DMN: Death Good for bin Laden, Bad for Texas Murderers

Because of the newspaper’s high-profile stance against capital punishment, it was a little surprising to read today’s DMN editorial cheering on the swift dispatch of Osama bin Laden with almost-giddy praise. I mean, according to news reports, the president OK’d an operation to kill the terrorist leader without even giving the poor guy a fair trial! Some say the Al-Qaeda mastermind was the recipient of a Navy SEAL “double cap tap,” meaning two bullets in the head to ensure a rapid demise.

To be clear: President Obama (and his predecessors) and those brave SEALs deserve credit and kudos for hunting bin Laden down and delivering some old-fashioned, eye-for-an-eye justice. But it’s also instructive to learn that according to the Morning News standard, the “death penalty” (without a trial, yet) is good for certain people–namely, really evil tall bearded guys who are alleged to have offed lots of people–but bad for convicted murderers who’ve gone through multiple trials in the state of Texas. This will be interesting to recall the next time the paper starts haranguing supporters of capital punishment.


  • mightcan

    I know! I agree with you that Willingham got off easy. We shouldn’t let perfection be a requirement for the immediacy, of, well, death.

  • Glenn,

    You raise an interesting point, and I appreciate the chance to clarify our position. The Dallas Morning News is not opposed to the death penalty in Texas because this newspaper finds it immoral or because we have adopted some sort of pacifist line of thought. Indeed, a small number of board members past and present have opposed the death penalty on those grounds, but that has never been the justification for the editorial stance this newspaper has adopted. Rather, our editorial stance is that known errors in the justice system make it far too likely that the state could make an irreversible error with the death penalty. We came to that conclusion only after years of seeing DNA evidence wipe out convictions in cases where no one – jurors, prosecutors and sometimes even defense attorneys – had any doubt of guilt.

    As an aside, surely you recognize that even those religious and moral traditions that do oppose state-sponsored killing in death chambers have a different moral and ethical standard for the battlefield.

  • CraigT

    @ Michael. bn laden was not on a battlefield. he was in a house, hiding. By all accounts he had given up any real leadership in Al-Queda years ago. so the difference between this execution and one in TX differs only by method.
    As far as the ‘we only oppose it because of the possibility of the innocent being killed” argument. What about the woman who was used as a human shield?

  • Michael, Glenn is having a Limbaugh/Davis, moment. Don’t ruin it.

    It’s fun to watch.

  • Mark

    Oh, goody! A death penalty discussion!

    Let’s stipulate that 10 percent of all people executed in Texas are not guilty of the crime for which they are being punished. Ten percent is almost certainly a high number, but we’ll go with it for the sake of discussion. This is a far different statement from the “innocent people are being killed by the state” phrase thrown around by death penalty opponents. For the vast majority of those on death row, the event that put them there was far from their first rodeo, so the term “innocent” likely doesn’t apply.

    Let’s also stipulate that every murder victim does not deserve to die.

    Consider this from the NY Times in 2007:

    “According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.”

    If one were to presume that the executed and the murdered are equally worthy of life, each unworthy execution saves 30 to 180 lives.

    To the “one innocent life is too many” crowd, I’d suggest you advocate a 35 MPH national speed limit. You’d save tens of thousands of innocent lives each year.

  • It is fun to watch Glen go WAY out of his way to NOT give Obama credit.

    Are you saying we might have killed an innocent man?

  • Liz Landry

    Must I point out the obvious. You only need a trial if the person claims they DID NOT do it. Osama Bin Laden made sure that everyone knew he was the mastermind and that he was responsible. Comparing the two things is just ridiculous.

  • Liz Landry

    And, Glenn, just because a person is convicted of murder through A, as in ONE, trial, DOES NOT mean that they are actually guilty of that crime. (They are not repeatedly convicted, their conviction is simply upheld by other courts, unless you can prove some pretty high standards of misconduct, which is hard to do if there is a cover-up or withholding of evidence like DNA. )

    Now, no one is saying that we shouldn’t have trials or a justice system, we are simply pointing out that until we start using the recommended standards on interrogation, eyewitness identification and jailhouse snitches, we should not be putting people to death for crimes that they may not have committed.

