One of the recent accomplishments of Man has been the definition of basic human rights by the United Nations.
Among those rights, by the way, was the right to information - to give you an idea of the depth of thought they, the UN Council on Human Rights, went to.
This list of rights followed a basic tenet of philosophy, namely, that certain rights are of a 'higher order' than other rights. For example, the right to life is a higher liberty than say, the right to free access to information. While they UN Council did not in any way 'score' rights, they did tend to enumerate rights in an order of importance.
Why this matters is that ethical theory has evolved to the point where certain acts are seen as good, and proper, but also which can be subordinated or even violated if some higher order good is to be preserved.
An example would be, while honesty is certainly a good and decent thing, if you would cause the loss of life by honesty, then dishonesty is permitted, according to current ethical theory. The examples, such as when is deadly force permitted, all now tend to extend from this idea of 'higher order' ethical theory.
This does NOT argue for ends justifies the means approach, as Benthemite philosophy does. It would not allow for the killing of 20 to save 200 - as the taking of life is still the taking of life, the numbers saved are of no value if the only net result is the saving of other life. Conversely, if 200 will die regardless, but by taking 200, 2000 would live, then clearly, not acting and allowing 2000 to die, when the fate of 200 is already sealed, would be murder by ommission.
Why does this matter?
It matters because we have learned that our actions in World War II, bombing Tokyo, Nuremburg, or Dresden undert the auspices of 'total war' as defined by William T. Sherman, or denying the enemy the ability to fight, or even as we said then, that you can't significantly distinguish women and even civilians from the warmaking ability of a nation, in fact was unethical. It was NOT necessary to firebomb any of those cities. Nor was there really any ability to justify that our bombing was reasonably part of making war upon a nation which had attacked us, so it could not be justified under self-defense.
I met an Isreali, who, in an attempt to justify their war in Lebanon in 2005, reminded me of the 'genocide' (as he called it) which the US inflicted upon Japan in the bombing of Tokyo. He assumed I did not know of it. While I did, I also did not defend it, and countered that comparing oneself to Satan hardly makes one a saint. Our actions were, in historical hindsight, something for which our Air Force leaders would have been tried (successfully) for war crimes had we lost the war. However, to the victor goes the right to write the history books, and so our actions were not seen with the ignominy they might have justly earned had the outcome been different.
Why do I bring this up?
Osama Bin Laden quoted our justification for the attack upon the World Trade Center with nearly EXACTLY the language we used to attack Germany and Japan during World War II. In Bin Laden's mind and the viewpoint of his followers, he was making war upon our ability to wage war, no differently than we did upon Japan. He could, in his eyes, no more easily distinguish between civilians and the military support mechanism they worked within than we could in Dresen or Tokyo. When we justify our righteous anger at Bin Laden for attacking civilians, we seem unaware of our own history which gave him license (in his mind) to do so.
Our words, our actions, were used against us.
Except...in the case of our bomber pilots, our war leaders, we were less than mature in our philosophical understanding of higher order good, the limits which warfare MUST be fought under, the constraints of civilization upon a nation unless it desires those same horrors visited upon it by future history. While I don't excuse Hap Arnold or Gen. Harris for their actions, there were NO militarily viable targets in Dresden or Nuremburg - I can at least say that I believe FDR and Churchill were not aware of the reasonable likelihood our actions would someday be used to justify attacks upon us.
However, Bin Laden MUST know this. He is well educated, he is very bright. Yet, he seems unconcerned that his actions nearly gaurantee his main goal, a self-governing Saudi Arabia, free from foreign influence, and also his secondary goal, a Muslim Middle-East driving the Isralis into submission if not into the sea, are virtually assured to never be sustainable.
Saudi Arabia is surrounded by more powerful neighbors, only the US military safeguards its corrupt aristocracy against change. The world looks upon SA as a morally stunted, backward and repressive state, mostly uncaring should anyone desire to change its borders - except for oil. That oil will keep the ravenous wolves at the door - keep the US and its allies in place helping the aristocracy stave off change, until oil is no longer there, or no longer needed. Then, the wolves defending the government will be traded for wolves which will change the government.
The brazen conduct of Al Qaeda, and generally of terrorists, in not acknowledging the growth in wisdom around the need for observance of basic human ethics - has already abandon concern for the plight of terrorists, and mostly, for the plight of the Palestinians. The only concerns which are sometimes fostered actually are sympanthy generated by repressive conduct by the Israelis, the underdogs have become the bullies sometimes - and so the world has a SMALL bit of sympathy for the Palestinians. YET, the world will not soon allow the destruction of, or oppression of, the nation of Israel or the Jews who reside there.
Indeed, OBL's failure to understand the world has moved past his form of warfare, is his own undoing. As he is smart, and educated, the only conclusion which can be made is that he depraved, if not insane. He is no longer rational. Clearly he learned to not trust the US during his days as a Mujahadeen - but he's turned that distrust into blind lust for racial/religious purity. Such purity, like the concept of bombing civilians as militarily justifiable, is a notion long past its time.
The question which remains is this, when will this country, this United States, become aware of that which we can recognize Bin Laden has failed to recognize. When will we as a people begin to undertand that human life has a value which is equal, no matter the birth location, ethnic background, economic class or circumstance, as life just outside our front door? We ask the world to stand by us, as we have the right to do, to stop terrorism, yet we STILL (at least until the election of Obama) seem convinced US lives are somehow 'more sacred', and since they are, the impact to the world of our conduct is less of a concern than loss of US life/lives.
Clearly, ethical conduct has evolved to the point we understand that life is life, that tolerating inhuman, cruel conduct in the name of defense is flawed, even evil. Clearly law has evolved to the point that such conduct will/should result in criminal punishment of such acts. Clearly we can see this - clearly law and good are moving together. Clearly justice, not just law, has become a paramount HUMAN concern. The competition between good- that which harms least, and evil, that which harms most, is a race we cannot afford to lose. Clearly we must learn from history, and never again embrace the ideas which laugh at Abu Ghraib, or the deaths of 'a necessary' number of civilians in colateral damage.
Clearly, as a nation, it is time to move ahead and away from the false idol of war, for war is at best terrible, and at worst, the evil which will destroy us. Clearly not doing so is no less than insane.