“Would you say he’s an honest man?”
“Far as it goes. Of course, he has to swim in the same water we all do.”
–Chinatown

Credit Glenn Greenwald (among others) with keeping a clear head amid the giddiness:

But I think if one is going to [accept the illegality of the bin Laden assassination] then one is obligated to acknowledge it and then grapple with what it means and what the implications are — rather than just pretending that it’s not happening.

Most of us, to the extent we’ve considered the undeniable illegality of the bin Laden execution (let’s not split hairs), have been serenely unperturbed by this fact. My hand’s raised. But we should be precise about the nature of the expedient we cheer: it was not a choice between bin Laden’s summary execution and his escaping justice, but between that and a trial we did not want. We killed him specifically to deny him–God help me–justice. And to spare us. We acted to forbid him a gallows from which to bellow. Would a more confident America have had less to fear from Osama bin Laden the rhetorician? I don’t know. But I’ll bet a less compromised America never would have acquired him in the first place.

So this is the ugly reality beneath the optics. One bold, daring raid for Team Obama courtesy of Seal Team Six, one timid dodge for mankind. But we should then ask how we arrived here, where a crime is just and denying a great criminal his day in court is prudent–and how we might have avoided it. To begin, why wasn’t bin Laden tried in absentia by now and–if the case against him is so far from dispute–sentenced to death in an American court of law? Or did I miss that?