McLemee on the Twitter

by Henry Farrell on May 2, 2011

“It sure seems like Obama’s job as secret Muslim operative imposing Sharia law on the US just got a whole lot harder.”

We probably should have an open thread on Bin Laden’s death. Consider this that thread.



phosphorious 05.02.11 at 3:48 am

Mission Accomplished!


Substance McGravitas 05.02.11 at 4:12 am

“It sure seems like Obama’s job as secret Muslim operative imposing Sharia law on the US just got a whole lot harder.”

When your #3 man gets out of line you whack him.


Vance Maverick 05.02.11 at 4:20 am

In the words of the familiar Onion piece, “Holy Fucking Shit.” Ten long years ago.


Britta 05.02.11 at 4:27 am

How do we know he’s really dead? I demand to see the long form death certificate!


H.P. Loveshack 05.02.11 at 4:52 am

Oh thank goodness! Now the world is safe again, and nothing bad will ever happen.


Tony Lynch 05.02.11 at 4:56 am

See! It was all worth it.


The Raven 05.02.11 at 5:01 am


So why wasn’t he captured and tried?


Xarici 05.02.11 at 5:06 am

I was actually more surprised he was alive enough to be killed.


Adam Hyland 05.02.11 at 5:11 am

I don’t know why we bothered with the open thread at all. Britta just ended it. :)


Andrew 05.02.11 at 5:12 am

Holy fucking shit sums it up nicely.

Two observations:

1. How could this have happened during the tenure of a lefty, soft-on-terror cream puff like Barack Obama?

2. How long until Trump starts asking for bin Laden’s death certificate?


logern 05.02.11 at 5:18 am

“It sure seems like Obama’s job as secret Muslim operative imposing Sharia law on the US just got a whole lot harder.”

Well, in that case, this is right out of the Eleventy billionth political chess master handbook. Kill the most prominent and symbolic leader of the terror network, to diminish suspicion about your real intentions. Only a master leftist-Muslim-community organizer of the highest order could deftly pull off such move. Absolute proof that everything you believe is true, is in fact, NOT. Up is down. Black is white. Pie is cake.


weaver 05.02.11 at 5:23 am

So how did it go down? Some Special Forces guys creep in there and turn off his dialysis machine?


Myles 05.02.11 at 5:32 am

Also in the death news:

Apparently NATO air strikes have killed the youngest son of Qaddafi, Saif al-Arab Qaddafi. As others can guess, I find this unpalatable. But discuss, if you like.


js. 05.02.11 at 5:47 am

Don’t comment here much (though read regularly), but wanted to say: thanks for the sanity (and humor). Reading the comment board reactions elsewhere, even say the Guardian liveblog, was getting bizarrely depressing.


Kaye 05.02.11 at 5:58 am

On tumblr:
Hopefully, he didn’t leave any horcruxes

Good news: bin Laden is dead, bad news: have to hunt down zombie bin Laden now

Via Alex Jones: US Government has had bin Ladens body frozen for years


Michael Bérubé 05.02.11 at 6:11 am

Cue Newt Gingrich asking why it took so long for Obama to move on intelligence received last August in 3 … 2 …


Phil 05.02.11 at 6:18 am

@ Phosphorious — Ironically, (by design?) it is exactly 8 years to the day Bush said that.

I look at the cost: $1.4 trillion and counting, 45,000 US casualties, a couple hundred thousand of “them” (combatants, militants, terrorists, innocents) dead, about 2.5 million refugees… and we should ask whether it was worth it.


Jon H 05.02.11 at 6:52 am

“How do we know he’s really dead? I demand to see the long form death certificate!”

It’s six-foot something long.


Henri Vieuxtemps 05.02.11 at 7:20 am

Big, big mistake; I feel disoriented. Who is the Criminal Mastermind now, Keyser Soze?


bad Jim 05.02.11 at 7:30 am

I got the news in a phone call from a Latina friend, so excited I could barely understand her. “Obama’s locked in his re-election!” she chortled in her joy. Half the conversation was her laughter. So, yeah, a good day for Democrats, and most likely for the hopes of social democracy in America.


bad Jim 05.02.11 at 7:37 am

(Since my caller’s reaction may seem outrageously partisan, I’ll note that she grew up in El Salvador during their civil war, and was inured to the sight of dead bodies in the street which the authorities did not allow to be buried.)


Chris Bertram 05.02.11 at 7:38 am

BBC Radio 5 Live was just doing some vox pops with the crowd in front of the White House. One interviewee (and ex-Marine) said “Now we can restore the rule of law and get back behind our borders”.


Jim Buck 05.02.11 at 7:44 am

This could be a very dangerous moment for Obama; a certain section of the electoral college will view the news with as much dismay as they did Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962. Bye-bye Birthers, hello Deathers.


Jack Strocchi 05.02.11 at 8:03 am

Chris Bertram @ #20 quotes a jar-head:

“Now we can restore the rule of law and get back behind our borders”.

Hear. Hear.

Now that OBL is dead can we declare victory in the GWOT and go home now?

More generally can we just walk away from the whole business of forcing democracy down the throat of exotic countries? Its apparent that Afghanistan Alpha-males are no more keen on the Rule of Law than American Alpha-males are on Sharia Law. So perhaps we should just let sleeping dogs lie.

They will be roused from their dogmatic slumbers all in good time, as recent experience in the ME indicates.


Nababov 05.02.11 at 8:07 am

I can just see the latest addition to the National Mall. Osama’s head on a pole a la Cromwell.


Myles 05.02.11 at 8:25 am

Since my caller’s reaction may seem outrageously partisan

I don’t think partisanship is the problem here. George Orwell wrote that war coarsens the strong, but he forgot that it just as much coarsens the weak. The coarsening effect of violence takes its tolls on its witnesses just as well as on its perpetrators.

Good day for everyone, supporters of the Democratic Party included.


Chris Brooke 05.02.11 at 8:25 am

Former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has just tweeted, “V good news from Pakistan but a potentially perilous time. Thank goodness for the professionalism of our CT police and security services.” I hadn’t realised it was the Crooked Timber police that got him. Congratulations!


Jack Strocchi 05.02.11 at 8:45 am

But before we go can we fire a parting shot at the scheming two-timers in the Pakistan security state who gave sanctuary to OBL for the past decade. Last time I checked US National Security doctrine made the crime of harboring terrorists a capital offence.

You can see how hugger-mugger the Pakistan top-brass and the secret pin-up boy were from this link on google maps link. OBL’s “hide-out” was about a drive and fairway wood between the Army Burnhall College and the Pakistan Military Academy.

So the red tabs had the guy right under their nose whilst going through the motions of searching for him all over the badlands of Trash-canistan. All the time taking billions of dollars in US military aid and letting soldiers and civilians die in a fruitless goose chase.

This is hard proof that we have been propping up our enemy for the past decade. As we did with Saudi Arabia for the previous decade, at the other end of SW Asia. There is just no percentage in getting involved in this region and we just end up being played for mugs.


James Kroeger 05.02.11 at 8:48 am

I have to say that this development probably does help Barack Obama politically, insulating him to a significant degree from the accusations/insinuations of Republican politicians that Democrats are ‘weak-on-America’s-enemies.’

I don’t know if it is pure luck that this operation occurred during his watch, or if his people made a key contribution to the effort, but I do think he will benefit, at least through the next election cycle.

Assuming that the economy continues to putter along with its weak recovery, it just might guarantee him re-election next year. It just might also give him the latitude to declare victory in Afghanistan and remove most American troops, although that is far from certain.


Guido Nius 05.02.11 at 8:49 am

The real question is whether it will be Vin Diesel, The Rock or Sylvester Stallone that will be 1st to the box office.

Also, the Arab uprising killed the bastard before he was shot. Let us praise them for ignoring the hell out of the bastard. May they keep it up in spite of all of the other bastards.


Leinad 05.02.11 at 8:56 am

Dwayne or Vin, opening day 7/4/2012…


Kevin Donoghue 05.02.11 at 9:51 am

I can just see the latest addition to the National Mall. Osama’s head on a pole a la Cromwell.

