Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2001 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Perry Masonry: Trying Osama bin Laden -- PERHAPS the looniest political idea is the argument that Osama bin Laden deserves a criminal trial, where all the "allegations" against him would undergo judicial scrutiny and jury consideration. This argument further suggests that, because bin Laden is merely an individual, war against Afghanistan is both unnecessary and unjust. Yet a trial is dangerous -- no, ludicrous -- for several reasons.

First, the notion of a trial and its subsidiary effect, that bin Laden (like other conventional criminal defendants) deserves society's presumption of innocence, is an act of historical murder, akin to Holocaust denial or support for black slavery. An indictment of the obvious inevitably demands a response, explaining Auschwitz, defending servitude or even, yes, justifying the horrific acts of this past September. A trial allows bin Laden to deconstruct every piece of evidence, while stating that -- though indeed lives were lost -- the number of reported dead (sound familiar?) greatly exceeds the amount actually lost.

In this respect, a trial is an opportunity to further insult the dead. For a trial would also necessarily involve cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, expert testimony and criminal defense tactics. Imagine bin Laden's attorneys challenging a survivor's eyewitness testimony, where judicial records would include descriptions of volcanic heat, plaintive cries and the slow yet inexorable acceptance of one's fate - that death is near. Would bin Laden's attorneys further question the accuracy of such testimony, as if the proximate cause of death is not the plane crash itself, which only immediately killed those at the source of impact, but smoke inhalation or exposure to falling debris? Such illogic is the same currency of unrepentant fascists, people that cite Anne Frank's death from typhus as conclusive proof that Nazis never exterminated Jews.

Second, a trial is a triumph against common sense. On a practical level, a trial is about victory, not truth. And, because criminal proceedings normally exclude elements of inculpatory evidence, a trial may only further obscure the truth. Again, a trial would merely concern semantical differences where, either by circumstance or design, bin Laden's signature is invisible yet present. By this calculus, bin Laden is not guilty of mass murder: an absurd argument, like the lack of Hitler's name (either by hand or device) approving the Holocaust, that seeks to refute history - even as emaciated frames and bludgeoned corpses, from Wall Street to Warsaw, raise their hands and shout against the heavens.

Third, a trial is a victory for lawyers. Lawyers would undermine the sanctity of America's war against terror, treating bin Laden as simply another wealthy defendant. He would be a rare specimen, housed secretly and watched protectively. But the legal response against terror - that a lawsuit is an appropriate reaction against mortal danger - is frighteningly insane: a trial suggests that bin Laden is truly worth more alive than dead, that his death denies jurors an identifiable villain - whereby deliberations would be swift, thus providing survivors with what they deserve and attorneys demand, money!

Yet bin Laden is not merely another defective product, like lawn darts or flame-retardant pajamas. Rather, he is an evil murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands and at war against the religious beliefs of millions. Simply stated, he deserves death, not community service.

The trial of bin Laden is a choice between moral clarity and political indecision. A trial would be an act of moral disarmament, whereby the world's leaders surrender conviction to procedure - to the predictably consistent, yet shockingly erroneous, idea that every act of evil first demands certification of the same by knaves in wigs and robes.

There is only one punishment bin Laden deserves and that America must quickly deliver - death. Death for evil. Death for terrorism. Death for bin Laden.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein