Osama bin Laden is dead. The deaths of more than 3,000 people in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks have been avenged. As an American, I rejoice in this.
Click on Obama announces bin Laden dead for the text of President Obama’s announcement
Click on Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda for perspective from Middle East expert Juan Cole.
Click on Egypt’s al-Zawahri likely next leader of al-Qaida for an Associated Press report on the future of Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri may be a more dangerous and capable enemy than Osama bin Laden himself.
Click on What next after bin Laden death? for analysis by Al Jazeera English. The conclusion is that the death of Osama bin Laden is unlikely to mean the end of either Al Qaeda or the end of the war in Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden’s strategy was to destroy United States power by bleeding us to death in quagmire wars, as the Soviet Union was bled to death in Afghanistan. He stated this in videos released to Al Jazeera. Click on Bin Laden: Goal is to bankrupt U.S. for CNN’s 2004 report on one of them.
Osama bin Laden’s own mission may have been accomplished. The actions of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, under both President Bush and President Obama, created more new terrorists than Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or bin Laden’s successors could ever have done on their own.
This would be a good time to declare our “mission accomplished” and wind down all the ongoing U.S. wars both open and covert.
Osama bin Laden lived in a recently-built $5 million mansion close to the Pakistan Military Academy, that nation’s equivalent to West Point. It is hard to believe that nobody in Pakistan’s military or intelligence noticed who had been living under their nose for six years. Click on Notes on the death of Osama bin Laden for analysis by Steve Coll of the New Yorker magazine.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that the killing of Osama bin Laden was the result of President Obama imitating the “vigilance” of President Bush.
Was it? The Bush administration never gave high priority to the apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Bush policymakers such as Paul Wolfowitz thought the problem was “rogue states” such as Iran, Iran and North Korea, which gave sanctuary to terrorists. Destroy those rogue states, they said, and the problem of terrorism would take care of itself.
President George W. Bush originally said the U.S. objective in invading Afghanistan was to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, “dead or alive.” But he soon decided that bin Laden as an individual was not all that important. Click on If Cantor really wants to go there for a look at the Bush record and Has bin Laden bin forgotten? for news commentary from 2002.
On the other hand, then-Senator Barack Obama said during the 2008 Presidential campaign that he would send U.S. forces into Pakistan, if Osama bin Laden was hiding out there. His opponent, Senator John McCain, said that would be a violation of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. Click on The 2008 debate, revisited and In 2008, Obama vowed to kill Osama bin Laden for recollection of what was said.
Here is CNN’s report of President Obama’s statement late Sunday night.
“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Obama said. “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.”
A congressional source familiar with the operation said bin Laden was shot in the head.
A friend of mine wondered why Osama bin Laden was not captured and brought to trial. I have no way of knowing whether this was possible. Conceivably it was, based on President Obama’s announcement that he was killed “after” a firefight.
Attorney General Eric Holder said, in testimony before Congress a year ago, that “the reality is that we’ll be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom. That’s a reality.”
A fair trial of Osama bin Laden before the International Criminal Court would have been a great victory for the principle of the rule of law. But I imagine it was ruled out for the same reason a fair trial of Saddam Hussein was ruled out. It is not that there was any doubt that either was guilty of crimes under international law. But a trial in either case would have brought to light too many embarrassing facts about the history of U.S. involvement with the terrorist and the tyrant. And a trial would have been an implicit acceptance of the principle that the United States government itself is subject to law. “Death solves all problems,” Joseph Stalin famously said. “No man, no problem.”
My initial thought when I heard my friend’s question was, “Who cares whether Osama bin Laden got a fair trial? Did his victims get a fair trial?” But a precedent has been set for the U.S. government to summarily kill its enemies and perceived enemies, on the mere say-so of a President, in cases which – it is safe to predict – will be less clear cut than Osama bin Laden. Is that a power any individual can be trusted with? Click on Killing Osama: was it legal? for the thoughts of Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker.
This item was extensively rewritten and updated during the 24 hours after it was first posted.
Click on No, Bin Laden’s Death Does NOT Justify Torture for rebuttal to the claim that torture produced the information that made it possible to track down Osama bin Laden. There is a lot of good information in this link, but I am uncomfortable with arguing against torture on the grounds that it is ineffective, because this implies it would be morally all right if it were effective. [Added 5/3/11]
Click on He Won for Radley Balko’s list of the ways in which Osama bin Laden’s goals have been achieved. Balko pointed out that Osama bin Laden’s purpose in attacking the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was to draw the United States into a prolonged war in Afghanistan and a wider war with the Islamic world. He succeeded in the first and partially succeeded in the second, as well as panicking Americans into abandoning fundamental liberties and rights. [Added 5/3/11]
Click on Bin Laden died a failure, outstripped by history for foreign correspondent Robert Fisk’s thoughts in The Independent of London. Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden three times. [Added 5/3/11]
Click on Have We Forgotten 9/11? for comment by Jack Hunter of The American Conservative.
After 9/11 Texas Congressman Ron Paul introduced legislation resurrecting the constitutionally-based policy of “Marque and Reprisal” in which Congress could authorize small, covert forces to go after Al-Qaeda leaders and members directly. Paul argued that full scale wars of invasion and occupation would not and could not be effective against a group like Al-Qaeda and would only incite greater hatred against the US. Paul’s critics said he was being naïve in his suggestion and in his opposition to larger military action.
Yet bin Laden was killed using precisely the sort of small military contingency Paul said would be most effective in the wake of 9/11. Ironically, government officials now admit they fear Al-Qaeda might retaliate over bin Laden’s death. But what has inspired more terrorists to take up arms against the U.S.—thousands of civilian casualties and enduring resentment due to two long wars of occupation? Or the recent death of bin Laden? Should we be more worried about retaliation from the relatively small Al-Qaeda, or an entire region of Muslims who’ve become more sympathetic to radical jihad due mostly to our constant military involvement in their countries?
Click on How Bush Lost bin Laden for comment by Malou Innocent of the Cato Institute, who argues that the George W. Bush administration’s focus on invading Iraq cost it the opportunity to capture Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The Bush White House lost whatever opportunity it had to get bin Laden by diverting scarce resources to Iraq. Of course, it should go without saying that even if America hadn’t gone into Iraq, it would’ve been difficult for Bush to have captured or killed bin Laden. But what really “grinds my gears” is to hear members of the Bush team claim credit for bin Laden’s recent demise—torture was “critically important”—while simultaneously ignoring their culpability for not helping to capture bin Laden when they had the chance.
Aside from the military, other vital resources were spread thin. Iraq diverted international funds, journalistic resources, public attention and criticism, and adequate Congressional oversight. Iraq also dealt a severe blow to NATO’s unity of effort in Afghanistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that many European allies “have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan.”
via Cato @ Liberty.