Reportedly he was buried at sea, ostensibly to satisfy the Islamic tradition that burials should be prompt. It also seems like an excellent way to wind up the wingnuts. Maybe they killed some poor tramp! It would be irresponsible not to speculate!


Bill Gardner 05.02.11 at 10:02 am

Guido @30: In support of your comment, “the Arab uprising killed the bastard before he was shot”, here’s the most interesting tweet I have seen thus far:

@nirrosen: wow Saudi analyst on AJE actually said something smart: “it’s the Bouazizi age not the Bin Ladin age”


darkhorse 05.02.11 at 10:05 am

What a relief.

At last the Royal Wedding will be pushed off the front pages.


Yagayoga 05.02.11 at 10:12 am

The Daily Mail ran the ‘shopped image on its site… so pathetic.


Daragh McDowell 05.02.11 at 10:13 am

I was wondering what the hell was going on when I turned on Fox and saw the headlines – ‘Black man assaults, kills elderly senior citizen in his home.’

Seriously though, for some shits and giggle go check out the Telegraph blogs site. Never seen so many people trying to contain the fact that they’re more disappointed that Obama got Osama than Osama got got. Oh well.

And @30 – Well. Fucking. Said.


Steve LaBonne 05.02.11 at 10:17 am

What Phil @17 said. Somehow I don’t really feel all that much like celebrating.


Andrew 05.02.11 at 11:10 am

As a New Yorker… I am…

-angered that he lived in a mansion an hour north of Islamabad while the Pakistani Government swore that he must have fled the country;

-concerned as to possible reprisals;

-without any illusion that this death ends the conflict;

-impressed that, in the space of a month, the US was able to collect enough intelligence to plan and implement an assault operation on a heavily fortified mansion with one figure inside as the target, that was successfully completed in 40 minutes without any loss of American lives;

-am satisfied that, in this case, though justice was delayed, it was eventually not denied.


Guido Nius 05.02.11 at 11:31 am

@34: I’m sure one of the movie versions will see a black man reluctantly agreeing (after months of pressure) to his hawks (Why not Arnold?) that the elderly citizen should be brought to justice.


Harry 05.02.11 at 12:22 pm

It took him so long to act on the intelligence because he is beholden to the House of Windsor, who demanded that he delay it till just after the wedding of the heir presumptive. Forget this crypto-Muslim nonsense, he’s a crypto-monarchist, actually a bastard son of the Prince Consort.

Googling, I see Lyndon Larouche is still alive.


Matt McIrvin 05.02.11 at 12:29 pm

Obama hasn’t locked in his reelection any more than Desert Storm did it for Bush the elder.

What I think this has done, in a nonrational political sense, is kicked the legs out from under the whole family of birther/secret-Muslim/his-name-sounds-foreign attacks as subjects of polite discussion by serious-sounding people. While those stories have roots in racism and ignorance that isn’t going away, they gain much of their contemporary power from the whole complex of fears and frustrations deriving from the September 11, 2001 attacks and the wars fought afterward.

It also means that Republican ownership of 9/11 as a brand is dead, dead, dead, but it wasn’t working that well for them anyway.


eddie 05.02.11 at 12:34 pm

It’s emerging that the photo purported to be OBL dead a) is faked and b) has been around since 2009.

So maybe we should take reports of his demise as seriously as those who’ve had him dead for at number of years now.


Chris E 05.02.11 at 12:40 pm

“So the red tabs had the guy right under their nose whilst going through the motions of searching for him all over the badlands of Trash-canistan”

Possibly, though the machinations could be more complicated than that, even before you rule out a clever attempt to hide in (relatively) plain sight. I presume he didn’t go out all that often.


Matt McIrvin 05.02.11 at 12:55 pm

That photo didn’t come from the US, did it? It’s the first time I’ve seen it.


eddie 05.02.11 at 1:16 pm

No idea where the photo originated; it was originally published on a mid-easern site as in the grauniad article, but it’s behind a paywall. Adobe corp are looking into whether the ‘shop license was kosher ;-)


stostosto 05.02.11 at 1:16 pm

A good declare-victory-and-go-home-moment.


Jim Demintia 05.02.11 at 1:21 pm

America’s great Pyrrhic victory. Nothing could be less commensurate with the scale of the tragedies that have unfolded over the last decade than the killing of one sick, old man. That everyone is celebrating only proves how far down the rabbit-hole this country has gone in its imperial senescence.


Ed 05.02.11 at 1:27 pm

From what I can gather, the criminal mastermind was living in a mansion in the capital of one of our “allies” in the war on terror. Ten years after the fact, this ally killed him, or the U.S. government persuaded them to kill him, seeing him more as a liability than an asset. They could have handed him over for trial in the U.S. instead, if he wasn’t dead already.

As I said on another site, this was simply too overdue. But I am curious about the timing. Why now?


Earwig 05.02.11 at 1:32 pm

Ed, you have some facts wrong. So your question makes no sense. Everything we know says “they” didn’t kill him, “we” did.


roac 05.02.11 at 1:35 pm

Oddly enough, Strocchi has put his finger on the crux. Judging by Wikipedia, Abbotabad is the Simla of the Pakistani military. (And isn’t it odd that it is still named after a British officer.) It is not credible that ObL was not under the protection of senior generals. On the other hand, it is equally incredible that the raid could have gone forward without the cooperation of senior generals — most likely different ones, I guess, but who knows?


MPAVictoria 05.02.11 at 1:37 pm

“Nothing could be less commensurate with the scale of the tragedies that have unfolded over the last decade than the killing of one sick, old man. That everyone is celebrating only proves how far down the rabbit-hole this country has gone in its imperial senescence.”

Sorry Jim I just don’t understand this kind of thinking. A mass murder has met his just reward. Is it the end of terrorism? No of course not, but it is still good news.


roac 05.02.11 at 1:40 pm

BTW, the TV is saying Osama was 51. Not elderly, even by Middle Eastern standards.

(And is there a source other than the CIA for the allegation that he was on dialysis? If you proceed on the assumption that the CIA lies all the time, why do you get to depart from it there?)


Guido Nius 05.02.11 at 1:41 pm

Is everyone celebrating? Shoot, nobody called me. I guess that says a lot about me.


Guido Nius 05.02.11 at 1:43 pm

OBL was 54, at least according to my morning radio news. With some luck, the number of this post is a tribute to the passing away of this sorry piece of shit.


a.y. mous 05.02.11 at 1:46 pm

He was born on a full moon night, with the lions roaring yonder over the Withoutapeer hill, the winds whistling. Papa dropped the camera just as a showed his head out only say out loud “This side outside”. It was the green smock that did it for him for life.

His early childhood was full of Speeling Bees and enunciation he would read only as it was written. No words could be found without a screen showing it. But that was his secret. His weapon. Do much was he indebted, that when he became President, he signed a decree to the Treasury that they will have to make prompt payments. They made sure they made quick payments. They did have the capacity to not know. It is a sense for the chosen.

And then suddenly, it was lost. POTUS lost his strengths. He had to find it soon, or else he would be without a voice.

In a deep jungle in North-Western Pakistan, there was a man of soil, son of the jungle, brother of the armed, who wore a green smock. He holds the key to President’s future. He has to be hunted. He has to be found.

Watch this movie with its nerve wracking suspense and follow one man’s epic journey to find his voice.


Ed 05.02.11 at 1:54 pm

OK, apparently the Pakistanis weren’t informed of the attack beforehand. The story is still developing and its hard to get the facts straight. But the mansion was closer to the Pakistani military academy than I first thought.

One theory I will put out out is that the US government knew that the Pakistanis were sheltering Osama, but opted not to retaliate against Pakistan since its a nuclear power, and not the easiest place to invade because of the large population. This wasn’t announced because otherwise they would be admitting that Osama was essentially untouchable. But that still raises the question of why now?


centrosphere 05.02.11 at 1:58 pm

You´re clearly ignoring (at your peril) the most intriguing fact brought to the light of the sun these last days:

Osama Bin Laden actually was the youngest son of Muammar Gadaffi.


