Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Victory for the President, but a Defeat for the Rule of Law

Following the raid in Pakistan and killing of Osama bin Laden, wives and children of the al Qaeda leader are crawling out of the woodwork. Bin Laden reportedly had as many as four wives, and anywhere from 20-26 children, 11 of whom are sons, most of whom have, according to The Telegraph, taken refuge in Iran.

His wife, the one wounded by Navy Seals in the compound attack more than a week ago, was 35 years bin Laden's junior which may explain why the bin Laden basement tapes reveal a dissheveled, emaciated, and thoroughly exhausted man who can barely hold a remote. Videos of the 54 year old show him watching news clips of himself. Who knows, he may even have been watching an episode of "All In The Family" in syndication?

Indeed, given his potency and had it been his wish, his sperm could have been used as a weapon of mass destruction in itself, so prolific was he.

Reuters now says that Omar bin Laden, the fugitive's fourth eldest son, is contemplating legal action against the U.S. "to determine the true fate of our vanished father." The younger bin Laden insists that the disposal of his father's body by burying it at sea is humiliating, especially in light of his father's prominence, and that it desecrates Islamic tradition.

Omar bin Laden also argues that it was, from the outset, never the U.S. government's objective to capture his father, but to kill him in that raid.

Whether there is merit to this argument or not, or whether there is any way to justify the actions of the Navy SEALs in accordance with international law, there remains a baffling question. Why, with an immediate family large enough to start a professional football team, not to mention numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, in-laws, did it take nearly ten years to locate that Osama bin Laden?

Back in 2002, CNN did a broadcast on "Osama's Women" and, four years earlier, correspondent Peter Bergen interviewed bin Laden himself. What was the intelligence agency under George W. Bush doing not only in the months immediately before the attack on the World Trade Center, but in the months afterwards? Why did it never occur to anyone to find a way to subpoena, and question a member of bin Laden's family to get at his whereabouts?

Why was the al Qaeda leader effectively rendered irrelevant by the Bush administration, and so quickly? Why did they instead choose to focus on plundering and occupying Iraq in the name of laying claim to weapons of mass destruction that were never found instead of looking into bin Laden's whereabouts? Why the confusion about who was responsible for the World Trade Center bombing when Bill Clinton fingered bin Laden nearly a decade before? Why was Saddam Hussein linked, and executed for a crime with which he had no connection?

How is it that the CIA, under Leon Panetta, was able to do in a little more than a year what the same agency couldn't do in eight years of George W. Bush? Clearly, it's about priorities, yes? But, why was sending a signal of strength to al Qaeda not Mr. Bush's number one priority? Did he forget who the enemy was in the "war on terror," or was he, like his sidekick Dick Cheney, merely unable to shoot straight?

How can any reasonably intelligent individual be expected to believe anything that comes out of the mouth of an elected official again?

Yet, according to a recent NBC poll, 80% of Americans now say they approve of the president's surgical removal of a pesky adversary. That must mean, then, that 80% of Americans believe that Osama bin Laden was the problem in much the same way that a staggering number of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

Factoring out any moral or legal considerations, just as the raid on Khaddafi's Libyan compound by Reagan's elite forces only served to neutralize and silence the Libyan leader temporarily, no lasting peace can ever be secured by the discharge of a bullet. To think otherwise essentially amounts to shadow boxing with a basic historical truth.

What happened in that compound in Pakistan in the end amounts to little more than rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. The infrastructure of global inequality is still in place.

In the end, while he may have had a $25 million bounty hanging over his head, and may have been the most reviled man in the world, Osama bin Laden was a human being. Surely the "taking out" of one human being won't go far in addressing the underlying causes, global socioeconomic disparities, that are currently transforming Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain in unknown ways.

No American, since Ronald Reagan praised him as a heroic freedom fighter, has had anything good to say about Osama bin Laden. But, we don't pledge to restore the rule of law by making just one little exception for one "bad guy" or another. That's why it's called the "rule" of law.

President Obama has proven to the birthers that he is, in fact, an American citizen, and to the radical right that he is the commander-in-chief. Now, he has to prove to the rest of us that he is the statesman we elected him to be.