Poll: What Should We Do with Osama Bin Laden? Part II


Editor's Note James Sheehan, in a recent New York Times Book Review, reminded readers that"Winston Churchill had a simple solution to the problem of what to do with captured Nazi war leaders: as soon as their identities had been established by a senior officer, they should be taken out and shot, preferably within six hours." According to Sheehan,"The Soviets rejected this idea, not because they had any doubts about the guilt of the German elite and certainly not because they had any qualms about summary executions, but because they recognized the political value of putting Nazism on trial."

Last week we asked our readers if the United States should adopt Churchill's approach in the current crisis. This is the second batch of replies we received.


I appreciate your raising the important question of what to do with terrorists should they be captured alive. Since we have made retribution for terrorist acts a worldwide responsibility, it follows that an international court, or tribunal, comparable to the Nuremberg Tribunal, should be created to apply justice. The Bush administration's idea of an American military tribunal is inappropriate, it seems to me, on two counts. First, it contradicts the internationalism our government has been insisting upon; and , second, it would lead to convictions that would would be hard to reconcile with our regular court system and would be unconvincing to much of the rest of the world. Having spent some time in the Army Judge Advocate Corps, I know a little something about the advantages military justice gives to prosecutors.

Alan Lawson
Boston College


If Bin Laden,or any member of that ogrinization is captured, they should be executed! No trial, no excuses, death to them is the only answere.

Clay Jordan


Assuming we capture these characters alive, we ought to (1) keep the fact secret; (2) sweat them for as much information as we can extract; and (3) put them -- permanently -- in a cool, dry place. A public trial offers the awful prospect of the O.J. trial on a world historical stage, and the even more frightening possibility that they might get off.

Ted Andrews


Sorry, I believe that the question is irrelevant, Bin Laden and his cronies should not be captured. They should be buried deep in one of their caves and no announcement made, leaving the whole world to wonder what happened to him. If they are not confirmed dead, then they cannot become martyrs, nor will they ever cause any more damage.

I think the administration has implied that this is what will happen, but of course will not come out and say it directly. Let Bin Laden and his friends become Jimmy Hoffas.

Howie Murkin


Trial -- same reason as the Soviets had -- it will tell the U.S. and the world about the history of Afghansitan and U.S. involvement there.

Good poll.

Dean Baker


Should we adopt Churchill's approach?

I believe that is completely the wrong approach, and the one bin Laden is counting on. His entire world view and political ideology is based on martyrdom, and I take him entirely seriously when he says"You'll never take me alive." Any death beside a peaceful one will fulfill that condition, where his followers are concerned, and they are the ones who matter at least in the short run.

His death, especially at infidel hands, will ensure the continuation of his movement. A long, widely televised trial will be very expensive but it will demonstrate to every one who sees it that bin Laden is merely human and not such a hero-god. the sight of him coming into court in shackles everyday will go a long way to demonstrate his weakness and fallibility.

Actually, the most poetically just solution I've heard is to castrate him, send him back to Afghanistan in a burka, and let him live the rest of his life as a Taliban woman. Maybe we could give them one city back for bin Laden's prison.

Ted Daniels


This proposal to execute all of the so called"terrorists" that the President of the United States declares is nonsense. Has the author ever read the Bill of Rights? The American Constitution set up a series of courts to determine which persons are guilty or innocent of crime. The trial itself determines who is a terrorist. The US is limited by a series of treaties that spell out the laws of war.

It is impossible to fight terrorism with terror. That proposal becomes either Stalinism or fascism. Even Hitler and Stalin had courts, although the indicted were given few rights.

The al-Qaeda problem is one of detection, capture and trial. The real issue is which court should bin Laden and any other individuals captured be sent? A special U N tribunal? A New York State Court? A Federal Court? Courts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and countries that had jurisdiction over the nationalities of the suspects before they fled to Afghanistan? Afghanistan is out, because it is not a sovereign state. The answer is a cross between the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Yugoslavian Tribunal. 50 or 60 countries had victims and they should participate and share the cost of these trials.

