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…