Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
— John Donne
While decorating the men who assassinated Osama bin Laden, President Obama said that the bin Laden raid was one of the most successful intelligence and military operations in America’s history. “This week has been a reminder of what we’re about as a people, The essence of America, the values that have defined us for more than 200 years, they don’t just endure — they’re stronger than ever.”
Does the President truly believe that the essence and the values of America centre around unauthorised incursions into another state’s sovereign territory in order to carry out what was an illegal assassination? That this was the peak of military action in America’s history? Do the people of the United States believe that? From their reaction, the joy, the feelings of satisfied revenge, the flag-waving, the surge of ‘patriotism’, we have to accept that many of them do. It also means that we must accept that as a nation they have no moral judgment or authority, if they ever did.
But just as the US revelled in the killing of an unarmed man, so did many Western leaders and commentators. Too many said justice had been served. Too many raised no queries about the legality of the action. Too many saw it in terms of revenge for 9/11. And while the death toll on that day was terrible and a grievous loss for those left behind we should, if we have any respect for law, remember this. The killing of one man in Abbottabad compared to that of 3000 on 9/11 is a matter of scale, but both legally and morally, they are the same – unjustifiable and utterly wrong. For anyone to celebrate and take pleasure in the killing of any human being is to demonstrate a lack of both morality and justice.
Accepting a highly controversial Nobel Peace Prize, Obama said this: “Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.”
Yet the torture goes on, Guantanamo is still there and the Conventions are still ignored. The true difference between the US and those it fights is that only the US has active forces and military bases all over the world. For a relatively young nation, its record of invasions into other states is appalling. Since achieving its independence the US has become the world’s largest war machine. Far from being a ‘standard bearer in the conduct of war’, it is the world leader in invasion and interference.
We have known for years of its hidden interference in other states’ affairs, its willingness to ‘take out’ those who get in the way of US interests. But the bin Laden killing has been the most publicised and blatant of assassinations. It tells the world in no uncertain terms how little the US regards the rules of international law or national sovereignty. It also makes known how extremely stupid the US administrations (whether Republican or Democrat) are when it comes to international diplomacy and politics. Moral redundancy doesn’t even cover it.
The willingness to lie gives a clue, particularly when it comes to reporting on their military actions, and even more particularly when reporting on the actions of the Special Forces and the Navy SEALs. One can only think, from the speed with which the reports come out after any event, that they had written the script beforehand, and were simply, Hollywood style, following the script. And, as ever, after the event the story has to be corrected because the facts are different, in some cases embarrassingly so.
Consider Private Jessica Lynch, wounded in battle and ‘rescued’ by US Special Forces storming, guns blazing, into the Iraqi hospital, despite the fact that the doctors had desperately tried more than once to hand her over. They did not have the facilities to treat her injuries, which were not battle wounds but sustained when the vehicle she was in crashed. One Iraqi doctor described the action (filmed of course) as ‘like a Hollywood film’. And Lynch herself could not understand the authorities’ need to make up a story so far from the facts.
American footballer Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan from ‘devastating enemy fire’, for which he was posthumously decorated. It turned out he had died from friendly fire. British aid worker Linda Norgrove, kidnapped by Afghan insurgents, was killed in another Special Forces rescue. One initial report said that she died when she was used as a human shield. Then it was said one of the kidnappers was wearing a suicide vest and had blown himself up. That was finally corrected to her having died when one of the rescuers threw a grenade into the area where she was being held hostage.
The Special Forces, used in the botched Norgrove rescue, also killed bin Laden. They ‘don’t wear uniforms, have long beards (so they can better blend in during covert operations), tattoos and don’t mingle with regular soldiers’ – although how dressing up to look like Donald Sutherland in the film Kelly’s Heroes helps them to be unnoticeable in Afghanistan or Pakistan one can’t imagine. But Hollywood rules, and Hollywood has often rewritten history in pursuit of a good story. It has been responsible for many of the myths that Americans believe about themselves, and the script of Osama Bin Laden’s killing ran true to form
Within hours of the assassination, the media was being told that DNA tests had confirmed that it was indeed bin Laden. Many people have questioned the speed of this, knowing that at the very least it would take about three days, once the samples have reached a suitable laboratory. I’d question this too, but I have different query. A DNA sample has to be matched with another sample from the same source. So when did the CIA get bin Laden’s DNA onto their database?
From the first gleeful announcement by the White House, the story got altered day by day. The ‘forty minute firefight’ was whittled down to one man firing back at the assaulters. The one accurate thing about these official reports is the use of the term ‘assaulters’, for that is truly what they were. The woman said to have been killed while being used as a human shield (and how often have they used this story) by bin Laden turned into two women. One, unrelated to bin Laden, was ‘killed in crossfire’. The other, his wife, was shot in the leg ‘while rushing at the assaulters’. Bin Laden, using his wife as a human shield
while firing back at the attackers, turned out to be unarmed as well as unshielded.
The numbers of people living in the compound changes daily – from many bodyguards to the members of two families, one of them bin Laden’s, and two men who served as ‘couriers’. So does the amount of livestock found in the compound – from two buffalos, one cow and 150 chickens removed by the ‘security forces’ (in the remaining helicopter, one presumes), to one cow and some rabbits kept by the children. It does seem clear that there were at least as many women and children, if not more, as dangerous terrorists. Perhaps the chickens were armed and were responsible for the fire that brought down one helicopter – later amended to the helicopter landing badly due to a technical fault.
And now, because of the general outcry over the illegality of the assassination of a man who had become operationally unimportant, the White House is currently insisting that he was still actively controlling Al Qaeda, still personally involved in planning attacks on the West, that the compound was a ‘control centre’ for Al Qaeda. They would have to say that if they had any hope of justifying their actions to the world. But here the stupidity kicks in, for it has also become known that, in this control centre of an organisation that has made great use of modern communications, there were computers but no phone or internet connections. And given the false information the US has consistently fed to the world, we have no good reason to believe what they say they have found in all the files and recordings they removed along with the body. What information they have obtained and release to the media will say precisely what they want it to say, regardless of the facts.
We can be sure of one thing – Hollywood-style, we will be treated to the ‘next part in this great trilogy’, or the ‘Further Adventures of…’ or even a ‘prequel’ or two. By taking the action they did in Abbottabad, the US has guaranteed a resurgence of Al Qaeda activities, an increase in terrorism and threats to the safety of its citizens and, worst of all, the fulfilment of their apparent desire to fight a never-ending ‘war on terror’. And this is either very stupid or very immoral, for it threatens the safety of the whole world.