Robert Whealey


the terrorists should be turned over to the World Court and tried for crimes against humanity. there's no sense in having world institutions if we don't use them and we (the American people) ought to uphold the principle of liberty and justice for all, including accused terrorists.

wood bouldin


We are certainly not required by morality or our Constitution to grant normal due process to these people if they are captured outside the"jurisdiction of the United States," in the words of the 14th amendment. In any case, their actions are not criminal so much as warlike. We hold them, not in search of justice for crimes but instead of self-protection against enemies. Indeed, I believe it would be unjust to consider them criminals, unless any of their actions can be taken as violating the established laws of warfare. Surprise attacks certainly don't, and neither do attacks directed against civilian institutions that are industrial in character (and what industry is more important to America's strength than the financial?), or, of course, the enemy's military headquarters. The fact that numerous civilians who had little or nothing to do with the intended targets were harmed by the attacks is no more criminal in this case than similar" collateral damage" is criminal when our airplanes inflict it on Afghan civilians. American and British bombers killed hundreds of thousands of German civilians during World War II in an attempt (mostly unsuccessful) to damage German industry and limit Germany's ability to wage war. These killings were no more and no less criminal acts than the killings performed by the Al-Quaeda forces. Just because they aren't criminal acts, of course, doesn't mean we aren't justified in defending ourselves against them...

Stewart King
Mt. Angel Seminary


If these men are tried it will be the US that is tried in the court of public opinion, but the solution of military tribunals will appear to be a Star Chamber to the rest of the world. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Best bet is turn them over to the Haague, but I doubt that the body politic could bring itself not to be responsible for the quick execution of these fools.

Patrick Murray
Professor of History
Valley Forge Military College


No, we should put bin Laden et al. on trial. Summary execution demeans those who practice it. As the conflict between al-Qaeda and the US is based more upon a difference in values than on a specific territorial or other dispute, authorizing murder will simply confirm to al-Qaeda's supporters that our ways are wrong and that they should continue to oppose them.

Natalie Zacek


I like trials; it's important to be clear about what crimes people are being punished for and how their guilt is established.

The best idea I have heard for punishing bin Laden is to give him a sex-change operation and send him back to Afghanistan.



yes, I wish that any of them would be killed in combat or as the result of combat.

if taken live they should be tried in the US (preferably by civil court; if necessary by military court)_ on charges of murder (in the number of times for each of the persons killed on 9/11);

Third choice would be to be tried by some judicial arm of the UN.

Al Erlebacher


We should absolutely not adopt the Churchill method. We should try Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, either before the World Court or a special tribunal, a la Nuremburg.

Julie Charlip


Contained in this question is the good reason Churchill did not remain Prime Minister after the war was over. He had a very poor grasp of the core values that distinguish liberal democracies from terrorists. If this is just about power, by all means we should shoot them. If it's about being right, we need to figure out what right is and why that describes us, not them. Such a conversation cannot be held in a blood bath.

Carl Dyke
Methodist College


Putting this kind of fanaticism on trial would eventually do much more good than harm. It would cloud the martyrdom process with testimony (some of it potentially conflicting) and possibly even bargaining.

Carlos Blanton


I agree that terrorists should be put on trial. The Bush administration order to have them tried in military tribunals is appalling from a civil liberties standpoint, but it also means that our drumhead legal procedure will have as much credibility as Saddam Hussein's. I think an international tribunal is the best solution.

John Spurlock


The Soviets were, in this instance, correct.

Richard R. Follett
Department of History
Covenant College


Tempting as it may be to adopt Churchill's solution, the post-WWII history of Germany alone provides ample evidence that the Soviets were right in 1945. Osama bin Laden and his cohorts should be tried before an international tribunal. Some version of the UN tribunal now dealing with Milosevich and his cohorts would be fine. Even better would be a special tribunal on which Muslim states (Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, etc.) could play prominent roles.

