A respectful place of final resting: Bin Laden, Illinois and Spain

Bin Laden's "burial" at sea has been controversial for some.

Among the many aspects of Bin Laden’s death, one of the most controversial may be the decision to deposit the late terrorist’s body in the ocean.

President Obama took to the airwaves Thursday to defend it, according to this Reuters article:

President Barack Obama said U.S. forces were “respectful of the body” of Osama bin Laden when they buried his remains at sea, despite criticism from some Muslim clerics that it violated Islamic practice.

“We took more care on this than, obviously, bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn’t have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, referring to the September 11, 2001, attacks that the al Qaeda leader masterminded.

“But that, again, is something that makes us different. And I think we handled it appropriately,” Obama said, according to an advance excerpt of an interview that will air in full on Sunday.

Others disagree.

The issue of a respectful final resting place was not limited to Operation Geronimo this week.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced that 75 percent of the state’s burials are being recorded in a state database established in the wake of the Burr Oak cemetery in Alsip, where massive grave desecration was discovered in 2009.

“One of the most rewarding outcomes of the Cemetery Oversight Database is the knowledge that this tool will be able to assist future generations in locating the final resting place of their loved ones and ancestors,” said Brent Adams, Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation, in a department release.

Governor Quinn signed the historic Cemetery Oversight Act last year to protect bereaved families coping with decisions about funerals, burials, and the long-term maintenance of their loved one’s gravesite.  The law implemented many of the reforms and recommendations of the Cemetery Oversight Task Force, which was created by the Governor in response to the tragedy at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip.

“The database has enabled cemeteries that relied solely on paper records to upgrade to an electronic database at a reasonable cost,” said LuAnn Johnson, Executive Director of Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.  Cemeteries entering data into the database pay an average of $1.80 per burial.

The violation of graves here in Illinois was the result of a plot by the cemetery manager and three workers.

In Spain this week, the government took the extraordinary measure of publishing a map and database in which the names of victims of the country’s vicious war that took the lives of thousands of people during the struggle that saw Franco emerge victorious.

The article goes on to say that serious divisions remain in the country, with the Zapatero government feeling heat from all sides of the political divide.

And a step toward some kind of healing.

Seemingly unconnected, each of these incidents underscores the enormous and universal importance people and cultures accord their loved ones having a dignified and respectful burial.  As Martha Minow notes in the introduction to Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, no single official act can totally heal the wounds created by mass violence, and that insufficiency does not in any way obviate the responsibility to do something.

Should Bin Laden’s body have been brought to the United States?  Do these new databases and maps make a difference?  What does respect for the dead truly mean?

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