Additional thoughts regarding bin Laden
There were several interesting commentaries about the execution of bin Laden in the past 24 hours. For example, here, here and here. But I particularly like these two pieces by Jodi Dean and Helena Cobban:
Jodi Dean, "Post-terrorism":
For a moment, the twenty minutes or so when the intertubes were alive with the news and before the president spoke, I felt something--something like relief, the sense of an end, perhaps even hope. It was, I think, the anticipation of an end to the disaster of the last ten years of ritualized humiliation, electronically stimulated fear, widespread surveillance, and the enjoyment of camps and torture.
The television media quickly made it clear that this sort of anticipation has no place: the war on terrorism is endless, total. It won't stop. We are not the same people. We have been reconfigured in a massive psycho-political experiment in transforming democracy into fascism, or a new barbarous variant of fascism, capitalist anarcho-fascism.
Pres. Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, told reporters that the mission of the team was defined as follows:
If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that. We had discussed that extensively in a number of meetings in the White House and with the president. The concern was that Bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation. Indeed, he did. It was a firefight. He, therefore, was killed in that firefight and that’s when [his mortal] remains were removed.
But we certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote, given that he would likely resist arrest, but that we would be able to capture him.
I am glad that Brennan said that. The rhetoric surrounding the operation is important. However, the idea that Bin Laden was killed in "a firefight" doesn't seem to have any evidence to back it up; and it seems to me distinctly possible that the U.S. team went in and simply snuffed him out. This is a modus operandi very frequently used by the U.S. forces using drones or other killing machines, in Pakistan or elsewhere. Such killings are correctly termed extra-judicial executions (EJEs) because they are carried out far outside the normal, and normally transparent, workings of legal systems. The individual reported to be Bin Laden was not, like those numerous other victims of EJE's, killed by a drone operator sitting many hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but by members of a team on the ground, able to look him in the eye as they killed him. Presumably the main intention in using a ground-force team was to obtain irrefutable evidence that the victim was indeed Bin Laden, though that evidence has not yet been presented to the public.
Yesterday when I discussed my initial reaction to the news of the taking of bin Laden's life, I debated whether or not to speculate about whether or not they meant to kill him. Even though a living US prisoner bin Laden would go a long distance towards defusing tensions between America and the Muslim world, as well as defusing the possible threat of retaliation, I somehow doubt that Obama was terribly concerned about that. But I also recognized that unless the government explicitly admits they meant to kill bin Laden, you have to allow for the possibility they meant to capture him alive, because even with the technological and tactical advantages that a special forces unit enjoys, things can go wrong and such a mission is dangerous work, and nothing like the numerous movies and television programs that portray these missions, in which the good guys never accidentally shoot somebody, or screw up, or lose their cool, etc. Still, it sure looked like they meant to kill him.
Helena Cobban gave voice to the same skepticism I had, and said it far better than I could. Discussing the same question I wanted to say that if they had captured bin Laden alive to take him to trial it would have gone a long way towards restoring the legitimacy of federal government behavior to pre 9/11 standards. It's the way a government is supposed to behave. But I felt silly writing that, partly because I doubt many politicians in power care about that. Maybe regular people don't even care about it that much any more; I don't know. At any rate, I don't for a moment believe the president cares about that. He just wants to look powerful and decisive, keep his sponsors happy, and otherwise seems perfectly content with the post-constitutional style that is presently in fashion.