Jim Demintia 05.02.11 at 2:00 pm


Jim Demintia 05.02.11 at 2:01 pm

Ach–that was meant to be a reply to MPAVictoria, but I messed up the tags.


Earwig 05.02.11 at 2:03 pm

Because previous attempts failed? Because previous intel got compromised/turned out wrong?

Because this was the successful attempt.

Your attempt to find some secret underbelly of “the timing” and willingness to speculate without facts or with mistaken facts does say more about you than it does about anything else.


eddie 05.02.11 at 2:19 pm

We only have the word of those who claimed iraq had WMD, that OBL had anything to do with 9/11. If OBL was involved to the extent that would make calling him a mass murderer legitimate, what does that make GWB, BHO?


Guido Nius 05.02.11 at 2:21 pm

57: Before long Muammar Gadaffi will announce he actually is the oldest father of true Islamic revolution.


Salient 05.02.11 at 2:23 pm

Ten years and hundreds of thousands of killed civilians later, the U.S. government discovers what any rookie Stratego player has always known: you can only kill their Admiral with your Spy.


Andrew 05.02.11 at 2:35 pm

Elliott Abrams is already on the case:

“Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like “I met repeatedly,” “at my direction,” and “I determined,” trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not. ”

“Once again here the White House appeared unable to get the messaging quite right, a failure magnified by the amateurish delay of more than an hour in Mr. Obama’s remarks. The White House told the nation at roughly 10 p.m. that the President would speak at 10.30. Had the President done so, he would have delivered fabulous and shocking news. By the time he actually spoke nearer to midnight his words were an anticlimax, for all the news had leaked. Whatever the cause of this delay—Mr. Obama editing the remarks for too long, or a belatedly discovered need to brief Congressional and world leaders—it suggested that the calm professionalism in the face of crisis shown here by our military and intelligence professionals has yet to be achieved in the White House.”


LFC 05.02.11 at 2:42 pm

One theory I will put out is that the US government knew that the Pakistanis were sheltering Osama, but opted not to retaliate against Pakistan since its a nuclear power, and not the easiest place to invade because of the large population.

…not to mention being officially a US ally to whom the US gives an enormous amount of military aid, plus $7.5 billion in non-military aid over the next 5 years: google the Kerry-Lugar-Berman law. Also an invasion of Pakistan would have been just the thing logistically when the US and ISAF are dependent on overland routes from Pakistan for some of the supplies going to their troops in Afghanistan. Also an invasion of one of the largest Muslim countries would have made eminent sense from the standpoint of trying to rebuild ties with the Muslim world (cf. Obama’s Cairo speech), wouldn’t it. In short, for these and numerous other reasons your “theory” makes no sense. The US long suspected OBL was somewhere in Pakistan but it apparently lacked hard evidence until last August or so, according to the reports.

(And to Jim who said upthread that OBL was an “old man”: he was born in 1957. If you think that is ‘old’, you are wrong.)


MPAVictoria 05.02.11 at 2:44 pm

All good points Jim. Still it is nice to see someone getting their just desserts.


LFC 05.02.11 at 2:47 pm

There’s already enough rubbish in this thread. Why mess it up further with Elliott Abrams? We can all go over to CFR if we really want to read him.


CJColucci 05.02.11 at 3:18 pm

It’s better that OBL is dead than not, but someone will take over Al Qaeda, probably less competent and charismatic, though you never know. As an organization, its operational abilities seem to have been seriously degraded long before this, but somebody will probably be able to pull off something. And somebody always will. Actually fighting terrorism, as opposed to beating one’s chest about it, is a long, hard slog of what is, essentially, international police work, where smarts and intel are what matters. And somebody, somewhere, will get through sometime no matter what. But maybe with OBL’s head figuratively on a pike, we can now be adult about what needs to be done — and what does not need to be done.


Marc 05.02.11 at 3:22 pm

Good Lord people. We can’t un-invade Iraq, but we can succeed in taking out a mass murderer. (Cue the boring and predictable false equivalences, no doubt.)

This is good news, period. Watching the usual suspects piss and moan about it is mostly useful for confirming my suspicions about the value of their opinions.


Frank in midtown 05.02.11 at 3:27 pm

OBL’s plan was to enrage the US sufficiently that it would bankrupt itself with an over-reaching war, way to go GOP making sure that OBL’s plan worked.


someguy 05.02.11 at 3:30 pm

The passing of any life makes us smaller. Tragic that it came to this. Imagine how much good he could have accomplished.

The end seems to sum up the life. Dying using a human shield, your child dying next to you.


Jim Demintia 05.02.11 at 3:51 pm

“(And to Jim who said upthread that OBL was an “old man”: he was born in 1957. If you think that is ‘old’, you are wrong.)”

God, he was only 54? I would have put him closer to 70. The beard really did make him look older.


Peter 05.02.11 at 3:54 pm

What Obama is secretly thinking: “Arrrgh, why can’t the election be a month or two away???”


TUM 05.02.11 at 4:06 pm

This still far from over – I mean, we still have to find Ayman al-Zawahiri. Perhaps we should bomb Costelloabad?


Scott Martens 05.02.11 at 4:45 pm

It’s amazing what America can accomplish when the PlayStation network is down.


Daragh McDowell 05.02.11 at 4:48 pm

Just slightly OT but – it appears that information on the courier, including his name appeared in the GTMO Wikileaks files. I find the prospect, even if slim, that Assange’s crew could have conceivably blown the entire op to very, very disturbing.


peter ramus 05.02.11 at 4:50 pm

I occurs to me that Bin Ladin, given the location where he was found and his severely limited access to the outside world, was under house arrest. I guess the only questions are how long he was there and who knew.


R.Mutt 05.02.11 at 4:53 pm

Together with the recent success of the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunesia, this makes the future of radical islamism look somewhat bleak, I think.


David 05.02.11 at 4:54 pm

I’m just glad they had the decency to withhold the announcement until after the wedding.


geo 05.02.11 at 4:54 pm

I think I’ll take marc’s bait (@69) and piss and moan a bit. First, about the virtually total lack of intelligent discussion in the mainstream in the 10 years since 9/11 about its causes. If you want to prevent some crime or catastrophe from recurring, the intelligent thing to do is to figure out what caused it and address that. Bin Laden’s statements and interviews told the world over and over again what caused 9/11 (and in fact, what was about to cause it, since he was saying the same thing for many years beforehand): not hatred of Western freedom and democracy (he denied this explicitly: “Why, then, did we not attack Sweden?”); not a desire to revive the Islamic Caliphate, which he almost never alluded to; but revenge for American foreign policy: specifically, for US military interventions in the Middle East, support of repressive regimes in Muslim countries, imposition of the murderous UN embargo on Iraq, and financing of Israeli violence and expansionism.

Now, it was never necessary to agree with Osama’s view of American foreign policy (though there’s much to be said for it) in order to at least acknowledge that that view is what produced Islamicist terrorism. All that was necessary was elementary honesty. An honest government and intelligentsia would have said either “Osama is mistaken: that’s not a true view of American foreign policy, and here’s why (viz., either we didn’t do those things or we did them but they were justified) ” or else “Osama is correct; and while that does not excuse his crime, we should change our policies, not because Islamicist terrorism inconveniences us, but because those policies are immoral.”

Of course neither of these responses appeared in the mainstream. The prevailing explanation was theologically-based zealotry, compounded with fanatical anti-Semitism. Osama’s many addresses to the American people were not — as one might have expected in a free, or even a minimally prudent, society — disseminated and discussed at least as carefully as John Boehner’s lachrimosity or Scott Brown’s voluptuousness. Even though the security of an individual or group depends primarily on intelligently assessing the danger(s) to that individual or group, hostility to America cannot be intelligently assessed, it must be howlingly, full-throatedly, and continuously denounced. You would think that our masters — who are not unintelligent, after all — actually care most about something other than our security.

The second thing worth pissing and moaning about is that, having said the above — or perhaps even before saying it — it is necessary, in the still-inflamed atmosphere of American political discussion, to repeat that 9/11 was a terrible crime, for which Osama and all the other perpetrators deserved to be brought to justice.


