By the time U.S. Navy SEALs shot Osama bin Laden dead in his Pakistan hideaway, he was already becoming a historical anachronism. During his 10 years of running and hiding, events had passed him by. In the end, he appeared more David Koresh than Hitler or Napoleon — a religious zealot imprisoned by his own homicidal delusions, and little more.
“I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America,” bin Laden once said. Like most fanatics, however, he failed to grasp the resilience of our democracy. America had largely recovered from the terrible strategic blunders that fear and outrage over the 9/11 atrocity had driven it to.
Al-Qaida’s hope was to lure the United States into Afghanistan, where they imagined it would destroy itself like the Soviet Union. That the neoconservative cabal inside the Bush administration would use the attack to justify invading Iraq provided an unanticipated propaganda boost.
The U.S., bin Laden told a CNN interviewer in 1997, “wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to this … If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists.”
But images of Abu Ghraib faded as Iraq’s fratricidal strife yielded to steadfast military and diplomatic effort; America’s intention to leave Iraq became clear. Recent political tumult across the Arab world has owed nothing to bin Laden’s fever dream of a restored Islamic empire.
Writing from Benghazi, Libya, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen celebrated the liberation of “the captive Arab mind.”
“Bin Laden’s rose-tinged caliphate was the solace of the disenfranchised, the disempowered and the desperate,” Cohen added. “A young guy with a job, a vote and prospects does not need virgins in paradise.”
None of which should diminish our satisfaction at bin Laden’s death. I happened to be watching the Phillies-Mets game Sunday night when spontaneous cheers of “USA, USA!” broke out as fans got the news on their cellphones. For once, ESPN delivered a non-sports headline at the bottom of the screen.
My brother the Mets fan called the next day to express his feelings. Thirteen people from our New Jersey hometown, he reminded me, died on 9/11. I didn’t know any of them personally, but he knew several victims. Nothing can bring the victims back or erase their loved ones’ pain. Avenging those deaths, however, brought exactly what President Obama said it did: justice.
Bin Laden could have surrendered. Instead, he took the easy way out. Good riddance to him.
Everybody’s got their own way of remembering. Me, I get out my “Concert for New York” DVD and watch the Who turn Madison Square Garden upside down with a thunderous rendition of “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” — maybe the most powerful rock anthem ever written — for an audience of uniformed New York cops, firefighters and EMTs.
Announcing themselves honored to be invited, the English band played in front of a huge projection of the U.S. flag, the Union Jack and the World Trade Center. I can’t watch it dry-eyed. Everybody in the crowd looks like my cousin or somebody I grew up with.
No doubt you’ve got your own 9/11 memories. The question is: What to do with those thoughts and emotions now? Will the feelings of unity — those cheering fans in Philadelphia were Democrats and Republicans alike — bring about a lessening of partisan political anger?
President George W. Bush was quick to offer congratulations. Even Dick Cheney was gracious for once. It was Cheney’s classless accusation that President Obama was risking national security by dropping the “Global War on Terror” trope that set the tone for strident rejection of his legitimacy.
Soft on terror? Obama not only accomplished what the previous administration hadn’t done in eight years of trying, he’d put his presidency on the line. Had the SEALs’ mission in Pakistan failed like President Carter’s 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, the recriminations would never have ended. Instead, it revealed Obama as one tough, shrewd cookie.
“For most Americans,” writes the New Yorker’s George Packer, “the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama’s bona fides as commander-in-chief.”
Realistically, however, not much has changed except American self-confidence. The truth is that the nation panicked somewhat after 9/11. Anxious to find an opponent worthy of their own revolutionary romanticism, Bush administration neoconservatives turned Osama bin Laden into a virtual Hitler to suit their own Churchillian fantasies.
“Islamofascism” they called it. Enraged and distraught, many Americans bought it. Except that bin Laden’s deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks.
And that was sufficient evil indeed.
By: Gene Lyons, Salon War Room, May 4, 2011
The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jose Rodriguez Jr. was the leader of counterterrorism for the C.I.A. from 2002-2005 when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders were captured. He told Time magazine that the recent events show that President Obama should not have banned so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. (Mr. Rodriguez, you may remember, ordered the destruction of interrogation videos.)
John Yoo, the former Bush Justice Department lawyer who twisted the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions into an unrecognizable mess to excuse torture, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the killing of Bin Laden proved that waterboarding and other abuses were proper. Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, said at first that no coerced evidence played a role in tracking down Bin Laden, but by Tuesday he was reciting the talking points about the virtues of prisoner abuse.
There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.
That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.
Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify President Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.
This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago?
There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.
No matter what Mr. Yoo and friends may claim, the real lesson of the Bin Laden operation is that it demonstrated what can be done with focused intelligence work and persistence.
The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.
By: Editorial Board, The New York Times, May 4, 2011
The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.
However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.
That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”
In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.
Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.
As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.
The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.
By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011