Was It Worth It?

President Obama Announces Osama Bin Laden's De...

Image by Pixel Form via Flickr

May 7, 2011

Osama bin Ladin is dead.   For a moment, during the President’s announcement of bin Laden’s death, I felt all the shock and sorrow of 9/11 again and thought, “Good,” even though I hadn’t know any of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks that day.  It still felt personal.

In doomer circles, at least, a lot has been made of the crowd that gathered around the White House that night, waving flags and chanting, “USA, USA.”  From what I’ve read, most in that crowd were kids from the nearby university.  I don’t fault them for their exuberance.  Think of this; they were eight, nine, ten years old when the attack on 9/11 happened.  They have known little else but a post-9/11 world driven by the propaganda and hype of a ten-year war on terrorism centered around bin Laden.

It’s the rest of us, who grew up in a pre-9/11 world, who need to stop and take a good look at this war on terror that our government launched after 9/11 and which has now culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden.  We need to understand what it has really cost us and urgently ask ourselves, “Was it worth it?”

Back on January 1 of this year, I documented many of the societal and economic costs of this war in a blog post titled, The “A Little Safer” America. https://conflicteddoomer.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/the%E2%80%9Da-little-safer%E2%80%9D-america/   Both costs have only risen since then.

But there is another cost, often ignored by the American people, the moral costs of this ten year war to kill bin Laden.

Back in April, writer Glenn Greenwald raised serious questions about the presidential authority to assassinate American citizens abroad. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/01/27/yemen

Greenwald quotes from a Washington Post article by Dana Priest:

“After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

“The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

“Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture.  The JSOC list includes three Americans, including [New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar] Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.”

He then goes on to point out, “Just think about this for a minute.  Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.”  They’re entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations.”

So, what does that have to do with the death of bin Laden?  Despite the first telling of the story, complete with firefight and a cowardly bin Laden using one of his wives as a shield, subsequent versions indicate that he was not armed, did not use his wife as a shield and may simply have been marked for assassination from the beginnings of the operation.

But, you might say, he was certainly not a US citizen.  He’s accused of masterminding the attacks that killed thousands here and more thousands around the world.  So what if we assassinated him?

We have always prided ourselves on being a nation of laws based on shared moral beliefs about basic human rights.  As far back as the Civil War, assassination was deemed illegal by the President, as Greenwald points out further on in his article:

“A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

“The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.”

We have believed as a nation, that all people have certain rights – even people who have been accused of doing bad, evil, awful things.  The founding fathers enshrined those rights in the Constitution, especially the bill of rights.

Bin Laden denied having anything to do with 9/11.http://articles.cnn.com/2001-09-16/us/inv.binladen.denial_1_bin-laden-taliban-supreme-leader-mullah-mohammed-omar?_s=PM:US  And it is important to note that, in spite of the infamous “confession” video released in December of 2001, the FBI never charged bin Laden with the 9/11 attacks, let alone tried or convicted him, because they lacked the solid evidence required by law.  He may have been guilty of all the crimes he is accused of; but he is dead, now, without the evidence having proven his guilt in a court of law.  That is not something we should be willing to skip over.

Nearly six thousand American military persons and tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in our declared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to undeclared wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and other ten thousands wounded in body and mind in our ten year “War on Terrorism” and the search for bin Laden.  We have given up rights, mostly without question, we once considered sacred.  We have allowed our government to authorize acts in our name – such as torture and assassination – that we once considered morally abhorrent, without legal evidence, formal charges or trials by jury, first against citizens of other countries, now against citizens of our own who they have decided are terrorists.

Even if you cannot find it in your heart to question these things on moral grounds, consider this: almost all these laws, edicts and orders are still in effect and, without congressional intervention, will be for the foreseeable future.

We came within a whisker’s width of economic collapse three years ago.  We still have not recovered.  We are facing a destabilizing climate and dwindling food and energy resources, any of which can push us back into recession, depression or economic collapse.  What happens to us, our families and neighbors in the chaos and confusion that would accompany such an event?  Could some of us become the new terrorists in the government’s eyes, hunted down and eliminated without evidentiary proof or fair trial?  Could we be considered “collateral damage” in a war the government decides to wage against them?

In allowing our government the authority to commit these acts against others, we have unthinkingly given them the authority to commit them against us if they should come to believe we are a threat to their continued existence.

In light of that, we might all want to look again at the death of bin Laden and ask ourselves, honestly, “Was it worth it?”

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6 Responses to Was It Worth It?

  1. southwerk says:

    This is a very thoughtful article about a difficult subject. I’m a big fan of Greenwald myself, so I’ve seen some of the same writing you have. Letting the President decide who should be killed does not strike me as an idea that is not going to cause this nation serious problems at some point. Thanks for being thoughtful. In an age of gross distortion we need all the reasoning we can get.
    James Pilant

    • theozarker says:

      Hi James, thanks for your comment. Greenwald is a favorite of mine, too. I’m not really big on conspiracy theories, but this whole security apparatus that’s grown up since 9/11 worries me more than the terrorists. We’ve sometimes seemed so eager to throw away our Constitutional protections just to feel safer. Not a good bargain at all.

  2. Patty says:

    You and Noam Chomsky have put this into far better words than I could. I have felt as though I am staring clear-eyed at a totalitarian state-owned future, while the great mass of obedient ones shuffle into the Colosseum for the latest spectacle. The great beauty and gift to posterity that was the United States of America has been corrupted by greed and the love of power. Our Constitution lays violated and ignored and college kids blinded by propaganda and blood lust chant “USA, USA” on the world stage. I am appalled and saddened to such a degree that I am rendered practically incoherent. The very beautiful love that one feels for ones country has been used as a propaganda tool and means of brainwashing those too afraid to look up or question, and woe to those of us who do.
    Thank you for blogging the truth. God bless.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey Patty, so much of this past week has reminded me of all the whoop-la and propaganda surrounding the rescue of Jessica Simpson near the beginning of the Iraq War and the death of Pat Tillman. Pretty soon, people just quit believing anything the government says, no matter who says it, and assume they’re all no-good liars. Not an unreasonable response, but it’s destroyed the political system at a time when should have been able to work within it to find and implement whatever solutions to our real problems might have been available. Meanwhile, that cliff just keeps getting closer…

  3. graveday says:

    Yes, Linda, too many do not see their own face in the pictures of OBL nor feel the cold waters submerging the foundations of moral relations as their freedoms are slipped quietly into the sea.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey grave, how are you? It’s easy to see the humanity in good people; much harder to recognize it in those we love to hate. It sure does feel like it might be our undoing, doesn’t it?

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