NomadUK 05.02.11 at 5:10 pm

I find it disconcerting that so many people seem to consider a bullet through the head by special forces — without trial — following a supposedly heavy battle in which no US forces were injured — to be ‘justice’.


Myles 05.02.11 at 5:22 pm

<iI find it disconcerting that so many people seem to consider a bullet through the head by special forces — without trial — following a supposedly heavy battle in which no US forces were injured — to be ‘justice’.

So do I


Daragh McDowell 05.02.11 at 5:23 pm


There was NO other way that this would end. OBL had already confirmed that he wouldn’t be taken alive. And yes – there were multiple reports of RPG and small arms fire from OBL’s bodyguard. He chose this end, not only by murdering thousands of people on almost every continent, but by his own actions afterwards.


LFC 05.02.11 at 5:24 pm

Certainly OBL resented the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia in proximity to Islam’s holy sites, opposed US support for the Saudi regime, opposed other aspects of US foreign policy (though there is some evidence, I believe, that his concern for the Palestinians was a rather late addition to his list of concerns). I think however that the “causes” (in quotes to avoid lengthy discussion of the meaning of causation) of 9/11 are more varied than you suggest. Any discussion of causes would require some attention to the history and pre-history of al-Qaeda itself, ISTM, and this in turn would get one back to the personal histories of OBL and Zawahiri, the impact on the latter of being tortured in Egyptian prison, and so on. (Wright’s ‘The Looming Tower’ is pretty good on this.) US foreign policy mattered, but it wasn’t the only ’cause’. After all, one can strongly oppose US foreign policy in the ME without embracing al-Qaeda’s ideology and worldview. There’s an ideological dimension I think you are missing. That said, I agree that the reaction of some of the US political class to 9/11 (“they hate our success,” “they are hate our freedoms,” etc) was rather childish and hysterical, to say the least, and did not help anything in the short or long run.


Jim Harrison 05.02.11 at 5:25 pm

It appears that the president did something very clever. The Pakistanis were not in the loop about the operation for the very good reason that their intelligence service would probably have alerted Osama; but once the attack had taken place, Obama preempted Pakistani objections by claiming that they had helped out. He left them with no real option but to support the attack since objecting would imply that they have no control over their own territory. It would be wonderful indeed to have a recording of the phone call Obama made to the the Pakistanis last night.


Britta 05.02.11 at 5:26 pm

Actually, on a more serious note I kind of wish this had happened on Friday, if only to show the Windsors that the world does not indeed revolve around them and their sartorial choices.


stras 05.02.11 at 5:27 pm

“We can’t un-invade Iraq, but we can succeed in taking out a mass murderer”

What, Bush and Obama are being put on trial?


LFC 05.02.11 at 5:29 pm

correction to 82: remove “are” in 3rd line from bottom


Kenny Easwaran 05.02.11 at 5:30 pm

NomadUK – I definitely found the use of the phrase “brought to justice” to be a somewhat strange description of an assassination. But at the same time, this does seem like the best possible case for assassination – an unrepentant, admitted murderer and torturer of hundreds (or thousands, if you accept his claim of responsibility for 9/11) with plans to do more. This is one of the few cases where there’s not any real chance of his innocence, or any chance that he would be rehabilitated and be a positive force in society. A trial would clearly have been better, in order to make more information public. But this is far more justified than an ordinary police shootout killing.


Myles 05.02.11 at 5:31 pm

From the Wikipedia account of the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, to punish Tewodros:

The widowed Empress Tiruwork and the young heir of Tewodros, Alemayehu, were also to be taken to England. However, Empress Tiruwork died on the journey to the coast, and little Alemayehu made the journey alone. The Empress was buried at Sheleqot monastery in Tigrai among her ancestors. Although Queen Victoria subsidised the education (at Rugby) of Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, Captain Tristam Speedy was appointed as his guardian. He developed a very strong attachment to Captain Speedy and his wife; however, Prince Alemayehu grew increasingly lonely as the years went by, and his compromised health made things even harder, and died in October 1879 at the age of 19 without seeing his homeland again. He left an impression on Queen Victoria of England, who said of his death: “It is too sad! All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him… His was no happy life.”

This was more than a century ago, although in very circumstances. But it does seem that we have barely improved since then.


Salient 05.02.11 at 5:35 pm

Good Lord people. We can’t un-invade Iraq,

Hey man, cover your mouth when you cough, we don’t need to see the dismissive sneer your face contorts into when you type like that.

but we can succeed in taking out a mass murderer. (Cue the boring and predictable false equivalences, no doubt.)

Eh, I dunno. I think if there was a mass murderer holed up in a house in Texas and we successfully ‘took him out’ in the process killing 25 other people including a few folks that seemed to be his hostages and a few people obviously aiding and abetting him and a few people of quite uncertain guilt-status, losing a helicopter and half a dozen officers in the process, we wouldn’t be wildly celebrating the categorical killing of all those … ah hell you’d probably be cheering about that too. Nevermind.

I guess in your view from now on any hostage-type situation should be responded to by just drone-rocketing the building and killing everybody inside, because so long as we ‘take out’ the bad guy, all that ‘collateral damage’ is acceptable.

And you’re the one saying “Good Lord people” to us? Really?

Didn’t we, like, arrest and convict Timothy McVeigh? Didn’t that used to be something we were capable of doing? Why do we suck so much harder these days than we did in 1997?

This is good news, period.

Sure. And after you cross out any mention of where we’re spending money, our national government is running a huge surplus, period.

Watching the usual suspects piss and moan about it is mostly useful for confirming my suspicions about the value of their opinions.

Okay. (Shrug.) Thanks for de-lurking to explain this, so that we both know to ignore each other henceforth.


a.y. mous 05.02.11 at 5:45 pm

It is quite obvious that none of you saw Obama’s birth video last night. I keep saying to my producers, the people. The people. It is unfortunate that they are the deciders. They are ignorant. They are the idiots. Not me. He just does not get.

I mean, way up there, isn’t that an award winning script. Imagine, if both Diesel and Stallone starred. Both would have got an Oscar for Best Actor!

You folks are not only hopeless, you are mirthless. Celebrate! The purpose of public nudity is no longer extant. Rejoice!


LFC 05.02.11 at 5:48 pm

Salient: I don’t think anyone passingly familiar with the facts about OBL, or with the facts about the US govt’s unsuccessful effort (there was at least one) to eliminate him before 9/11, had any expectation that he was going to end up being transported to some tribunal or court somewhere for trial. It was always fairly obvious that OBL was going to be killed, in one way or another, and that that was going to involve some others being killed with him. This was unfortunate for those with him at the time, but I doubt there was any other really plausible scenario.


Salient 05.02.11 at 6:06 pm

LFC, fair enough, you didn’t say anything there that I would disagree with, and I’m not exactly deep-throatedly screaming about some hypothetical unfairness of what happened; I’m on record here at CT supporting covert assassination to a full-scale war operation if forced to choose between the two, so, eh…

But I am damn sure going to give a dumbfounded cringing look to anyone who says, “Dear Lord, people. This is good news, period.”

As a kid my cousin had a dog named Molly, who could run around free on their rural farmland. Some kind of shepherd mix, cute but ornery. Some demented kids apparently got the idea to feed her a rabid squirrel carcass they’d found, or maybe she found it herself — that part’s not clear. You can predict what happened. She damn near bit me, because I was young enough not to recognize the disease and know to get the hell away from her. My uncle put her down with a .45 to the head, and then the sun set. There may have been an hour in between. We all knew that’s what had to happen, and in light of the circumstances at that time, I suppose you could say the prompt and effective assassination was good news, period. But none of us were smiling.

The way I feel this morning is reminding me of the way I felt that evening.


Salient 05.02.11 at 6:10 pm

…adding, that’s not to say the two circumstances were equivalent, which would be plainly false; comparing bin Ladin to a rabid animal blots out his malice and robs him of his responsibilities as an agent with free will, and it’s not like my uncle gathered together a mob to spend seven years mowing down the neighbors’ cattle with machine guns before finally hunting down the dog.


