I’ve thought for a while that I’d put together a longer post about the death of Bin Laden last week, but there’s not a lot I can say about it that hasn’t been said better elsewhere, except to answer questions put to me directly. I have definitely been asked where my outrage is about an extrajudicial activity like this, given my “rule of law” bent so well documented here.
On that point, I’m pretty unbothered. OBL was pretty clear in what he wanted, what he was responsible for, and what he planned to do in the future. He’s not some made-up boogeyman; plenty of sources agree on his role in the resurgence of xenophobic jihadism in the Middle East. (If you haven’t, please do go read The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright’s Pultizer-winning account of the rise of Al Qaeda.) Bin Laden was a bad guy and an enemy of peaceful people everywhere; as the President noted in his announcement, he’s killed no small number of Muslims. And, unlike the bulk of the people we housed at Gitmo these last 9+ years, we actually KNOW he was guilty.
So, Eichmann aside, I don’t have any problem at all with this move. I don’t even have a problem if the mission parameters were structured to make live capture essentially impossible despite giving lip service to the idea. I’d feel the same way about Mullah Omar, but probably not about many other folks — I mean, these guys are avowed terrorists who want to kill Americans. They don’t stop being that just because they’re not holding a gun right now. Again, unlike most of the folks we nabbed and stuck in extraconstitutional hell, there’s no doubt about the names at the top of the AQ masthead. (Indeed, my point all along was that people like Maher Arar were detained, tortured, and otherwise assaulted without any evidence of wrongdoing — and then released with no recourse.)
So what of torture and intelligence gathering? Folks are definitely making lots of noise about this, and Bush apologists are saying that waterboard-gained intel is what put us on the path to Abbottabad. Well, opinions vary, but even if we did it was still wrong. However, I’m not alone in thinking it wasn’t torture, if only because of the timeline. Evidence points to real intel, not waterboarding, as the source of this leak. Or, as the Economist pointed out, if the elimination of Osama Bin Laden was a triumph for the tactics of a TV hero, it was Lester Freamon, not Jack Bauer.
Which, finally, brings us to the most cogent and clearest analysis of all this comes from Radley Balko. In his view, dead or not, Osama won. You should read this, even if you skip most of the rest of these links. He set out to harm America, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Food for thought.