kill is by execution pursuant to criminal laws and through war. Osama bin Laden was not killed by the United States because of his criminal acts; he was not tried, convicted or sentenced. All of these processes are prerequisites to execution. Instead he was declared an enemy combatant by the executive branch and killed by the same branch of government. The only legislative involvement with Osama’s death was the passage of the Uniform Military Code of Justice into law long before he was shot. There was no court or judicial check on the use of executive authority.

It is quite clear that nations have the authority to defend themselves from attack by military invaders. The executive branch would argue further that it can initiate combat operation without a declaration of war under many broad circumstances. Interesting questions follow from this. Should the United States and the Commander in Chief  kill those, like Osama, who are unarmed, not a member of a uniformed military service, and not engaged in espionage against the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government during time of war?

I make no argument that Osama was not depraved, not evil, and not a perpetrator of heinous acts. That is established. But that Osama was an enemy combatant and could be declared such and then executed by the president of the United States without a check on that power is like the authority vested in British kings many hundreds of years ago. We revolted from a system with more protections for those being killed at the hands of the state than that.

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