On Wednesday 20 July, the Monash University Alumni Speaker Series presented a panel entitled “Mission Accomplished? The death of Osama Bin Laden and what it means for global terrorism”. The panel was conducted from 6 pm to 8 pm at BMW Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne.
Professor Greg Barton led the discussion, with panellists Associate Professor Gideon Boas, Dr Benjamin MacQueen and Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Professor Sarah Joseph. The panel’s discussion moved beyond the sensationalism of Bin Laden’s death on 2 May and into questions of legality, sovereignty and the violation of human rights.
The intentions of the United States in their engagement with Bin Laden were at the heart of the debate. Was the mission to simply kill, or was it “capture if you can, kill if you can’t”? Was either solution permissible under international law?
There’s something exciting about hearing a much-discussed topic argued between people who know what they’re talking about. While MacQueen went to lengths to stress the political ramifications of President Obama’s decision to kill instead of capture, Boas’ experience at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia brought another dimension to the debate – would a trial have better served to “extinguish the myth of Osama Bin Laden”?
At different points in the discussion, Barton challenged each panellist as to what they would have done, all things considered, had they been advising on the death of Bin Laden. While two of the three panellists advised against killing – losing their fictional advisory jobs soon after – all admitted that doing what is right by international law is more complicated when faced with a situation such as this.
Would a trial have better served to “extinguish the myth of Osama Bin Laden”?
The real answer to what the death of Bin Laden means for global terrorism remained elusive, but arriving at a clear answer wasn’t really the point.
The debate surrounding the implications of Bin Laden’s death for international law was interesting and intelligent, especially as much of what panellists were discussing was at the indistinct “edges of international law”. Barton used the analogy of a medieval map charting the discovered world and around the edges of the map, looming monsters.
Much of what panellists were discussing was at the … “edges of international law”.
Consensus seemed to be that the death of Osama Bin Laden and its impact in terms of global terrorism is worrying, but not nearly as worrying as its implications for the future of international law.