Bin Laden is dead. That’s supposed to be a good thing … right? **UPDATED**

Osama bin Laden is dead. But the second guessing, accusations and conspiracy-theorizing among the liberal-libertarian and Fox News crowds — who now appear to be coming into perfect harmonic convergence when it comes to President Barack Obama — is just getting started. And then, there’s Pakistan… oh, Pakistan …

It seems inconceivable that Osama bin Laden could become a figure of sympathy among any branch of liberalism, but precisely that appears to be happening in some quarters regarding the killing of “unarmed” bin Laden and the denial of due process (as if he was an innocent man shot by police in an alley.) Apparently, we can be happy he’s dead, but not too happy.

In fact, some on the left wonder if by killing him and leaving “moral ambiguity” in our wake, we gave bin Laden exactly what he wanted.

And while a healthy skepticism about any pronouncement of government is a good thing in a democracy, we’re being treated, from both edges of the political spectrum, to the question of whether the killing was a political assassination – as if bin Laden was a head of state, or a political figure like the ones assassinated in Pakistan contemporaneously, for things like opposing a draconian blasphemy law. Or whether it was some vulgar act of retribution, or even illegal under international law. But those arguments don’t seem to hold up:

(New Yorker) … The request for more information about the raid is certainly valid. And the government should be as transparent as possible—especially because, so far, there is little indicating that the Navy SEALs acted outside the boundaries of domestic law.

It is hard to regard Osama bin Laden’s killing as a “political assassination” in the conventional sense. The White House has been insisting that the raid was a military operation, conducted against a military target, and it makes a credible case in doing so. Bin Laden is not a politician, even if his ideology has political aspects to it. He is a declared enemy of the United States, the financier of numerous attacks against American infrastructure and civilians, and the chief signatory of a manifesto that states: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” By his rhetoric and by his actions he has unquestionably proven himself to be a combatant.

Moreover, the raid did not occur while bin Laden was lounging on a beach in Tahiti, or giving a political speech at a rally in Mexico, or meeting with foreign dignitaries in Ottawa. It occurred while he was ensconced in a safe-house in Pakistan—a country that, for better or for worse, belongs to a wider U.S. military theatre of combat in South Asia.

There are others who are also making the case that the killing was also morally justifiable on the grounds of who and what bin Laden was, and the fact that it was he who declared war on the United States. And it seems likely that history will find that it was also perfectly legal under international law, as the Washington Post explains:

In passing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) just one week later, Congress explicitly empowered the president to take all appropriate and necessary action against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and all those who helped or harbored them. It was, in short, a declaration of war, and Osama bin Laden was rightly targeted for his central role in the atrocities.

Absent a surrender, there is no question that U.S. forces would have been entitled to shoot him on sight had they encountered him on an Afghan battlefield. But that is not where the terrorist leader spent his time.

And this:

Much has been made of the disclosure that Osama bin Laden was unarmed, but this, too, is irrelevant in determining whether the operation was lawful. The SEALs entered the compound on a war footing, in the middle of the night, prepared to encounter hostile fire in what they believed to be the enemy leader’s hideout. They reported that they became embroiled in a firefight once inside; they had no way of knowing whether Osama bin Laden himself was armed. Even if he had signaled surrender, there is no reason to believe that danger had evaporated. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said during a congressional hearing on Wednesday: “From a Navy SEAL perspective, you had to believe that this guy was a walking IED,” prepared to blow up himself and those around him or possibly to detonate an explosive that would have engulfed the entire house.

It is easy in the light of day to second-guess decisions made in the heat of war. It is particularly easy for those who refuse to acknowledge that war in the first place.

But these arguments will likely be dismissed by the libertarian set as government suck-upery. In the end, however, nothing will come of their demands for a legal redress of Osama bin Laden’s ghostly grievances.

Less clear is whether it would be legal for the U.S. to display pictures of bin Laden’s dead body, given the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions. NPR interviews several experts and comes down on the “probably yes” side. But this should at least give pause to those who are clamoring for releasing the pictures (including many around the world who denounced the Bush administration for showing off the grisly evidence of Uday and Kusay Hussein’s demise, with its possible consequences for U.S. troops…)

…the duty owed to the dead is somewhat subjective. What sort of conduct constitutes disrespect? How can we determine when neglect of the dead has ceased to be mandated by considerations of military necessity and become evidence of the war crime of mistreatment of the dead? There are no hard and fast answers to these questions. However, if the dead are left on the battlefield for some time after the fighting has ended, their very presence is evidence of failure to meet the obligations imposed by law. If the dead are left on the field solely so that they might be seen by journalists or photographed, that is stronger evidence that the threshold of mistreatment is near. If the dead are placed on display as propaganda (dragging the bodies through the streets as occurred in Somalia is a ready example), then the threshold has been crossed and a war crime has been clearly committed.

