We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction.
We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.
The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.
The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

—  George Kennan, head of US State Department Policy Planning Staff, 1948

Because It Is Absurd

May 30, 2011


The topic for this post is the Death of bin Laden

A Dozen Different Stories

The SEALS went in to kill him, to capture him, to kill him unless he was naked, to kill him unless he surrendered.  It was streamed live to the President; it wasn’t streamed at all due to an equipment malfuction.  Some of the helicopters broke down, crashed due to turbulence, clipped a wall with a rotor, were fine.  Bin laden was armed, unarmed, hiding behind his wife, a woman, no one at all, found with weapons nearby, found without weapons.  He was killed instantly, killed when he didn’t surrender, captured and then shot later.  And then, of course, the body dropped in the sea, but it’s okay because pictures will be released, except actually…no.  And this would be puzzling if these were rumours and stories spreading in a single wave, but — and this is the surreal bit — these have mostly been announced sequentially, mostly by spokesmen of the White House.  Their story keeps changing.

A changing story may mean unexpected things are happening.  A faked killing would have had no surprises; the press releases would already have been written.  But what we see from the White House is utter confusion, dismay, and chaos.  What is happening here?  The Obama White House spent two days arguing about whether or not to release pictures.  Two days!  Didn’t they know whether or not they were going to release the pictures before the go order was even given?  Of course they did.  So…what happened?  All of this raises an interesting possibility: The US may have really, truly, believed that bin Laden was alive, and really truly believed that he was the man in the compound.  They may have believed this right up until the SEAL team broke the door down, and (possibly) even after he was shot.  But maybe it wasn’t bin Laden.  Worse, perhaps, what if the administration didn’t realise this until it was already announced he was dead?  Everyone was primed for a 10:30 news conference, which would have been BEFORE the SEAL team was debriefed.  The conference was inexplicably delayed until 11:30, by which time the news had already leaked everywhere — Osama was dead!  What if just before 10:30 — after the leaks had gone out — early reports from the SEAL team said “Wait, wrong guy!”?  What would you do THEN?

A few alternate scenarios that would also fit the evidence:

  • The raid was based on a tip-off that a “prominant Al Qaeda member” was in residence, but no one knew it was bin Laden.
  • The raid was supposed to be a black-ops capture-and-interrogate mission, but upon discovering that their target was bin Laden, the team disobeyed orders, killed him anyway, and leaked the story to the press.
  • The raid was precisely what it seemed, but was assembled in a matter of hours by an on-site team since it was perceived that there was only a short window of opportunity, and bin Laden was dead before Washington heard he’d been found.

All of these possibilities, to me, make about as much sense as the possibility that they killed the wrong guy and then didn’t want to change their story once it’d been leaked.  Or about as much sense as the “official” version.


Too Much Independence?

Does the White House Have Too Much Independence?
(In case you aren’t a Tim Burton fan — as I am — the photo above is from his movie, Independence Day.)

The above scenarios aren’t what I’m saying DID happen, but what I’m saying may have happened.  There are lots of possibilities — including the official line.  These days, how does one know what to believe?  Conspiracy theories were once limited to fringe audiences but they have now become commonplace in mass media.  This contributes to conspiracism emerging as a cultural phenomenon in the United States and the possible replacement of democracy by conspiracy as the dominant paradigm of political action in the public mind.  A broad cross section of America today gives credence to one or more conspiracy theories.

How does one know when he is being reasonable rather than gullible?  When he has begun to believe his government is possessed of superhuman power and cunning?  To know the answer to this with any degree of accuracy requires knowing what the government might actually be able to accomplish rather than relying on what is depicted in movies and on tv.  This can be a slippery slope.

Let’s look more closely at what is now being called “deatherism” (believing bin Laden was already dead before the raid that reportedly killed him or else believing he is still not dead, even today — in other words, apparently anyone who doesn’t accept the official line).  Are these positions more-or-less equivalent in terms of silliness?  And is the silliness (or rationality) of either position able to be be determined from information available online?

Was It Osama bin Laden Who Was Killed?

The American Spectator "Osama bin Elvis" March 2009 by Angelo M Codevilla:
Negative evidence alone compels the conclusion that Osama is long since dead.  Since October 2001, when Al Jazeera’s Tayseer Alouni interviewed him, no reputable person reports having seen him — not even after multiple-blind journeys through intermediaries.  The audio and video tapes alleged to be Osama’s never convinced impartial observers.  The guy just does not look like Osama.  Some videos show him with a Semitic aquiline nose, while others show him with a shorter, broader one.  Next to that, differences between colours and styles of beard are small stuff.  Nor does the tapes’ Osama sound like Osama.
BBC News "Bin Laden Tape 'Not Genuine’" 29 November 2002:
A team from the Lausanne-based Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence has said it was 95% certain the tape does not feature the voice of the al-Qaeda leader.  The review of the tape was commissioned by France-2 television and its findings were presented by the institute’s director, Professor Herve Bourlard.  Mr Bourlard said the institute had compared the voice on the tape with some 20 earlier recordings allegedly made by bin Laden.  “It could be an impostor,” said one of Mr Bourlard’s colleagues, Samy Bengio, quoted by the French news agency AFP.  He said the system they had used was difficult to tamper with — the al-Jazeera tape was sufficiently different from other bin Laden recordings as to raise doubts.

