[This is a speech that President Barack Obama might have given in
early May, 2011, in an alternative history not so different from

My fellow Americans:

Tonight I come before you to share some news our Nation has long
awaited, and to open a conversation about the future of our
country and the world at large which should be both challenging
and fruitful.

Osama Bin Laden, master terrorist and leader of al-Qaida, is now
safely in custody. He is being held to face the justice of an
international tribute at the Hague, and to account for what we
will amply prove are his many crimes against humanity in
violation of the common law of nations, as well as the specific
statutes of the United States. The horrors of mass murder will be
met by the civilizing response of calm, fair, and carefully
measured justice.

These horrors were epitomized for our Nation by the carnage and
suffering of September 11, 2001 as experienced at the World Trade
Centers in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over
Pennsylvania as the passengers of United Flight 93 put up a brave
fight to save their own lives if possible, and at all costs to
prevent another suicide attack which might take yet more hundreds
or thousands of lives. As the tenth anniversary of their bold
resistance and supreme sacrifice approaches, let us dedicate
ourselves to celebrating and renewing the American values for
which they stood.

The terror unleashed by Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaida networks
of which he was a prime architect, however, was not confined to
our country or citizens. The acts of mass murder at Madrid in
2004 and London in 2005 serve as examples of the web of
international terrorist cells and organizations which his coming
trial may help to unravel. And the Sunni-Shi’a violence in Iraq
instigated by al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers was in many
ways even more horrible, not to speak of atrocities against
prisoners, although honesty demands an acknowledgement that the
role of the United States in this Mesopotamian carnage was not
exactly one of total innocence.

Two facts about Osama Bin Laden are of special importance. The
first is that he bears responsibility for the deaths of thousands
of innocents, and for expanding circles of pain and mourning
touching and including all of us. That is a somber reality which
his arrest and trial will not change.

The second fact is that Osama Bin Laden is merely human — no
more and no less, despite his role in organizing some of the most
lethal and indiscriminate acts of violence perpetrated by any
non-state terrorist organization in known history. Nothing
illustrates this simple truth better than the story of his
capture three nights ago.

As I promised the American people before my election, our Nation
would act promptly upon receiving intelligence of Mr. Bin Laden’s
location, so that he might stand before the bar of world justice.
When we learned that he was ensconced in a pleasant mansion in
Pakistan, we did just as promised, by planning and coordinating a
mission to capture him while seeking to minimize casualties on
all sides.

Accordingly, a Combined Operations Team was formed including
members of Delta Force and the Navy SEALs. While we regarded this
mission, Operation Global Justice, as primarily a law enforcement
rather than a military effort, our brave soldiers and sailors
were given rules of engagement designed strictly to comply with
international human rights standards as well as the requirements
of the Geneva Conventions.

In order to minimize casualties and maximize our opportunities to
take Osama Bin Laden alive and bring him to justice, Operation
Global Justice had as its watchword total surprise. And, thanks
both to the careful planning of our best strategic thinkers and
the superb training of our brave men and women who were ready to
put themselves in harm’s way so that due process of law might
finally triumph, we achieved a success that was almost perfect.

Shortly after midnight on May 1, our forces arrived at the Bin
Laden mansion, and set about their search to find this mass
murderer and take him into custody.

Although the execution of our bold plan was almost perfect, I
must share with you not only the triumph but the tragedy that did
occur. Shortly after setting foot on the roof of the mansion, one
of our teams encountered fire from automatic weapons, and
returned fire. When the shooting ended, our troops found the two
Bin Laden guards who had initiated the firefight: one dead, and
the other seriously injured. Medical personnel administered first
aid to the injured guard. He is receiving hospital care while in
our custody, and is expected to make a full recovery. We must
always remember that every death in law enforcement or war is
tragic, even in a situation like this where our service members
acted in simple self-defense and used lethal force only out of
absolute necessity.

This was the only fatal casualty of the operation. In the process
of making their way to Osama Bin Laden’s bedroom, our forces
encountered a number of people in the compound, both men and
women. Some of them voluntarily surrendered, while others were
swiftly and skillfully brought under our power and restrained
using minimal force. None were armed, and the mission progressed
smoothly toward its goal.

When some of our service members entered the bedroom where it
turned out Mr. Bin Laden was to be found, a woman, one of his
wives, suddenly rushed at them and presented what seemed possibly
a serious threat. An officer, fearing a lethal attack, shot her
in the calf, inflicting a wound which immobilized her without
damaging any vital organ system. At this point she was swiftly
restrained to minimize the risk that she might be about to set
off any improvised explosive device. She received medical
treatment, and later was released when an investigation showed no
basis for criminal charges. Her purpose in rushing our troops was
evidently to prevent what she saw as the imminent assassination
of her husband. She need not have feared: Mr. Bin Laden will meet
a very different fate, although not necessarily one he would have
preferred. He will receive not martyrdom on his own terms, but
justice on ours.

