We know Osama bin Laden wasn’t armed when he was shot and killed. We know he wasn’t hiding behind a woman. What we’ve yet to find out are the exact orders that were given to whoever pulled the trigger, but so far mounting evidence suggests that in the early hours of Monday morning, US Navy SEALs conducted an execution under the direction of President Obama.
Update: In a White House press briefing today, Jay Carney provided clarification on the execution order, which is to say that bin Laden would have been taken captive if he had made it clear that he wanted to surrender.
The team had the authority to kill Osama bin Laden unless he offered to surrender, in which case the team was required to accept his surrender, if the team could do so safely.
Carney did not respond when a reporter asked whether any of the US servicemen in the operation spoke Arabic.
Meanwhile, testifying in Congress Attorney General Eric Holder said that even if bin Laden had attempted to surrender, US Navy SEALs would have been justified in killing him.
A senior Pakistani security official told ABC News, the bin Laden was killed in front of his 13-year old daughter. In photographs published by Reuters showing three of the men killed in the compound, no weapons could be seen.
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Gary Younge writes:
While many nations suffered from al-Qaida’s terrorism and few in the world will mourn Bin Laden’s death, the United States is the only place where it sparked spontaneous outpourings of raucous jubilation.
The national unity that Barack Obama has sought to harness following the announcement is indeed eerily familiar. Albeit in joy rather than sorrow, it’s the same kind of unity that followed 9/11. It is also the same kind of unity that rallies around flags, dismisses dissent and disdains reflection. And however comforting it may have been at the time, the consequences of that kind of unity has been disastrous.
The reason Bin Laden’s death was a source of such elation is in part because almost every other American response to 9/11 is regarded as a partial or total failure. Two thirds of the people believe that the Iraq invasion was not worth it, and the country is evenly divided on the issue of whether the invasion Afghanistan is a good idea. The public mostly supports keeping Guantánamo open – but nonetheless concedes that doing so will fuel anti-American sentiment.
So the frustration of the last decade, during which the limits of America’s military superiority were tested and found wanting, had their outlet in the murder of a single man at the hands of a crack team of US Navy Seals.
Having effectively declared war on the world it is hardly a surprise that Bin Laden would come to this kind of end.
This was not so much the exercise of American power as the performance of it. Coming eight years to the day after George W Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln to announce “Mission accomplished” in Iraq, news of Bin Laden’s death was yet another mediated milestone in this war on an abstract noun. Like the capture of Saddam Hussein, the murder of Bin Laden changes little. Al-Qaida was never a top-down organisation, and was in decline anyhow – and the principal reason for its waning fortunes is the uprisings in the Arab world, revolts that have mostly taken place against America’s client states.
But to suggest that “justice has been done”, as President Obama did on Sunday night, seems perverse. This was not justice, it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.
Geofrrey Robertson writes:
America resembles the land of the munchkins, as it celebrates the death of the Wicked Witch of the East. The joy is understandable, but in some respects, unattractive. It endorses what looks increasingly like a cold-blooded assassination ordered by a president who, as a former law professor, knows the absurdity of his statement that “justice was done”. Amoral diplomats and triumphant politicians join in applauding Bin Laden’s summary execution because they claim real justice – arrest, trial and sentence would have been too difficult in the case of Bin Laden. But in the long-term interests of a better world, should it not at least have been attempted?
That future depends on a respect for international law. The circumstances of Bin Laden’s killing are as yet unclear and the initial objection that the operation was an illegitimate invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty must be rejected. Necessity required the capture of this indicted and active international criminal and Pakistan’s abject failure (whether through incompetence or connivance) justified Obama’s order for an operation to apprehend him. However, the terms of that order, as yet undisclosed, are all important. Bill Clinton admitted recently to having secretly approved teh assassination of Bin Laden by the CIA after the US embassy bombings in the1990s, while President Bush publicly said after 9/11 that he wanted Bin Laden’s head on a plate. Did President Obama order his capture, or his execution?
Robert Lambert writes:
Al-Qaida strategists, propagandists, operatives and supporters will be relieved that Osama bin Laden, their iconic figurehead, died a martyr and was not captured alive and imprisoned to stand trial. To this extent the strategists determining US counterterrorism policy have shown a disregard for effective counterterrorism and instead fostered continuity with the war on terror which has boosted, rather than diminished, global support for al-Qaida since 9/11.
When Tony Blair and George Bush stood shoulder to shoulder in the aftermath of 9/11 it was clear to both leaders that military responses would replace criminal investigations as the preferred tools of counterterrorism. Sadly, in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe, the war on terror resulted in the deaths of far more civilians than suspected terrorists – whether high profile like Bin Laden or lesser and unknown known figures operating in the name of al-Qaida.
As a result, the war on terror lost moral authority and became a gift to al-Qaida propagandists. The fact that the most effective counterterrorism is always closely focused on the prosecution of terrorist conspirators appeared to be of no concern in the Pentagon or Whitehall.
According to al-Qaida propagandist Saif al-Adl, 9/11 was intended to provoke the US to “lash out militarily against the ummah” in the manner if not the scale of “the war on terror”.
“The Americans took the bait,” he continues, “and fell into our trap” – no doubt using hindsight to describe al-Qaida’s ability to predict the massive scale and range of the military responses to 9/11.
Patrick Cockburn writes:
Al Qaeda is the most successful terrorist organization in history. By destroying the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 it provoked the US into launching wars damaging to itself in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda aimed to destroy the status quo in the Middle East and it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.
Its success has not been all its own doing. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two and chief strategist, wrote at the time of 9/11 that the aim of the group was to lure the US into an over-reaction in which it would “wage battle against the Muslims.” Once the US was committed to a ground war, and no longer exercised its power primarily through local surrogates, the way would be open for Muslims to launch a jihad against America. By over-reacting, President Bush, aided by Tony Blair, responded to 9/11 very much as al-Qaeda would have wished.
In the decade since the attack on the Twin Towers “terrorist experts” and governments have frequently portrayed al-Qaeda as a tightly organized group located in north-west Pakistan. From some secret headquarters its tentacles reach out across the world, feeding recruits, expertise and money to different battlefronts.
Al-Qaeda has never operated like that. The closest it ever came to being a sort of Islamic Comintern was when it had several hundred militants based in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan in 1996-2001. Even at that time, when it could operate more or less freely in the Afghan mountains, its numbers were so small that it would hire local tribesmen by the day to be filmed for al-Qaeda propaganda videos, showing its men marching and training.