The American Spectator "Osama bin Elvis" March 2009 by Angelo M Codevilla:
Quoting "Report: Bin Laden Already Dead" 26 December 2001 by Fox News:
A Taliban source claimed that he had attended Osama’s funeral, along with some 30 associates.  The cause of death, he said, had been pulmonary infection.
The New York Times on 11 July 2002, reported the consensus of a story widespread in Pakistan that Osama had succumbed the previous year to his long-standing nephritis.  Then, Benazir Bhutto — as well connected as anyone with sources of information on the Afghan-Pakistani border — mentioned casually in a BBC interview that Osama had been murdered by his associates.
In November 2008, without factual basis and contrary to reason, the CIA continued to describe [Osama] and his organisation as “the most clear and present danger to the US.”  It did not try to explain how this could be while, it said, Osama is “largely isolated from the day to day operations of the organisation he nominally heads.”  What organisation?
What if, in the real world, infiltrators from intelligence services — the professionals — use the amateur terrorists rather than the other way around?  What is the logical consequence of noting the fact that the terrorist groups — such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO, Colombia’s FARC — are extensions of, respectively, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Venezuela?  It is the negation of the US government’s favourite axiom.  It means that when George W Bush spoke, and when Barack Obama speaks, of America being “at war” against “extremism” or “extremists” they are either being stupid (or acting stupid) to avoid dealing with the nasty fact that many governments wage indirect warfare [as the US did in Viet Nam].  The image on the left was recorded in October 2001, released in 2002 and re-released in 2003.  The image on the right was released in Jul 2007 as new footage and proof Osama was still a force to be feared.


bin Laden Tree of Life Already Chopped?

bin Laden Tree of Life Already Chopped?

Osama bin Laden is dead.  The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost 6 months ago: the fugitive died in December and was buried in the mountains of southwest Afghanistan.  Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, echoed this information.  The remnants of Osama’s gang, however, have mostly stayed silent, either to keep Osama’s ghost alive or because they have no means of communication.  With an ego the size of Mount Everest, would Osama have remained silent for so long were he still alive?  Would he remain silent for 9 months and not trumpet his survival?  Mr bin Laden’s ghost may linger on — perhaps because Washington and Islamabad will it useful.

“We’ve been here all week and have been able to get quite close to bin Laden’s former compound — right outside the walls.  And it’s not just the media who are interested, but also the people who live in this town.  What is most interesting is how few people actually believe bin Laden was killed in that house or that he even lived there at all.”

“They’re just making it up.  Nobody has seen the body,” scoffed Owais Khan, a local lawyer.  He argued bin Laden would never have chosen Abbottabad, a wealthy, army-dominated town just 40 miles from Pakistan’s capital, as a hideout.  Haji Liaquat, who runs a print shop about two miles from bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, agreed.  “It’s not the reality that Osama was present over there,” he insisted.  “This is just a drama to show how Pakistan is protecting Osama.”

bin Laden Near Death December 2001 bin Laden Near Death December 2001

CNN "Pakistan’s Musharraf: bin Laden Probably Dead" 18 January 2002:
“I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a … kidney patient,” General Pervez Musharraf said.  Musharraf said Pakistan knew bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan.  “One was specifically for his own personal use,” he said.  “I don’t know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now.  And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak.”
CNN "Bin Laden Would Need Help if on Dialysis" 21 January 2002 by Paula Zahn:
According to Dr Sanjay Gupta [from the video he had watched], bin Laden was not moving his arms.  “I looked at this tape all the way through its entire length.  He never moved his left arm at all.  People are at increased risk of stroke if they have kidney failure — he may have had a stroke.  If you’re separated from your dialysis machine — and incidentally, dialysis machines require electricity, they’re going to require clean water, they’re going to require a sterile setting — infection is a huge risk with that.  If you don’t have all those things and a functioning dialysis machine, it’s unlikely that you’d survive beyond several days or a week at the most.”
[In the tape from whence the picture was taken, bin Laden called on Muslims to “concentrate on hitting the US economy with every available means” in the hope that “if their economy is finished they will become too busy to enslave oppressed people.”  That doesn’t sound as terroristic as I might’ve expected.  Rollover the photo at left for a comparison to a more fit version of bin Laden — useful only if you’re in the camp that thinks he had already died from disease.]

Okay.  Osama died of a pulmonary infection.  He died of nephritis.  He was murdered by an associate.  He was marginalised.  He had diabetes.  He had a stroke.  He got an infection.

Or not.  "The Economic Times", an online Indian publication, says on 8 May 2011 that Obama’s youngest wife told investigators that Osama, when he was living in southern Afghanistan, recovered from two kidney operations in part by using homemade remedies, including watermelon.

Popular Mechanics "Osama bin Laden’s DNA: How Sure Is 99.9 Percent Sure?" 3 May 2011 by Sharon Weinberger:
“William Thompson, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an expert in DNA forensics — says that the 99.9% confidence number, which the US government reportedly arrived at by comparing the DNA to that of bin Laden’s half-sister, is slightly misleading.  The key distinction, he says, is that the results speak to the probability of a relationship between two people, not the actual identity of the dead man.  Dan Krane, a professor of genetics and a DNA expert at Wright State University in Ohio, notes that the more appropriate (though perhaps less dramatic) way to explain the results would be as such: It is about 1,000 times more likely the dead man’s DNA came from a sibling of bin Laden’s sister than from a random person.  “That phrasing is more consistent with how paternity and sibling tests are typically described.”  Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, cautions that no matter how careful or thorough one is, genetic testing always presents the possibility of errors, ranging from contamination to simple lab mixups.  “I’m not suggesting that was the case with the bin Laden DNA,” he says.  “But life is complicated.”