Standing face-to-face with our brave service members, Mr. Bin
Laden reacted not as an angel or a devil, but as a human being,
very much as you or I might respond if confronted with such
overwhelming force. He simply froze.

In the next split seconds, the training and professionalism of
our forces came to the forefront. While one of our people spoke
in Arabic to let Mr. Bin Laden know that he would not be harmed,
a Navy SEAL quickly moved forward and gave him what the official
report calls “an all-American bear hug” to restrain him from
setting off any possible suicide device or the like — the same
maneuver as had been applied to his wife a few moments earlier.
This member of our SEAL team quickly confirmed that Osama Bin
Laden was unarmed, and secured him for transport, even as medics
determined that he was none the worse for the experience. While
preparing to depart with Mr. Bin Laden and other prisoners, our
troops also collected computers and other evidence which may be
helpful both in prosecuting al-Qaida members and in gaining
valuable intelligence for future law enforcement efforts in our
continuing global campaign against violent extremism.

Apart from confirming that Mr. Bin Laden was unharmed, our
medical team was instructed to evaluate the state of the
prisoner’s health and be sure that he received any necessary
treatment. We confirmed that he suffers from end-stage chronic
kidney disease and requires regular dialysis, which he is
receiving and will continue to receive as preparations unfold for
his trial, during the trial itself, and, if he is convicted,
during the rest of what could be a long life in some humane but
very secure prison.

Basic human decency requires nothing less, either for a notorious
criminal such as Mr. Bin Laden, or for any innocent citizen of
our own country in need of life-saving healthcare. While rightly
celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s capture, we should not forget our
own people who are confined by life-threatening illnesses, often
needlessly aggravated for them and their families by the specter
of financial hardship or even disaster. The Affordable Care Act
of 2010 is only the first step in making healthcare a basic human
right in practice as well as in theory for all Americans; I
intend to work in creative partnership with the States to advance
this agenda further and pave the way for truly affordable care,
including long-term care, on a universal basis.

The trial of Osama Bin Laden will be a solemn occasion for the
world to commemorate events that shocked us all, and led people
of many nations, philosophies, and political viewpoints to feel
solidarity with the victims and with our entire country. Justice
demands, not vengeance, but accountability. At the Hague, the
whole world will bring Osama Bin Laden to account. An
international tribunal is now being organized: our goals are an
open inquiry with jurists from every continent taking part. It is
especially important that the Islamic world be well represented,
as it will be.

Certainly this trial will be an ordeal for Osama Bin Laden, as
the world at large, including the world of Islam, repudiates his
terroristic campaign against international law and common human
standards of decency. But I would be less than candid if I did
not warn you that Osama Bin Laden will not be the only actor in
the drama confronted with some painful soul searching to do.
While Mr. Bin Laden and his terrorist associates will be the ones
at the dock of justice, all of us will have to stand before the
bar of our own consciences and before the tribunal of history.

In fact, there has been talk that any trial of Mr. Bin Laden
might be against our national interests, because he will have a
platform to attack our country and its history in the course of
his legal defense. Doubtless he will argue such a defense, and I
have confidence that the world will not accept any imagined or
real injustices of the past as an excuse or justification for his
acts of mass murder. We have the courage to bring him to justice
and bear with whatever accusations he chooses to make as he
faces the stern accusation and judgment of the whole civilized

However, I hope we will also have the courage and wisdom to
recognize and acknowledge that some of his accusations and
criticisms of our history and past policies will be accurate.
A criminal trial, whether in one of our state or federal courts
or before an international tribunal, should be above all a search
for the truth — about Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida, but also
about ourselves.

The trial of Osama Bin Laden should indeed be the beginning of a
conversation about our national history and foreign policy, and a
larger dialogue with the citizens of other nations, each with its
own proud history and precious interests. Together we will try
Osama Bin Laden; and together, we will seek our common safety in
more just and peaceful world.

As one educational and spiritual preparation for this coming
trial, I would like to urge the people of the United States to
read and ponder a speech by one of the greatest champions of
peace with justice the world has ever known: Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. On April 4, 1967, he spoke at the Riverside Church in
New York on this momentous theme: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to
Break Silence.” Exactly one year later, he was assassinated.

