Net Briefs, June 2011

After President Obama's announcement of the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the subsequent mainstream media cheerleading of "the U.S. nailing the bastard," we received a wide range of reactions from progressives via email. What follows is an sampling of selections from a few of them. Full versions are available on the Internet.

My Reaction to Osama bin Laden's Death


By Noam Chomsky, May 7

It's increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them.

     In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress "suspects." In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it "believed" that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the United Arab Emirates and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn't know eight months earlier when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence, which, as we soon learned, Washington didn't have. Thus, Obama was simply lying when he said in his White House statement that "we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda."

     Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden's "confession," but that is rather like my confessing that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

     There is also much media discussion of Washington's anger that Pakistan didn't turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

     We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden's and he is not a "suspect," but uncontroversially the "decider" who gave the orders to commit the "supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole" (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.


The Targeted Assassination of Osama bin Laden


By Marjorie Cohn


When he announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a Navy Seal team in Pakistan, President Barack Obama said, "Justice has been done." Obama misused the word "justice" when he made that statement. He should have said, "Retaliation has been accomplished." A former professor of constitutional law should know the difference between those two concepts. The word "justice" implies an act of applying or upholding the law.

     Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law. Also called political assassinations, they are extrajudicial executions. These are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework. Extrajudicial executions are unlawful even in armed conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions noted that "extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war." The UN General Assembly and Human Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International, have all condemned extrajudicial executions.

     In spite of its illegality, the Obama administration frequently uses targeted assassinations to accomplish its goals. Five days after executing Osama bin Laden, Obama tried to bring "justice" to U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki who has not been charged with any crime in the United States. According to a CBS/AP bulletin, the drone attack in Yemen missed al-Awlaki and killed two people "believed to be al Qaeda militants." Two days before the Yemen attack, U.S. drones killed 15 people in Pakistan and wounded four…. In 2010, American drones carried out 111 strikes. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 957 civilians were killed in 2010.

     The United States disavowed the use of extrajudicial killings under President Gerald Ford. After the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed in 1975 that the CIA had been involved in several murders or attempted murders of foreign leaders, President Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations….  Yet after September 11, 2001, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer invited the killing of Saddam Hussein: "The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less" than the cost of war. Shortly thereafter, Bush issued a secret directive, which authorized the CIA to target suspected terrorists for assassination when it would be impractical to capture them and when large-scale civilian casualties could be avoided.

     In November 2002, Bush reportedly authorized the CIA to assassinate a suspected Al Qaeda leader in Yemen. He and five traveling companions were killed in the hit, which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz described as a "very successful tactical operation."

     After the Holocaust, Winston Churchill wanted to execute the Nazi leaders without trials. But the U.S. government opposed the extrajudicial executions of Nazi officials who had committed genocide against millions of people. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, told President Harry Truman: "We could execute or otherwise punish [the Nazi leaders] without a hearing. But undiscriminating executions or punishments without definite findings of guilt, fairly arrived at, would…not set easily on the American conscience or be remembered by children with pride."

     Osama bin Laden and the "suspected militants" targeted in [the May] drone attacks should have been arrested and tried in U.S. courts or an international tribunal. Obama cannot serve as judge, jury, and executioner. These assassinations are not only illegal, they create a dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the targeted killings of U.S. leaders.


A Nobel Prize Winner Without Scruples


By Atilio A. Boron


One more sign among many illustrating the profound moral crisis of "Western and Christian civilization" that the USA claims to represent is offered by the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The nature of the operation carried out by U.S. Navy Seals is an act of insurmountable barbarism perpetrated under the direct orders of someone who on a daily basis dishonors the Nobel Peace Prize granted him by the Norwegian parliament in 2009.

     According to Alfred Nobel's wishes, this distinction ought to be granted to the person who "…shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." A commando operation is the last thing related to due process and throwing the remains of the victim into the sea in order to hide the evidence of what one has done is what mafiosos or genocidal tyrants do. The least the Norwegian parliament could do is demand the return of the prize.

     There are many questions that remain in the shadows after the horrifying operation staged on the outskirts of Islamabad, and the U.S. government's tendency to deliberately misinform the public makes the whole operation even more suspect. A White House subject to this unhealthy compulsion to lie (remember the "weapons of mass destruction" existing in Iraq) forces us to handle its statements gingerly.

