More thoughts on OBL killing...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 
The WAPO sez: OBL unarmed when shot
In a White House news briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said bin Laden “resisted” when at least one member of the raiding party entered his third-floor room, but he declined to say how the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader had done so. 

A woman described as one of bin Laden’s wives “rushed the assaulter” and was shot and wounded in the leg, Carney said. Bin Laden was killed with shots to the head and chest, leaving him with gory wounds that have made U.S. officials reluctant to release a photograph of the body, Carney said.

“It’s fair to say it’s a gruesome photograph,” he said, adding that “it could be inflammatory.”
In his speech the other night, President Obama said that bin Laden had been "brought to justice." I disagree. Bin Laden wasn't brought to justice, he was shot dead. One can argue that this is what he deserved, but shooting an unarmed person in this way only constitutes bringing someone to justice if you mean cowboy justice, not the sort of justice that is dispensed through a court of law. 
And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 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.
Some questions: 
Why was an unarmed man shot? Was that the plan from the beginning, or did people get carried away? Were other people shooting at US soldiers and they felt they had to kill bin Laden while they had the chance? Was there a chance of him getting away? Was the US government at all interested in capturing bin Laden alive? If not, then why not? Wouldn't there have been some use, intelligence-wise, to capturing him alive? 
Was bin Laden really killed "after" a firefight, and not during one? 
* * *
There's an article I really like by Thomas M. Barrett called "The Remaking of the Lion of Dagestan: Shamil in Captivity" (Russian Review 53, 3 (1994): 353-66) which discusses the gilded captivity of Shamil, leader of a twenty-five year fight against Russian troops. Shamil was captured in 1859 but wasn't executed, despite having for decades been Enemy Number One to Russian military officials in the northern Caucasus.  Instead, Shamil was exiled to St. Petersburg and Kiev, and in his old age was permitted to travel to take the pilgrimage to Mecca. 
I guess at least some imperial practices have ended. 

Imam Shamil: from badass of the northern Caucasus to the Henry Hill of nineteenth century Russia.
* * *
I have no expertise in the area, but I wonder to what extent killing Osama bin Laden is actually in our interests. Ever since September 11, bin Laden was, I presume, to a large extent concerned with staying alive. He wasn't using a cellphone, or staying in a single house for very long. He was thought to have had kidney problems. What energy could he have had for planning any actions, let alone train people to carry them out?
But presumably bin Laden had made contingency plans. There are now probably other people, individuals we might know less about, who will be in charge of bin Laden's resources and who will be able to better focus on carrying out actions against us. For every reason other than psychological ones, isn't it possible that an ill and hidden bin Laden would have been a preferable, from an American perspective, center of organized anti-American terrorism than a lieutenant equipped with the same resources but with more energy and mobility and less baggage? 
Just a thought. I don't mean to argue that they shouldn't have gone after him once they knew where he was, but I do wonder if capturing/killing Osama bin Laden was really the best way to spend resources dedicated to preventing terrorism or breaking up terrorist networks.
* * * 
Back to Obama's speech for a second. Here is another part that left me thinking: 
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

I don't mean to sound insensitive, but are we ever going to get over re-living September 11? Do we always have to talk about the bright blue sky, the crashing down of the towers, the smells and the ash? I know Obama likes to conjure up evocative images, but is this really necessary? Do we need the empty seat at the dinner table to remind us of the gravity of September 11? Do we really need to sing "God Bless America" at every baseball game we play between now and the end of time? 

Maybe we do, if we only see September 11 in terms of what we lost, rather than in terms of the mistakes we made in responding to the attacks.

It's one thing to grieve, but part of the grieving process must be closure, right? What must people think in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of our war, and where millions more had their lives totally upended as a result of events they had absolutely nothing to do with? What must they think of our inability to get past this, our tendency to view September 11 only in terms of our own suffering and victimization? Look at the pictures of the crowds who were out on Sunday night. For them, I think it must seem like September 11 happened yesterday, as if nothing has happened since then.

Maybe September 11 was just the last time those people paid close attention to the news.

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