Obama to those Questioning bin Laden Assassination: “Get your head examined”

Earlier this week, President Obama had an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes. In it, Obama was rather candid about the developments that led to Osama bin Laden’s assassination. The President spoke openly about the dissent among his advisors about the plan to kill bin Laden. He says that the division of opinions amongst those around him was critically important in fleshing out all possible scenarios. Indeed, he says that differences in opinion are important, welcome, and make better policy.

At the end of the interview, however, Obama did something spectacularly hypocritical. Just minutes after acknowledging the importance of diversity of opinions he says:

“Justice was done and I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got, needs to get their head examined.”

Say what? Was that George W. Bush speaking? It sure sounds like it.

How is difference in opinion about the mission valuable, but the diversity of opinion about the justness of assassinating bin Laden the result of mental instability?

It’s not. Those who are uncomfortable with, or skeptical of, the legality, justice and legitimacy of killing bin Laden aren’t “crazy”. They have legitimate concerns.

Once more, the discussion that has proliferated about whether assassinations and target killings, like that of bin Laden, are just and legal is critically important. The skepticism of scholars, every-day observers, religious figures, politicians etc. has created a healthy debate. Simply discarding the views of all those who dissented with the US decision on killing bin Laden as being mentally ill is more 1984 than 2011. It is worth adding that it is the fumbled recanting of facts regarding the mission to kill bin Laden that has fueled much of the criticism.

It is a sad day, when freedom of expression is actively being quashed in places like Syria, Libya, Bahrain, that the President of the US equates “anyone who questions” his decision with suffering mental illness.

You would think, and indeed hope, that a President who has worked hard to foster the diversity of views in his country and around the world, would understand the importance of debating and discussing issues as important as the justice of target killings. You’d also think, as a former professor of constitutional law, Obama would be more careful with his words.

Here’s the last third of the video. Obama’s remarks come at the very end of the interview:


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden and international law, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Obama to those Questioning bin Laden Assassination: “Get your head examined”

  1. Fe says:

    The USA governmental killing of Osama, and the efforts to kill Kadaffi, the bombing of Libya for humanitarian reasons, the threats to Assange and the treatment of Bradley Manning, it is all so very common and normal….
    We need change!

  2. Mathias Holvoet says:

    Those who DON’T question it should get their head examined.

  3. What surprises me, in fact impresses me, is that Obama happily utilizes the word “Kill” in favor of such sanitized, politically correct terms as “eliminate” or “terminate” or “eradicate” or even “execute”. Certainly this must have been intensely argued out in high circles. To me this indicates a certain candidness and honesty and forthrightness in his administration.

    On the other hand the word “assassinate” is strictly verboten. Very, very interesting, no?

    All the best of British luck to you.

    Love the representation of your site, by the way. In the infamous words of our beloved Mr Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back” (if you’ll have me)

  4. Mark Kersten says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @ Mr. Lifequotes – I agree with your point that the use of particular words to describe the killing in this context is both important and fascinating. The administration has gone to lengths recently to say: “this was NOT an assassination.” Of course, if they said it was, then any suggestion that they would have captured bin Laden would be little more than laughable.

  5. True, Mark, true. And then what’s this about “offering resistance” whilst unarmed? I’m imagining Seals barking at Osama several times to “lie face down on the floor”, he refusing/neglecting to do so (offering resistance), and . . the rest is now history.

    That being said however, the proposal of a captured OBL would subject the world to a gigantic, and I mean gigantic can of worms for months, possibly years.

    • Hayal says:

      President Obama did a wonderful job in manikg this successful! This president is very effective and loves justice. He has made America proud once again. I will vote for him ten times over and over again! Bin laden was the leader of a terrible organization. They killed innocent people all over the world! I am happy about this.

  6. To the extent Bin Laden is a terrorist, might one label the U.S. to be a terrorist, too? Al Qaeda may have a casual disregard for American life (about 3,000 died in New York), but so does the U.S. have a disregard for Muslim life (110,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, 9,000 civilian death in Afghanistan). Is the coalition a terrorist body?

    Those that “profess” that, are guilty of “false analogy”. So without entering into a lengthy forensic analysis, here are the major points of difference:

    # Al Qiada INSTIGATED terrorist actions for religious/political purposes.

    # The US Admin RESPONDED militarily, to protect non-military personnel.

    # AQ continues to instigate & remains un-remorseful and vows endless action.

    # The US is and remains, reluctant to continue, unnecessarily.

    # OBL’s group TARGETS indiscriminate murder of as many unarmed civilians as possible.

    # The US TARGETS terrorist groups only and AVOIDS civilians (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully).

    # AQ TARGETS all nationalities (even Muslims), of all ages, in all countries.

    # The Coalition TARGETS ONLY the sources of terrorists hotspots.

    # AQ operates virtually unilaterally to no rules of engagement.

    # The US operates within UN (world body) approved guidelines.

    # AQ utilizes largely militarily untrained personnel and happily “sacrifices” them.

    # The Coalition utilizes only trained military forces, and lovingly “protects” them.

    # AQ’s aim is attention-seeking through mass murder.

    # America’s aim is world order, through policing.

    # AQ’s aim is dictatorial world domination through harsh Sharia law.

    # The US aim is freedom for all men, including Muslims.

    # AQ respects martyrdom through death.

    # America respects the sanctity of life.

    This list is in no way, exhaustive, but I hope shows that this argument compares apples to pineapples. Great post however, and thanks for letting me share.

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