On the killing of Osama Bin Laden

In the wee hours of this morning, Pakistan time, a U.S. Special Forces team entered Pakistan in helicopters and flew to a compound in Abbotabad where they found someone reported to be Osama Bin Laden and killed him.
In a briefing this morning, Pres. Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, told reporters that the mission of the team was defined as follows:

    If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that. We had discussed that extensively in a number of meetings in the White House and with the president. The concern was that Bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation. Indeed, he did. It was a firefight. He, therefore, was killed in that firefight and that’s when [his mortal] remains were removed.
    But we certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote, given that he would likely resist arrest, but that we would be able to capture him.

I am glad that Brennan said that. The rhetoric surrounding the operation is important. However, the idea that Bin Laden was killed in “a firefight” doesn’t seem to have any evidence to back it up; and it seems to me distinctly possible that the U.S. team went in and simply snuffed him out. This is a modus operandi very frequently used by the U.S. forces using drones or other killing machines, in Pakistan or elsewhere. Such killings are correctly termed extra-judicial executions (EJEs) because they are carried out far outside the normal, and normally transparent, workings of legal systems.
The individual reported to be Bin Laden was not, like those numerous other victims of EJE’s, killed by a drone operator sitting many hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but by members of a team on the ground, able to look him in the eye as they killed him. Presumably the main intention in using a ground-force team was to obtain irrefutable evidence that the victim was indeed Bin Laden, though that evidence has not yet been presented to the public. The mortal remains of the victim were shortly after the killing “buried at sea”, according to the official U.S. version of events.
This was most likely done in order to prevent a Bin Laden grave from becoming– like that of, for example, the Jewish mass murderer in Hebron, Baruch Goldstein– a site of pilgrimage for followers. After eleven of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg were hanged to death as per their sentences, their mortal remains were almost immediately cremated and the ashes poured into an identified river for instant dispersal with the similar aim of preventing any grave from becoming a focus of pilgrimage.
I am still thinking hard about the U.S. decision-making during the time of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad. Was there really a firefight, or resistance? Though the compound had high walls as defenses, it did not seem to have many internal armaments, such as would be required in any serious “firefight” against a presumably very well-armed U.S. attack force. Bin Laden’s concealment strategy seemed to be centered overwhelmingly around the approach of “hiding in plain sight” near a large Pakistani military cantonment; and that strategy would depend for its success on not attracting attention by hauling large amounts of weapons into the compound.
Did the U.S. assailants indeed have a meaningful plan for “capture” and subsequent trial of their target? I hope so. But given the eagerness of the U.S. military to undertake extra-judicial executions against figures of far less renown and far less apparent culpability– in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere– I have many serious doubts that they did.
I hate the serious undermining of not only the letter of international law that EJE’s represent, but also the undermining of the whole idea of the rule of law that they represent. Anonymous bureaucrats sitting in offices 10,000 miles away get to consider a compilation of “evidence” against a suspect that is ever tested in an open court and that may consist of large amounts of hearsay, malice from jealous opponents, and/or mistaken identity; and they get to say “Kill this one; don’t kill that one; kill that one… ”
What kind of a system, what kind of a world is that?

