David Cortright: Killing Bin Laden

Watch excerpts from a conversation with the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies on some of the ethical and moral issues at stake in the US raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. Interview by associate news producer Julie Mashack.


  • Scott Bertram

    I agree with Prof. Cortright that the spontaneous celebrations that arose upon the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing were troubling. While there is no doubt that bin Laden planned and carried out mass murder and crimes against humanity, the sight of people waving the American flag and cheering bin Laden’s death recalled images and accounts of people aligned with or sympathetic to terrorist groups cheering the murder of civilians. I suspect there is a natural psychological explanation for the desire to cheer the killing or assassination of an evil person, but doing so does seem unreflective and base.

    I question the professor’s argument, however, that the action was immoral. Without resorting immediately to religious moral guidelines, isn’t there a utilitarian argument that by eliminating bin Laden, the U.S. has hastened the demise of al Qaida and potentially reduced the risk of terrorism around the world? If it is not the case that a greater good was achieved by targeting and killing bin Laden, then was the risk assumed by the troops who carried out the assassination unreasonable? Further, would the moral value of the assassination really have been different if Congress had provided the legal authority for the assassination? Not everything that is legal is necessarily moral, (e.g., abortion, the death penalty, incredibly disparate compensation for CEOs, etc.), and not everything that is illegal is necessarily or always immoral (e.g., certain drug laws, traffic laws).

  • Tom Fitzgerald

    While I too am very disturbed by the “celebration” put on by the Americans, I am more concerned by the moral issue. When do we find it morally acceptable to take an action if the result is to dramatically reduce the losses in the long run.

    When I saw the celebration here in America, I was reminded of the anger I felt when I saw the celebrations which occurred when the American hostages were shown in Tehran a number of years ago. While one was a government and the other an individual, the “death of Bin Laden” celebration seems to be a bad example of what Americans should be.

    I do not believe in killing but when does the time come when the head of the snake must be chopped off?

  • Mary

    Before anyone casts stones at those who were celebrating Bin Laden’s death, ask if they had friends or family that Bin Laden murdered. I’m much less disturbed by the celebrations at his death than I am by the acts of terrorism he committed and the way the world has changed thanks to those acts. I’m much more nauseated by bleeding hearts acting like we did something wrong. Come back to planet Earth. Our military and that special squad who took Bin Laden out deserve our humble thanks and respect. The professor needs to get over himself.

  • Rebekah


  • Robin

    I do not understand why they did not put him through a trial then put to death…They did that to Sadam. I think that would have been a better justice to the people who died on 9/11 and to thier loved ones still living.

    I agree with Prof. Cortright, the celebration of death does not seem ethical in any situation. To pray and reflect would have been a more ethical reaction. We are no better than the people who celebrated in the streets when 9/11 happend. We should be above that….