Earwig 05.02.11 at 6:13 pm

LFC: You’re right that there’s unpacking to be done in the “causes” of 9/11.

But this:

“…the reaction of some of the US political class to 9/11 (“they hate our success,” “they…hate our freedoms,” etc) was rather childish and hysterical, to say the least, and did not help anything in the short or long run”

also needs some work.

There is certainly room to think that some parties involved were helping themselves and others, quite at “our” expense, with that and related rhetoric. I doubt it would have persisted so well if it weren’t serving to help someone(‘s bottom line.)


geo 05.02.11 at 6:29 pm

me @78: for which Osama and all the other perpetrators deserved to be brought to justice

For the record: “brought to justice” doesn’t mean “assassinated.” If OBL was assassinated, that’s just one more piece of evidence (if any were needed) that the US government — and the Obama administration in particular — doesn’t care about the rule of law. Even more depressing is that the public, at least in this case, doesn’t seem to care either.


Jeffrey C. Goldfarb 05.02.11 at 6:53 pm

I am puzzled by the American response to the killing of Osama. What were those young people thinking by the White House and in lower Manhattan?


geo 05.02.11 at 7:07 pm


Henri Vieuxtemps 05.02.11 at 7:13 pm

What were those young people thinking by the White House and in lower Manhattan?

Hey, liberals are entitled to some nationalist ‘jouissance’ too, like everybody else.


stras 05.02.11 at 7:21 pm

Good ol’ fashioned bloodlust is not restrained by party politics, Jeffrey.


MPAVictoria 05.02.11 at 7:31 pm

For the record: “brought to justice” doesn’t mean “assassinated.”

Citation needed. The man had confessed his guilt for the murder of thousands and was killed in a firefight.


Marc 05.02.11 at 7:34 pm

It’s deluded to think that we could ever have captured Bin Laden and brought him to trial. All I see here is a combination of intense hatred of US policy and personal dislike of Obama, nothing more. Bin Laden claimed credit for the Sept. 11th attacks, and AQ operatives have performed suicide bombings in the Middle East that have killed an enormous number of Muslims. He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be taken alive no matter what we did. Salient, you behave like a cartoon image of a clueless leftist, upset that we didn’t read Bin Laden his rights. Soldiers kill people in wars.

You can believe, as I do, that invading Iraq was a catastrophic blunder; that we should be out of Afghanistan now; and that the entire War on a Tactic is deeply flawed – and still think that the world is unconditionally better off with Bin Laden dead, and that he would have killed a lot of people if he was not himself killed.


geo 05.02.11 at 7:37 pm

MPA: Attention needed. The next sentence begins: “If OBL was assassinated … “


Substance McGravitas 05.02.11 at 7:41 pm

You can believe, as I do, that invading Iraq was a catastrophic blunder; that we should be out of Afghanistan now; and that the entire War on a Tactic is deeply flawed – and still think that the world is unconditionally better off with Bin Laden dead

Well sure, remove the death of one guy from the context of long years of war and torture on the part of your own government and the blood of bin Laden sure is a syrupy-sweet confection.


Tom Hurka 05.02.11 at 8:03 pm

Nice speculation by Jim Harrison @ 85: that sounds credible, and clever.


MPAVictoria 05.02.11 at 8:03 pm

Geo: Sorry, I should have been more clear. I don’t care if OBL was assassinated. The man confessed to being behind one of the worst cases of terrorism in history. I feel nothing but satisfaction that he is dead. Only wish it could have happened sooner.


Marc 05.02.11 at 8:05 pm

@105: Do you have a point? If you’re trying to claim that Bin Laden was justified, say so. He planned the killings of a lot of completely innocent people and was continuing to do so.

It’s as if someone used the existence of housing discrimination in the US to deplore the execution of a serial killer; it’s possible for the former to be present and the latter to still be just. If you want to argue against, say, capital punishment on principle that is a different matter; but if that is the objection to killing Bin Laden, say so. Don’t raise foreign policy matters.


stras 05.02.11 at 8:09 pm

Kind of hilarious to see Americans righteously blowing on about how bin Laden was a “mass murderer.” By US standards, the man was an amateur. Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Bushes I and II – all of them have body counts far above those of Osama bin Laden, and that’s not even getting into Vietnam-era presidents. I expect we’ll be seeing Predator-drone strikes on Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department any day now?


Salient 05.02.11 at 8:10 pm

There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there.

Shucks, Marc, that cartoon you’re looking at only bears the most tangential resemblance to what I said. Thanks for telling me what I can and cannot believe, though — useful information, and few gatekeepers are quite so explicit in their rulemongering. But didn’t you just say a moment ago that you were going to ignore people like me, rather than chase after us chidingly? I liked that. Let’s go back to that, now.


stras 05.02.11 at 8:13 pm

“Don’t raise foreign policy matters.”

What, don’t raise foreign policy matters to object to or comment on a foreign policy matter? The United States has murdered hundreds of thousands of people in its lunatic “war on terror.” Its leadership has announced that it happily intends to keep murdering more, well after killing bin Laden. At some point picking out random bogeymen as an excuse to justify the US war machine’s mass killings isn’t going to cut it anymore.


Salient 05.02.11 at 8:14 pm

Hmm, well, #105 indicates Marc’s not interested in bowing out of this peaceably, having made his point.

You keep making up more and more rules on what we can and cannot say, Marc. “Don’t raise foreign policy matters” seems a bit inapt, here. I don’t think a whole lot of us are going to take you up on that one. You might go try to police somewhere where you have some authority.


spyder 05.02.11 at 8:33 pm

Well golly, all it took to accomplish this was: nine and a half years, 6018 US troops* killed, 42,517 troops* wounded, a couple of million civilian deaths, a whole host of our rights and liberties stripped from us. I wonder how many more troops will be killed or wounded before we realize this wasn’t about Osama at all.

* from thru 2/2011


H 05.02.11 at 8:46 pm

Maybe it’s too early for this, but I come to CT because it reliably offers intellectually serious commentary on matters of public ethics. Instead I find an atmosphere of celebration bordering on giddiness.

I need help thinking through the following question:

If the killing of bin Laden was an act of justice (Pres. Obama calls it this, though perhaps he doesn’t really intend that phrase to be taken at face value), how can one possibly support this form of government-directed killing, and not support the death penalty (which only occurs after a long and public legal process)?


Substance McGravitas 05.02.11 at 8:50 pm

Instead I find an atmosphere of celebration bordering on giddiness.



Marc 05.02.11 at 8:55 pm

#112: That’s not what I meant, and you know it. I’m seeing a seamless conflation of a lot of resentments in this thread, and I’d expect this crowd to at least be able to properly separate out different ideas. You can make a pacifist argument – fine. You can say that the US is “bad too” (apparently common here) – and you could make exactly the same argument about any powerful nation at any time in recorded history. Churchill, Roosevelt, Lincoln, and all of the leaders involved in WW I, to pick random examples, could certainly be classified as “war criminals” by the creative (or even mildly so); soldiers are killed in war without due process. What of it?

It’s completely possible to recognize that a large nation can *both* be doing a lot of cynical power moves *and* sometimes do something else which is justified. We may be able to pull out of Afghanistan now with a “win”; it may be possible to relax the excesses of the security state; and on balance it makes it less likely that lunatics will win elections here. These are all practical positives. The attack by Bin Laden *preceded* the unjust invasion of Iraq and caused the just (in my view) invasion of Afghanistan – you can’t excuse the one by invoking the others without violating causality.

The main animating force here appears to be reflexive anti-Americanism. If that’s how you get your kicks, go to it. Just don’t expect a receptive audience.


Marc 05.02.11 at 9:03 pm

@114: In the city where I live the police just gunned down a man implicated in the murder of 4 people. If the police lined him up execution style then that would have been profoundly wrong. But he was trying to kill the police when they tried to capture him; he had severely wounded three policemen before he was shot. if you shoot back at the people trying to capture you then the use of deadly force is morally and legally permissible.