Manfred Jonas
11111111111111 John Bigelow Professor of History Emeritus, Union College


It strikes me that, if we are serious about considering the current conflict a genuine war, the proper place for those accused of targeting civilians (say, those who worked in the WTC) would be in front of an international war-crimes tribunal.

Stephen A. Allen
Independent Scholar


The International Court in The Hague is the place to put Bin Laden and his colleagues. The unraveling of a (criminal) network before an international court of justice would internationalize this part of the conflict, and not just the criminal and military actions which we have witnessed so far. Dorothee Schneider
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Since they will be taken in arms in a foreign country, in the context of a war to which the US is not officially a party (no war has been declared by Congress), they should be handed over to the local authorities. Technically speaking we are only auxiliaries or co-belligerents in an internal Afghan war. The side we favour is winning, they are an internationally recognized government, and any crimes committed by residents of Afghanistan, whether native or foreign, should be dealt with by them. The prisoners will then be tried (and very likely executed) by fellow Muslims, under some form of Islamic law, which takes a consistently hard line on the subject of war crimes.

I strongly doubt if the US justice system is capable of dealing with the twilight world inhabited by the leaders of al-Qaida for the last 10 years. There will be no mass of carefully filed memoranda, correspondence and other records such as the US was able to use against the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg. Instead there will be hearsay, ambiguous conversations, unsupported witness testimony, retracted confessions, etc. Better by far to leave any postwar trials to the people who have been most egregiously hurt for the longest period of time by the operations of al-Qaida: the Afghans.

Daniel Szechi
Auburn University


Just so the rest of this list is clear: What occurred on September 11th is a crime, no argument. And yes, punishment in a tribunal under The Hague or United Nations auspices is in order. But having seen the carnage at WTC just this weekend, I am appalled that no one (or very few) are wondering if this is what wide swatches of Baghdad looked like in 1990-91 (or in the subsequent ten years of continuing bombardment.) Or Belgrade a few years ago, when civilian casualties were cavalierly dismissed as so much inconvenient" collateral damage." A sense of vulnerability might have bred humanity, rather than blood lust, but that does not seem to have been the case in official circles these past two months.

Let me say that I was born in the United States (OK, does New Jersey count?) and plan to continue living here. Yes, my primary concern is the safety of its citizens, but I don't think this can be bought with faux innocence and blithe unconcern for the suffering of others. I have heard little in the way of long-range planning for a world of greater social democracy (outside the United State's and a handful of western European countries, I mean), and it is only such planning, I believe, that will lead to genuine peace here and in the rest of the world. We might want to all reread the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees to all global citizens a living-wage income, access to health care, etc., and then rethink our definition of terrorism. Bin-Laden falls under that definition, certainly, but he has many unindicted erstwhile friends and allies.

Bob Zecker
Department of History
& Program in American Studies
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio


I'm not too crazy about military tribunals, either. But if we go the latter route, to protect those conducting the trials from terrorist reprisals, then we should publish as much of the proceedings as we possibly can (barring only information that could jeopardize serious--SERIOUS--security considerations.

Dr. Mario D. Mazzarella


Put the leaders on trial but shoot their indoctrinated zealots. Should they be allowed to live, too many will pop up over the years to disrupt civilized society. There is no reason in the 21st century to tolerate religious fanatics who believe literally in Heaven and Hell, that women are objects to be used, to wit, that life after death consists of a nirvana with seventy"virgins" at your disposal; and the ability to ring up old friends from Heaven or Hell to come keep you company. If you don't care to shoot them, put them in an escape-proof prison for life, in solitary confinement, with no possibility of parole. No exercise yards where they can mingle and plot.

Richard Burack


Put them on trial by an international tribunal.

Lewis Burke, Professor of Law
Department of Clinical Legal Studies
School of Law, U.S.C.


