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By Kenneth G. Crosby
In the days following the execution without trial of Osama bin Laden, celebration of the event seemed to be the only news reported on U.S. TV. The Director of the CIA said that the order was to kill bin Laden, but the official report that he was unarmed, yet resisting arrest, and was therefore shot in the head, which he would not have been had he “attempted to surrender,” reveals some inconsistency in the account provided by a government not known for candor. (It may offer succor to U.S. police departments that have been accused of killing unarmed arrest resistors.
Older readers may remember a famous photo of a summary execution in Vietnam, (not applauded at that less sophisticated time). An American citizen living in Yemen is also under a summary execution order issued by Barrack Obama, Moama Gadafi appeared to be the object of such an order, and there may well be others: photos of possible targets were posted on msnbc.com The members of the U.S. military who carried out the execution are described as “highly trained specialists in assassination.” The cost-effectiveness of their training and maintenance is questionable if they are not to be employed. All of which raises the question: since Obama apparently has the authority to order summary executions, why can’t they be used more widely?
The U.S. justice system is very expensive, contributes to the country’s fiscal deficit, and should be a legitimate object of reduced spending. There is a shortage of Federal judges, contributing to the system being overwhelmed and backlogged, with trials long delayed, adding to the expense. U.S. prisons are extremely expensive to operate, and many of them are grossly overcrowded, increasing the cost of their operation.
Why can’t summary executions be used to enhance the functioning and reduce the cost of the U.S. justice system? There is no doubt, for example, concerning the identity of the infamous Tucson shooter: many people saw him committing the act. Why, then, was an order not given to kill him on sight, thereby reducing the burden on the justice system and saving an incalculable amount of money to boot?
It may be claimed, of course, that the Tucson shooter was not “responsible” for his acts, because he was acting under the influence of a delusion, an irrational belief not conforming to reality. But bin Laden also acted in accordance with the delusion that he was carrying out the will of a supernatural being who would reward him and his martyred followers with a life of pure pleasure, complete with 72 virgins, in Paradise. As Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”) and others have shown, belief in supernatural entities is a delusion, though it is encouraged in our culture.
Many other money-saving and efficiency-promoting uses of summary execution orders are readily apparent. Why, for example, are members of the Afghanistan Taliban taken prisoner, requiring U.S. taxpayers to pay to house, clothe, and feed them? Why can’t they simply be shot? Some may argue that such actions would compromise American values. But hasn’t it been necessary to curtail freedom of movement, privacy of communications, requiring court warrants for police actions, humane detention while awaiting speedy trial, and freedom from torture, in order to preserve such values? Why should requiring trials before execution be immune from such modification?
I submit that the government of the U.S. should undertake a thorough consideration of the use of summary executions to preserve and enhance the U.S. justice system that all Americans, and citizens of many other countries, admire.