Tim Wilkinson 05.02.11 at 9:08 pm

* I agree that on the face of it this is wonderful news, and worth celebrating. It’s like 1000 death row prisoners wired up in parallel and convulsing in perfect synchrony. (Assuming that none of those prisoners has confessed or had their guilt established.)

* So well done to Obama for finding time to mastermind this operation, or at least answer questions like ‘we’ve found UBL – shall we go in and get him?’ or ‘we’ve killed UBL and disposed of the remains beyond retrieval. Would you like to announce it?’

* Though I must confess to a niggling lack of any confidence that any given part of the various narratives is actually true.

* I suppose we can at least infer that there will be no trial nor interrogation of UBL (though we were in a pretty good position to think that already). Pretty much the final part of the comprehensive destruction of evidence relating to the 11 Sep 2001 events.

* The announcement also presumably means no more tapes though. Or at least none presented as authentic by US officialdom. Or at least not unless the story is going to change, which seems pretty unlikely, since it’s unlikely to have been made unless UBL is actually known to be dead.

* After all, they killed UBL.

* They did not of course however end the GWOT. All the usuals have been quick to emphasise the likelihood of reprisals – we must be vigilant, so be on the lookout for any terrorismy-looking stuff, folks!

* One of the plot elements I heard on the radio was that UBL had been ‘shot in the head twice when he refused to surrender’. And now he sleeps with the fishes. Apparently.

* I wonder whether this means those US garrisons relocated to Qatar will nip back over the border into Saudi again? Probably not, as UBL would probably have guessed assuming he was alive long enough to see the withdrawal. So he did not die in vain.

* It is possible (I’ll just repeat that for those who tend not to notice such terms: possible) that this announcement, and whatever contemporary events underly it, has been made at this time rather than any other so as to distract from NATO’s latest curt rebuff to a ceasefire offer from Gaddafi. This one seems to have been reported slightly less dismissively and in more detail than all the previous ones, on BBC Radio 4 anyway. Or further, to distract from an imminent addition of more NATO fuel to the flickering embers of the armed insurrection they’ve kindled.

This is however a throwaway bit of speculation since I don’t think anyone seems particularly concerned to try to deflect NATO from killing (or – just possibly – ousting) Ghadafi and his close heirs. That has always been an obviously ineluctable consequence of the ‘intervention’, and there doesn’t seem much appetite for challenging it in any influential quarter. There isn’t any very clear basis for objecting in any case, as long as any army on the ground is fighting or peacekeeping, rather than actually occupying – unless a new regime might request the continued presence of troops of course. Assuming of course that a new regime will be in the pockets of the NATO powers, which somehow seems quite a good bet.


Substance McGravitas 05.02.11 at 9:11 pm

If you’re trying to claim that Bin Laden was justified, say so. He planned the killings of a lot of completely innocent people and was continuing to do so.

This draws a picture of the inside of your head, Marc, not of mine. Why don’t you spell out what YOU want out of this thread? Is it that you want everyone else to say “I too agree that this is good news period”?


geo 05.02.11 at 9:28 pm

Tim @118: the comprehensive destruction of evidence relating to the 11 Sep 2001 events

Would you elaborate?


MPAVictoria 05.02.11 at 9:41 pm

Tim @118: the comprehensive destruction of evidence relating to the 11 Sep 2001 events

Looks like we have a truther among us. What next Tim? Are you going to start claiming Obama was born in Kenya?


engels 05.02.11 at 10:30 pm

if you shoot back at the people trying to capture you then the use of deadly force is morally and legally permissible

Even if it was the Chinese police (say) doing it in Washington DC?


Salient 05.02.11 at 10:43 pm

Reply acknowledged, Marc, but I’m saddened that you’d respond to someone you had coarsely caricatured maybe half an hour earlier with “that’s not what I meant and you know it.” Maybe I wasn’t as attentive to what you mean as I should be, ok.

As for the You can make a pacifist argument […] You can say that the US is “bad too” […] you can’t excuse the one by invoking the others […] Just don’t expect a receptive audience bit — ok, I’ve made this mistake myself, so I speak from experience, and with sympathy: you don’t really have any authority to speak for the CT audience, and talk of what is or isn’t acceptable discourse here is probably best presented, if at all, then with an excess of humility and reflective self-awareness. If you accuse us broadly of “reflexive anti-Americanism,” do you really expect us to attend to your proposed avenues of discourse?

For whatever it’s worth, I’ll nominate #90 as the best comment Myles has ever contributed.

Would you elaborate? / What next Tim?

Oh come on folks give Tim some credit, both for bullet-pointing his paragraphs this time (which made the thing a blessedly quicker read) and for a pitch-perfect first bullet point. I’m gonna charitably assume that he just meant we’re not putting these people on trial or extracting information from them to get more detail about what happened and how it was planned and who was involved, and not the specific claim that 9-11 was an inside job or whatever. (The fact that the CIA had offices in the WTC is enough to explain why the WTC was an Al Qaeda target. Weirdly, I wasn’t at all aware of that factoid until it got mentioned on NPR today. Was this common knowledge all along? Did I miss the memo?)


geo 05.02.11 at 10:56 pm

Marc @ 116: You’re the one who’s doing all the conflating. No one here is saying that Bin Laden’s beliefs about American foreign policy justified 9/11. We’re just saying that they caused 9/11, and that the steadfast refusal of the government, press, and public to acknowledge that fact — even to the extent of denying any merit to BL’s grievances — is both dishonest and a very bad way to go about enhancing Americans’ security.

And more: no one is saying that if the official story is true — that OBL was killed in a firefight during an attempt, sanctioned by the Pakistani government, to apprehend him — the US government acted wrongfully. We’re just saying that if they executed him without trial and then tried to cover that up, they acted wrongfully.

It’s admirable that you’re venturing into a hostile forum to defend your passionately held beliefs. But please get your opponents’ arguments right.


Myles 05.02.11 at 11:03 pm

This is probably a good time to revisit the essay, “Revenge is Sour,” by George Orwell:

…Only the minority of sadists, who must have their ‘atrocities’ from one source or another, take a keen interest in the hunting-down of war criminals and quislings. If you asked the average man what crime Goering, Ribbentrop, and the rest are to be charged with at their trial, he cannot tell you. Somehow the punishment of these monsters ceases to sem attractive when it becomes possible: indeed, once under lock and key, they almost cease to be monsters.

Unfortunately, there is often a need of some concrete incident before one can discover the real state of one’s feelings. Here is another memory from Germany. A few hours after Stuttgart was captured by the French army, a Belgian journalist and myself entered the town, which was still in some disorder. The Belgian had been broadcasting throughout the war for the European Service of the BBC, and, like nearly all Frenchmen or Belgians, he had a very much tougher attitude towards ‘the Boche’ than an Englishman or an American would have. All the main bridges into town had been blown up, and we had to enter by a small footbridge which the Germans had evidently mad efforts to defend. A dead German soldier was lying supine at the foot of the steps. His face was a waxy yellow. On his breast someone had laid a bunch of the lilac which was blooming everywhere.

The Belgian averted his face as we went past. When we were well over the bridge he confided to me that this was the first time he had seen a dead man. I suppose he was thirty five years old, and for four years he had been doing war propaganda over the radio. For several days after this, his attitude was quite different from what it had been earlier. He looked with disgust at the bomb-wrecked town and the humiliation the Germans were undergoing, and even on one occasion intervened to prevent a particularly bad bit of looting. When he left, he gave the residue of the coffee we had brought with us to the Germans on whom we were billeted. A week earlier he would probably have been scandalized at the idea of giving coffee to a ‘Boche’. But his feelings, he told me, had undergone a change at the sight of ce pauvre mort beside the bridge: it had suddenly brought home to him the meaning of war. And yet, if we had happened to enter the town by another route, he might have been spared the experience of seeing one corpse out of the — perhaps — twenty million that the war has produced.

The whole thing here:


Myles 05.02.11 at 11:04 pm

(Sorry, blockquotes were supposed to end before the link)


Jeffrey C. Goldfarb 05.02.11 at 11:54 pm

Blood lust is surely not only a attribute of the right, nor is patriotism. I know that but still am amazed to see it run wild.