So they aren’t 99.9% sure after all?  Except now, they are 100% sure.  They have to be right.


Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah al Sadah Abdul Jabbar bin Laden

Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah al Sadah Abdul Jabbar bin Laden

This article gives bin Laden’s final wife’s name as Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah [some say al Sadah] and her age as 24 [though most sources say she is 29, some 27].  This article says she had a daughter, Safiyah, with bin Laden.  In 2002, Amal reportedly gave an interview to a Saudi woman’s magazine, Al Majalla, in which she explains how, after the 9/11 attacks, she made her way out of Afghanistan back to Yemen with assistance from Pakistani officials [when she was either 14 or 19, with a newborn or else heavily pregnant and she never arrived, stayed there forever, or almost immediately came back.  According to Time Magazine, one of bin Laden’s former aides in Yemen insists that Amal never reached home].  This happened 2 months after the US began bombing Afghanistan.  The article continues: “After bin Laden’s young bride — Amal was then 19 — was turned over to the Pakistani authorities, she and her daughter Safiyah were released and allowed to fly home to Ibb, a town not far from Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, where her father worked as a minor civil servant [though she might’ve gone there for the child to be born].  But bin Laden might’ve (must’ve?) somehow arranged for Amal to rejoin him and his kids in Pakistan.  Then there’s the question of whether Pakistani authorities were aware that bin Laden’s wife had returned to their country.  Robert Grenier, a former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and a security expert, says it’s not impossible to imagine that the Pakistanis could have let Amal leave the country and failed to detect her return.  [Why is this being said?  What is someone trying to convey?]  “The Pakistanis would want to get her back home,” Grenier tells TIME.  Pakistan refused [at least this was reported at first] to let US officials anywhere near Amal, under guard in a hospital.  [Other sources have the US interviewing all three wives at once — including Amal — for half an hour.]  The article also states: “Cultural taboos aside, she may know too many uncomfortable truths.”  [Like what?  For whom?]  “To me, it’s astonishing that she came back to join him [in Pakistan],” says the source with former ties to al-Qaeda.  “None of the other fighters brought back their wives.”  Did Pakistani authorities know that she had returned from Yemen?

The passport of a Yemeni woman found at the compound appears to be hers [meaning Amal] — but the name is not an exact match.  Yemeni officials say they can’t conclusively identify the passport and the Pakistanis have not made any request to repatriate anyone at the compound.  [Is this important?  How can I tell?]  CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank says it is not surprising the compound in Abbottabad attacked on Sunday included several children — although it’s not known how many were bin Laden’s.  “He was trying to train up his sons to follow in his footsteps; he had many of his daughters around him in as well in Afghanistan.”  But this article said that only one wife remained.  [Others say three.]

The Yemeni government is apparently pressuring the family not to speak publicly about their notorious in-law, bin Laden, Ahmed [a relative] said.  “From what I know, the government would give the Sadah family an extremely difficult time and always warns them from talking to the media,” he added.  “The government tells them that the information or comments they give would be misunderstood or misinterpreted and could hurt the family more than the government.”  [Is this true concern or a veiled threat?]  "DailyIndia" on 17 May says Amal’s Yemeni father says he did not receive any money from Osama for the marriage, though other sources say a dowry of $5,000 was wired by bin Laden or, alternatively, $5,000 worth of gifts and jewelry were sent to the father.

This article includes a quote about the marriages of Osama bin Laden by Brian Ross: “By the time bin Laden moved to his mansion in Abbottabad, he was left only with Amal Ahmed, he had divorced one of his other wives, and three others had moved to Syria.”  [This article sourced this from ABCNews.go.com entitled “Osama bin Laden’s Young Wife, Wounded in Raid, Identified” 3 May 2011 by Brian Ross, no URL supplied.]

It is not clear how many of the dozen other children in the compound were bin Laden’s.  Pakistani officials say bin Laden’s wife and daughter are now recovering in a military hospital in Rawalpindi, and they have released Amal’s passport photograph [shown above].  The photograph shows a pale young woman with generous lips.  In accordance with Islamic convention, her face is framed by a head scarf and she is wearing no lipstick or make-up.  Later Pakistani press reports suggest that bin Laden may have had several other wives staying with him, but his original spouses are believed to be in Syria, Saudi Arabia and in Iran, possibly under house arrest.  [What?  Is nothing straightforward?]

Pakistani officials who have been debriefing the women portray life in the compound as an Islamic version of Desperate Housewives.  “It’s a well-known fact that when you have two older wives and then this young one comes along half their age, they don’t like it,” said one.  [You’re kidding me, right?  This is a bit too manipulative to go unnoticed.]  While the CIA may have lost track of some of the wives in Iran, it seems likely that Amal had been under surveillance since her 2002 interview.  [What is the implication here?]

Why does her passport appear to say her last name is Abdul Jabbar?

Why do there seem to be multiple versions of everything connected with bin Laden?

