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It made perfect sense to kill on sight Osama bin Laden. It was also perfectly wrong. Mistaken because we as Americans, heirs of the European Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, decided last century that all accused men deserve a fair trial before execution. We staged trials for even the Nazis, but not because they earned it. Instead we did so in the name of Rule of Law, our common humanity, and to illuminate the dangers of ideological fanaticism. We use the legal sciences and forensic arts to give depravity its proper place within the larger story of history, making sense of it, drawing out lessons which cannot be gleaned any other way.
Modern European law is a triumph of fairness over often savage ancient and medieval rules. For this reason the idea of a written constitution, and Bill of Rights, inherited from England, became the most influential political/legal ideas in the modern world. It was a triumph of the Allies they were able to set aside a felt need for revenge and put these mass-murderers on trial to prove their crimes. This was a first in world history, and is counted a massive success. A side effect was the creation of the United Nations. And yet, now, politicians on both sides of the aisle are celebrating the shooting of an admittedly unarmed man, one who deserved a trial – because all humans deserve at leas that much. This is the topic of our article.
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