Almost three years ago, when the appalling sons of Saddam Hussein met their end, Charles Krauthammer responded aptly in the Washington Post to a peculiarly foolish notion of how such men ought to have been treated:
We had no wish to take Uday and Qusay alive. We did the correct thing in giving them one chance to surrender. But no more. The moment we captured them we would have been responsible for their care and feeding forever. They were in their thirties. It would have meant that for the next 50 years the Hussein dynasty would have been kept alive -- by us.
For a half-century, Iraqis would live in fear of a restoration. It was not for nothing that Richard III had his nephews killed in the Tower of London. We don't do that today. In fact, we leave unmolested Saddam Hussein's other offspring -- three daughters and a son. But when confronted with his designated heirs, world-class murderers who refused to surrender, the idea of waiting them out so that we could forever be custodians of their restoration is simply insane.
It is a tragedy that a few months later Saddam Hussein confounded the characteristically witless assessment of George Galloway ("I think he will be the last man standing in the bunker") and surrendered ignominiously rather than join his fate to that of his sons. Having thrown himself on Iraqis' mercy, he now has a fair trial and the opportunity to state his defence of the monstrous and genocidal. Our side - the liberal democracies and our allies the forces of constitutional government in Iraq - has no option but to provide them. That's what we're like.
The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shows no less a commitment to justice and the rule of law, while being an incomparably better outcome than a war crimes trial. The jihadists declared after killing 200 commuters in Madrid, "You love life and we love death." I don't believe the second part of this is literally true, at least in the case of their own deaths, but we should certainly be glad at having met their stated wishes today.
UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens makes an important point that I hadn't considered:
The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is excellent news in its own right and even more excellent if, as U.S. sources in Iraq are claiming, it resulted from information that derived from people who were or had been close to him. (And, if that claim is black propaganda, then it is clever black propaganda, which is also excellent news.)