Huffington Post "Osama bin Laden Death Skeptics Grow As Lynne Blankenbeker, New Hampshire State Rep, Voices Doubts" 9 May 2011 by Amanda Terkel:
New Hampshire state Representative Lynne Blankenbeker (a Republican) has joined the deathers’ ranks.  [Deathers?]  When asked about her reaction, Blankenbeker said, “I was obviously very excited by the possibility that Osama bin Laden is no longer around.  That’s great.  My first thought went to the victims from 9/11 and their families.”  [All politicians had better say at least that much.]  Blankenbeker has been a member of the armed forces for decades.  She said that one of the reasons she questions the news of bin Laden’s death is that she heard nothing from her superiors: “We’ve had no message trafficking for the first time ever.  Every single time there has been a national disaster or an event, my email is on fire with 'be on alert, don’t go any where, stand down’ and those sorts of things; Haiti after the earthquake; Katrina after the hurricane; Japan recently; any major event; and every holiday — Christmas, New Year’s, the anniversary of 9/11.  This is the first time I have received nothing, which makes me pause.”  [Trivial?  Likely.  I gather what’s being said is that a Congresswoman thought she was in both a legislature loop and a military loop.  Being excluded from both, she is miffed and concludes that in reality, no such event as Osama’s death even occurred.]

Was Osama bin Laden Even Involved in 9/11?

Most of the vitriol directed toward bin Laden around the world is because of the fervid belief that he was the mastermind for the terrorist attack on the US World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  But that has never been proved, nor was he ever charged with such a crime.  He denied his invlovement in an interview.  Supposedly, he subsequently “confessed” during a video, the authenticity of which is a matter of some dispute.

Letter to the Taliban

Bribe?  Threat?

CounterPunch "Small News: Killing Other People’s Children" 20 December 2001 by Lawrence McGuire:
Fifteen out of 19 of the September 11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia.  Not a single one was from Afghanistan.  Not a single one was a Taleban.  The 11 September terrorists have not even been proven to have visited Afghanistan.  The Taleban had agreed to negotiate and extradite bin Laden, to be tried by a jury of his peers (that is, Muslims) if the US would show them what indications they had that he might be guilty, but the US government refused.  Perhaps the Taleban were lying, but we may never know.  Certainly they were a terrible government, but our government helped create them and other foreign terrorists living in Afghanistan.  Innocent civilians were killed in their attempt to contain what they had created.  Now, there is no real government in Afghanistan, just a loose assortment of warlords.  The Taleban are still there.

Political Commentaries "9/11: The Mother of All Coincidences" 10 September 2010 by Eric Margolis:
“A day after 9/11, I was asked on CNN if Osama bin Laden was behind the attack.  'We have yet to see the evidence,’ I replied.  I maintain this position today.  Bin Laden denied he or al-Qaida was behind 9/11 and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.  The plot was hatched in Hamburg, Germany and Madrid, Spain, not Afghanistan.  A Pakistani, Khaled Sheik Mohammed, claimed he was the mastermind — after the CIA tortured him by near-drowning 183 times.  While denying involvement, bin Laden did say he believed the attack was in part motivated by Israel’s destruction of downtown Beirut during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon that caused some 18,000 civilian deaths.  Tapes that appear to confirm bin Laden’s guilt are clumsy fakes supposedly 'found’ in Afghanistan by the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance.  After 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell promised Americans the State Department would issue a White Paper detailing bin Laden’s guilt.  Afghanistan’s Taliban government asked for this document before extraditing him as the US demanded.  The White Paper was never produced and, ignoring proper legal procedure, the US invaded Afghanistan.  We still await that evidence.  The 9/11 suicide team made clear its aim was to punish the US for backing Israel’s repression of Palestinians and anger over US 'occupation’ of Saudi Arabia.  Though all were Muslims, religion was not their motivation.”

American Spectator "Osama bin Elvis" March 2009 by Angelo M Codevilla:
We know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) planned and carried out 9/11.  But there is no independent support for KSM’s claim that he acted at Osama’s direction and under his supervision.  On the contrary, we know for sure that the expertise and the financing for 9/11 came from KSM’s own group (the US government has accepted but to my knowledge not verified that the group’s core is a biological family of Baluchs).  This group carried out the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa and every other act for which al Qaeda became known.  The KSM group included the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings Abdul Rahman Yasin, who came from, returned to, and vanished in Iraq, as well as Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of that bombing, who came to the US from Iraq on an Iraqi passport and was known to his New York collaborators as “Rashid the Iraqi.”  This group had planned the bombing of US airliners over the Pacific in 1995.  The core members are non-Arabs.  They had no history of religiosity (and the religiosity they now display is unconvincing).  They were not creatures of Osama.  Focusing on Osama bin Elvis is dangerous to America’s security precisely because it continues to substitute in our collective mind the soft myth that terrorism is the work of romantic rogues.  The hard reality is that terrorism can happen only because certain countries/regimes want it to happen or let it happen.  Our problem is the unwillingness of persons in government and the “attentive public” to exercise intellectual due diligence about international affairs.


Hamza bin Laden

Hamza bin Laden, 19

Khalid bin Laden

Khalid bin Laden, 22

This blogger appears to accept the fact that it was bin Laden who was killed, but asks if he was killed rather than captured because the US was afraid he might be found innocent in court.  A commenter remarked: “It would reveal the pointlessness of the trillion-dollar game of hide and seek that’s been going on for the past ten years.”  If this were true (which I personally don’t accept), and if it became widely known, there would be far more at stake than just wasting a trillion dollars.

