Osama Bin Laden, a man who manipulated people with twisted claims about spirituality to mobilize and glamorize an on-going campaign of mass murder, has been stopped dead in his tracks. Normally, I could see why this would be cause for celebration. Indeed, I am relieved he has been stopped from killing anyone else and stopped from continuing to voice justifications for violence and inhumanity.
But celebration is unfitting given the tragic and criminal history of our former leaders’ use of Osama Bin Laden’s attacks against the United States as cover for committing devastating war crimes in the name of the American people. We are responsible to remember that the ten-year hunt for Bin Laden was a part of a ten-year war of aggression in Iraq and a War on Terror waged with torture and other criminal conduct many in the world will never forgive. In view of the criminal conduct associated with our response to 9/11, our celebrations are heedless of the enormous suffering our nation has caused many people who are just as innocent as the victims of 9/11 and their families.
From non-existent meetings in Prague between al Qaeda and Iraqi agents to non-existent uranium in Niger to non-existent mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq to aluminum tubes falsely described as used in manufacturing nuclear weapons, the Bush administration deliberately engineered false evidence to justify waging an unprovoked war of aggression against the Iraq nation that ultimately has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings. Knowing that the evidence was false, our leaders purposefully devised a sophisticated public relations campaign to create a political climate in which it would not be possible to block their pursuit of unjustified war. Because of our leaders’ lies, we all now have blood on our hands. It simply isn’t right to celebrate until we have washed our hands by holding our leaders accountable.
Our president’s national security advisor invoked images of mushroom clouds on network TV. Our president told lies in the State of the Union address on the floor of the House of Representatives. Our secretary of state delivered a slide show of false evidence to the United Nations. Our vice president began a personal campaign aimed at creating support for the use of torture. At the same time, this same vice president headed a secretive energy task force involved in coordinating State Department plans to obtain control over Iraqi oil fields for the likes of Exxon, British Petroleum and the rest. (See Ray McGovern’s recent column discussing the latest document discoveries disclosed in Greg Muttitt’s new book, Fuel on Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, or Richard Behan’s 2007 articles, “Connecting the Dots with Oil” and “If the Iraqi People Get Revenue Sharing, They Lose Their Oil to Exxon”.) And when a diplomat exposed the lies being advanced by the Bush administration, the vice president’s office took political revenge on his wife by exposing her status as a CIA agent, callously endangering the lives of many other agents serving our country.
Commencing a war of aggression is known as the supreme war crime, but American use of torture, extraordinary rendition, and inhumane weaponry (such as daisy cutters, depleted uranium shells, and phosphorus bombs) over the last decade constitute additional war crimes, as do our termination of habeas corpus and our usurpation of Iraqi self-determination in economic and political affairs protected under the Geneva Conventions. Beyond these war crimes against the Iraq nation and the impeachable offenses committed against the American nation, there is the damage done to the peace, economy and environment of the entire planet.
And then there are all the questions that must be asked about our justification for the war we are conducting in Afghanistan and the awful toll our conduct continues to exact on that nation, a toll far heavier than we suffered on 9/11, and without any clear indication, a decade later, that we have saved that nation from the fate of an oppressive regime.
When I hear that Osama Bin Laden is dead, I also think of all this shameful, horrific conduct committed in my name as an American citizen. I cannot isolate Bin Laden’s death as if the bullet that killed him was not just one of many bullets that together were part of a decade-long military offensive, built upon deceit and branded as a response to 9/11, leading to the violent destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
When I hear President Obama dust off the old clichés about American strength and resolve, without ever referencing the horrific conduct committed in my name as an American citizen, I am keenly aware that I am witnessing a ritual of chest-thumping manipulation that has been repeated over and over again between so many Presidents of the United States and we, the people, who place them in power.
When we Americans discuss the killing of Bin Laden divorced of any discussion of America’s massive criminal use of 9/11 as cover for a war of aggression, the need for torture and many other crimes, we project ourselves as holding a comic book worldview that includes only heroes and villains, and grossly neglects the millions of victims who suffer the brunt of the violence no matter whether the perpetrator happens to wear a black hat or a white one. It is a worldview we and our leaders should have outgrown long ago.
While it is true President Obama appropriately addressed the losses endured by the families, friends and communities of those killed on 9/11, his address remained silent on the big picture involving millions of human beings in communities now destroyed by American violence, war and weaponry. Finally, broadcasting a simplified history of the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden washes over more than just the devastating abuses of power in international politics. Applied to domestic politics, this comic book narrative of justice served by exacting revenge upon the villain, no matter what the cost, helps our leaders gloss over further dimensions of injustice and suffering resulting from our war of aggression which average Americans are also enduring as wealth inequality increases and the social safety net is torn to pieces.
Now, if these are my thoughts, upon listening to the President’s announcement that Bin Laden has been killed, what must be the thoughts of the rest of the world? What must they think about the headlines and the television clips of people celebrating in the streets?
I do not know what people are thinking who live in nations where we send our drones and our bombs, but my intuition is that now is not a fitting time to celebrate. Instead, what is called for is sober reflection.
Now is the time to reflect on how many innocent human beings are violently killed, time and time again, based on the unchecked lies and twisted psychologies of powerful leaders. Now is the time to ask: Why our own criminal leaders from the Bush administration have not been held to account for their war crimes in connection with the Iraq War and the War on Terror? For that matter, why do we continue to support American use of force around the globe in a manner that has a high correlation with the location of energy resources? And finally, how long will we continue to allow our military to be deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Thinking about these questions is sobering. It doesn’t make one feel much like celebrating at all.
Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. He is the author of The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview (Democracy Press, 2008).