I was talking with Gordon and other friends about this last night about something which has been bugging me for the last week. Assuming Osama Bin Laden really is dead and not being tortured in some Pandorica in Guantanamo Bay, was it right for the Americans to kill him?
I know he was the nastiest of the nasty; the world’s most wanted self-confessed terrorist. But how can it be right to act as judge, jury and executioner against anyone? We tried Nazis who were guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity, yet in this case the rights he would deny us were also denied him? Isn’t our understanding of the rule of law that it applies to everyone all of the time, regardless of what they’ve done? He didn’t put up a struggle, yet the narrative says he was summarily killed anyway. How is that any more right than America’s ongoing, unaccountable Predator drone strikes elsewhere in Pakistan?
Human rights are absolute. Osama, regardless of his crimes, was entitled to live his life free from arbitrary state execution, or in this case a foreign state’s arbitrary execution. His credo was just that – he orchestrated the senseless deaths of countless thousands of people, based on an absolutist, fundamentalist worldview. To prove our way is better we have to stand up for it, not cast it aside. But of course we already have as Johann Hari points out:
Osama Bin Laden is dead, but our foreign policy is still giving him what he wanted. We are still bleeding cash creating bleeding countries and more enraged people. The angry, fighting people in Afghanistan today are – according to leaked CIA reports – overwhelmingly “a tribal, localised insurgency” who “see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power”. They have “no goals” beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Even General David Petraeus, the new head of the CIA, says there are only 100 al-Qa’ida fighters in the whole of Afghanistan. One senior military official, speaking to the Washington Post, compared their intelligence on them to “Bigfoot sightings”. Crunch the numbers, and you find we are spending $1.5bn a year on each al-Qa’ida fighter in Afghanistan. Is there anyone, except the private defence contractors making a fortune, who thinks that is a smart use of cash?
Many people are angrily asking whether the Pakistani authorities knew about Bin Laden’s presence. But few are asking how our governments’ actions may have made this more likely. For the past three years, the US, with the support of its allies, has been sending unmanned robot-planes swooping over the country, incinerating thousands of civilians. When the country experienced its worst floods in living memory, it was used as a pretext to increase the bombings. If that was happening in your country, would you be more or less likely to co-operate with the people attacking you?
Well done Obama, you’ve apparently killed the bogeyman. And missed the entire point.
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