The elected Hamas prime minister of the (Gaza-based) Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, made a statement about the killing of Bin Laden today that I considered really callous (toward the thousands of noncombatant victims– Americans and others– whom Bin Laden had repeatedly and openly crowed about killing) and wrong-headed. He described Bin Laden as “an Arab holy man”.
Haniyeh also, according to that Reuters story, “noted doctrinal differences between bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Hamas.” But I don’t think that noting those differences erases the effects of him calling Bin Laden “an Arab holy man.”
Haniyeh also said this about the killing of Bin Laden: “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
I think I can understand to some extent where Haniyeh is coming from. Remember that like all the other leaders of the Hamas government that was elected in January 2006, Haniyeh has himself been living under imminent threat of being extra-judicially executed by the Israelis for more than five years now…. Many more than 200 Palestinian political figures have been extra-judicially executed by Israel since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords in 1993. In January 2006, Haniyeh and the rest of the Hamas leaders in the OPTs agreed to participate openly and peaceably in the P.A. elections on the understanding that they could do so without being picked up– or picked off– by the Israeli “security” forces as they campaigned. But the moment after they won the eection, the Israeli Prime Minister of the day, Ehud Olmert, declared them all to be fair game for assassination… And the U.S., which had encourage the whole process through which they had participated in the election, gave Israel 100% backing in that position.
And he is quite right about the amount of Arab and Muslim blood that has been quite wantonly shed by the U.S. over the past decade– especially in Iraq.
But still, as a national political leader– though not, it should be noted, the highest national leader in Hamas, who is Khaled Meshaal– Haniyeh should have been far more guarded and statesman-like in his comments.
As an American, I empathize with Palestinians as they mourn noncombatants who are killed. I would hope that a Palestinian who is also a leader can empathize with Americans who mourned nearly 3,000 dead from a single action led (and proudly claimed) by Osama Bin Laden.

Well, it is all extremely tragic, all this wanton and avoidable taking of life, all this callousness toward other humans. I am also concerned about the triumphalism that so many Americans have been showing in response to the news of the killing of Bin Laden.
If I have one strong hope in these days it is that perhaps, at this point, Americans who have long harbored a deep and unresolved grievance about what happened on 9/11 can finally, now, call it quits. On that day, Al-Qaeda killed some 2,800 Americans. Since then, Americans have killed many times that number of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalis, Yemen, and elsewhere, in pursuite of the so-called “Global War on Terror.” And now our government has killed Osama Bin Laden. Is there a way we can just declare some kind of “victory” in the GWOT at this point and bring all the troops home, out of all of the war-zones?
Of course there is a way to do this… if we want to. It wouldn’t be clean and simple, in any of the countries that our military presence has ravaged so badly over the past ten years. But U.S. forces almost certainly will be exiting Iraq by the end of this year– as per the agreement concluded in November 2008 with the Iraqi government… And there is no pressing reason why US/NATO troops need to stay on in Afghanistan, or engaged in Pakistan. Of all the external forces that one might imagine helping Afghanistan to recover from its 30 years of war wounds, the United States is probably just about the least well qualified, the least well prepared for this task.
American mainstream culture loves to personalize political matters– to make issues concerning Libya be all “about” Qadhafi, or issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan all “about” Bin Laden. So okay, now we no longer have unfinished business called “Osama Bin Laden.” True, Bin Laden’s killing doesn’t immediately make the problem of Al-Qaeda in its present, many-times transmutated form, go away…. But just continuing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan is far more likely to keep creating more hatred and more violence, rather than bringing peace to that part of Planet Earth.
So if there is a silver lining to my government’s killing of this man, let it be this: Let it be that now that he is gone, we American people can start to look more rationally at the real security and other needs of our nation, and of all the world’s other nations. Are these needs well served by our country’s current massive (and very expensive) reliance on the use of brute military force in distant lands?
I think not.
And now, I hope that greater numbers of other Americans can become persuaded of this, too…

13 thoughts on “On the killing of Osama Bin Laden

  1. bevin

    There’s not much that you say with which I would disagree.
    Haniyeh has the right to say whatever he chooses without considering the malicious spin that CNN or the NYTimes are likely to put on his words.
    That Bin Laden was widely respected by Arabs seems to be very credible to me. Whether this is widely understood in Peoria or Hoboken is something that I doubt. What is necessary to understand reactions of this kind is understanding, empathy, an investigation of the world in which others live. A consideration of the possibility that their grievances might be substantive.
    It is far better that Haniyeh be sincere and honest than that he affect to share the same feelings as those who care nothing for him and have been largely responsible for the deaths of colleagues, like Sheikh Yassin in his wheelchair, and hundreds of Gazan women, children and non-combatants.
    It really should not matter what people who do not think, feel.
    Haniyeh’s job is to represent the people of Gaza to whom just about anyone who resisted, or professed to be resisting, the forces persecuting them is naturally respected.