Dr. King’s words are not easy ones to read for anyone devoted to
the American Dream — not then, almost 45 years ago, and not

In confronting Osama Bin Laden’s deeds in ordering and inspiring
coldly calculated acts of mass murder, we will need also to
confront a history of state-sponsored violence and terrorism of
the kind which Dr. King addresses. The harsh and inescapable
truth is that brave young women and men as well as honorable and
seasoned officers are sometimes called by their countries to
serve in unjust wars — and the United States has not been exempt
from this tragedy of the ages.

Senator William Fulbright, one of our great patriots and
thinkers, wrote in the 1960’s to warn us against what he called
_The Arrogance of Power_, and that warning is as timely as ever.
As we prepare to try Osama Bin Laden, we ourselves stand before
the judgment of a diverse and multipolar world crying out for
democracy and a more equitable distribution of life-sustaining

President John F. Kennedy declared: “Those who make peaceful
revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.” We
must fearlessly reexamine and revise our foreign policy so as to
promote rather than attempt to resist or repress the liberating
winds of freedom and equality. And we must revise and expand our
concepts of national security and defense to embrace a full range
of nonviolent, nonlethal, and less lethal strategies and

In the history of our country, and the larger history of the
world, we encounter two kinds of men and women who have helped us
move toward the order of universal peace and justice we seek.
Some have rejected all use of lethal force, bearing witness to
their uncompromising commitment to nonviolence, whether borne of
religious faith or simply of a faith in human dignity and
compassion. Others, while viewing the use of lethal armed force
as sometimes necessary, or at least inevitable under prevailing
conditions, have nevertheless sought by every means they found
within reach to temper the fury of war by the elementary
standards and customs of humanity, as reflected in such documents
as the Geneva Conventions and other landmarks in the evolving
field of international law.

These two movements toward peace with justice need not be
opposed, but should be allied in mutual respect as we continue in
our common struggle for peace. The capture of Osama Bin Laden
gives us a moment for somber reflection as well as satisfaction
that justice will be done. Even the most committed pacifists, I
hope, will be able to appreciate the valor and decency of our
service members, who risked their own lives in our common defense
and at each point carefully limited their use of force to that
which seemed absolutely necessary for their own safety and the
safety of others, while binding the wounds of those injured and
treating their captives humanely and indeed chivalrously in the
highest and most gender-neutral sense.

And even the greatest admirer of our police and military forces,
I hope, will join our committed pacifists in the recognition that
even one death, as regrettably happened in this operation, is one
death too many. Our ultimate struggle, wherever we find ourselves
in this perennial moral dialogue, is not against human beings,
but against violence and injustice themselves.

As part of this noble struggle, it is vital that we all
understand the great religion of Islam, and distinguish between
Islam as a religion of peace, and the acts of violence and terror
which have been committed historically in the name of
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faith traditions, as well
as in the name of various secular and political ideologies. As he
awaits trial, Mr. Bin Laden has full access to Islamic clergy who
are ready to address his spiritual needs.

As people of good will, whatever our faith tradition, if any, we
must inform ourselves of the true meaning of the Islamic concept
of _jihad_ or struggle, which indeed may embrace any worthy
endeavor. Islam teaches that there are two forms of jihad.

The first, called the external jihad, is the struggle against
external injustice, whether waged by means of armed force or
purely with the weapons of nonviolent action. The enemy might be
a military invasion; or it might be colonialism, South African
apartheid, or Jim Crow and lynchings on our own streets and in
our own towns and byways. Nanyehi (also known as Nancy Ward),
Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Eugene V. Debs, Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez,
and, of course, Martin Luther King are among our own great
_jihadis_, or participants in this struggle, and there are many

The second, called the greater _jihad_, is the struggle within:
the confrontation with evil and with the unfulfilled potential
for good within each of us and within our own familiar social,
cultural, or national circle. While _jihad_ is a unique concept
of Islam, it has resonance with those of us coming from other
traditions as well. Thus we may recall the struggles of the
Hebrew prophets against the social and spiritual injustices they
found, not in the various other nations of the world, but at home
in Israel itself; or the declaration of the Apostle Paul that we
fight against “powers and principalities” within ourselves. The
tireless struggles of a secularist such as Clarence Darrow for
the oppressed, and against unnecessary violence in the name of
the law or otherwise, also enrich this heritage of fruitful

It is in this spirit, as citizens of the United States and
citizens of the world, that we should approach the coming trial
of Osama Bin Laden. To borrow a fine phrase from the recent
history of South Africa, the South Africa of Nelson Mandela and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this is a time of truth and
reconciliation for us all. Let us fear neither to acknowledge the
truths of history nor to act upon them by struggling together for
a more just and peaceful world.

Margo Schulter

Margo Schulter

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