Of course, bin Laden was no ordinary combatant, nor was he a prisoner of war. Still, it’s hard to argue with the administration’s reasons for not releasing the photos. Why give jihadists a martyr, where right now, they have a guy living in the suburbs while they’re dying in the mud and sand.

The confusion over whether the liberally minded should be for or against the killing of bin Laden without what would have certainly been a hated military commission show hearing, since Congress would surely have blocked any civil trial, has even extended to the professional civil liberties community. Human Rights Watch issued a statement correcting a story making the rounds of left and right, based on a tweet that supposedly represented condemnation of the raid by the organization. The organization appears to have had multiple changes of heart regarding its feelings on the matter, but the latest official statement simply states that HRW would like to have more information. And it uses a rather familiar walk-back strategy:

Some media reports have erroneously suggested that Human Rights Watch has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. Human Rights Watch has said that we do not have enough information about the killing to draw conclusions about whether it was lawful or not.  Human Rights Watch calls on the US government to provide that information.

Bin Laden publicly took responsibility for several mass killings of civilians. The inability to bring bin Laden to trial for crimes against humanity means that an important avenue for justice has been lost, but that is quite different from determining whether the killing was legal, Human Rights Watch said. The US government should provide all the relevant facts about Osama bin Laden’s death to clarify whether it was justified under international law.

Meanwhile, the SEAL team that took down bin Laden is back in the U.S., and likely will be feted privately, including, by the president – (but they’ll have to do with a Senate resolution, since the House isn’t doing one…) with their fellow Americans never getting the chance to know their names. That should take care of preventing any overwrought celebration (ahem)…

We do know the name of the SEAL Team 6 commander, and he scores glowing writeups in the Washington Post, CBS and in his hometown paper, where we learn that Vice Adm. William McRaven once had Justin Bieber hair. Apparently, he also studied journalism. Go figure!

And we’re getting what are probably the last details we’re going to get about the raid from the administration:

(CBS News) The clandestine team of Navy SEALs that took down Osama bin Laden are back the U.S., reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. Meanwhile their commander, Vice Adm. William McRaven briefed Congressional committees behind closed doors Wednesday on what sounds like 40 minutes of pure violence.

When the SEALs tried to burst through a door at bin Laden’s compound, they found a brick wall behind it and had to blast their way through it. On the first floor they found two couriers and a woman, all of whom were killed in a hail of gunfire.

“The SEALs clearly were taking fire throughout the course of the building that they had entered,” said Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers. “There were barricades along the way to prevent them to getting to where bin Laden was.”

There were more obstacles on the stairs going up to where bin Laden and his family lived. When the SEALs found them, children ran out of the room. Bin Laden’s wife rushed at the lead SEAL who shot her in the leg. That left the man who once boasted he would never be taken alive standing alone in the middle of the room. The lead SEAL shot him in the chest and a second seal finished him off with a shot to the head. Bin Laden was unarmed but the SEALs later found a pistol and an AK-47 in the room.”He made no indication he was going to give up in any way,” Rogers said. “Lots of movement in the room. It’s dark. It’s confusing. They’ve been taking fire. I think it was absolutely the prudent and right thing to do by that special forces officer.”

The second bullet struck bin Laden just above his left eye. It blew the eye out of socket and tore away a piece of the skull, leaving his brain exposed.

And no, the photos won’t be shown. Probably a good idea to never believe Drudge headlines. They’re usually bogus, especially regarding an administration within which Drudge could not possibly have any sources.

The CIA is now combing through the trove of intel the SEALs scored from bin Laden’s hideout, staring with those phone numbers sewn into his clothing.

For its part, Pakistan is spinning like mad, trying to shift the focus from their complicity/incompetence in housing bin Laden for so long, onto the awfulness of the raid. It was, after all, a Pakistani “security official” who sold those grisly Reuters photographs now making the Internet rounds (could a U.S. “security official SELL battlefield pics to Reuters? Just askin …)  which purport to show three males killed in the Abbottabad raid. And Pakistani officials are now hawking the story of a 12-year-old girl said to be bin Laden’s daughter, whose story of his death contradicts (surprise!) the American version. The Pakistani foreign ministry is even claiming they tried to tell the CIA about the compound two years ago (leaving open the question, well why didn’t they go and check it out… or maybe they could have just sold the information to Reuters…)

The Foreign Ministry statement was released as the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, told the BBC that he was distressed by comments by CIA Director Leon Panetta that Pakistan could not be trusted with advance information about the U.S. attack that resulted in bin Laden’s death.