ABC News, on the other hand, reports that Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, 19, has been missing since the raid.  But Pundit Press has a photo of a very dead young man, perhaps 19, taken at Abbottabad, that they claim is Hamza.  Unnamed US officials reported that another son, Khalid bin Laden, 22, was killed (and the photo of his dead body is available in many places on the Internet).  Either of these sons could have provided the DNA that reputedly “proved” bin Laden was killed.
If Osama was already dead 10 years ago, what is the justification for the US entering Pakistan and killing these two young men, neither of whom appears to have been formally charged with anything (though they may be guilty of something for all I know) and neither of whom ever fired a shot?  Is confusion and the collateral damage that inevitably happens during war a sufficient explanation for one or both of them dying, no matter what else occurred?

[I suppose dead, they’re unable to refute “officials”.]

“Which and how many sons of bin Laden were in the house, which and how many were killed, and where are they (or their bodies) now?  Was one buried at sea?  The Administration’s changing of names of the dead son from Khalid to Hamza back to Khalid is only bound to fuel conspiracy theories.”

Were bin Laden’s sons guilty of anything (other than having a notorious father)?

BBC "Osama bin Laden 'Innocent’" 21 November 1998 by William Reeve:
The American government offered a reward of $5 million for the arrest of Osama bin Laden, whom they allege masterminded the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  Washington wanted to try bin Laden in the United States for his alleged involvement in the killing of more than 250 people in the two blasts.  The Taleban responded that, as a Muslim, bin Laden should be tried in a Muslim country and challenged the United States to provide evidence to back its allegations, which they did not do.  Instead, the US launched cruise missile attacks against what it said were Osama bin Laden training camps in south Afghanistan and a factory in Sudan.
According to Snopes: On 7 August 1998, powerful car bombs exploded minutes apart outside the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people and wounding about 5,000 others.  Four participants with ties to Osama bin Laden were captured, convicted in US federal court, and sentenced to life in prison without parole in October 2001.  Fourteen other suspects indicted in the case remain at large, and three more are fighting extradition in London.  In August 1998, President Clinton ordered missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan in an effort to hit Osama bin Laden, who had been linked to the embassy bombings in Africa (and was later connected to the attack on the USS Cole).  The missiles reportedly missed bin Laden by a few hours, and Clinton was widely criticised by many who claimed he had ordered the strikes primarily to draw attention away from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  [What the links to bin Laden consist of I was usable to find.]

Why Might This Have Been Handled in the Way It Was?


Joint Special Operations Command Emblem

“Our Swords Cover the World”?  What is the logo supposed to denote?

Popular Mechanics "Four Questions After the Death of Osama bin Laden" 2 May 2011 by Joe Pappalardo:
The Joint Special Operations Command’s reputation has been questioned in the recent past.  Lacking Congressional oversight, and used at the whim of the Oval Office, these soldiers have been called the most dangerous men on the planet.  And their reputation can swing wildly, depending on the operation — and the administration.  New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh called JSOC “an executive assassination ring” that reported to the Bush–Cheney team, and alleged that they went into countries without notifying ambassadors or CIA station chiefs.  JSOC has also been associated with unsavory actions like snatch-and-grab renditions and secret prisons.  (JSOC operates 20 such prisons, including one at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.)  In fact, a casual Google search finds more articles mentioning JSOC’s “secret torture bases” than any military action.  That is, until Sunday night.  The new-found prestige of JSOC will do more than spawn new action-oriented TV shows or movies.  It validates the secretive, hard-hitting approach that began in the Bush administration and has been wholeheartedly adopted by the Obama security team.  The primacy of special ops as a tool of presidents is growing.  And opponents of this secretive, no-oversight approach will have to answer the question, “Would you prefer that we’d let bin Laden get away?”  [Depends on how ambulatory he was.]

The prospect of a domestic military police that has no oversight should set caution lights blinking.  Perhaps it should even set off alarms — if it’s true.

911 Review "Bin Ladin Denies Involvement in the 9/11 Attacks" 10 October 2001 by Ummat, Urdu-language daily newspaper based in Karachi, Pakistan:
Usama bin Ladin in an interview with the Pakistani newspaper Ummat on the 28th of September 2001 said: “I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States.  As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie.  I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act.  Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle.  The US has no friends, nor does it want to keep any because the prerequisite of friendship is to come to the level of the friend or consider him at par with you.  America does not want to see anyone equal to it.  There are intelligence agencies in the US which require billions of dollars from Congress every year.  [Funding issues were] not a big problem till the end of the former Soviet Union but after that the budget of these agencies has been in danger.  They needed an enemy.  They first started propaganda against Usama and the Taleban and then [9/11] happened.  There exists a government within the government in the United Sates.  That secret government must be asked as to who carried out the [9/11] attacks.”  [Bluff?  Curiously, his FBI Ten Most Wanted posting never mentioned 9/11 as one of his crimes.]

Spiegel "Justice, American Style: Was bin Laden’s Killing Legal?" 3 May 2011 by Thomas Darnstädt:
US President Barack Obama gets precious few opportunities to announce a victory.  So it’s no wonder he chose grand words as the TV crews’ spotlights shone upon him and he informed the nation about the deadly strike against Osama bin Laden.  “Justice has been done,” he said.  It may be that this sentence comes back to haunt him in the years to come.  What is just about killing someone in his home in the middle of Pakistan?  For the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and for patriotic Americans who saw their grand nation challenged by a band of criminals, the answer might be simple.  But international law experts grapple with the question of the legal status of the US-led war on terror and find Obama’s pithy words problematic.  The commanders of the war on terror consider the entire world to be a battlefield.  The US would seek to justify a military operation anywhere it believes the enemy is hiding — regardless whether it be in Europe or Islamabad.  Claus Kress, an international law professor at the University of Cologne, argues that achieving retributive justice for crimes, difficult as that may be, is “not achieved through summary executions, but through a punishment that is meted out at the end of a trial.”  But Obama and his predecessor Bush never sought the kind of justice that would have seen bin Laden tried in an international court.  As early as his election campaign in 2008, Obama swore he would “kill bin Laden” and finish the job Bush began.  Obama said that bin Laden’s fate is a “testament to the greatness of our country.”  [Or lack thereof.]