Churchill's solution, though efficient, ignores the fact that the problem is not singular but two-fold: dealing with the perpetrators of atrocities; establishing a stable civil society. The great success of the post-WWII trials and occupations was that, in spite of the flawed nature of the trials, both Germany and Japan became functional world citizens in relatively short order. But without the great goodwill engendered by the Allied efforts to reconstruct the economies and independent governments of our former foes, the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials would have been gross failures.

I believe that we are past the point where we can impose"victor's justice" and have it accepted by the wider Islamic world. Both the Western trend towards open and neutral international courts and the importance of making our case to the non-Western world make it imperative that these alleged criminals (war or no) be treated with the utmost fairness.

Jonathan Dresner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of East Asian History
Coe College


I believe we should try them in a proper US court, with proper legal representation. Show the world we are different from they.

FYI, my cousin defended Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 93 WTC bombing attack as assigned counsel in NYC (she is an experienced criminal defense attorney). Other Al Qaeda leaders should face true American justice not summary execution or a kangaroo court. We must not stoop to their level.

Mary Beth Norton


Let him live, dress him in drag and send him to a gay club in San Francisco.

Alonzo Smith


It is probably not good to count our chickens before they are hatched. And it is an interesting question about what to do; the inclination is to use established and appropriate legal institutions, and I think I'd agree with that. However, while the Soviets were right about the propaganda value of trying the Nazi elite, today such trials would be a two way street, with the accused quite capable of using communications technology, not to mention the media talking-heads (who only care about themselves) to further their own propaganda. On balance, probably trials are the only real answer.

Hamilton Cravens


After the"Boston Massacre" the patriot leaders ensured that the British soldiers got a fair trial. This sent a clear message regarding the a man's right to a fair trial ... a real bone of contention considering the concurrent operation of Britain's hated Vice Admiralty Courts. Otis and Adams were justified in protecting the rights of men -- all men -- in the 17th century. We should follow their example today. Incidentally, we might also remember that our forefathers considered the death penalty a legitimate consequence of due process. Here too we might follow their lead.

John Navin
Asst. Professor
Coastal Carolina University


Al Queda prisoners, whatever their rank, should be tried in a civilian court of law, according to the proper rules of evidence, especially given that there has not been a declaration of war.

Thomas Zoumaras


Despite the problems that international trials can be heir to, I believe the leaders of Al Qaeda should be sent that route. The Soviets had a good point, but there is a better one. We need, in this country, to remind ourselves of who and what we are. We haven't lived up to our ideals in the past, and I have doubts that we are going to be transformed in the future, but there is no excuse for giving in to our worst impulses. The current climate is increasingly one of macho revenge, as if we were primarily bound by the choices of those who hate us. To remember what rule by law, democratic choice, liberty mean does not mean surrender to the forces of evil. If we permit the executive branch to encroach on those ideals, give in to the military desire to focus on closure and simple choices, succumb to the temptations of hatred, we may not destroy our country or even all our freedoms, but there will be damage to us without benefits to anyone.

Sister Mary Elizabeth CHS
[Univ. of Buffalo, BA, MA; Univ. of Chicago PhD]


No, we should NOT adopt Churchill's approach. The benefits of conducting the Nuremberg Trials--as incomplete, imperfect, and _ex-post facto_ as they were--in terms of punishing the guilty, publicizing their crimes, contributing to the extablishment of international human rights norms, and demonstrating the higher morality of due process and the rule of law FAR outweighed whatever benefits would have resulted from summary executions. The same applies to Bin Laden.

Phil Nash


For those captured in act of war, yes.
For those hunted down elsewhere and at other times, no.

Arlene Sindelar


No, they should not be shot out of hand, but rather, they should be tried by a UN court. They should not be tried in an American court.

Marian Swellander


Send him to an international tribunal like the one that's indicting Milosevic for genocide. That way even people who hate the U.S. might still be convinced that this guy is a criminal terrorist.

Marilyn Harper


War crimes trials after World War II had a beneficial effect because it sent a message to governments that their leaders will be held accountable for atrocities committed in wartime and that the international community strongly condemns governments which systematically persecute any of their citizens.

