Given his role in inaugurating the “war on terror” on September 11 2001, the fourth anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden surprisingly passed on May 2 with barely a murmur (with the later exception of Seymour Hersh). This is especially puzzling if we consider that a number of the ongoing crises involving jihadi Islamists, from Karachi to Paris to Timbuktu, are part and parcel of Bin Laden’s legacy –- if not so much the man and/or his post-September 11 actions per se, then certainly the myths surrounding this villain of Western imagination.
More to the point, a number of misguided policies following September 11, including military intervention, assassination and draconian counter-terrorism laws, continue to the present day. Bin Laden’s shadow looms large with the rise of Islamic State, or ISIS, and its international franchises, alongside ongoing detriment to civil liberties on the home front.
After Bin Laden’s killing, Juice Media’s satirical Rap News released Osamacide. Created, written and performed by Melbourne duo Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant, Rap News satirically, yet meaningfully, engages with the issues of the day. Its illustrious cameo alumni include Julian Assange, Noam Chomsky and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.
In Osamacide, the affable anchor, Robert Foster, interviews General Baxter of the Pentagon and conspiracy theorist Terrence Moonseed in order “to learn, discern and turn up first with the proof … charting the alleged last gasp of Osama Bin Laden”.
Osamacide is a brilliant parody of the PR snafu surrounding the manner of Bin Laden’s death and conspiracy theorists alike. It also raises poignant questions about justice and the rule of law.
The contrary messages disseminated by the Obama administration in 2011 were nothing short of farcical. Even The Australian’s normally stalwart pro-US commentator Greg Sheridan expressed the opinion that the official narrative had “a disturbing ring of contrivance about it”.
Justice becomes selective
Asked “was Osama worth it?”, Baxter is cut off by a Moonseed rant that essentially paraphrases the “jet fuel can’t melt steel!” hypothesis regarding September 11.
Nevertheless, Baxter is adamant: “This is our finest hour, justice has been served.”
Foster interjects: “Justice? General, that’s an interesting word to choose.”
Baxter replies: “We’re a nation of laws. What other words would you use?”
Foster: “Assassination. Slaughter…”
Quite. After peddling standard tropes pertaining to a vicious firefight in which the cowardly Bin Laden used his wife as a human shield, it transpired that an unarmed old man – described by Hersh as an “invalid” possessing little to no operational capacity – was shot dead in front of his wife and children. His body was dumped at sea.
To this end, Foster questions Baxter about the lack of legal process and cites the idea of trial by law. Of course, Bin Laden’s death was quite convenient. Many would have liked to have seen Bin Laden in the dock if only to shine some light on the exact nature of Saudi, Pakistani and CIA dealings with the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Undeterred, Baxter replies:
The true sign of a supremacy is who gets to decide at each given minute when the rule of law is applied and when it’s suspended.
Here we get to crux of Western double standards when it comes to the selective application and abrogation of international law. During the Persian Gulf Crisis in 1990-1991, critics were quick to point out the hypocrisy of enforcing Security Council resolutions to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait while remaining mum about the numerous resolutions condemning Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories. Another example of selectivity occurred during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq: the US paradoxically invoked previous Security Council resolutions against Iraq as legitimisation, while concomitantly declaring that the United Nations was irrelevant!
The invasion of Iraq, torture at Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, the death of Bin Laden and the ongoing use of deadly drones highlight the ineffectual nature of international law when confronted with the intransigence of strong states. But then the US markets itself as an “indispensable power” with good intentions. Baxter continues: “You can’t spell justice without the US” in what is perhaps a pointed reference to the puerile use of acronyms (e.g. the PATRIOT Act limiting civil liberties) and naming of military operations (e.g. Operation Enduring Freedom) by successive US administrations.
Baxter’s assertion that the “war on terror” is a continuation of the 19th century also deserves examination. US doctrine spreading democracy and human rights does indeed bear a striking resemblance to 19th-century conceptions of Manifest Destiny - as well as British and French imperial doctrines of White Man’s Burden and Mission Civilisatrice. Ditto perhaps for the morphing of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine into regime change in Libya in 2012.
Was Osama worth it?
Let’s consult a brief, but by no means exhaustive, tally sheet for the “war on terror” since 2001.
The killings of Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders have clearly had little effect on the spread of jihadi Islamism. Indeed, the Obama’s administration’s redefinition of “militants” to include any male of military age within the blast area has more likely radicalised a new generation.
As for Afghanis, who knows? This indifference to local casualties is reminiscent of General Tommy Franks’ quip during the Iraq invasion, “We don’t do body counts” – that is to say, non-Western body counts. Local “entrepreneurs”, in addition, have exploited the security chaos of the post-Taliban era to reboot the opium trade.
In Iraq, the 2003 invasion unleashed a storm of sectarian atrocities. As Robert Pape points out, there were no suicide bombings in Iraq before then.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq metastasised into ISIS, then Islamic State (IS) – a movement so brutal that even al-Qaeda disowned it. IS now controls much of Syria and Iraq. Moreover, militant groups in Libya, Sinai and Nigeria, among others, have pledged allegiance to IS.
As Glen Greenwald observes:
What we see here is what we’ve seen over and over: the West’s wars creating and empowering an endless supply of enemies, which in turn justify endless war by the West.
Iraqis? Again, who knows? In 2006, the medical journal Lancet estimated there had been over 650,000 deaths in Iraq because of the invasion. In 2015, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War put total Iraqi deaths over 1 million.
In Syria, well, who would’ve thought that allowing the Saudis and Gulf states to arm and fund unaccountable radical Islamists could possibly go wrong?
Team Freedom’s awful own goals
But surely everything is safe on the home front? Well, that depends: safe from whom? Notwithstanding that the Charlie Hebdo attacks, among others, were claimed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a movement holding territory in Yemen), Western governments continue to erode civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.
Having exposed the extent of state surveillance, Edward Snowden recently described metadata retention laws passed in Australia as “dangerous”. Similarly, France passed laws that wouldn’t have even been considered but for the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
If Bin Laden truly did hate our “way of life” and “freedoms”, as Western leaders insisted following September 11 (as opposed to addressing the substance of articulated grievances such as the 1990s sanctions on Iraq that killed over 500,000 children and the occupation of Palestine), then the manner of his death and the many other victims of extrajudicial executions, the effects of military intervention, government-sanctioned torture and the continued erosion of our civil liberties amount to a series of spectacular own goals in the fight against his legacy.
In this regard, we should reflect on Foster’s summation of the way in which “justice” was served by bin Laden’s death:
If it was served, it can be served to us just the same, so what brand of justice do we want done in our name?“