  • CraigT

    @ Liz. It is not that obvious. Even if one were to plead guilty, which is a far different matter than just claiming credit/blame, they still get a day in court to enter that plea, along with counsel and all the protection provided by the procedures of the legal system.

    While I have zero doubt of Bin Laden’s guilt, in almost every sensational crime, be it a serial killing or a bombing, the police tend to get dozens of false convictions. many of these from the mentally ill.

  • It is funny that someone from the DMN thinks they are the arbiter of morality when they have their head up the tail end of Robert Jeffress. Get back to me when you get your head out of the sand.

  • i’m with liz on her first point. if someone admits to committing a crime and confesses (presumably osama wasn’t under duress as he made the video himself and voluntarily sent it to al-jazeera to claim responsibility) then wouldn’t we move on to the penalty phase?

    to my knowledge, the DMN has never written an editorial criticizing the execution of someone who voluntarily plead guilty to a crime for which the penalty is capital punishment.

    the only thing i can think of that comes close is karla faye tucker. i don’t remember if DMN supported commuting her death sentence to life in prison but i bet that, if they did, it would be a position based upon the fact that she showed remorse for her crime and accepted her guilt and showed serious personal growth and change. none of which osama bin laden showed.

  • JR

    I believe the phrase you’re using is incorrect. It’s not double cap…it’s double tap.

  • Liz Landry

    @CraigT I’m not quite sure what you are arguing here or pointing out to me. They went in to capture a terrorist and used deadly force, which I am pretty sure is in some military handbook as an acceptable means of force when faced with a terrorist and the chance that he would use civilians as cover. I am actually a pacifist, who does not believe in war. But, even I think it would have been foolhardy to go in there with the intention to capture him alive knowing what we know about the tactics that he will and did use and how many people would pay that price.

    My point was that a terrorist actively engaging with the military does not get to be compared to a person arrested in our society for a crime that he may or may not have committed.

  • sarah

    Good heavens. If you’re going to support the death penalty, at least understand how stacked the deck actually is. First, you don’t get multiple trials – you get one trial, and then you get appeals. Problem is, on appeals it’s assumed that all of the facts decided by the jury are true – so if there was a controversy about scientific evidence, as there was in the Willingham case, the appeals court is held to a lower standard of review. Essentially, death penalty appeals are only successful if there was an error of law – if the judge made a mistake.

    Moreover, there’s the race factor. I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation as to why a higher percentage of minorities seem to get the death penalty for the same crimes – a great deal of it may have to do with the fact that the only thing standing between them and a needle is an overburdened public defender.

    And our justice system is NOT founded on the assumption that killing innocent people 10 percent of the time is an acceptable price to pay. The point the NYT article was making is that if people are executed, then it may have a deterrent effect, NOT that executing innocent people was justified — although the article mentioned that “The studies have been the subject of sharp criticism, much of it from legal scholars who say that the theories of economists do not apply to the violent world of crime and punishment. Critics of the studies say they are based on faulty premises, insufficient data and flawed methodologies.”

    That being said, our entire criminal justice system is based on the premise that it’s better to let ten guilty men go free than convict one innocent man – the focus of the bill of rights, of the multitude of procedural requirements for police, prosecutors and the justice system -is on preventing governmental abuse of power. I can’t think of a bigger abuse than executing innocent people, which, in a state where more than 20 people have been exonerated by DNA, is seeming more and more likely to have happened. To pretend that the military operation to kill Osama somehow justifies turning a blind eye to the execution of innocent people is not only fallacious, it’s morally repugnant.

  • Glenn Hunter

    @JR: You’re right. Thanks for pointing that out. Corrected now.

  • meddling moderate

    OBL was killed in a gunfight with Navy Seals (as in shooting back at our guys). The scenario wasn’t, OBL’s surrender and later executed by the Seals, so the capital punishment comparison is bogus.

  • Glenn Hunter

    @meddling moderate: Not right. The SEALs were under orders to kill bin Laden from the get-go, not to capture him.

  • meddling moderate

    John Brennan, White House Homeland Security advisor stated at today’s White House press briefing that the SEALs were given the leeway to have arrested and brought back OBL, if he had surrendered.

  • exscholar

    Anybody regret all the (additional) money we saved by NOT having to go through years-long trial of OBL?

  • I wonder if the mission had failed, if everyone would have been so quick to give Bush so much credit. I also wonder if we would have captured him and brought him to trial if Glen would have voiced his support of that.