However, terrorism should be recognized as a new kind of war, substantially conducted by private terrorist cell groups, albeit often with government support. Placing terrorists on public trial simply provides them with a public forum to spew forth more hatred and to incite more terrorism via revenge attacks, thus lengthening any war on terrorism endlessly. While governments and their leaders who support terrorist groups should be dealt with publicly (if captured), the actual private terrorists themselves should be treated as spies--that is, shot on capture (without any publicity)--so that they simply vanish from the radar screen (and other terrorists don't know what happened to them). When a sufficient number of terrorists"disappear" in this way, perhaps it will reduce the incentive for others to take their places.

Dr. Doug Baker
Associate Professor of History
Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City


I don't think that the Curchillian idea is acceptable. I believe that BenLadin and his cohorts should be tried by an International Court including representatives of Arab states. Just killing Benladin and his cohorts would just create new martyrs a status which they don't deserve.

Armin Mruck


Unless he's killed in fighting, he should be brought either before an international tribunal or before regular US federal court, not tried by a secret military tribunal.

Sarah Fishman


We should hang them by their tiny testicles.

Marco F. Monoc, Ph.D. (Cambridge)


My instinctive reaction is: on what charge? Making war against the United States, per se is an act of war rather than a crime. The notion of a crime proceeds from the notion of social compact. This issue has come up previously in certain espionage and treason trials, eg. the English trial of William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) after the Second World War. The theory is that in accepting the protection of the state, the subject acquires a duty of loyalty. One could try Mohammed Atta on the basis that in accepting a visa he bound himself to keep the peace, but such a trial is obviously impossible on other grounds. In wartime, spies and saboteurs are traditionally shot when they are caught, but no one suggested shooting the surviving members of the german Abwahr. Indeed, when the allies put Otto Skorkeny on trial, his allied opposite numbers, notably Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas (RAF), mounted an effective protest. Osama Bin Laden could point out quite correctly that the United States was trying to kill him by aerial bombardment, and he was therefore outside of its protection.

If one were to proceed on the basis that the World Trade Center bombing were a war crime or a crime against humanity, Bin Laden would introduce the history of the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force, and claim the defense of retaliation in kind. I doubt there is any legal theory you can reach Bin Laden with unless you are prepared to hang an assortment of USAF generals for similar crimes.

Andrew D. Todd
West Virginia University


The argument that ordinary justice -- either in US courts or in an international tribunal -- is inappropriate for this criminal or this crime is impossible to sustain. Moreover, the apparent fear harbored by Pres. Bush and his advisors that a trial will give bin Laden a propaganda pulpit betrays an insecurity on their part about what they believe and how to articulate it. I have no doubt that Osama will inspire some followers with his courtroom rhetoric. I have even less doubt that he will appall many more, that democratic ideals will fare quite well in a head-to-head with those of bin Laden.

Frances Couvares


If captured, bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda network leaders should be treated the way the Nazis were after World War II: they should be prosecuted by an international war-crimes tribunal. If convicted, they should be sentenced to the harshest sentence consistent with humanity and the just rule of law: life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, as much of it as possible to be served in isolation from others.

The death penalty, so favored by the Taliban and other Al Qaeda sympathizers, is unworthy of a civilized nation and should be abjured in this instance as in all others, not least as a sign of the morality which distinguishes the principles espoused by the United States from those of Al Qaeda itself.

J. Heckscher


I think Osama should be put in the Bronx zoo.

Visiting History Professor vishist1@ColoradoCollege.edu


I sincerely doubt that any will be captured. Just in case though, I agree with President Bush's military tribunal idea.

Mark Orsag


No, No, No!!!! We have another word for taking the guilty out and shooting them without benefit of trial--it's called"lynching."

European nations like Spain are refusing to extradite the accused to the United States without assurances that they will be tried in a regular court of law and will not suffer the death penalty. This, it would seem to me, is the standard that the United States ought to uphold.

