On the killing of bin Laden

What happened

So US finally got Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of the dreaded Al Qaeda, a militant Islamic organization potentially responsible for a number of deadly terror attacks on US and Western interests over the past 15 years including 9/11, that caused the death of over 3,000 Americans and destroyed the Twin Towers in NY.

Apparently US found his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan months ago and had been planning a strike. They said Osama had been living there in a big house with his youngest wife, a daughter, a son, and a few others. In a secret operation named Geronimo, 24 US Navy SEALs (short for Sea, Air, Land), US’s elite killing machines stormed bin Laden’s compound with helicopters and killed him, his son, and others. His wife was injured. Then they took his body (whatever was left of it) and oddly enough within a few hours dumped it in the sea, claiming to give him an Islamic sea burial! The details are not really of interest to me here. There is more than enough news about every little details of it.

Based on some evidence from the compound (e.g. computer, video recorder, TV, tapes — things that you may find in any household) they are now claiming that he was actually still involved in the Al Qaeda operation. It is hard to imagine that living in hiding with a wife and kids, and limited communication means, he could have much of involvement in the Al Qaeda operations. However, the picture below captured from a video that was recently released, shows bin Laden in what appears to be his command center, supposedly planning more evil!

Osama bin Laden in his advanced command center in the compound planning more terror?! It sure looks scary.

For the past few years there was little talk of bin Laden. At times he seemed forgotten. Once in a while there were rumors about him living in caves, being sick, being only a spiritual leader with no significance in the operations of Al Qaeda, and even potentially being dead. Now that he’s dead, he seems more alive than ever before! Lots of questions and discussions are surrounding the topic. Obviously the cave theory was wrong, as he was living in a nice suburb. So how could Pakistani government not know about it? Or did they?

9/11 and Islamic extremism

There is no doubt that 9/11 was evil and a dark moment in the history of our civilization. Our world (I dare say for everyone) has been a worse place since, in more ways than one. I am glad that bin Laden is now dead. Even years before bin Laden and Al Qaeda, radical Islamic ideas in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution and the establishment of a radical Islamic government in Iran (that still rules the country) adversely impacted millions of Iranians including me. So I am absolutely against the Islamic extremism and acts of terror against innocent civilians.

Celebrating the kill

Crowd celebrating bin Laden’s killing near White House, M. B. Ceneta, AP

But ever since the news of bin Laden’s killing came out on May 1, many Americans have been rejoicing and celebrating his death, as this in a way is a victory against terrorism. People even gathered in Ground Zero and around White House to celebrate it. See the photo to the left. For some this may seem like closing the chapter on 9/11, because US finally killed supposedly the one responsible for it. Yes, revenge is sweet.

NPR in a recent piece titled “Is it Wrong to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?“, discusses whether such celebrations are a good idea from a moral, spiritual and philosophical standpoint. According to the piece, even the Catholic Church has an issue with it, and one minister is quoted saying that such street celebrations were not among our “finest moment as Americans”.

For a whole week now the media has been feeding on this news like piranhas on bloody flesh. They are trumpeting it round the clock with all the gory details, the SEALs who carried out the amazing operation, the secret modified helicopters that they used (one of which was destroyed), and much detail of little value; e.g. bin Laden was coloring his beard (wow, really?!), he had video recording equipment, his wife was living on the 2nd (or 3rd?) floor of the compound, the operation name was Geronimo (or was that the nickname for Osama?), blah blah.

I can’t bear watching CNN, let alone FOX’s propaganda. I have even been disappointed with the liberal and more honest TV talk shows such as “The Colbert Report” and “Real Time with Bill Maher”. Maher referred to President Obama as a “black ninja gangsta president”. Nice!

Officials and politicians (especially Democrats) have been congratulating each other and milking the story to the extent possible to their advantages, joining the frenzy giving credit to President Obama. While Republicans seem to attribute all the credit to the armed forces with no mention of President Obama in a positive light. So the dirty politics in lieu of the celebration continues. But of course the officials are more careful than the common public, noting that this is not over yet. Oh, no sir! We’re gonna keep at it till “terrorism” is eliminated. Right.

Someone wrote that the celebration is justified because it is not just the death of a single man. That bin Laden symbolized a tyrannical ideology, so killing him is a win against tyranny. I don’t necessarily care about the death of an evil man. Perhaps he deserved that ending. But what really concerns me about all this cheering and gloating is that in a way for Americans it is a justification of US’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that caused massive destruction and deaths of well over 100,000 civilians. That was absolutely wrong from day one and it still is. Unfortunately, the broader implication of all this celebration is public support of US’s predatory foreign policy. I can imagine that US Navy now has a surge of young applicants who want to become SEALs, like the ones who killed bin Laden.