Kenny Easwaran 05.03.11 at 1:14 am

H, at 114: If the killing of bin Laden was an act of justice (Pres. Obama calls it this, though perhaps he doesn’t really intend that phrase to be taken at face value), how can one possibly support this form of government-directed killing, and not support the death penalty (which only occurs after a long and public legal process)?

I’ll raise at least one point (which I mentioned earlier, but less explicitly, at 89). bin Laden had not only publicly and repeatedly claimed responsibility for many acts of terrorism (including, but not limited to, 9/11), and done so from a perfectly secure location where there is no reason to think he was under any duress, but had also expressed an eagerness to cause more such incidents. As I understand it, it’s very rare for a capital punishment case to involve both such a forthright admission on the part of the defendant, and also such large-scale crimes and an explicit intention to repeat them.

I oppose the death penalty because it seems to me that most cases involving it leave at least some room to question either the involvement of the defendant, or the possibility of one day rehabilitating the defendant as a positive contributor to society. But war crimes, large-scale terrorism, and dictatorship often don’t have these worries, and may be enough to open me to the possibility that the death penalty could be justified in such cases.

I could be convinced that this sort of thing should also be forbidden, but I’m pretty certain that it’s at least less bad than the ordinary death penalty. It’s almost certainly wrong to call it an “act of justice”, but it may have been justified.

(It’s probably also worth comparing this to the other main sorts of government killing – in addition to the death penalty, there are ordinary acts of war, and police killing in self-defense. As some others mentioned above, this situation shared aspects of both of those situations as well. They both make me quite uneasy as well, but as I mentioned above, the death penalty has worse features. Do you disagree with any of the reasons why the death penalty is worse?)


Tony Lynch 05.03.11 at 2:06 am

This thread may have begun rather well but perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea in the longer run. It hasn’t revealed the best in us.


LFC 05.03.11 at 3:46 am

Let’s put aside the kids chanting “USA” in front of the White House; these (somewhat tasteless and predictable) atmospherics are not relevant to the main question here, which I take to be whether the killing of OBL is something to be welcomed — not celebrated but welcomed — or not.

On that question, I think that Marc @103 has it pretty much right. Geo claims that US foreign policy caused 9/11 but (a) the issue here isn’t primarily about that, and (b) US foreign policy was not the sole ’cause’ of 9/11, as I’ve already argued above. Stras wants to bring in every evil the US has ever committed abroad, all the innocents killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and in drone strikes, etc., and say that b/c these actions supposedly dwarf Osama’s crimes, OBL is what … innocent?

OBL and Zawahiri are (well, past tense for the former) fanatics who, long before 9/11, thought nothing of launching two (partially bungled) attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, one of which killed a fair number of people and blinded lots of others (mostly Africans btw) via flying glass. They set out to kill civilians, they don’t have any concept of ‘collateral damage’ b/c that is their aim. Unlike e.g. the drone strikes, which I mostly oppose but whose aim is not the killing of civilians. I think I have said enough on this thread, but I don’t think this has been one of the CT commentariat’s finer hours.


Tony Lynch 05.03.11 at 4:16 am

Oh dear – the Principle of Double Effect. I say again, this thread is not bringing out the best in us.


geo 05.03.11 at 4:33 am

LFC: Geo claims that US foreign policy caused 9/11

No. That is definitely not what I’ve claimed. What caused 9/11 was Bin Laden’s (and his followers’) anger over American foreign policy. He told us this again and again. What any rational government and society would have done is to have acknowledged and discussed the terrorists’ complaints, not merely as a matter of justice but as a matter of simple prudence, since understanding what threatens you is a necessary prerequisite to protecting yourself. It’s possible that, after discussion, we would have decided, as a society, that Bin Laden and his followers were mistaken, that our foreign policy in the Middle East either was not as they described, or was but was quite defensible. But we never had that discussion because our government and media were not willing to encourage a discussion of Bin Laden’s complaints, which would have embarrassed them gravely, since many of those complaints were valid. Of course, valid or not, they did not justify terrorism, and the hunt for Bin Laden could perfectly well have proceeded in tandem with an attempt to get at the truth of his charges against American policy. But our government and opinion leaders preferred to portray Bin Laden and his followers as mere theological fanatics, who hated all that was good about America and aimed solely at establishing a global theocracy, rather than as theological fanatics who had indeed seen their societies oppressed, exploited, and humiliated by the US and its allies.

And no, no one is claiming that Bin Laden shouldn’t have been killed. The question is whether he was or should have been killed extrajudicially, unless it was a matter of military necessity, as our government says (possibly truthfully) it was.

It’s depressing enough that the public (one expects nothing better of government and the intellectuals) can’t seem to make the necessary distinctions between understanding the causes of terrorism and excusing terrorism, and between punishment under law and violence outside the law. But that even some CT readers seem uninterested in these distinctions is almost terminally depressing.


Britta 05.03.11 at 4:54 am

Tony Lynch
Somehow, this thread turned into a Matt Yglesias comment thread. This seems to be happening more frequently, I wonder what’s happened around here?


Salient 05.03.11 at 5:17 am

whether the killing of OBL is something to be welcomed —not celebrated but welcomed—or not

When my cat brings me a dead mouse^1^ that it caught, I don’t punish it or complain about its behavior or really do much of anything. It did what cats do. I’m not going to get the cat to stop being a mouse-hunter, which is markedly lower on my priority list than getting the cat to stop killing Pakistani and Iraqi civilians by the thousands pissing on my visiting friend’s duffel bag. Well, ok, I suppose in the event of a moussassination I would ‘welcome’ the discovery that there’s one more dead mouse in the apartment and one less live one. I mean, sure, I don’t want mice in the apartment, a dead mouse is better than a live one, a dead mouse can’t coordinate terrorist attacks raid the pantry. And this particular mouse masterminded 9/11 had a litter of mice back in 2003 or so, which means it really really deserves to die a super-extra deathy death. So… yay? It got better than it deserved? After seven years of bungling expensive traps, something finally got ’em? I guess I can rustle up some muted enthusiasm? But mostly I’d be staring at the mouse corpse dejectedly and think, well, ok, time to scoop it up and haul it to the bathroom and ‘bury it at sea.’ The moussassination probably didn’t fix the mouse problem, or even contribute more than symbolically to solving the long-term mouse problem. But it’s not a bad thing, on balance. It’s better than nothing, probably.

…gah, fuck it, whatever, shibboleth shibboleth shazam, I am totally fucking stoked that Elizabeth May got elected somebody killed Osama bin Laden seriously though, people for whom Global Warming for Dummies is just a reference work now have representation in Canada whooo.

I will be way more excited to learn we got Obama’s computer and his email login passwords and stuff, which would be unambiguously doubledoubleplusgood and might possibly win us the future. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn OBL and/or his associates spent the last few minutes of life frantically clearing iPhone browsing history files.

^1^Admittedly, this has never actually happened and I don’t think my apartment even has mice; I’m extrapolating rather loosely.


Chris Bertram 05.03.11 at 7:22 am

This morning’s radio broadcasts are spinning the OBL killing as a justification for torture. But afaics this is just spin from former Bush officials.


areanimator 05.03.11 at 8:51 am

Most everyone agrees that the death of Usama Bin Laden will not end the war on terror. It will not result in the rescinding of extraordinary powers given to intelligence agencies, the police and the military. It will not end the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and the military intervention in Libya. It will not put a stop to the activities of Al-Qaeda.

And yet, there’s a push to extract some kind of measure of good news out of this death. The chanting crowds seem a perverse, regressive, “tribal” celebration of the death of an enemy (I think of the chanting crowds in Afghanistan burning US flags triumphantly over the ruins of embassy houses a few weeks back), but it makes one point clear: that Americans have been desperate for something, some kind of release for their patriotic feelings, something to replace the disturbing feeling of impotence.