By the way: international newspapers (Dawn.com, from Pakistan, for example) have reported that the United States seems to be planning to take all captured terrorists to Guam. There are no regular commercial air flights to Guam, according to the article I read, so presumably whatever happened there would be sheltered from the eyes of the news media. Why has nobody reported this in the USA?

Gail Bederman


They should be tried in a court of law, NOT summarily executed.

Ellen Fleischmann
University of Dayton


I favor an internationally sponsored tribunal.

Paul Anderson
Washington University


Yeah sure why not. Let just shoot em' all. heck lets just scrap the constitution altogether. the justice department doesn't seem to think it's of much value anymore why should we? Then I think we should round up anyone else who pisses us off and kill them too. Hell why not were the christian right. who's more"right" than us?

Just kidding. If we are not a nation of laws than what are we? Barbarians thats what. Just like the Taliban and Mr. Aschcroft. Remember Martin Niemoller? No? look up his famous quote. You will then have may answer.



If one wishes to promote terrorism, one tries them in a secret military tribunal or assassinates them in some similar way to get one's juices going and feel smug.

If one is serious about the threat of terrorism, one works closely and cooperatively and urgently with the United Nations to frame urgent international legislation defining terrorism, and defining the processes of trying it in the International Court of Justice, and the punishments which are that Court's options. Al Qaeda and Osama, predating such legislation, would have to be tried by the ICJ as special cases.

The legislation having been passed by the UN, all countries - including the United States - would need to be notified that the terrorism traditionally sponsored and implemented by the KGB, CIA, al Qaeda, and other terrorist institutions would now fall under this legislation. Our rape of Nicaragua and Chile must never be tolerated again, there or anywhere else.

As for the Churchillian murder theory - it is precisely that.

Jack Betterly, Emma Willard School, Emeritus


I would prefer to see the leaders of Al Qaeda tried by an international court of law, since their crimes are international in scope and purpose.

David Nichols
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg


I do not support using Churchill's approach, but it would be preferable to a military tribunal. The best solution would be an open trial in an international court of justice.

Robert Entenmann
111111 Professor and Chair
111111 Department of History
111111 St. Olaf College


We should not adopt Churchill's approach to Osama bin Laden and the leaders of the Al Queda Network. First,"we" should determine whether there is significant, direct evidence that bin Laden and Al Queda were responsible for, or played a role in, the events of September 11th. Second, if"we" find such evidence, we should seek to place them on trial before the International Court of Justice. Third (keeping in mind the legacy of kangaroo courts and deception from the trial of Emmett Till's killers to the Iran-Contra hearings), the trial should serve as a way to identify collaborators and co-conspirators who may remain hidden if such a trial was held in the United States.

George White, Jr.
Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies
The University of Tennessee


A successful"war" against terrorism can lead to a more powerful United States or a more legitimate international order. Killing Bin Laden will make it clear that anyone who harms the U.S. will pay a heavy price. We will be even stronger than we now are. Trying Bin Laden in an international tribunal will make it clear that terrorism will not be accepted by the international community. That community will be strengthened. The difference between reprisal and justice is very great. We should embrace justice.

Jules Benjamin


Apart from legal considerations, a trial might elicit useful information. Many historians have used trial transcripts for their informative content.

Mary Young


For better or for worse, all we ultimately have separating us from them is the rule of human law. No summary executions.

Michael Steinlauf
Associate Professor of History
Gratz College


Put them on trial. A fair trial would be a very effective way of refuting what bin Laden represents. But let's give him the lawyer who represented so many of the Texas death row inmates whose execution George W. bush has appproved.

Byron Boyd


Yes he will be killed. It would want it to happen and the US governement will fulfill his theological wet dream.

