Osama bin Laden killed: Assessing the aftermath

News that U.S. troops have killed Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was a stunning development that sparked a range of reactions — jubilation for many, anger for others, and for some believers, a debate over whether this was the moral and ethical course of action.

“Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama declared in his statement late on May 2, 2011. The future may not be as simple as that stark verdict.

As a New York Times reporter wrote: “What remains to be seen is whether the death of the leader of Al Qaeda galvanizes his followers by turning him into a martyr, or whether it serves as a turning of the page in the war in Afghanistan and gives further impetus to the Obama administration to bring American troops home.”

War or peace? Justice or revenge? And what of the legacy of Obama, who in 2009 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace?

This edition of ReligionLink tracks reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death and offers resources for reporters covering the religious, moral and ethical ramifications of the developments.


Torture and "assassination"

The killing of bin Laden, who apparently was not armed, has sparked a debate over whether deadly force was justified. It has also renewed debates over torture (or “enhanced interrogation” methods) because some argue such techniques aided in locating him.

  • “Slippery Slope”

    Read an editorial in the May 23, 2011, edition of America magazine, the national weekly produced by the Jesuits, that questions whether the bin Laden operation means the U.S. is resorting too frequently to “extrajudicial” killings.

  • “Bin Laden’s Death Reignites Torture Debate”

    A May 3, 2011, blog post rounds up news stories and religious reaction surrounding the torture issue.

  • “From Guantanamo to Abbottabad”

    John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who served in the Justice Department from 2001-03, writes in The Wall Street Journal that the successful raid vindicates the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

Revenge and forgiveness

The religious priority on forgiveness is challenged by bin Laden’s deeds.

Security precautions and incidents

Handling of bin Laden's body

Other developments







  • Richard Barrett

    Richard Barrett is the United Nations Coordinator of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Implementation Monitoring Team, also known as the al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team. Barrett advises the Security Council on the threat posed by al-Qaeda.

  • John Esposito

    John Esposito is founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown. He is an expert on global terrorism, Islam and democracy, and international interfaith relations. His publications include Islamaphobia: The Challenges of Pluralism in the 21st Century and Islam: The Straight Path; The Oxford Dictionary of Islam; Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam; What Everyone Needs to Know About IslamWho Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think; and Women in Muslim Family Law.

    He has said he hopes bin Laden’s death will help reduce Islamophobia in the U.S.

  • Nicholas Fotion

    Nicholas Fotion is a philosophy professor at Emory University in Atlanta and and an expert in military ethics. Fotion can talk about whether the killing of bin Laden was justified as an act of war, the differences and parallels in ethical considerations between conventional wars and wars on terrorism, and whether terrorism violates conditions of just-war theory. He is the author of War & Ethics: A New Just War Theory (2008).

  • Bruce Lawrence

    Bruce Lawrence is professor emeritus of  religion at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is author of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005). He is an expert on comparative fundamentalism and Muslim networks.

  • Flagg Miller

    Flagg Miller is a religious studies professor at the University of California, Davis, who can talk about bin Laden’s influence among a diverse range of Islamic militant movements. Miller is writing a book, Becoming Bin Laden, that investigates the contents of the al-Qaeda leader’s own audiotape library, a collection of more than 1,500 tapes.

  • Rashied Omar

    Rashied Omar is Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He says bin Laden defiled Islam. An expert on Islam, religion and violence, interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding, Omar trained in religious studies at the University of Cape Town and in Sudan, Pakistan and Malaysia.

  • Jonathan Tran

    Jonathan Tran is an assistant professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He specializes in theological ethics and can discuss the just-war tradition and the morality of celebrating bin Laden’s death.

  • Christian van Gorder

    Christian van Gorder is an associate professor of religion at Baylor who teaches world religions. He can comment on the controversy over the at-sea burial and whether it violated Muslim burial tradition.

  • Keith David Watenpaugh

    Keith David Watenpaugh is a contemporary Middle Eastern historian and Islamic studies specialist at the University of California, Davis, who can discuss human rights in the Middle East, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Christian-Muslim relations. Watenpaugh is the author of Being Modern in the Middle East and editor of The Arab Intellectual and the Question of Modernity (2009).

Resources and background


  • Middle East Policy Council

    The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. It works to educate Americans on the political, economic, and cultural issues in the Middle East relevant to the United States.

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