Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF St. Petersburg debate revives death of Osama bin Laden

Adrian O’Connor conducts a discussion in a class about the history of assassination at USF St. Petersburg recently.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Adrian O’Connor conducts a discussion in a class about the history of assassination at USF St. Petersburg recently.

ST. PETERSBURG — The syllabus was all but set in the spring. Assistant professor Adrian O'Connor envisioned History 3930 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg as a fast-paced survey of the last roughly 2,500 years seen through the specific prism of assassination. Who killed whom, or tried, and what could that tell us about the broader significance of that time and place in the world?

And then Osama bin Laden was killed.

The elimination in May of the leader of al-Qaida, arguably the biggest news story of the year, turned O'Connor's history course this semester into the best, most useful kind — one in which the past is used to better interpret the present.

Maybe, O'Connor hoped, his couple of dozen undergraduates could have the kind of challenging but important conversation the country as a whole mostly did not.

Was this form of justice just?

From late August to last week, the students studied the assassinations of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. Henry IV. Abraham Lincoln. Archduke Franz Ferdinand. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. They studied the attempts on Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro.

They tried to define assassination. It had to be targeted. It had to be politically significant. It had to have symbolic value. Motive mattered. Assassinations, it seemed, happened at the hinges of major historical moments.

Back in May, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a member of a team of Navy SEALs shot an unarmed bin Laden, first in the chest, then in the face.

Nobody in the United States in any official capacity called it an assassination. The few voices that made that argument got lost in the general exultation.

O'Connor's students read a book this fall called Political Murder in which author Franklin L. Ford described assassination as "a highly unreliable expedient" and pointed out that it "has tended to ignore man's hard-won regard for due process."

They read a question-and-answer debate in the Guardian in London from the week bin Laden was killed.

"You don't just shoot an unarmed person," a prominent philosopher said. "That's what terrorists do, and you don't want to emulate them."

"No," a counterinsurgency expert said. "It's achieved its aims so it was a successful mission."

They read an opinion piece from November in the Los Angeles Times in which investigative journalist Andrew Cockburn called the bin Laden killing a "taxpayer-funded assassination."

They noted the U.S. executive orders that ban state-sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. An assassination, with rare exceptions, according to the initial order in 1975, "violates moral precepts fundamental to our way of life."

They were by last week ready to discuss bin Laden.

O'Connor, 30, an assistant professor who got his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in modern European history and wears a daily uniform of blue jeans and short-sleeve button-downs, stood at the front of Room 228 in Davis Hall and set some ground rules.

"It's very important that we are able to debate," he told the students. "Not just for the health of this class, but for the body politic in general."

And so he asked: Was the killing of Osama bin Laden an assassination?

Most students said yes.

"Anyone want to contest the idea that it was an assassination?" O'Connor said.

"They were sent in to take him dead or alive," said Kevin Pace, 26 — technically a military mission, he explained, not an effort to assassinate.

"But they were going to kill this guy," said Brooke Bennett, 28. "There was no way they were going to put him on trial."

"To me," said Hugh Tulloch, 72, auditing the class, "this was an act of legitimate war."

"Yes? No?" O'Connor said. "On what terms?"

"Revenge," Bennett said.

"There's a difference between what's been said on paper and what common sense is telling us is reality," said Alaura Marriott, 20. "We all know bringing Osama bin Laden back alive was not an option. Common sense? This was an assassination."

O'Connor then asked: "What did Osama bin Laden represent?"

The students agreed: He was the face of terrorism.

But Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, O'Connor pointed out, and so was Ted Kaczynski. They got trials.

What if he had been captured and put on trial?

"He would have recruited," Tulloch said.

He also, O'Connor said, would have had a forum for his ideology. For many people, particularly in the Muslim world, he said, bin Laden represented not terrorism but a response to American imperialism. O'Connor told his students they didn't have to agree with that. But it is, he said, worth some consideration.

"I don't care what you think when you get out of my classes," he told the students. "It's that you think well."

Class was dismissed.

Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.

USF St. Petersburg debate revives death of Osama bin Laden 12/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 4, 2011 11:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Clearwater police: Car thief dead after owner fires gun

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — One man is dead after the owner of a car fired shots at the thieves who were stealing it Monday night, police said.

  2. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive

    World

    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  3. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.
  4. 'Me too': Alyssa Milano urged assault victims to tweet in solidarity. The response was massive.

    Human Interest

    Actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

    Within hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing. By 3 a.m. Monday, almost 200,000 metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count.
  5. Tampa tax shelter schemer too fat for his prison term, attorney says

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced two Bay area men to prison terms last week for peddling an offshore tax shelter scheme that cost the IRS an estimated $10 million.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.