  2. rosemerry

    Osama bin Laden only claimed ownership of 9/11 after it was assumed and assigned to him. There has never been evidence provided, as asked for by the Taliban when they refused W’s demand to deliver him. Why would he not be pleased to “terrorise” the USA ever since, without having to do anything more? They responded with violence, just as he hoped.
    The revenge acts of the USA and its allies are one of the nasty features of their policy. The joy of the Mercan crowds at his murder is not admirable.

  3. David

    Helena,
    You state “it seems to me distinctly possible that the U.S. team went in and simply snuffed him out”. U.S. forces landed two helecopters in his back yard – it is unlikely that this didn’t alert the occupants. Would bin Laden have picked up a weapon to fight? From everything we know, yes, he would. He would not have run from the house screaming “I surrender”.
    Like rosemerry above, you have to find a fault with US actions.

  4. Michael W.

    It should probably be mentioned that in 1999, the Israeli government passed a law banning monuments to terrorists. Then, the Israeli army dismantled the shrine leaving only the grave.

  5. Edward

    “American mainstream culture loves to personalize political matters…”
    I couldn’t agree more.
    Hamas seems to be doing a lot of goofy things lately (or all along?) I wonder how much trouble they are in with the Palestinian electorate.
    I also find it very suspicious that OBL’s body was dumped at sea. Was he actually killed? Did the U.S. want to avoid a trial?
    According to testimony given by a U.S. soldier at a trial several years ago, the U.S. military practices “dead checking” or the execution of wounded prisoners. This was reported by the LA Times and has gotten zero attention. I suspect this is what was behind the execution of Iraqi prisoners in Fallujah a while ago.
    For me there is a certain hollowness in OBL’s death (if it happened). The U.S. is guilty of similar crimes to Al-Qaeda, on a larger scale. A system of justice that does not apply equally to everyone lacks integrity.

  6. Yousef

    Two points:
    First, Bin Laden was already dead when he was EJEed by the US. The ongoing popular revolution in the Middle East has made him and what he represented irrelevant. The way to achieve freedom, democracy and human rights was never Bin Laden’s way. In fact he was an asset for all the Washington-supported despots and an enemy of the people. Making the US a target was misguided and counterproductive. The US would not have imposed its hegemony over the ME without the invitation and cooperation by local despots. He helped those despots intensify the repression of their people.
    Secondly, Bin Laden is a Washington creation. It was Washington that declared Jihad in Afghanistan and used Bin Laden and his likes in the fight against Soviet occupation of that country. Subsequently, he provided Washington with the pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and to establish military bases in the Gulf States, the Horn of Africa and central Asia. He gave Washington a justification for declaring the “global war on Terror”. He helped Washington adopt the Israeli policies of repression and domination under the cover of “fighting terror”, including the use of EJEs and drones. Therefore, Washington would have been a more appropriate place to bury him than the Arabian Sea!

  7. Roy Frank Tremont. Pine Bluff, AR

    Of course, for millions of Muslims, bin Laden WAS , STILL IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE an “Arab Holy Man.”
    Worshiped and admired by Israel-and-America -haters all around the globe (and scores of Palestinians, as was made evident by them at the time of 9/11 and continues unabated today), it’s no wonder that so much denial and bewilderment is present on this site today. Osama is dead and rotting in the darkest place in hell, my friends, and your heroes in Hamas, Hezbollah and among the mullahs in Iran are already on the run. Get used to it. A lot more bad news is coming your way. The neocons are riding higher in the saddle than ever before. And they are riding atop of YOU!