He said that the Pakistani ISI, the country’s powerful military intelligence agency, had identified the Abbottabad complex as suspicious long ago—and urged the U.S. to use its sophisticated electronic monitoring talents to determine who was inside.

“The fact is that this particular location was pointed out by our intelligence quite some time ago to the U.S. intelligence,” he said, noting that the U.S. had “much more sophisticated equipment to evaluate and to assess” what was going on in the sprawling compound where bin Laden was eventually killed.

He said it was unfair to suggest that Pakistan would look the other way at bin Laden’s presence, given his government’s central role in apprehending so many other senior al Qaeda members within Pakistan’s borders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. “Most of these things that have happened in terms of combating global terror, Pakistan has played a pivotal role,” he said.

Uh … yeah.

And if that doesn’t work, the former Pakistani security chief — a supporter of the Taliban from the old school — is trying another tack: it was a big mistake to kill bin Laden at all:

Few people know and understand jihadis as well as retired Pakistan Army Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul. From 1987 to 1989, at the height of the struggle of the Afghan and Arab mujahideen against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan, Gul headed Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Then, he worked closely with his CIA counterparts funneling weapons, delivering money and providing advice to fighters. In the intervening years, however, Gul became a strong advocate for the Taliban—and before 9/11 even for Osama bin Laden, whom he met back in 1993 in the Sudan.

Few people know and understand jihadis as well as retired Pakistan Army Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul. From 1987 to 1989, at the height of the struggle of the Afghan and Arab mujahideen against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan, Gul headed Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Then, he worked closely with his CIA counterparts funneling weapons, delivering money and providing advice to fighters. In the intervening years, however, Gul became a strong advocate for the Taliban—and before 9/11 even for Osama bin Laden, whom he met back in 1993 in the Sudan.

As a result, Gul, who is now 74, has been accused of being a “political ideologue of terror” (by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in the pages of Newsweek) and of even advising and assisting the Taliban’s war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government.

“For the past five to seven years [bin Laden] had receded into history. They should have allowed him to die naturally. He was a sick man … He is going to be a bigger menace for the U.S. because his legend will live on.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast immediately following the killing of Osama bin Laden, Gul argues that the U.S. would have been smarter to let the head of al Qaeda just fade into history. “The U.S. made a huge mistaking killing him,” Gul says. “For the past five to seven years he had receded into history. They should have allowed him to die naturally. He was a sick man.” Now as a martyr he will even be more dangerous. “He is going to be a bigger menace for the U.S. because his legend will live on.”

Gul flatly denies that the ISI was harboring bin Laden or that it actively supports al Qaeda. “The ISI-al Qaeda connection is very farfetched,” he says. “That’s nonsense and bunkum.” He believes the intelligence failure should be shared equally by ISI and the CIA, not just the Pakistanis. “This is a failure that should be shared by the American intelligence agencies as well because they have superior intelligence (gathering) resources.” He says, “So this is a very unfair tirade against the ISI.”

Gul believes Pakistanis will soon start demanding that Pakistan seriously review its policy of cooperation with the U.S. and perhaps demand their government and army withdraw from participating in the war on terrorism. “Now it is time to call it off, or at least seriously review our cooperation with America.”

Salman Rushdie… your witness.

Of course, the idea that the U.S. should not have killed bin Laden isn’t only resident in Pakistan. It’s an idea that, as noted above, is quickly taking hold among parts of the American libertarian left, the international left, and … with Bush-era torture pornographer John Yoo. What a combo.

Meanwhile, there is one controversy bubbling up on Capitol Hill that I do think bears mention. That is the Native American sensitivity over the military’s use of the code name Geronimo — one of the great Native American heroes — for bin Laden. That decision, which was likely made without thought by a military organization that’s probably very homogeneous, shall we say, will be the subject of a Congressional hearing.

UPDATE: Pakistan’s intelligence service finally stumbles on a new message in the wake of the humiliation of finding bin Laden next door to their West Point: “when you really look at it, WE killed bin Laden!”