Slate "Osama bin Lustin’: Is bin Laden’s 'Porn’ More Damning than His Terrorism?" 17 May 2011 by William Saletan:
In the two weeks since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, US officials have waged a curious campaign to belittle him.  First they implied that he had used a woman as a human shield.  Then they released videos suggesting that he had dyed his beard to look younger.  Then they said they’d found pornography in his compound.  The smear campaign seems ridiculous.  Bin Laden was a mass murderer.  Why bother calling him a sissy and a voyeur?  The leaks about bin Laden’s “porn stash” are more than a mere joke.  Two years ago, Gallup released a study of public opinion in Western Europe. The results showed that Osama’s sympathisers and potential followers are, by several measures, more categorically averse to pornography, adultery, and the mixing of men and women than they are to suicide bombing of civilian targets.  If you want to sour these people on bin Laden and his movement, calling him a terrorist won’t cut it.  You’re better off portraying him as a hypocritical porn hound who lived in a million-dollar mansion, touched himself up for videos, and hid behind women when martyrdom called.  [If this is manipulative — maybe even hype — then what else is?  The hair-dyeing claim rings false to me — who would he have heen trying to impress?  But it is necessary to explain how “new” videos found in the raid show an Osama who looks much younger than one might expect.]

Are There ANY Grounds for Disbelief?


“You Can’t Mean That!”

Market Oracle "Bin Laden Died Long Before U.S. Abbottabad Raid  9 May 2011 by Trader Mark:
Iran’s intelligence minister says the country has reliable information that former head of the al-Qaeda terrorist group Osama bin Laden died of disease some time ago.  “We have accurate information that bin Laden died of illness some time ago,” Heidar Moslehi told reporters on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting on Sunday.  He questioned Washington’s claim that bin Laden was killed by American troops in a hiding compound in Pakistan on May 1.  “If the US military and intelligence apparatus have really arrested or killed bin Laden, why don’t they show him (his dead body) why have they thrown his corpse into the sea?” Moslehi asked.  “When we apprehended [former Jundallah ringleader Abdul Malik] Rigi, we showed him and also aired his interview,” the intelligence chief is quoted as saying.  By releasing such false news, he said, the White House seeks to overshadow regional awakening.  Moslehi said US officials resort to such PR campaigns to divert attention from their domestic problems as well as their “fragile” economic situation.  [True?  Or merely self-serving on Iran’s part?]

The US may have meant to kill the person they killed.  But I have personally concluded that I don’t think it has been proven beyond doubt that that person was Osama bin Laden.  If it was known beforehand who that person really was and if there was clear evidence that the person needed to be “taken out” and if it was concurrently decided this was a good opportunity to close the bin Laden door (since there was no longer any way at this point to conclusively prove he had died a decade earlier, if indeed he had), I may feel that that’s all kinds of wrong, but it seems to me to be less bad than thinking that a sitting US president could be so misinformed, so out of touch, that he thought the person to be killed WAS bin Laden if bin Laden had been dead for years.  A burial at sea would become mandatory to get rid of incriminating evidence.  But I could be wrong.  I’ve probably seen the movie Wag the Dog too many times.

Does it make me a deather, just because I find conflicting reports and motivations too puzzling to accept without more information?  The term deather is used in a pejorative sense to automatically dismiss claims that are deemed ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish or irrational.

And Now?

Slate "Their Fates Were SEALed" 5 May 2011 by William Saletan:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the US would divulge no further details about the raid.  He read a statement: “The team had the authority to kill Osama bin Laden unless he offered to surrender; in which case the team was required to accept his surrender if the team could do so safely.”  It seems increasingly clear that the SEALs went into the compound with a presumption that while women and children would be spared, any adult male would be killed, in part to avoid US casualties and in part because one of the men might be bin Laden.  The initial gunfire from the guest house reinforced that presumption.  After that, if you were found in either house, you were a dead man.  [The orders “accept his surrender if you can do so safely” really does roughly translate to “shoot to kill” in context.  Taliban members seem to be fond of dying in a blaze of explosive glory, so the SEAL team likely went in under the (reasonable and logical) assumption that bin Laden’s entire compound was wired with enough explosives to flatten most of the town it was in, which could be set off with the touch of a button.  In that context, if the SEAL team refrained from shooting ANYONE I’d be more impressed with their professionalism than I can describe.  I’d expect most people in a situation like that to empty an entire clip into everyone they see just to make absolutely sure that they are physically incapable of pressing buttons, regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity.]
Washington Post "CIA Director Tells Workforce to Stop Talking about bin Laden Raid — Or Face Legal Action" 19 May 2011 by The Associated Press:
He said the disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it — reporters, friends, colleagues in other agencies or former CIA officers — could endanger lives.  [Perhaps he means political lives as well.]
Wonkette "Spy vs Spy: CIA Leaks Memo Telling CIA To Stop Leaking Memos" 20 May 2011 by Ken Layne:
So Panetta’s memo yelling at CIA employees for leaking all the sexy bin Laden murder stuff is itself leaked, immediately.  CIA, we hate to engage in old Internet cliches at a time when our doomed nation very much needs to take the lead in creating new Internet cliches, but you’re doing it wrong.

