When President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, he said "the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden," but very little else regarding the details of that death. Conflicting news reports have created some confusion over the circumstances of the death itself.
Some have suggested that the soldiers conducting the raid were told to accept his surrender, if offered. Others have said the mission was to kill, rather than capture bin Laden. It may take some time to sort out the facts, but many people have seen this as a directed killing of bin Laden, ordered by the president.
A few days earlier, Libya claimed that NATO had killed members of Gaddafi's family in operations that hardly seem related to the imposition of a no-fly zone in Lybia. WikiLeaks has released a number of cables that detail U.S. uses of cruse missiles to kill suspected terrorists in Yemen. The U.S. is expanding its uses of drone aircraft to carry out attacks on homes in civilian neighborhoods, based upon the often incorrect suspicion that a terrorist is present.
With Jon Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and UN head Ban Ki-moon endorsing the "operation," it appears to have support in many quarters. But if this was an operation to kill, rather than capture bin Laden, and if his death was not necessary, but actually ordered, then Limbaugh is correct in calling this an assassination, and it is not a credit to the United States to have carried out an assassination, even of bin Laden.
The killing may have political benefits for President Obama. But the longer term legitimation of assassination is risky, and undermines longer term goals of making society more just and more peaceful. I am disappointed other political leaders cannot say this.