In spite of numerous reports that Osama bin Laden died in December 2001, the world has been rocked by his daring nocturnal assassination by a bunch of US Navy SEALs in the early hours of 2 May in a villa in Abottabad in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan.
It had been quite a day for state-sponsored terrorism. Only hours earlier, three of Colonel Gaddafi’s grandchildren, all under 12 years old, and his second youngest son, Saif Al Arab, had been killed by NATO’s missiles, ‘precision targeted’ at the 29-year-old’s home, in an apparent attempt to assassinate the Libyan leader.
President Obama and his close advisors watched on live video as the bin Laden murders took place. ‘The minutes passed like days,’ one of those present is quoted as saying. Nothing better than a real-life Presidential home-entertainment system to pass the nocturnal hours! Who needs to watch The Killer Inside Me when you can actually live it.
In fact, as it’s now known, they were fantasizing watching a real-life slaughter, since the fairy story of the real-time viewing – via a camera on one of the killers’ helmets – seemingly went blank for the time of the murders.
‘Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information. We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound,’ CIA Chief Leon Panetta stated.
Perhaps they were watching The Killer Inside Me, after all. And what of Hillary Clinton’s apparently queasy expression, hand over her mouth, in the staged photo-shoot? She was ‘preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs.’ Well of course! In the pristine, air-conditioned environs of the White House…
In a late night address, having swapped the grisly visual fallacies and bloodied bedroom, the US President told the nation: ‘We got him’ – tastelessly, exactly echoing the words of former Iraq ‘Viceroy’, Paul Bremer, regarding Saddam Hussein’s capture on 13 December 2003. The nauseating site of the celebrations, the fireworks, the vuvuzelas, the flags, the ‘USA, USA’ chants, the joy at more death and carnage – even a baby’s cot was destroyed in the ruined home.
Gun smoke still obscures the body count in this massacre; was one son killed or two, as some reports claim? Was the dead woman one of bin Laden’s wives, or a visitor? Were the two reported-dead Pakistanis owners of the compound, or just visiting?
Reportedly, the US’s most wanted man had 500 Euros (about $700) sewn into his clothes. Logically that seems unlikely, since seemingly he was in night clothes and unlikely to flee in those. And with a number of wives, children and maybe others in the household, it would hardly have got him very far.
Britain’s prime minister David Cameron said the summary execution was a ‘massive step forward’. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said it was a ‘watershed moment’. Rabbi Joel Sisenwine of Temple Beth Elohim in Massachusetts, commented: ‘When we take life, we do it hesitantly, carefully, at times mournfully.’
‘When we take life…’ What have we become?
The Archbishop of Canterbury and global leader of the Anglican Church Rowan Williams took five days to make a strangled comment. Asked by the rightwing Daily Telegraph whether he thought the US was right to kill Bin Laden, he first declined to respond. Finally, he said: ‘I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances.’ So much for the Sixth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’
And what a mental million miles from what he said, as then Archbishop of Wales, when he was just 200 yards away from the Twin Towers in New York City when they fell on 11 September 2001. ‘It seemed that morning that the closer you were to facing and accepting death, the harder it was to wish the fear on anyone else… The prospect of death elbows aside thoughts of power and revenge. The unspeakable tragedy of thousands of innocent dead – the tragedy unfolding around us that morning – cannot be made “better” by more deaths. It may be humanly as unforgivable as it gets; but that is not the same as saying that revenge (as opposed to just punishment) is what is needed,’ he had said. Bloodletting now rules.
‘Sometimes you have to strike back,’ said that man of peace, the Dalai Lama. US Attorney General Eric Holder opined that ‘The killing was lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way.’ Heaven help us.
‘It was a firefight going up that compound. 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,’ said CIA boss Panetta in a PBS interview. Another mistruth. But it seems there is one certainty: ‘Bin Laden’ (if it was him) was unarmed. Colonel Patrick Lang of Joint Special Operations Command is quoted as describing the SEALs as ‘sort of like murder incorporated’.
‘A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability,’ claims the official White House website. It now seems there were 80 of them.
Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Article 11: Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
Osama bin Laden, like Gaddafi, has been legally charged with nothing.
The US President – former Professor of Constitutional Law, elected Head of the prestigious Harvard Law Review in 1990 – has clearly forgotten a lot, including the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution itself:
‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favour, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.’
George W Bush had his ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ moments, posters and his ridiculous playing cards with the names of more ‘Most Wanted’ in the sovereign Iraqi Administration. Barack Obama defined his Wild West stunt – uninvited – on foreign soil, by naming it ‘Geronimo’, thus enraging First Nation Americans in general, and the Apache in particular.
The apparently crass name may in fact not have been so much of a ‘Yes, we can’ message as a ‘To hell with you’ one. In 1918, a group of Members of Yale University’s notorious Skull and Bones society, including George W Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, are alleged to have stolen Geronimo’s skull, other bones and items from his grave at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In a dispute involving claims, denials and counter claims, which have rumbled on for decades, in 2009, on the centenary of Geronimo’s death, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark filed a law suit on behalf of 20 descendants of Geronimo. It seeks the release, by the Skull and Bones Society, of the remains for proper re-burial; the lawsuit also named President Obama, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Army Secretary Pete Green as defendants, since they are directly responsible for maintaining the graves of the Indian Prisoner of War Cemetary at Fort Sill.
Three days after 9/11 George W Bush stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center to the same shouts of ‘USA, USA’ that manifested for Barack Obama after the events of 2 May. Now Obama too has had his Ground Zero moment, wreath-laying, bowed-headed, humbug. Another day – another photo opportunity. It worked for Bush – a tragedy became an electoral miracle. Perhaps a sub-judicial murder or few on the eighth anniversary of Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ appearance on the USS Abraham Lincoln will do it for Obama.
It depends on how fast the story continues to unravel. From the photograph of the newly ‘dead’ Bin Laden, which has been circulating for some years, to the story of the hermit-like existence of a man too scared to use phones or computers lest he be located, apparently made the lie by the cache of both raiders removed from the houses.
I wonder what Major James Abbott, who founded Abbottabad in 1853, would have made of it all. He wrote a poetic tribute to the area’s tranquility: ‘Where the tiny cuckoo sang,’ he wrote, to the streams, scents, snows, pines and hills to which he ‘bade farewell with a heavy heart.’
The actions of the US government may yet prove to be an illegality too far. Renowned human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, author of Human Rights and the War on Terror, has called President Obama’s statement about ‘justice’ having made a perversion of the term. ‘Justice means taking someone to court, finding them guilty upon evidence and sentencing them,’ Robertson told an Australian television network. ‘This man [Osama bin Laden] has been subject to summary execution, and what is now appearing, after a good deal of disinformation from the White House, is [that] it may well have been a cold-blooded assassination.’
That, coupled with the apparent furtive disposal of bodies – even death, apparently, cannot save a soul from water-boarding – was met with revulsion not only in the Islamic world, but also among those concerned with humanity and legality across the globe. Two ghastly, shameful and shoddy – some would argue criminal – acts in Libya and Pakistan may yet return to haunt.
In Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Matin Luther King, Jr, wrote: ‘We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.’ His words have never been more apt.