Slate "Let’s Get to the Real Debate: bin Laden’s Dead.  Should We Get out of Afghanistan?" 12 May 2011 by Fred Kaplan:
Does the death of Osama bin Laden mean the United States should speed up the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan?  Congressional leaders of both parties are saying it does, as are, reportedly, some advisers in certain quarters of the White House.  Yet, the war in Afghanistan has never been entirely about killing or capturing bin Laden.  [ Never?  Combine this with the fact that the FBi Ten Most Wanted list didn’t even mention 9/11 as one of bin Laden’s crimes.]  The real aim of the war, to the extent an aim has been articulated, is to keep Afghanistan stable.  Many are arguing that Obama should use the killing of Osama as an excuse (as Senator George Aiken once proposed that President Lyndon Johnson do in the early years of the Vietnam War) to “declare victory and get out.”

WPTV "Prayer Request for Osama bin Laden at Catholic Church in West Palm Beach" 17 May 2011 by Marissa Bagg:
Henry Borga says he paid $10 to put Osama bin Laden’s name on the same list as four other people.  The face of Osama bin Laden is one that incites anger and hate, but Borga says, “He needs forgiveness and compassion from God.”  Borga says he also prayed for the families and victims of 9/11.  Father Gavin Badway admits many in his congregation are unhappy.  But he says the church has never turned down a prayer request before.  “I think it’s totally wrong, he doesn’t belong in the Catholic religion.  For what he did to Americans, he doesn’t belong anywhere,” says Lois Pizzano, a Catholic Church member.  “It’s unconscionable, it’s sacrilegious.”  “If it was one of my loved ones having their prayer session and his name was also included I’d be very upset.  I think the people whose names are on it would also be upset,” says Andrea Lazarus.
Antiwar.com "Outrage as Steelers’ Running Back Insufficiently Happy with bin Laden’s Death — Steelers’ President Terms Comments Incomprehensible" 3 May 2011 by Jason Ditz:
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall caused quite a stir when, citing the Christian principle “those who judge others, will also be judged themselves,” wondered whether it was appropriate to “celebrate” the death of anyone.  Mendenhall’s comments were quick to spawn a flurry of controversy and public condemnation.  Steelers owner Art Rooney II termed Mendenhall’s lack of joy incomprehensible in an official response, saying that the “entire Steelers’ organisation” is officially very proud of the killing.  [So there.]




The Daily Beast "Capital Punishment and bin Laden" 6 May 2011 by Andrew Sullivan:
“What defines a city on a hill is not vengeance.  It is justice.  And there is a vast difference between justice in domestic criminal matters and justice in a just war.  It is perfectly possible to oppose the death penalty, as I do strongly, and to support the killing of enemy forces in a just war.  The killing of bin Laden was an act of war against a man who launched a war against us.  It was self-defense, and a way of preventing such massacres in the future.”  [It seems to be a small minority who feels the way I do, but shouldn’t whoever was killed have been captured, identified, tried, then executed if found guilty of a crime that justified that?  The US is not at war with Pakistan, so far as I know.  Obama stated that it was far from certain that the person living in the house even WAS Osama.  Obama took a chance.  Yet the person was killed before he was even identified.  If it proved NOT to be Osama, he’s already DEAD.  Then burying him at sea and pretending like hell seems like a great course of action.  There is also still the issue that the only “conclusive” evidence that Osama was behind 9/11 are a possibly-faked video and the “confession” of a tortured man.  This doesn’t prove Osama’s innocence, of course — but I’d like to understand why his guilt was such a slam dunk that it’s right to kill an unidentified person in a foreign country (a country with whom the US isn’t at war) just on a percent liklihood that the soon-to-be-dead person IS Osama bin Laden.]

The Daily Beast "Torture and War" 10 May 2011 by Andrew Sullivan:
A reader writes: “So let me get this straight: You’re against the enhanced interrogation and/or waterboarding of someone like KSM, but you’re in favour of the murder of an unarmed bin Laden?  This is who we are now?  These are our values now?”

Wickersham’s Conscience "Legal or Expedient: Taking Down bin Laden" 11 May 2011 by an unnamed Fairbanks lawyer:
If the raid into Pakistan to assassinate him was definitively a Department of Defense operation, it violated a slew of restrictions on the use of military force in a country that is not a formal enemy of the United States.  Or a quasi-ally like Pakistan.  While Congress authorised the use of force against Al Qaeda, it didn’t repeal either US law restricting US armed forces operations in foreign countries or the many treaties to which the US subscribes barring that kind of action.  Remember that the assassination was conducted without the knowledge or consent of the Pakistani government.  If it was a Central Intelligence Agency operation, it was a political assassination, which is illegal under a 1976 Executive Order, supplemented by Executive Order 12036 among others: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Because the key term “assassination” is not defined in any of the series of Executive Orders, there has been a lot of fuzzing of the edges.  Bombing a building that might have bin Laden in it was “targeted destruction” of a “command and control structure” and if bin Laden happened to be in it, well, that was “collateral damage.”  Long memoranda were written by John Yoo and others rationalising the definition of “assassination” to exclude terrorists, on the grounds they were not “political” murders.  [It may be that we need a new body of laws and new treaties to deal with the kind of stateless terrorism that confronts the world today because our laws are meaningless if we don’t (or can’t) respect them.  Besides, my son says that the legality issue is very complex and the above comment, though written by a lawyer, is way off base.  I’ll accept that.]

