George W Bush’s remark about wanting Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” reminds us that many people have not moved on from the concepts of “frontier justice”. The events provide an important opportunity for re-examining the role and respect to be accorded to the rule of law and the principles of international justice. If they are to mean anything when applied to other people, everyone needs to know the basis upon which the operation was launched that led to the killing of Bin Laden.
There is a growing and conscientious feeling of “discomfort” that can be allayed only by a thorough and transparent revelation about the objectives and actions taken. Unless this happens quickly, the powerful forces that work in our world, whether nation states or otherwise, will interpret this as a licence to take the law into their own hands, circumvent international norms and convert “might” into right.