The Obligatory Osama’s Dead Post
So, Bin Laden swims with the fishes. Am I happy? It certainly won’t give me sleepless nights, but I can’t say happiness is an emotion I feel when anyone dies, no matter what they’ve done. There’s no dignity in celebrating the ending of someone’s life. I don’t want to judge the crowds partying in New York and Washington too harshly, but seeing that kind of joy being expressed at the murder of another human being makes me feel uneasy. I can appreciate it might have been a cathartic experience and maybe a release of emotion that some people needed to exorcise any residual demons. I’m also happy for any people bereaved on 9/11 that feel some sort of closure, and are able to move on. I listened to a NY Fireman on the radio yesterday morning that had been to the funerals of over 300 colleagues. He said they weren’t dancing in the streets but were happy that justice had been done for the friends they’d lost. From what I have seen and heard, the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 conducted themselves with reflective dignity, and a perspective not shown by others.
We learn today that contrary to initial reports Bin Laden was unarmed when killed, although he was ‘resisting’. I’m trying extremely hard to be objective and reasoned about this, because even as someone who extols pacifism, justice and respect, I’m tempted to say ‘Fuck it, he got what he deserved let’s move on’. But I want to explore the options that were open and their implications, assuming what we’re being told is the whole truth. Even if it’s just for my own benefit, I want to establish how outraged or relieved I should be.
Firstly there’s the question of resistance. We now know he was unarmed, although apparently others were. According to reports the raid was carried out by up to 25 Navy Seals at 1am on a night chosen due to the lack of moonlight, and lasted for 40 minutes. The 3 floor building was housing around 22 people including women and children. The compound walls were breached using explosives, guards (possibly only 2) opened fire but were overwhelmed and killed on the first floor, and a woman was also killed in the crossfire. On the second floor women and children were encountered and restrained. The third floor was home to the Bin Laden family and was reached in the final 5 – 10 minutes of the operation. Bin Laden and his brother were killed. Reports state that Bin Laden’s wife rushed the soldiers and was shot in the calf. Not a great deal has been revealed about the level of resistance put up by Bin Laden, but one US official states that he “didn’t put his hands up to surrender”. CIA Director Leon Panetta told PBS he didn’t think bin Laden said anything to U.S. forces before he was killed.
“To be frank, I don’t think he had a lot of time to say anything. It was a firefight going up that compound and by the time they got to the third floor and found bin Laden, I think this was all split second action on the part of the SEALs,” he said.
Now I’m in no position to second guess the actions of the SEALs, they’re under pressure, full of adrenaline and acting under orders. But if they’re able to subdue an oncoming assailant with a non-lethal shot as with Bin Laden’s wife, why not with him? There is no mention on or off the record of him attacking the soldiers, and resisting could merely mean trying to escape. They had already ascertained by now that he was unarmed. Bin Laden was a big man, standing at 6ft 5ins, but we’re talking 25 of the most highly trained soldiers in the American armed forces. The team had also been rehearsing the operation in an exact replica of the compound, so were as prepared as they possible could be. Was it a rush of blood when faced with the most wanted man in the world, the architect of 9/11, the iconic bogeyman, the face of the War on Terror? No one would blame him, in fact if his identity is revealed he’d surely have the freedom of every city in the USA and never have to buy a drink again in his life.
But let’s assume that there was a clear order to kill Bin Laden. This is what was first reported in the media. A political assassination. What would the reasons for this be? Could it be as simple as revenge? Barack Obama would have had plenty of time to decide on Bin Laden’s fate and the consequences of each scenario. He obviously knew that killing him would be hugely symbolic, and win him popularity. But he also would have recognised that martyring Bin Laden would potentially be a catalyst for reprisals and possibly give rise to more resentment towards the West. Then there are the liberals and human rights advocates who would be arguing that justice is not served with a bullet to the head, and that he should have stood trial in a court of law. I have a certain amount of sympathy with this view. In an ideal world he would be brought to justice according to the standards of a democratic and civilised society, but I can fully understand, if not agree, with those who think an eye for an eye is morally acceptable.