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11 Responses to Bin Laden is dead. That’s supposed to be a good thing … right? **UPDATED**

  1. Support for petty despots, underwriting pliable fiefdoms, has been modus operandi for western powers since before British Intelligence used TE Lawrence to bring tribal Arabs into WWI. Western promises for equitable deals for Arabs on their own resources are a longtime coming. Inserting western influence and placing "pet tyrants" on thrones has been the way to do business. Mubarak, Sadam, the Shah and so many others has been standard operating procedures. The west has inserted and removed leaders, funded and tamed presidents, and kings, investments in tyrants has helped keep people power in the wings. Thinking the communities of the Middle East have no legitimate grievances is historic illiteracy. Removing bin Ladin and even Al Quaeida will not change that.solidarity & peaceRick@Averyvoice​.com

  2. Support for petty despots, underwriting pliable fiefdoms, has been modus operandi for western powers since before British Intelligence used TE Lawrence to bring tribal Arabs into WWI. Western promises for equitable deals for Arabs on their own resources are a longtime coming. Inserting western influence and placing "pet tyrants" on thrones has been the way to do business. Mubarak, Sadam, the Shah and so many others has been standard operating procedures. The west has inserted and removed leaders, funded and tamed presidents, and kings, investments in tyrants has helped keep people power in the wings. Thinking the communities of the Middle East have no legitimate grievances is historic illiteracy. Removing bin Ladin and even Al Quaeida will not change that.solidarity & peaceRick@Averyvoice.com

  3. This is about the Propaganda War, about the misdirection and about taking one more "bogey-man" out of the gallery of ghouls – brought to the American Theatre of the mind, by the Military Industrial Complex ™. Even taking out a major general, or decapitating a senior leader of a nation is one thing.Imagining that decades of Western Imperialism, and Corporate manipulation and coercion of middle eastern despot places western powers on the wrong side of history in terms of the growth of democracy.

  4. Johnny C. says:

    It shows how desperate the right has become to defeat President Obama, we all know if this had been Bush the right will be proclaiming that day as the greatest day in American History since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And if anyone on the left wonders out loud why didn’t we just capture Bin Laden some right wing blogger would post that person telephone number and home address asking his readers to pay that anti-American piece of shit a visit to tell him or her what you think.

    The thing I find funny is that conservatives/right wingers/Republicans like to whine about how President Obama and his supporters are still blaming Bush for nose diving the economy on the side of a mountain because Obama been president for the last two years but those same people want to give Bush credit for killing Bin Laden when Bush been out of office for the last 2 years.

    Obama should cruise to a second term but my only fear are the firebaggers, not the Republicans due to the fact their ticket is going to suck ass.

  5. bmull says:

    It’s a legitimate question whether this was an assassination. I’m not convinced by the current US narrative, for reasons I would be happy to explain if anyone wants to go down that road. If this was an assassination, where do we draw the line next time? Anwar al-Awlaki? An al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Seattle?

  6. Rupert says:

    Someone wants to join you on that road Mull:

    “Former Cuban President Fidel Castro on Thursday slammed the ‘assassination’ of Osama bin Laden who was reportedly unarmed when U.S. Special Forces shot at him. ”
    Oh and Glenn Beck too.

    You might also call it a mercy killing, since he would not have enjoyed being taken alive.

  7. bmull says:

    Re: Rupert

    I said it’s a “legitimate question.” I stand by that regardless of who else shares my view.

    I’m sure bin Laden would be pretty happy with the way he died, but if you want to go down that road why not just line up prisoners here in the US and shoot them? Mercy killing, right?

  8. Rupert says:

    Certainly it’s a legitimate question for those who like to play word games, BMull. Everyone has their favorite defintion.

    I wouldn’t even think of comparing OBL with “prisoners here in the US.” Different jurisdiction, different rights, different perspective, different crimes, and on and on.

  9. Walter Glass says:

    I’m grateful for your last paragraph, because it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot. The way I see it, the fact that the Republican ticket is going to suck ass (combined with big political wins for Obama with his well-received speech and killing the most hated person in the world) leaves some room for the “firebaggers” to try and pressure Obama on important issues. For instance, if a certain blogger who shall not be named wanted to promote a certain unnamed candidate’s views on the War on Drugs, in the hopes of injecting an important underdiscussed issue into the national discourse, do you really see that as a major threat to Obama’s re-election?

    (for the purposes of this hypothetical, just pretend that the blogger’s goal is really what I stated, I know many anti-firebaggers believe there are different motives)

  10. Walter says:

    Sorry, that comment was meant for Johnny, also sorry that it’s off topic.

  11. How stupid is this?
    “An assassination is “to murder (a usually prominent person) by a sudden and/or secret attack, often for political reasons.”[1][2] An additional definition is “the act of deliberately killing someone especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons.”

    Guevara was not assassinated. Lamumba was not assassinated. Ruth First was not assassinated.

    Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Lord Mountbatten was assassinated, McKinnley was assassinated. John Kennedy was… well.

    Weather or not the term assassination rather than the generic ‘killing’ is used depends entirely upon the political agenda of the writer.

    And Geronimo? If ever there was a case of cowboys vs indians, this is it.

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