What if the US Were a Nation of Laws?
President Obama murdered Osama bin Laden. I am surprised that the left has been so supportive—not of the end result, but of the way it was carried out.
Imagine if the killing had gone down the same exact way, but under Bush. Armed commandos invade a foreign country, storm into a suburban neighborhood, blow a hole in a house and blow away an unarmed man in front of his 12-year-old daughter. The guy is a murder suspect. Mass murder. But there's no attempt to arrest him or bring him to justice. They spirit his bloody corpse out of the country and dump it into the ocean.
Osama bin Laden was suspected ordering of one of the most horrific crimes of the decade. He might have been taken alive. Yet Obama's commandos killed him. A big part of the puzzle—the key to the truth, who might have led us to other people responsible for 9/11—is gone.
Barack Obama is our Jack Ruby.
Liberals would be appalled if this had happened four years ago. They would have protested Bush's violations of international law and basic human rights. They would have complained about killing the Al Qaeda leader before questioning him about possible terrorist plots. They would have demanded investigations.
But this happened under Obama. Which means that even liberal lawyers who ought to (and probably do) know better are going along. At a panel discussion at the Justice Institute at Pace Law School, University of Houston law professor Jordan Paust asserted: "You can [legally] use military force without consent in foreign countries."
"At some point a sovereign state [such as Pakistan] that's harboring an international fugitive loses the right to assert sovereignty," added Robert Van Lierop.
Paust and Van Lierop are, respectively, a leading opponent of torture at Guantánamo and a former UN ambassador known for his activism on climate change. Both are "liberal."
In the U.S., conservatives and "liberals" agree: Might makes right. America's military-intelligence apparatus is so fearsome that it can deploy its soldiers and agents without fear of retribution.
Might makes right.
In 2007, for example, U.S. Special Forces invaded Iran from U.S.-occupied Iraq in order to kidnap Iranian border guards. It was an outrage. In practical terms, however, there was nothing the Iranians could do about it.
The United States' 900-pound gorilla act might go over better if we weren't a nation that constantly prattles on and on about how civilized we are, how important it is that everyone follow the rules. For example:
"We're a nation of laws!" Obama recently exclaimed. "We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate."
He wasn't talking about himself. This was about PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of supplying the big Defense Department data dump to WikiLeaks. Manning has been subjected to torture including sleep deprivation and forced nudity—treatment ordered by Obama.
Truth is, the Constitution, our treaty obligations and our stacks of legal codes are worthless paper. We're not a nation of laws. We're a nation of gun-toting, missile-lobbing, drone-flying goons.
U.S. officials do whatever they feel like and then dress up their brazenly illegal acts with perverse Orwellian propaganda. "I authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice," Obama claimed, as if blowing away an unarmed man in a foreign country was the moral equivalent of filing an extradition request with the Pakistani government and putting him on trial before 12 unbiased jurors in a court of law.
Justice is a legal process. It is not a military assault.
When considering the legality or morality of an act it helps to consider different scenarios. What, for example, if Pakistan had military power equal to ours? Last week's lead news might have begun something like this:
"Pakistan has intercepted four U.S. helicopters over its airspace, forced them to land, and taken 79 "heavily-armed commandos" as prisoners. According to Pakistani military officials, the incident took place about 100 miles from the border of U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. 'They didn't stray across the border accidentally. This was a deliberate act,' said a Pakistani general. President Asif Ali Zardari has asked Pakistan's nuclear weapons infrastructure has been placed on high alert as the parliament, the Majlis-e-Shoora, considers whether to issue a declaration of war…"
Or let's assume a different reimagining. What if the United States really was a nation of laws?
Then the news might look like the following:
"Bipartisan demands for Congressional investigations into the assassination of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden quickly escalated into demands for presidential impeachment after reports that U.S. forces operating under orders from President Obama invaded a sovereign nation without permission to carry out what House Speaker John Boehner called 'a mob-style hit.' Standing at Boehner's side, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi decried Obama's 'cowboy antics' and said she had received numerous phone calls from the relatives of 9/11 victims furious that true justice had been denied. Meanwhile, in New York, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon moved for sanctions against the United States…"
In fact, no one knows whether Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11.
They suspect. They feel.
They don't know.
For what it's worth, he denied it:
"Following the latest explosions in the United States, some Americans are pointing the finger at me, but I deny that because I have not done it," bin Laden said in a statement released on 9/16/01. "The United States has always accused me of these incidents which have been caused by its enemies. Reiterating once again, I say that I have not done it, and the perpetrators have carried this out because of their own interest."
Why should we believe him? Why not? He admitted his responsibility for the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998.
Interestingly, the FBI never mentioned 9/11 on his "wanted" poster.
There was the famous "confession video"—but it was translated into English by the CIA, hardly an objective source. Arabic language experts say the CIA manipulated bin Laden's discussion of what he had watched on TV into an admission of guilt. For example, they changed bin Laden's passive-voice discussion to active: "[the 19 hijackers] were required to go" became, in the CIA version, "we asked each of them to go to America."
"The American translators who listened to the tapes and transcribed them apparently wrote a lot of things in that they wanted to hear but that cannot be heard on the tape no matter how many times you listen to it," said Gernot Rotter, professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the Asia-Africa Institute at the University of Hamburg.
Other OBL communiqués appear to take credit for 9/11—but there's a possibility that he was trying to keep himself relevant for his Islamist audience. Anyway, a confession does not prove guilt. Police receive numerous "confessions" for high-profile crimes. They can't just shoot everyone who confesses
I'm not angry that Bin Laden is dead. Nor am I happy. I didn't know the guy or care for his ideology.
I'm angry that, without a trial or a real investigation, we will never know whether he was guilty of 9/11—or, if he was, who else was involved.
Our Jack Ruby, Barack Obama, made sure of that.