By S. M. Hali
Osama bin Laden, the face of al-Qaeda is dead! President Obama has confirmed that the United States has killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, recovered his body and disposed of it in high seas. Cheering groups of Americans came out to celebrate Osama’s slaying and were parading with joy outside the White House and close to ground zero. OBL had become the symbol of al-Qaeda, even though the degree to which he commanded the organization was questionable. The symbolic value of his death is obvious. The United States can claim a great victory. Al-Qaeda can proclaim his martyrdom. Hillary Clinton, in a Press Briefing lauded the US forces and also Pakistan’s efforts. Leon Panetta, the CIA Director has stated that Pakistan’s intelligence inputs enabled the successful operation.
Analysts find it difficult to understand what this means at this moment, but agree that it permits the beleaguered Obama administration to claim victory, at least partially, over al-Qaeda. It also opens the door for the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, regardless of the practical impact of OBL’s death. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is a fact that OBL had radicalized a section of the Pakistani youth and brought terror to the doorsteps of Pakistanis. Over 30,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist activities purportedly at the behest of al-Qaeda. A number of scenarios emerge. It is possible that this will trigger action by al-Qaeda in bin Laden's name. We do not know how viable al-Qaeda is or how deeply compromised it was. It is clear that OBL’s cover had been sufficiently penetrated to kill him. The US has itself declared that it was tracking Osama in his present location for over a year. If OBL’s cover was penetrated, then the question becomes how much of the rest of the organization's cover was penetrated. It is unlikely; however, that al-Qaeda is so compromised that it cannot take further action.
The other possibility is that Osama’s death will have no effect whatsoever because Osama has a number of able and active deputies, who will continue their terror operations, oblivious of Osama’s death or presence. Al-Qaeda’s ideology was deep enough to have affected a number of international organizations, which will not be affected by Osama’s demise. At this early juncture, the only thing possible is speculation on the consequences of bin Laden's death, which is inherently flawed. Still, the importance of his death has its consequences. Certainly one consequence will be a sense of triumph in the United States. To others, this will be another false claim by the United States. For others it may be a call to war.
Some analysts are pointing out the worrisome possibility of OBL having been holed up in Abbotabad. Ever since the Tora Bora attacks, bulk of al-Qaeda sought refuge in various cities of Pakistan and a large number have been tracked down and arrested. There was nothing unusual about the residence of OBL. Majority of the houses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have walls over 12 feet high and no outer windows or balconies. His house was not even heavily guarded. The US Navy seals took less than forty minutes to complete the operation, although they lost one helicopter in the mission, yet they accomplished it with no loss to the attackers or collateral damage.
The CIA and ISI equation needs to be discussed. Both have been long term allies and have notched a number of successes. Recent developments have raised some areas of distrust on moral issues; however that has neither marred the relationship irreparably, nor brought a halt to the cooperation. Being kept in the dark regarding Operation “Geronimo” (code name for getting Osama) must have irked the ISI. It must also be a cause of some embarrassment that Osama was hiding in a city like Abbotabad, which has no earlier reports of Al-Qaeda presence nor has the cantonment city ever been targeted by drones. US Special Forces conducting the operation on Pakistani soil is also ominous especially, if the Navy Seals in their helicopters ingressed and egressed Pakistani territory as deep as Abbotabad without being detected by the Air defence System, nor the security forces alerted when the action took place.
Questions have been raised as when and where was Osama bin Laden killed, if at all he is dead. The initial photographs of a dead Osama have proved to be false. White House has declared that it is contemplating the release of the actual photographs. The hurried burial at sea also leaves question marks. Initially, to glorify their action, the US had declared that Osama was gunned down after a gun battle, in which Osama used one of the women as a human shield. It has now been forced to retract that story stating that Osama was unarmed and he never used the womenfolk as a human shield.
