“…as usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience…. Goldstein was the renegade who had engaged in counterrevolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programs of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure… All crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea…” George Orwell’s 1984
“…If that is truly the case, we can expect to see “Emmanuel Goldstein bin Laden” morph like a Japanese toy robot, as the marketing geniuses who packaged Bush and his wars in the first place try even more desperately to fine tune their pitch to a changing market. At some point, if all efforts fail, we can probably expect to see “bin Laden” canceled like a bad network sitcom. The reports of the climatic final gun battle will be thrilling, the returned corpse problematic at best. And yet the news will be reported with a straight face…..by people who will certainly know better…” The Many Lives of Emmanuel Goldstein bin Laden (M. Martin 2007)
Just as there remain unanswered questions from the original tragedy of 9/11, so too are disturbing questions raised by the announced death of Osama bin Laden. Since that announcement, a nationwide cathartic carnival has erupted–an orgy of fist-pumping, cheering, and flag-waving. Such an atmosphere makes it very difficult to raise such questions…but also very important.
First and foremost, there is the question of the legality of what has just occurred. The only charges brought against Osama bin Laden under U.S. law are conspiracy indictments dating from the late 90’s (no charges in connection with 9/11 have ever been made). After the fact protestations of legality have been issued by Attorney General Eric Holder, but these are no more compelling than the arguments of the previous administration’s pet lawyers authorizing torture. Even the Nazi leaders who authorized The Holocaust received trials. But of course, the America that sponsored those trials was the America that also regarded waterboarding as torture… and tried as war criminals those who employed it.
That America, the America of 1945, is long gone. In the America of 2011, waterboarding is merely “enhanced interrogation”….and the President of the United States can circumvent with ease anything approaching a Nuremberg Trial, obliged to do nothing more than direct U.S. military operatives in the cold blooded assassination of a foreign national on foreign soil.
Granted, the United States has been in the assassination business for some time now. But typically, these operations occur in theaters of military operation in which the presence of American military is either sanctioned by international law or invited by local government. By all accounts, the government of Pakistan received no notification of this operation until after its objective had been carried out. Had any country other than the United States (or perhaps Israel) carried out such an operation, the international condemnation would have been fairly swift… and fairly universal.
There are also very disturbing questions raised by the disposal of Osama bin Laden’s body at sea (as much beyond any forensic examination as was the rapidly disposed wreckage of the World Trade Center), as well as the Obama Administration’s steadfast refusal to release any documentary evidence of the assassination.
Just as it was impossible to question the official narrative of the original events of 9/11, so as well is it impossible to question the official account of the death of bin Laden. There is little doubt that the U.S. government would not be claiming bin Laden’s death if there were a significant chance that the claim would be disputed. But there are reasons to doubt that the death occurred as described–not least among them the persistent rumors over the years that Osama bin Laden, a man with significant long term health problems, had already died.
Equally disturbing is the timing of this event. The inevitable question is “why now?”. The official answer is that finding bin Laden managed to take all of ten years. Speculatively, it seems rather more likely that the timing has a lot more to do with the impending ten year anniversary of 9/11 and the slightly less impending U.S. Presidential election. Osama bin Laden’s value as a “Goldstein” figure was already wearing thin with time, the inability to bring him to ground a growing embarrassment. By taking him out, President Obama has morphed overnight from a Carteresque failure with an uncomfortable middle name and a questioned birth certificate into a Reaganesque figure of steely-eyed command… and a dispenser of ultimate justice.
It would be excessive to suppose that the bin Laden assassination has assured Obama’s re-election– but not by much. After having invested heavily for a decade in the emotional and propaganda value of bin Laden’s death, the GOP has no choice but to let Obama cash in on that investment. Attempts to separate the deed from the commander who ordered it will only serve to alienate the majority of Americans. Not only does the assassination bring Obama much needed credibility with Republicans, it has all but silenced critics on the left and independents who feel the President’s domestic agenda has fallen short. Just as George Bush’s posturing atop the smoking ruin of the World Trade Center made questioning his presidency a virtual act of treason, Barack Obama’s enthusiasm for paramilitary raids has made his presidency– at least temporarily– largely bulletproof.
Also, taking out bin Laden now means that the current unseemly celebration of his death will have played out by September 11, 2011, and that the administration will have a free hand to conduct memorial ceremonies with appropriate dignity. Likewise, the administration will be free to privately try, execute (and, likely, also bury at sea) the so-called “self-professed mastermind of 9/11” (professed after being tortured perhaps hundreds of times) Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Once that has occurred, the books will be considered officially closed on 9/11….if not on the endless state of war that tragedy was used to justify.
But even more than the potential illegality, the arrogant lack of transparency, and the cynically opportunistic timing, most disturbing of all is the idea that Osama bin Laden could have remained at large in a multimillion dollar compound in Pakistan for years…supposedly without the knowledge of U.S. intelligence services.
The United States has at its disposal massive facilities whose sole purpose is to intercept and monitor electronic communications, as well as spy satellite networks capable of reading a licence plate or the headline of a newspaper from low earth orbit. If the massive build up of U.S. spying capability over the last ten years could not find Osama bin Laden in a large walled compound in an urban area of a friendly country, what good is it? Pakistan’s own intelligence service is being scapegoated for the oversight, but this is misdirection at best. Pakistan has neither the technology or resources to conceal a target from the American military industrial complex…at least, not a target that it really wants to find.
Finally, the question must be asked of those who first supported Barack Obama for President in what now seems a previous lifetime: is this what you wanted?
There is little doubt but that Obama just went a long way toward cementing his reelection. But he has also gone much further than his despised predecessor in demonstrating abject contempt for the rule of law, both domestic and internationally. It seems increasingly likely that future historians will simply describe the last decade as the “Bush/Obama era”, as the partisan and personal differences between the two disappear beneath their common commitment to a presidency– and a government– that are beyond question, reproach, or accountability.