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We got him, at a cost.

May 15, 2011

It has been two weeks since the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am now resigned to the fact that I will not know the truth about precisely what happened in that compound, until the 25-year-rule kicks in (and, possibly, not even then). Too many parties from too many sides with too big an agenda have become involved. The integrity of the evidence and testimony is forever tainted and inadmissible.

Osama bin Laden at Oxford, on the far right.

I am, however, struck by a glaring ommission in this debate. As far as I can see, nobody has tackled the actual wording with which the story was announced by the White House.

This was a mission which had been the subject of many months of planning (and, I suspect, many years of fantasising). Barak Obama himself gave the OK several hours in advance. Every word of a nexus of press releases, catering for several eventualities, and every semicolon of his speech will have been pored over and agreed upon.

This was not an administration being ambushed or a politician “door-stepped”. This was not some ill-equipped PR hack, in a bout of youthful sexism, improvising poorly with “calm down dear”. These were the words with which the professional media machine and the speech-writing staff of the White House chose to announce the death of Osama bin Laden to the world.

Osama bin Laden has been captured and killed.

Captured and killed. A simple google news search limited to the hours following the story breaking, reveals over 80,000 news sources using this exact phrase. Captured and killed. Every channel broke the story on their ticket-tape with this precise wording. Captured and killed. It seems fairly unequivocal.

And then Obama’s speech. “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.” [my emphasis]

Why are we still squabbling over the garnish of the story when its meat’n’potatoes was so clearly and so starkly announced?

The second point I wish to tackle is the polarisation of opinion on the “right” way to react to the news.People will react however they will react. There is no right or wrong emotional response and nobody has the purview to prescribe one. As long as it is genuine and not manipulated, guided or stoked, we must have respect for other people’s reaction. It is legitimate – for them.

In any case, it is a misconceived to try and paint those reactions in one even, primary colour. Life is rarely as simple as four-word tabloid headlines. A person’s reaction to bin Laden’s death does not necessarily dictate a reaction to the way it was brought about. It is perfectly all right to have mixed feelings about all this.

One might consider ObL a marginal figure of little relevance – after all, the US have been saying so for a whole decade during which they could not locate him – and so be fairly indifferent to his death. The same person may feel great understanding for the difficult choices facing the assault team carrying out the mission.

Conversely, one may feel relief, elation, perhaps joy at his death. That same person may have grave concerns about the legitimacy or wisdom of the operation which achieved it. I fall in this latter category.

Like an ancient Greek, I might cheer the death of Hector during battle for the strategic advantage it gives my side in the Trojan War. That does not automatically mean I approve of Achilles dragging his corpse behind a chariot. That can only inflame the conflict and piss off the Gods.

We are told this is now a safer world. Do I feel any safer? No, I do not. Quite a bit less so, in fact.

A viper’s nest has been stirred up and a lately pretty inactive organisation is now, once again, blowing things up. I look for suspect packages on London buses a lot more vigilantly than I did three weeks ago. Police presence seems increased; airport checks more stringent.

Do I feel safer living in a world where judicial process and standards of proof do not apply without exception? Where “enhanced interrogation methods” are seen as effective rather than barbaric? Where one nation may come into another’s air space in the middle of the night and start shooting? No, I do not.

The US Attorney General, on Radio 4’s Today show, cited the example of a Japanese pilot during WWII as precedent for this sort of behaviour. Do I feel safer in a world which seems to have reverted to pre-Geneva Convention standards? No, I do not.

Emerson once wrote “there is no history, only biography”. Interpretation of events is entirely subjective. Small groups of dissident militant extremists, meeting in secret, planting explosive devices… In my beloved native Greece, 60 years ago they were known as The Resistance. Today, we celebrate them with monuments, anthems and public holidays. Had the Third Reich prevailed, they would be known as terrorists.

And so, yes, I am relieved that this apparently wicked man is no more. I am relieved because he was on the other side of a conflict in which I have found myself ebroiled, but about which I was never asked. It is, however, also legitimate to have doubts about the “how” and the “why”. It is legitimate to have the sinking feeling that, if we have sacrificed supremacy of law, covenants of due process, conventions on international engagement, principles of justice, mercy and humanity to achieve this result, bin Laden may have won after all.