Prior to the death of UBL, the War on Terror was perceived as being lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at least grinding to a stalemate. There was talk in the military establishment of power-sharing agreements with the Taliban. Now the perception has changed entirely. The facts on the ground remain the same, but the war is now seen as being won. A temporary injection of pride in an aching, tired body. I find myself unable to partake of this pride. Rather, the emotion I feel is sadness. Not because UBL “deserved better”, or because I sympathize with him, but because it’s all too little, too late. It will not bring reparation to the victims of 9/11; for a long time now, it hasn’t been about 9/11.

Also, even though I understand it was meant in a light-hearted way, I find the comparison between Arabs and mice (and US soldiers to cats) viscerally disgusting. The denial of human agency that goes with it is just… icky to me.


H 05.03.11 at 11:18 am

Marc @118. From what I’ve read, this was not an attempted arrest gone horribly wrong; but an action with the deliberate assignment of killing bin Laden. (I’ll accept correction on this point as more details leak out.)

Kenny @128. You make good points. But it seems to me that where this leads logically is not to opposition to the death penalty as a general moral proposition; for example, I think Sirhan Sirhan confessed, or wanted to confess. The argument back then was that the death penalty was cruel and unusual and therefore wrong regardless of how certain we are of guilt.

And geo @ 132 contributes this: “no one is claiming that Bin Laden shouldn’t have been killed. The question is whether he was or should have been killed extrajudicially, unless it was a matter of military necessity” (an act of war, not an act of justice).


Andrew 05.03.11 at 11:53 am

Geo @132: You’re conflating the short clips of rhetoric from political speeches with all of public conversation. There have been numerous, expert analyses of the motives of Bin Laden, of AQ, and of its various personnel, affiliates, and related organizations. The idea that we just “never had a conversation” about Bin Laden’s motives without reducing them to caricature is false.

As to the rest:

There is room for reasonable debate about how far the boundaries of a war against AQ should be pushed, but surely we can agree that Bin Laden falls within those boundaries. This is war. Bin Laden is a military target. He was killed in an audacious raid that apparently produced a single civilian casualty – a woman reportedly used as a human shield by one of Bin Laden’s men. Proportionality is clearly met.

I see no reason for Bin Laden to have been offered a trial. We have a judiciary for many reasons. Protecting hostile foreign military leaders isn’t one of them.


engels 05.03.11 at 12:56 pm

Al Jazeera’s obituary


LFC 05.03.11 at 1:54 pm

Geo @132: I did state your position about the relation between US foreign policy and 9/11 too loosely; I should have been more precise. On everything else, however, I stand by what I’ve already said.


Tim Wilkinson 05.03.11 at 4:50 pm

geo @120 – Tim @118: “the comprehensive destruction of evidence relating to the 11 Sep 2001 events”

Would you elaborate?

Actually, no, but I will elaborate (at some length and without bullets, I’m afraid) on why I won’t elaborate.

Doing so would inevitably mean a time-consuming and unpleasant exchange about it (not that you would be unpleasnat, of course, but some people obviously are). I don’t have anything like enough invested in such issues for it to be worth digging myself into a ‘truther’-shaped hole.

Without any kind of further theory to propound, it’s hard to motivate myself to defend a bare observation about destruction of evidence – even though procedural impropriety, epistemic irresponsibility and a disregard for posterity are worth noting, and even though its occurrence would rebut general arguments that such a thing is impossible, a rebuttal which could be applied to other cases in which some particular hypothesis is at stake. If disctretionary exceptions can be made to general principles, the general principles are not being adhered to. (Such exceptions are always ‘notably rare’ in the tehcnical sense.)

But any such observations in the context of 9-11 are subject to immediate ‘read-ahead’ – conclusions, often rather tenuous, are drawn from them on the proponents’s behalf. These conclusions are held to contradict the only sensible account, the upshot being that the observations are to be rejected – and the proponent rebuffed – with extreme prejudice. Repeat for each observation, severally not jointly.

I tend to take a more procedurally correct view of these things and suppose that facts are not to be disregarded, even if the main reason one might have for paying attention to them seems ridiculous. (Here be epistemology – I favour something like Susan Haack’s inelegantly-named ‘foundherentism’ at the moment.)

If this is ‘trutherism’ then it is so in the sense of wanting to see bit more regard for the truth, or rather our trying to be properly related to it. Like being pissed off about a drunk driver (and about universal indulgence of such antics among solid respectable types) even if they haven’t killed anyone.

Destroying evidence could be a sign of wanting a fast, rather than also a false, conclusion, just as removing news stories can be intended to avoid damaging speculation rather than also to conceal some inherently discreditable fact. And as Cass Sunstein will tell you, various underhand means are required to combat dangerous though false conspiracy theories. In any case, who knows what emabarrassing facts might have been deemed worth covering up? Imponderability abounds.

Quite a bit of motivation would be required to defend that particular one-sentence application of those epistemic principles, since I’d no doubt feel impelled to respond to any objections there might be in amongst the insults.

It’s a long time since a time-devouring browser binge took me down that path. I do though remember that the only collections of info about it are on ‘truther’ sites (of course thanks to the likes of MPAVictoria, this is more or less a conceptual truth, Quine forgive me). ‘Truther’ sites as a class are not citeworthy, and can only provide leads to more credible sources.

Sifting through the morass of claims, checking links, hunting around in for all the dead ones, etc – a ghastly prospect. Then you have the actual attempt to assess evidence, witness statements on and off the record, etc etc. It’s a nightmare. Just as one example, take this Counterpunch piece.

Or decide (without ‘read-ahead’) how likely it is that two of the 9-11 commission members claimed that it was ‘set up to fail’ – and then try to decide what contribution to the total evidence (for or against various propositions) such a claim might make. Those are provided as examples rather than as evidence of anything. No correspondence will be entered into.

So although my impulse is to give some pointers from memory in case you are in search of a way of frittering away hours of your life, I think all I can really do is withdraw that sentence without further comment.

Sorry, I know this is not really satisfactory, but society’s to blame.

Salient @123 – thanks (I think), yes, that’s about right.

Re: CIA offices: yeah, and the DoD, Secret Service, some others IIRC – but that was Building 7, which I assume you are not suggesting was targeted. Inferences about motive are pretty weak tea anyway, and the idea that the official account might be a matter of the balance of probabilities, still less that motive claims could be anywhere near tipping it, is not an acceptable one in polite society, is it?


Salient 05.03.11 at 5:45 pm

This is war.
I find the comparison between Arabs and mice (and US soldiers to cats) viscerally disgusting

Who was comparing Arabs to mice? Sheesh, the intended equivalence was mice = Al Qaeda (or organized terrorists more generally), mouse = bin Laden. I can’t blame you for being viscerally horrified if you thought it was a comment on Arabs; I’d have much the same reaction. (Although my influence over the D0D/military is probably far less than my influence over my cat, and the D0D/military is fundamentally predatory, so I sort of stand by the Navy Seal Cat bit of facetiousness.)

This is war.

No, it’s not. It’s absurd to call whatever the hell it is we’re doing a “war on terror” and it’s absurd to extrapolate from that as a premise. (Absurd may not be the best word. I was searching for a mild adjective, and may have failed in my search.)

However, that’s not to say anything you said after that sentence is false. To assert “bin Laden was a military target” and extrapolate from that seems reasonable enough, so I won’t argue with it. My stance remains “well, it would have been nice to capture him alive and put him on trial for crimes against humanity, but I’m not exactly mourning — I feel pensive and stunned and maybe even a bit disassociative about what feels like the end of an era that encompassed my adult life to date — bin Laden and 9/11 and the response to 9/11 were the defining feature of the environment in which I’ve lived since the age of majority, and this is an unexpected and stunning denouement.

Of course probably almost everyone else on CT has at least a decade on me, so this probably feels to them like the closing of one chapter in the middle of many, not the end of Volume I.

but that was Building 7, which I assume you are not suggesting was targeted

I probably shouldn’t be suggesting *anything* as it was just a strikingly nonchalant citation-free observation I heard on the radio; I’ll maybe go read more about this Building 7 some other time.

It’s definitely welcome news that all the hard drives and tech stuff on the compound were recovered. That picture of Obama in sunglasses floating around the Internet should read Sorry it took me so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate — I was busy acquiring the cell phones and hard drives of Al Qaeda’s top guys.

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