  • Dudley Sharp


    Michael Landauer and the Dalls Morning News are dead wrong in their position and they know it.

    Their foundation for being against the death penalty is, allegedly, that they don’t want to risk and innocent executed.

    They never evaluated the risk to innocents without the death penalty and they have known this for many years.

    Innocents are more at risk without the death penalty. (1)

    In addition, many government programs not only put innocents at risk but end up killing scores of innocents. Yet, DMN doesn’t oppose any of those or ask for their end.

    Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    1) a) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”

    b) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05,

    c) “A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection”, Lester Jackson Ph.D.,

  • Dudley Sharp


    Here ya go:

    Race and the Death Penalty: A Review

    1) “Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias”

    2) “The Death Penalty and Racism The Times Have Changed”, Washington Post reporter Charles Lane, The American Interest, Nov/Dec 2010,


    4) Race, Sentencing and the death penalty.


    5) McCleskey V Kemp

    Baldus’database and work in McCleskey was quite poor.

    Read Federal District Court Judge Forrester’s rejection of Baldus’ database for McCleskey.

    A more thorough review is provided by Joseph Katz, who did the methodological review of ther Baldus database, which was rife with errors and problems. I have it, if you care to research.

    In addition, SCOTUS totally misunderstood the math involved.

    They ignorantly wrote: “defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times as likely to receive a death sentence as defendants charged with killing blacks.”

    Totally inaccurate.

    It was by odds of 4.3 times, which can mean a differential as low as 2%, “t w o” percent, as opposed to the 330% differential represented by 4.3 times.

    SCOTUS blew it big time on this.

    These two articles, below, give a good explanation of the Baldus problems:

    “The Math Behind Race, Crime and Sentencing Statistics”
    By John Allen Paulos, Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1998

    See “The Odds of Execution” within “How numbers are tricking you”, by Arnold Barnett, MIT Technology Review October, 1994

  • Dudley Sharp


    The deck is stacked for the defendant in capital trials.

    It takes a vote of 48-0, or 100%, by the jury (12 jurors voting 4 times on different issues) to get a death sentence.

    If only 1 of those 48 votes (2%) is for the defendant, no death penalty.

    100% vs 2%.

    The appeals process reverses the burden of proof – the death row inmate must now prove their point, to overturn their case. Appeals average 10-11 years in Texas.

  • gwyon

    Glenn, let us know when the DMN comes out in favor of outlawing the use of deadly force against armed and dangerous criminals who are barricaded in a compound. Even that’s not a perfect analogy, but at least it’s in the same neighborhood as the ballpark.

  • Mike

    Glenn’s right.

    Also, I bet it was the business leaders of North Texas – and not Obama or Seal Team Six – that were responsible for the death of bin Laden. Forget those Kennedy School elitists or elite NCOs who have never managed a Quizno’s franchise.

  • Obama’s Seat

    Kudos to Cheney’s Assassination Team, enhanced interrogation techniques, targeted assassination, and all the things that were bad just a few years ago, but are now the tools of a brilliant dear leader.

  • Daniel

    For Christ’s sake, Glenn, is that really the best you can do? You could at least trot out the already overplayed this-proves-Bush-was-right-torture-is-good-for-America stuff. All you’ve proven is that tortured logic is good for generating comments.

  • jon

    Glenn, remember that bin Laden was executed first, then positively identified as not being just some hapless lookalike by facial recognition software and DNA analysis second, just another of those cases where DNA conclusively proves the guilt or innocence of the accused after the fact.

    Michael is telling you he’s okay with the state of Texas executing guilty people like bin Laden or others just like that, just so long as both their guilt and their identity are ultimately confirmed to be what the state claimed them to be initially, even if that happens to be after the fact of their execution.

    Or maybe all this heady death stuff just gets Michael all mixed up, and he just wants to be on whatever side he thinks will make people like him the most, whatever side that happens to be from one situation to another.

  • Dudley Sharp


    You have misunderstod Landauer and the DMN.

    They are opposed to the death penalty because we MIGHT execute an innocent person.

    Yoy make a good point. OBL wasn’t positively identified until after he was killed, but the DMN approves.

    In fact, countless innocents have been killed in miltary raids.