I just can’t help but wonder if a cure for cancer or HIV that could save millions of lives, would receive this much attention and coverage. Sadly probably not. That could even be an issue for the pharmaceutical companies as it could cut into their profits!

Killing bin Laden and all this celebration: bad idea

Now I hate to be raining on people’s parade. I don’t want to take away from the courageous acts of the Navy SEALs who endangered their lives. I don’t want to bring up the unanswered questions such as potential ties of Saudi royal family to 9/11, various conspiracy theories, and the lack of hard evidence tying certain terror attacks to bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Actually let’s assume that they committed all the heinous crimes that are attributed to them. I just want to focus on a few basic facts.

US created Al Qaeda

First off, let’s not forget that initially CIA funded and trained bin Laden and his group starting in 1988 to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. US money funneled through Pakistani Intelligence Agency (ISI) created Al Qaeda. There are plenty of resources that discuss this in detail. It wasn’t till later that Al Qaeda turned its aim towards the hand that was feeding it.

Cost of bin Laden in trillions

Second, take a look at the expense that we have accrued in killing bin Laden. It took some work. In fact it took a lot — two major wars that still aren’t quite done, many thousands of lives, millions injured or made refugees, and  trillions of dollars, over a span of 10 years. Let’s look at some specifics. There are many sites that track the Iraq and Afghanistan casualties such as icasualties.org, which as of this writing reports 4,770 documented coalition forces deaths (4,457 Americans) in Iraq, and 2,445 (1,572 Americans) in Afghanistan. Antiwar.com lists the total wounded Americans in Iraq alone at more than 33,000! Now that is all just Americans. IraqBodyCount.org puts the civilian deaths in Iraq alone at around 110,000!! Wikipedia details the civilian casualties in Afghanistan here, which puts it at more than 20,000 from 2001 to 2009!! That is about 130,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan so far, more than 43 times the 3,000 who died in 9/11.

The article, “The cost of bin Laden: $3 trillion over 15 years” from the National Journal provides a rough cost of the terror attacks attributed to bin Laden, including 9/11 which according to estimates from economists cost us $50 B to $100 B. Yes, that is huge. But it also provides the estimates of the the invasions of and wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, which has apparently cost us $1.4 trillion so far. That is $100 B times 14!

“Those two wars grew into a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign that cost $1.4 trillion in the past decade—and will cost hundreds of billions more. The government borrowed the money for those wars, adding hundreds of billions in interest charges to the U.S. debt.”

Now we also have a huge economic crisis on our hand on top of the terrorism problem. What a waste! So much good we could’ve done with that money…education, healthcare, R&D, jobs, perhaps even helping the poor in the third world.

But wait! These wars aren’t bad news for everyone. There are of course American companies that made huge profits from these invasions. Companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton that US government just handed off contracts to without proper bidding, have made billions from the Iraq war.

An eye for an eye

Third, it is the whole idea of an attack or invasion on a sovereign state (though supposedly an ally, Pakistan) and carrying out a political assassination. As the great Noam Chomsky writes in a recent piece titled “My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death“, such an invasion and assassination is “multiply violating elementary norms of international law”. Eluding to the war crimes that George W. Bush committed in invading Iraq and Afghanistan, which as Chomsky points out, “vastly exceeds bin Laden’s”, he offers this perspective:

“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.”

Now that is a sobering thought. We are so used to being the superpower bullying the rest of the world that we cannot even imagine it. Such an incident could trigger a nuclear war! But that is precisely what US just did to Pakistan and bin Laden. As journalist and author Chris Hedges points out in this insightful interview, Osama was murdered: “He was unarmed and should’ve been brought to trial in the same way that monsters like Slobodan Milosevic were brought to trial…That is what it should be about — the rule of law, due process…We have become the monsters that we fight…killing for killing, an eye for an eye.”

And then we celebrate the killing by pouring into the streets and bragging about it. That sure is a good display of empathy, diplomacy and a step towards eliminating “terrorism”. There are already a few new clips of armed Taliban or Al Qaeda members protesting against the US and promising retaliation. So the vicious cycle continues.

A dying nation?!

It is clear that this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. As Hedges says in the same interview, “That is why we are dying as an empire, that is why we are dying as a nation, because we have cut off the capacity for empathy. We have elevated the cult of the self above and beyond everything else.”

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