But if a reporter had tracked him down by posing as a fake sheikh or hacking his voicemails, would there be the same universal acclaim? No. We'd be criticising the methods used, which however morally dubious are hardly on the same scale as Guantanamo Bay.
He also wouldn't be dead, that's for sure. Maybe that psyched-up, pumped-up Navy Seal had no choice except to shoot, but it was not the brightest move. Alive, Bin Laden could have been many things - a rallying point for his followers, a bogeyman for the West, a legal headache (Do you put him on trial in New York? How do you select an unbiased jury? Execution or life imprisonment?) but dead he can only ever become a martyr for the thoughtless followers of his twisted cause.
Alive, mired in a long judicial process and with pictures released Saddam-style of his stay in jail, there was a chance Bin Laden would have been shorn of the charisma of a man on the run.
Instead he will now be a hero to some and the scenes of jubilation which greeted the news of his death carry a whiff of repugnance. People were shot, including an unarmed woman who married him in her teens, to get to Bin Laden. Was it worth it?
Not to say the mastermind of Al Qaeda was anything but a bad man, who deserved to endure the hell of airport security checks for the rest of his life. But it's like killing a cockroach - you stamp on them, and they just shed their eggs to make a million more.
Our leaders secretly hurt and kill, execute foreign heads of state, topple governments and all for oil, influence or some other pointless short-term cause. They spy on us in a million ways, and if you so much as say the word 'Obama' in a mobile phone call the spooks at GCHQ in Cheltenham will snatch your call out of the air and listen to it later. This post will be seen by someone there, simply for the number of keywords which it includes (I'll add 'semtex' just to shake them up). Some of this sneaking about has foiled terror attacks and saved lives, and some just led to people making phone calls to their mates saying "Do you know what happens if you say 'Obama'..."
Is that going to stop now Bin Laden's dead? Will it end when all his followers surrender? When do we get back the liberties we gave up to find and stop this bad man and others like him?
Long-term the only way freedom ever prevails over totalitarianism is that it is better. Force and might win wars but it's democracy, rights, and decency which win the peace. 'We' have to be better than 'Them', whatever the cost. That means we put criminals on trial, not send Navy Seals in to slot them and their teenaged wives. It means we welcome other faiths, not burn their holy books or ban clothing we disapprove of. Tolerance of others is the price we pay in return for being tolerated ourselves.
If you give people freedom, they never let go of it. But if you behave like tyrants, even when your cause is just, then you've lost. You've lost yourself, you've lost the argument, and you've lost the plot.
EDIT: The story of the raid has changed several times since this post was written. First his wife was a human shield, then not; first dead, then just shot in the calf. First Bin Laden was spraying gunfire, and now we hear he was unarmed. A fiver says that by the end of the week we'll find out it wasn't Bin Laden at all, but an innocent Brazilian just trying to catch a train.
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, letter to H.L. Pierce, Apr. 6, 1859