I want to continue with the possibility of Bin Laden being captured and prosecuted as some think should have been the case. It’s not as if there isn’t a precedent for mass murderers, terrorists, war criminals and evil dictators standing trial. From Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, to Radovan Karadzic in The Hague, and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Isn’t there a greater sense of satisfaction in seeing dangerous, powerful men humiliated and made to answer for their crimes? In removing their aura and forcing them to face the reality of their future? Whether that’s a life in solitary confinement or facing the death penalty. But would a captive Bin Laden cause more problems than a dead one? There are enough theories to suggest it’s possible, even if some border on the conspiracy category. First of all where would he be detained? Guantanamo Bay? What are the chances he might ‘pass away’ in suspicious circumstances during ‘enhanced interrogation’? Where would he stand trial? Washington? The Hague? A secret location? Would the leader of Al-Qaeda being on American soil increase the risk of attacks? Would giving a voice to the charismatic ideologue further damage the reputation and perception of Muslims and Islam? Is there even the possibility that what he has to say might resonate with people previously unaffected?
There is also then the theory that he was killed to be silenced. We’ve all heard the stories of his CIA training, his family ties with the Bushes, the allegations that the Saudi Royal family have funded Al-Qaeda in the past. Would this expose the hypocrisy and double standards of the War on Terror? Did he know too much? Would we discover the extent to which Pakistan were or were not complicit in his concelment? How much damage would that do to a fragile situation on the sub-continent and to their relationship with the West? Then there is the fact that Bin Laden has never admitted responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. In fact his entry on the FBI Most Wanted list has never indicated he was wanted for the WTC atrocity. Is it provable that he was directly responsible? Would his prolonged detention and trial keep the spotlight on how tragically unnecessary and pointless the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been?
We can query why he was disposed of at sea with no independent autopsy, or how uninformed the claim of not wanting to create a shrine was. If they had someone knowledgeable enough to read his rites in Arabic and wash his body in compliance with Sharia, wouldn’t they know Salafis frown upon visiting graves? Why the sudden regard and respect for his religious or human rights after you’ve shot him in the head in front of his 12 year-old daughter?
No doubt there will be questions raised, more theories constructed, more facts will come to light and we may be no nearer knowing the exact details, or whether killing him was ‘the right thing’ to do. Do I care that he’s dead? No, not really. But I’m not celebrating. I see this as a symbolic moment, but far from a conclusion of any description. I’m hoping this is just the start of a process. Muslims and Muslim organisations across the world have welcomed the demise of Bin Laden. Positive statements have been issued by the governments of Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia, Bosnia, Turkey, Iraq, Somalia, Morocco, Libya and UAE. We need to strike while the iron his hot and harness this one issue we can all agree on as a basis to further understanding and co-operation.
I have blogged previously about what fuels radicalisation and terrorism, and until there is an admission and a genuine attempt to address them nothing will change. A situation has been created that can’t be rectified without further damage. It’s akin to stabbing someone with a knife. Leave it in and the pain is unbearable, take it out and they could bleed to death. The West has many knives buried in the hearts of Muslim countries. Withdraw or remain the suffering doesn’t end. With Bin Laden no more, there is no reason for our troops to inflict further misery on innocent civilians in Afghanistan or Iraq. But with incidents such as the attack on the UN building in Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban prison break, the announcement of a spring offensive by the Taliban, and vows to avenge the death of Bin Laden, this is a precarious situation to leave the Afghan government to deal with. There are already reports of a Pakistani Taliban attack on the Afghan border and pro Bin Laden demonstrations in Pakistan. Events in Afghanistan and Pakistan will come under the microscope in the coming months, as will NATO responses in Libya, their lack of response in Bahrain and Syria and the Hamas/Fatah deal in Palestine. Let’s not allow the extremists on either side to hijack this opportunity for their divisive, destructive purposes.