I will close this topic with the following:

CounterPunch "Terror, Legality and the New Rules of War: Round Up the Usual Suspects … and Shoot Them" 13 May 2011 by Douglas Lummis:
The issue is not whether bin Laden was a very bad man (I suppose he was) or for that matter whether Barack Obama is also a very bad man (looking worse all the time), but what happens to the law when states violate it with impunity.  Yes, the fact that bin Laden is believed to have been a terrible man makes it easier for the public to accept his killing, but that’s just the danger.  For years, Hollywood has been thinking up villains so detestable that the audience positively yearns for Dirty Harry and his many clones to blow them away without doing anything so silly as to read them their rights.  People fail to notice that when they blow away the crook, they blow away a piece of the law as well.  A difference between the war on terror and ordinary war is that in war, the enemy, though combatants, are not criminals.  Thus if captured they may not be tried unless they are suspected of violating the laws of war, and they have the right to be treated as POWs.  But in the mongrel mix of the two legal systems under which the war on terror is carried out, people captured as terrorist suspects have neither the rights as POWs under military law, nor the rights of suspects under criminal law (I understand that this is being contested, but this was the original model).  Moreover, though they are treated as criminals, this does not necessarily depend on anything they may have done; they are criminals by virtue of what they are: (suspected) terrorists: the rightless persons in the black holes of Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.  The only other case I know of where people were punished under the law for what they were, is the late medieval and early modern witch hunts in Europe and America.  [The quote “Hollywood has been thinking up villains so detestable that the audience positively yearns for Dirty Harry and his many clones to blow them away without doing anything so silly as to read them their rights.  People fail to notice that when they blow away the crook, they blow away a piece of the law as well” is a bit undermined by the fact that at the end of Dirty Harry, he throws away his badge because he realises that he is not worthy of it anymore — he’s achieved his goals, but he’s too “dirty” now to continue being a police officer (hence the name of the movie).  Knowing that context makes the choice of Dirty Harry as an example for the quote ironic (to say the least) and undermines its point somewhat.]

Mother Jones "What Happens When You’re Buried at Sea?" 9 May 2011 by Dave Gilson:
Osama bin Laden’s body was dropped from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson into the Arabian Sea.  According to the Pentagon, the hours-old corpse had been washed and placed in a simple white sheet in accordance with Islamic practice.  It was then sealed inside a weighted bag and laid on top of a board, which was tilted until “the body slid off into the sea.”  There’s no better way to quickly be rid of a corpse than to toss it overboard.  Grommets in the shroud “help the body sink because air comes out.  And when a body decomposes, body gases come out.”  It also allows sea life to go in and do what sea life does.  What’s left after everything degrades are the ballast weights.  A Navy ship deploys a body from 10 stories high.  Bin Laden’s body (or whose-ever body it was) reportedly fell from the hangar deck of the Vinson, which is about 55 feet above the waterline.  Burials must take place at least three miles offshore and in at least 600 feet of water (1,800 feet in certain areas, such as the Gulf Coast).  After two days in the water, most bodies are “unrecognisable.”  A body in a shroud on the sea floor should completely disintegrate within 3 — 6 months.  Results may vary depending on a burial spot’s depth, temperature, and abundance (or lack) of sea life.  Generally, the deeper and colder the water, the slower bodies decompose.  The Arabian Sea is warm (right now its average temperature is in the 80s) and teeming with sharks.  [Relax.  Any secrets are safe.]

On a Somewhat Related Note:

Monetary Costs

Always a Cost with War

The Daily Beast "The Cost of War" 6 May 2011:
The War on Terror has cost an estimated $3 trillion in 2011 dollars.  The economic benefit is moot but it bought a sense of action in the face of what felt like existential threat.  The cost figure apparently comes from the Congressional Research Service, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Adjusters International, and/or Slate.

The Daily Beast "Torturing in the Name of Humanity" 26 Apr 2011:
Sam Harris to Jonathan Derbyshire: “The reason to be against torture — and this is the reason to be against any patently unethical behaviour — is based on its consequences in the lives of human beings.  You can make the argument that tolerating torture in any instance — even if we have a law which says, 'we’ll only torture someone we know to be a terrorist, who claims to be a terrorist, and who claims to have current knowledge of some coming atrocity’ — even in that case, performing torture, knowing that there are people you are delegating to do this, is so corrosive of what we value in our society that it’s not worth doing in any circumstance.  Now, I think that the truth is that’s probably untrue, given that something like nuclear terrorism is possible.”  In actual practice, though (as Derbyshire puts it), the likelihood of the perfect case of the ticking time bomb scenario ever really happening is “vanishingly small.”  And try finding evidence that torturing people gives solid, actionable, reliable intelligence.  Does Sam believe that John McCain really opposed America’s actions in Vietnam?  Why not?  He said so after being tortured.

No politician can possibly be the ideal representative that you’d like.  They each have talents and each have very strong needs for either power, approval, or both.  If they also have a broad knowledge base, a good network, and good instincts, they will certainly be below average in some other areas.  Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Life Requires Endless Effort