Paul Craig Roberts, renowned analyst has torn the US case to shreds in his Op-Ed: ‘Osama bin Laden’s Useful Death’, he states that in a propaganda piece reeking of US Triumphalism, two alleged journalists, Adam Goldman and Chris Brummitt, of the Associated Press or, rather, of the White House Ministry of Truth, write, or copy off a White House or CIA press release that “Osama bin Laden, the terror mastermind killed by Navy SEALs in an intense firefight, was hunted down based on information first gleaned years ago (emphasis added) from detainees at secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe, officials disclosed Monday.”
How many Americans will notice that the first paragraph of the “report” justifies CIA prisons and torture? Without secret prisons and torture “the terror mastermind” would still be running free, despite having died from renal failure in 2001. How many Americans will have the wits to wonder why the “terror mastermind”–who defeated not merely the CIA and the FBI, but all 16 US intelligence agencies along with Israel’s Mossad and the intelligence services of NATO, who defeated NORAD, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US Air Force, and Air Traffic Control, who caused security procedures to fail four times in US airports in one hour on the same day, who caused the state-of-the-art Pentagon air defenses to fail, and who managed to fly three airliners into three buildings with pilots who did not know how to fly–has not pulled off any other attack in almost ten years?
Do Americans really believe that a government’s security system that can so totally fail when confronted with a few Saudi Arabians with box cutters can renew itself to perfection overnight? How many Americans will notice the resurrection of the long missing bin Laden as “terror mastermind” after his displacement by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Guantanamo prisoner who confessed to being the “mastermind of 9/11” after being water-boarded 183 times?
Americans are too busy celebrating to think, a capability that seems to have been taken out of their education. Americans are so enthralled over the death of bin Laden that they do not wonder why information gleamed years ago would take so long to locate a person who was allegedly living in a million-dollar building equipped with all the latest communication equipment next to the Pakistani Military Academy. Allegedly, the “most wanted criminal” was not moving from hide-out to hide-out in desolate mountains, but ensconced in luxury quarters in broad daylight. Nevertheless, despite his obvious location, it took the CIA years to find him after claiming to have gained information of his whereabouts out of captives in secret prisons. This description makes one pause to ponder the veracity of operation Geronimo.
Then there is the legal question. Owen Bowcott, in his Op-Ed in The Guardian, ‘Osama bin Laden: US Responds to Questions about Killing's Legality’, Owen has summed up legal views from a number of jurists and legal pundits, which merit a quick examination. The chorus of official applause from international leaders over the death of Osama bin Laden has failed to silence doubts about the killing's legality. Despite widespread backing for the raid, there is a growing demand for the precise legal basis of the US operation to be explained, particularly given the absence of prior debate in the UN Security Council.
Prof Nick Grief, an international lawyer at Kent University, said the attack had the appearance of an "extrajudicial killing without due process of the law".
Cautioning that not all the circumstances were known, he added: "It may not have been possible to take him alive … but no one should be outside the protection of the law." Even after the end of the Second World War, Nazi war criminals had been given a "fair trial". The prominent defence lawyer Michael Mansfield QC expressed similar doubts about whether sufficient efforts had been made to capture Bin Laden. "The serious risk is that in the absence of an authoritative narrative of events played out in Abbotabad, vengeance will become synonymised with justice, and that revenge will supplant 'due process'.
"Assuming the mission was … intended to detain and not to assassinate, it is therefore imperative that a properly documented and verifiable narrative of exactly what happened is made public. Whatever feelings of elation and relief may dominate the airwaves," he said. "They must not be allowed to submerge core questions about the legality of the exercise, nor to permit vengeance or summary execution to become substitutes for justice."
The human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC argued that the killing risked undermining the rule of law. "The Security Council could have set up an ad hoc tribunal in The Hague, with international judges (including Muslim jurists), to provide a fair trial and a reasoned verdict," he wrote in the Independent. "This would have been the best way of demystifying this man, debunking his cause and de-brainwashing his followers."
It may be days, nay weeks before the truth emerges, but the world will be watching carefully, whether this was a stage managed drama to prop up a sagging image of Obama or not; till then let us search for more facts in the chaff of political spin and look for consequences to emerge.