Donald Pickens


In the unfortunate event that these individuals are captured alive, the appropriate remedy is to follow the precendent set by the Nuremburg Trials. Of course, that could result in a media sideshow of staggering proportions, but what choice do we really have? To simply execute these thugs on the spot or within hours of capture would simply provide confirmation to others within the muslim world that we are a civilization of laws only when it is in our interest. Further, I can think of no better way to make martyrs of these murderers than to summarily execute them. Another good reason for the Nuremburg approach is that it removes these acts from the common law enforcement strategy used in the past against terrorists. Terrorist actions are acts of war and should be considered as war crimes and crimes against humanity, not matters for the routine criminal justice community. That said, the best solution is for these individuals to exit this earth in the caves where they are found.

Bill Holland


Am I the only one who is bothered by the question? Do we know yet who was responsible for masterminding the hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Just because our bright boys in Washington have targeted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- and in the process bombed an already prostrate country killing untold numbers of Afghans -- should we accept their word?

Lewis Siegelbaum


Churchill was wrong and so is Ashcroft. Accused Al Quaeda leaders should have internationally recognized trials before the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague or a comparable body.

Harry Watson


We have the tribunals in place to follow Churchill's lead. It is a moot point. The U.S. will not bother to even try and take bin Laden alive so he can make statements in a show trial. When they find him, Ashcroft has made it plain it is preferred that he be dead. A trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity and a show of global unity is my preference, but no one has offered me a job on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.



Everyday on the way to work I read in the New York Times the profiles of the people who died on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center Towers, at the Pentagon, and on the highjacked aircraft. At the Pentagon, where I sometimes work, I have read the profiles of the people who died there. And each day, I look down my street at the house where a Navy Lt. Commander once lived and who died in the attack upon the Pentagon. With that said, I support what my country is doing here and abroad to combat terrorism. Since I'm not a terrorist, it does not bother me at all that the civil liberties of some are being restricted.

While I believe that right thing to do would be try the bastards before a court of their peers, I believe that that would give them a soapbox from which they can rant their hateful message, as the one did who was on trial for the World Trade Center bombing several years ago. So what I think should be done is once Bin Laden is captured, he should be told to run, and then a soldier should shoot him dead, justifying the act as trying to stop the criminal from escaping. This should be done with each of high command. But since this will probably not be done, then the military tribunals proposed by the Bush Administration are fine with me.

Adam R. Hornbuckle
Alexandria, VA


I'm for execution!

Karen Offen


Put them on trial in international court. Make the trial as public as possible. Sentence them to life without parole.

Anne Barstow


If Osama bin Laden were captured, any trial would pose several problems. Would he be tried in the United States or at The Hague ? Or what about using a military tribunal, which sets in motion an extremely dangerous precedent ? How would an impartial jury of his peers be selected ? Who would be willing to defend him ? What would constitute his defense ? Does anyone really care about his defense ? The fact that we don't care about his defense does not speak well of our democracy because we are supposed to provide him with the best possible defense. But we are only human and considering what we've been through, nobody really cares if he gets a fair trial. We're just admitting to ourselves and the world that even democracy is not a perfect system. And when ghastly events occur, the consequences can be just as ghastly. One thing is for sure, the events of September 11th have brought out both the best and the worst in humanity: the best came from those directly involved in rescue operations and from those who defend this country; the worst came from Al Qaeda. But as necessary as it is to destroy Al Qaeda, how many of us actually realize or know what we are doing to destroy its network. Very little, I fear. War is ghastly and humanity's worst invention. Witness the"daisy cutter." It's not simply what did Al Qaeda unleash, but what have we unleashed in retaliation ?

Jeff Tenuth
Indiana State Museum


An essential element in deciding what to do with captured Al Qaeda leaders is to calculate the consequences of that decision.

The world's perception of the fairness and appropriateness of our actions is vital, here. If we can be portrayed as secretive, prejudicial and fundamentally unfair, then we've undermined our own ends and betrayed the values of libertarian modernity we are trying to uphold. If we create perceived martyrs to American vengeance, we will simply add momentum to a cycle of terror and counterterror. Instead, we must discredit terror even as we punish it, and clearly demonstrate the stark contrast between justice for crime and terrorism for spite.