“We got him” echoed around Washington and most of the Western World. “At what cost?” is not, apparently, a matter for consideration by anyone claiming to be on “our side”.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jo Clarke permalink
    May 16, 2011 10:00 am

    Thought provoking, clear and powerful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. May 16, 2011 12:35 pm

    At what cost is a question little asked where a monetary price can not be ascribed unhappily the corporate governance to which we are now subject is ignorant of or cares little about the subtleties that characterise the Human condition.
    It is Primary colours come to life, just magnified and exaggerated into a characterture of great obscenity.

  3. Tony Hackett permalink
    May 16, 2011 6:18 pm

    The caption to the picture above reads ‘Osama bin Laden at Oxford, on the far right’.

    I would suggest there isn’t much further you can go to the right than ObL.

  4. May 16, 2011 9:07 pm

    “The second point I wish to tackle is the polarisation of opinion on the “right” way to react to the news.People will react however they will react. There is no right or wrong emotional response and nobody has the purview to prescribe one. As long as it is genuine and not manipulated, guided or stoked, we must have respect for other people’s reaction. It is legitimate – for them.”

    Thank you so much, for that would describe a free society.

  5. Sampson permalink
    May 17, 2011 1:49 pm

    Another beautifully written piece.

    The question of “how” is so often overlooked these days. By “storming” his hideout in Pakistan, committing a summary execution and then disposing of his body in secret (a desecration?) the Americans has conceded the moral high ground, once again.

    It was much the same with the Iraq invasion. The humanitarian argument for removing Sadam was sound and good, but it fell apart when we cause the death rate in Iraq to hit ten times the death rate before the invasion.

    Again the “how” was kicked into the long grass, in favour of the argument for the end result. The whole of capitalist society revolves around such blinkered thinking. Take the banking sector as an example. The thinking if the current Neo-Liberal (Chicago School) hegemony is that the banking sector makes massive profits, which sustain the economy. This totally ignores the fact that the profits made come from the companies that actually are the economy, the miner, manufactures and the (slightly less desirable) merchants. They say that the profits made by the very rich are needed so that they can invest in economic growth, but the only growth they are interested in is the growth of their off-shore, tax haven bank balances. They make investments based on the promise of short term gains, and certainly not the long term stability of the economy or society. Hence the total unwillingness of the western governments to reform the whole sick and broken monetary system.

    As for the death of Bin Laden, I think it adds to the danger of Islamic extremism. The British government was always well aware of the main instigators in the IRA, but chose not to execute them, because they knew full well that this would have created martyrs to the cause, prolonging the troubles indefinitely. The American supported Iraqi government caused a resurgence of the troubles in Iraq when they allowed Sadam to be executed and they have clearly not learned the lessons.

    They are politically right wing, they are idealist and they have not learned the painful lessons of recent years in international diplomacy or economics. They probably never will.

  6. Almost Human permalink
    May 17, 2011 7:15 pm

    My immediate reaction to the news of ObL’s death was met with a mixture of emotions. The first being the standard of “eh?” and followed close behind by the Internet News generation auto-response of “Pic or it didn’t happen”. Now, I appreciate that this may be taken as a cynical response, but the timing of the news story breaking in the UK allowed for a lot to be done out of sight of the mainstream media in the UK and for the large proportion of the Eastern Seaboard in the US. Why was his body disposed of so quickly at sea was one of my first questions, and the media told me that this was done to prevent a shrine being made of any land based grave, it was also done in line with Islamic practice was another reason fed to me. Bollocks I thought.

    I still think the whole operation has been turned in to a media circus and I’m oot entirely believing ringmaster Obama. 25 years is a long time to live in fear of terrorist retribution for files to be kept secret.

  7. May 18, 2011 1:20 pm

    He actually died before they went into Afghanistan years ago and Bush was going to use this same scenario to try and get re-elected before he was rumbled and had to drop it – As per Dr Steve Pieczenik, the man who Harrison Ford’s character was based on in the film The Patriot Game.

    Also Bin Laden was a CIA operative – he had nothing to do with 911. The Twin Towers and Building 7 were turned to dust with Direct Energy Weapons as per Dr Judy Wood. She has spent the last 9 years suing the US Govewrnment (NIST) and over 20 US companies, some who manufacture these weapons, for putting out lies with regard to 911. The Supreme Court has just recently broke the law to stop the case going forward. All the evidence is in her new book – Where did the towers go?.


  1. We got him, at a cost. (via sturdyblog) « Living out of Eden

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