  8. Inkan1969

    Bevin, what are we supposed to get from such understanding and empathy? Are we then supposed to support Haniyeh’s statement, or we still allowed to condemn it? How about all those crowds in the U.S. celebrating Bin Laden’s death in rallies? Do you try to reach understanding and empathy with them? I think I understand why they feel that way, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to embrace a killing. But do we have to embrace both this celebration and Haniyeh’s praise in the name of understanding and empathy?
    I’m not convinced that this alleged respect in the Arab community is true. Whatever that true extent might be, that respect is unjustifiable. No more justified then the blanket respect given to Israel by most of the U.S. public for all their policies.
    If that is Haniyeh’s honest opinion then we need to criticize him for his sentiments. Haniyeh besmirches the Palestinian Fight for Freedom in associated Bin Laden with their struggle. And you make an unfair generalization by assuming that the only people that would condemn Haniyeh’s statement are people with an agenda to reject Hamas no matter what. I still want a reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh and an opening of negotiations that acknowledges that Hamas has implemented ceasefires and recognized Israel’s existence. Haniyeh seems to do the work of pro-Israeli hardliners by demonizing Hamas through his association with OBL.
    Would be justified for Israeli hardliners to naturally respect Baruch Goldstein for fighting the forces of Palestinian “terrorists”, or for anti-Communists to naturally respect Luis Posada for “fighting” communism? This “natural” tendency to respect is irrational and unjust.

  9. Henry James

    Of course, killing of OBL is extra-judicial, and Israelis compare it with killing of Yassin: http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=218911
    What is really sad is that Dr.Cole’s coverage of this issue and situation in Libya boils down to crude apologetics of Obama’s policies. As such, it just loses any coherence, looks a lot like Fox news…

  10. Michael Mury

    President Obama has a problem understanding the difference between “justice” and “vengeance.” The first of these derives from a civilized legal process publicly conducted in a court of law. The second takes place in a barbaric jungle where, anyway, it belongs (if you believe what the Christians say) not to mortal men but to the GREAT BIG SPOOK “under” which fabulous delusion “religious” men like Barack Obama routinely place our country — or would, if we let them. Which somehow reminds me of what J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about the great wars between the Dwarves and Goblins:
    “When at last the battle was won the Dwarves that were left gathered in Azanulbizar. They took the head of Azog [the Great Goblin] and thrust into its mouth the purse of small money, and then they set it upon a stake. But no feast nor song was there that night; for their dead were beyond the count of grief. Barely half their number, it is said, could still stand or had hope of healing.
    None the less, in the morning [King] Thrain stood before them. He had one eye blinded beyond cure, and he was halt with a leg-wound; but he said: ‘Good! We have the victory. Khazad-dum is ours!’
    But they answered: ‘Durin’s heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it.'”
    President Barack Obama, Pyrrhic Dwarf Avenger. So I thus name him. Constitutional scholar, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and pious Christian: not so much.

  11. Jack

    Helena , that was an excellent , nuanced comment regarding the OBL assassination. We should all avoid our normal, knee,jerk reactions to such events. I would come down a little more favorably in support of the killing, but I see and appreciate your point. I just consider OBL a special case. We do live in the real world and sometimes unpalatable things are are the best of a series of bad options in the overall scheme of things. But, I believe that Haniyeh’,s comments were so hurtful to many Americans and so damaging to the Palestinian cause as a result that a grand gesture , like sacking him, is necessary to preserve the positive momentum at this point. He did not have to be false to his own beliefs and praise the killing, but, in his position, he should have at least kept his mouth shut.His comment was an error of such proportions, and handed Netanyahu and the IsraeliLobby such a gift, that he has to go.

  12. Abdelhafid Dib

    With much sympathy to 9/11/ victims, I do agree with Youcef that Bin Laden was a Washington creation.I think Oussama Bin laden and Che guivara fought, according to their belief,for the just cause but were sincere,honest and devoted to their principles whatever were wrong or not.
    Hafid

  13. Neil M

    Obama was elected on a raft of leftish promises to restore American Values, roll back the soft-target orientated mock-war machine and put an end to the ongoing criminal enterprise known as Guantanamo. Once elected, he wasted no time in repudiating all 3 promises and, unsurprisingly, suffered a severe decline in popularity and credibility.
    It is thus deliciously ironic that Obama was able to retrieve his popularity and credibility, and reassert his embrace of American Values, by ordering the summary execution of a terrorist ‘suspect’ without the irksome inconvenience of a public examination of ALL the facts in a court of law.
    I suppose if it’s important to shut someone up before he embarrasses America’s rulers, a symbolic lynching is as good a way as any. Whether such a modus operandi reinforces or conflicts with American Vales remains to be seen.

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