September 11 will be either an agonizing but limited episode or the beginning of a long global ordeal for the U. S. Which it is depends upon the clear justice of our response and the skill with which we make our justice undeniably obvious to a skeptical world.

William J. Evitts


In response to the hypothetical scenario regarding the capture of bin Laden, which in the future, I believe, will become counter-factual history, why afford him the luxury and the civility of our civilization when he seeks nothing more than to destroy it? Islamo-fascism, as recreated by bin Laden and supported by the Taliban, would contradict itself by allowing itself to be subjected to and tried under western law. He and his sponsor government have declared war on the United States through its acts of 9/11. Thus they should be treated as any enemy during a time of war. Upon capture he should be put down with no hesitation. Incidentally, by putting him on trial aren't we trying to rationalize his irrational and destructive dream?

Vince Pompo
VVS High School


Personally, I find the suggestion offensive. What should be done with them should be answered by what is our purpose in capturing them.

To suggest that they should be summarily executed is to beg the question of what they are being executed for. I remember Colin Powell, in a press conference, saying that we had a trail of evidence pointing to Bin Laden as backing the Sept. 11 attacks. But he added that it is not the kind of evidence that would hold up in a court of law. Now, if you want some historical background, the United States has quite a history of executing people without trial. We have a tradition of lynching.

We have (at least officially) repudiated lynching here in the United States. It was mainly used against blacks. So, it appears the suggestion being made here is that lynching is fine against Arabs, or at least against non-U.S citizens. We have a precedent. That does not make it a good choice.

William S. Monroe


The leaders of Al Qaeda should be tried in open court proceedings, as were some of the most heinous war criminals at the end of World War II. Winston Churchill was wrong about many things, not least this dangerous and foolish pronouncement, which fortunately was not followed at the end of the war. Today we have an International Criminal Tribunal which would be the most appropriate court in this instance. Contrary to George W. Bush's reckless"dead or alive" doctrine, every effort should be made to avoid killing the Al Qaeda leaders and rather to bring them to trial. Only an open trial will persuade millions around the world of their culpability and of the justice of whatever penalties might be assessed against them and of the war fought to bring them to justice. To shoot them without trial or execute them following kangaroo court proceedings in secret military tribunals will leave forever in doubt whether they committed the acts of which they are accused and whether they were killed in order to prevent the possibility for them to defend themselves. The Nuremberg Tribunals, though they were military tribunals sometimes characterized as"victor's justice," nonetheless formulated important and enduring principles of international law relating to crimes of war and crimes against humanity. To bypass the process of open trial and proof of culpability before the world would preclude the potential of using the trial of Al Qaeda leaders as the source of important new principles relating to the issues of international terrorism.

Berenice A. Carroll

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More Comments:

Isabelle - 12/17/2003

I think we should tie Osama Bin Laden to a urinal off the Bronx Highway. After everyone pisses on him, we drop him on the 50 yard line at a New York Giants Game, the end

bail - 9/11/2003

first of all,I think they never should've started this all.We didnt do anything to them!Personally WHEN we find him which we WILL, I think he should go through everything our people went through!Put anthrax on him,and put him in a plane,then the driver of the plane would jump out with a parachute and leave him in there for the plane to crash onto the ground!If you think this is harsh then you might as well think hes harsh because he did they SAME thing to US!!Just think about if you were on of those people in the towers i bet you'd feel this way too!So just think about it!

Larry Goldsmith - 12/6/2001

Let him live, dress him in drag and send him to a gay club in San Francisco.
Alonzo Smith

So Alonzo Smith thinks drag is a fate worse than death? There's no worse punishment than to ridicule your enemy's masculinity? And no better form of justice for terrorists than calling them faggots and implying they should be raped? Just in case anyone still harbored any doubts that war is, among other things, about male domination, an assertion of male violence against women and feminized male enemies--well, here's a fine piece of historical evidence for your analysis.

Larry Goldsmith
San Francisco, California (where drag is a form of freedom, not punishment)