     Was it bin Laden or not? Where are the photos, the proof that the deceased was actually the hunted man? If a DNA test was done, how was it done, where are the results, and who are the witnesses? If, as is claimed, Osama was hiding in a mansion turned virtual fortress, how is it possible that in a battle that lasted 40 minutes, the U.S. commandos returned to their base without receiving so much as a scratch? Did the defenders of the world's most wanted fugitive, who were claimed to possess an arsenal of deadly weapons of the latest generation, have such poor marksmanship? It has also been reported that two more persons had been wounded in the battle. Where are they and what is going to be done with them? Will they be taken to trial, …will there be a press conference where they talk about what occurred?

     A living Osama was dangerous. It's reasonable to suppose that the last thing the U.S. government wanted was to bring him to trial and allow him to speak. In such a case, a scandal of enormous proportions would have been released with the revelation of CIA connections, weapons, and money supplied by the White House, illegal operations performed by Washington, the dark family connections with the U.S. oil lobby and, especially, with the Bush family, among other trivialities.

     One also can't help noticing how opportune bin Laden's death has been. With the brush fire in the Arab world destabilizing an area of crucial importance to the strategy of imperial domination, the news of bin Laden's murder has put al-Qaeda back on center stage. If there's one inarguable truth at this point it is that these revolts do not correspond to any kind of religious motivation. The causes, their subjects, and their forms of struggle are eminently secular and none of them—from Tunisia to Egypt, including Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Jordan—are driven by the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaeda.

     Barack Obama ended up saying that after the death of Osama bin Laden, the world is a safer place to live. He is thoroughly wrong. Most likely his action simply awakened a sleeping monster. Time will tell whether or not this is true, but in the meantime there are plenty of reasons to worry.


The Ability to Kill Osama Bin Laden Does Not Make America Great


By Kai Wright

ColorLines, May 2, 2011


Osama bin Laden as evil incarnate has justified much American violence in the 21st century. We have launched two wars and executed God knows how many covert military operations in the  never-ending fight he personified.

     We have made racial profiling of Muslim Americans normative, turned an already broken immigration system into an arm of national defense, and reversed decades' worth of hard-won civil liberties while pursuing him, dead or alive. We have abandoned even the conceit of respect for human rights in places stretching from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay in the course of hunting him down. Now, finally, the "devil is dead."

     Upon news of this "victory," crowds gathered in front of the White House and at Ground Zero to chant "USA.! USA!" It was as if we'd just won an Olympic hockey game, rather than capped a decade's worth of war and recession with a singular act of violence.

     "Today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," the president declared. "We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to," he concluded, after insisting that the execution represents justice. "That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place."

     How perverse. President Obama is the leader of a nation in which justice is a distant dream for millions of residents. He leads a nation that can afford billions of dollars annually for war, but cannot feed the nearly 18 million children who lived in homes without food security in 2009. The gap between rhetoric and reality has long been a defining trait of American life. Lies about our values have shielded us from the brutal facts of our nation ever since we built it on the back of genocide and slavery. But it is in times like these that the dissonance becomes unbearable.

     The president says we can do anything we want because we can kill. We could not stop poverty rates from spiraling upward to a record-setting 14.3 percent of Americans in 2009, but we can kill so we are exceptional. One in four black and Latino families live below the poverty line now, and as a result America's child poverty rate—one in five kids—is the second worst among rich nations, behind Mexico. But we can kill, so we are great.

     Fourteen million Americans are out of work, nearly a third of them for more than a year. The Depression-like jobs crises in black neighborhoods around the country have become so acceptable as to be literally unremarkable in national news media. When overall joblessness inched downward in March, the fact that black unemployment increased, again, was greeted with callous shrugs from the White House to CNN. But America is exceptional because we can kill.

     Our economy is defined by greed. The top 1 percent of earners take home a quarter of the income in this country. Wall Street banks are logging record profits while the Treasury Department professes helplessness at the fact that tens of millions of people are still losing their homes to those banks. Because of that foreclosure crisis, the stunning racial wealth gap—the typical black family has a dime for a dollar of wealth held by its white counterpart—will surely grow worse. The White House is paralyzed with inaction in the face of all of these challenges. But it can kill, so we are great.

     We have the world's most expensive health care system, and yet in 2009 infant mortality in the U.S. was higher than in 29 other countries and the worst among rich nations. Why? In large part because the infant mortality rate is so high among black and Latina women. We cannot find justice for them, but we can kill and call it justice.

     We have a $14 trillion deficit. A massive giveaway to defense contractors lurks inside that number—a transfer of public funds that has been justified, in ways both explicit and implicit, by the evil visage of Osama bin Laden. And now Washington is as likely as not to make up the loss by taking apart the safety net that once created something like economic justice in America. But the president would like us to agree that we are great because we can kill.

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