Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Death That Will Spawn A Thousand Articles

Yesterday i looked at a particular element of the reaction to Osama Bin Laden's death, and though i still agree with what i wrote, it's not exactly one of my favourite bits of writing with a days hindsight. I guess it's one of the issues with trying to update this blog every day; sometimes in the pursuit of writing something topical i might not give myself the time to do that issue justice. I feel like i could have expressed myself much more clearly and if i'm honest i could have done with another day to think about what had happened, soak up some of the coverage and form a more rounded opinion of what had took place.

So today's blog post is going to be a collection of thoughts on the Osama issue, hopefully giving a bit more depth to my take on such a historic event approaching the issue from an angle of challenging some of the conspiracy theories already emerging.

With any event like this conspiracy theories are inevitable. The man's been evading capture for years, been suspected dead several times and is believed to have a number of convincing doubles. Then there's the actual events of May 1st; a late night raid on a compound in Pakistan, near a military base, a body disposed of at sea, no photos or proof available to the public. There's so much material there for conspiracy theorists, they'll either claim he was already dead, or is still alive and the reality that almost certainly what happened a bit under 48 hours ago was the real deal will be dismissed by them as naive idiocy.

For my part i believe that the assault and death took place as the American authorities claim. There's a number of reasons for this belief; firstly the damage it would do to Obama's presidency if it comes out that it was in some way false far outweighs the potential gain drawn from Bin Laden's death. Until now it's been in al-Qaida's interest to let there be ambiguity about their symbolic leader's health, but now the reverse is true; to be able to release some definitive proof (and expect their to be attempts by them to claim he is still alive) of his continued survival would be an incredible victory for them over the US. It's why, no matter how bad the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were going, George W. Bush never claimed to have caught Osama or tried to fabricate evidence to that effect, the exposure of such a deceit would have been the final straw for him and would quite possibly have seen calls for him to be impeached, much as would happen for Obama were this latest development to be proven false, either through deliberate misleading by the President or trickery from al-Qaeda.

The second element in debunking the conspiracy theorists relates to how the body was buried at sea. This denies the public the opportunity to see his body on their cable news channels and so adds to the cause of those who want to argue that it wasn't Osama or that the whole mission was a fake. I understand the decision to bury him at sea, as well as apparently observing traditional Islamic burial rituals to some extent. The American's have learnt from what happened in Iraq with Saddam Hussein's sons where photos of their dead bodies were spread over TV shows and the internet and their bodies went unburied for several days (it is traditional that a Muslim should be buried as soon as possible after their death, once the proper rituals have been observed such as washing the body). This treatment provoked anger across the Islamic world as it was considered hugely disrespectful; the burial at sea within hours of the attack made sure those mistakes were not repeated. It also made sure that, unlike if the body had been buried on land anywhere in the world, there wasn't one location where his supporters could rally round or draw inspiration from. Any burial ground would have been hugely contested and once the Saudi government made it clear they didn't want anything to do with the body Obama made the right call in my opinion by ordering the sea burial.

So overall i believe that Osama Bin Laden is definitely dead and that the conspiracy theories will carry on with little notice paid to any facts that are released.

As for the circumstances of his death and whether he Bin Laden could not have perhaps been captured rather than killed, the issues become a little less clear cut. The latest briefing from the White House says that although the Navy Seals who carried out the mission encountered violent resistance from people within the compound, Bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot in the chest and face. They've also debunked the myth that was already beginning to spread that the terrorist leader had hidden behind his wife, using her as a human shield; she was apparently shot in the calf but wasn't in the way when Osama was shot. The US authorities are still maintaining that Bin Laden was offering resistance which is why he was killed, but i can't help but wonder how effective any resistance an unarmed 54 year old man could offer a team of extremely highly trained Navy Seals could be.

However i wasn't there, nor am i likely to ever experience any scenario like the one those US soldiers were placed in during that raid; i can't begin to understand what the adrenaline of a situation like that does to your instincts, the degree to which personal feelings can be controlled when you are involved in a mission to take down such a hated figure or even know exactly how the events unfolded in that compound. Unless the entire tape of the raid is released which, barring a Wikileaks exposé, seems certain not to happen, no one who wasn't involved in the raid will really know categorically what happened, nor whether more could have been done to capture him alive. Even the video itself would fail to communicate the emotions and split second decisions involved in such a mission.

It has been noted that by killing him rather than trying him for his crimes the US has been saved from the airing of some pretty dirty laundry; Osama could have testified about the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the 80's and 90's and how that helped/hindered al-Qaeda, he could have exposed damaging holes in the US security network and their efforts to track him down. It's pretty much beyond doubt that there are some secrets important people in the US are not sad to have been taken to his grave by Bin Laden.

Before you interpret this as me claiming he was killed deliberately to silence him and the Seals were told to kill rather than make any effort to capture, i will point out the counter argument that Osama Bin Laden would have preferred to be made a martyr in a fire fight with U.S troops than be paraded on American television as a prisoner, go through a lengthy trial process and rely on the U.S for whatever healthcare etc. he needed (it's unclear whether he actually was on a dialysis machine for kidney failure as many reports over the years have claimed), before being executed on foreign soil with what would have been a minimum of ceremony but a maximum of media coverage. His martyrdom is more use to his message of hatred and armed attacks on targets across the world than his capture would have been and the flip side of that is that it would have suited the U.S argument of 'justice' being served to have put him on trial for his crimes.

His death in a military environment is also a boost to al-Qaeda in some ways as it seeks to regain the influence many people believe it has lost in the wake of the Arab spring and the pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East; it has been argued that al-Qaeda's message is looking increasingly irrelevant when in countries like Eqypt Muslims and Christians have joined together to overthrow dictators without needing the influence or involvement of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden's death can be argued to have two potential outcomes for the terrorist group; one, that his death leads to a bloody power struggle from within which even further reduces their ability to stage large scale attacks or influence developments around the world, or two, that it raises the profile of a flagging group and gives them a martyr figure to rally around. Only time will tell with that and quite possibly it will be a combination of the two.

Only a select few at the top of the U.S government and those Navy Seals will likely ever know the entire truth of what was the ideal desired outcome of the assault. I'm not sure it matters all that much either way; arguments over the decisions made by those Seals will go on, but the noise from them will be, figuratively speaking, drowned out by the celebrations and back-patting that is following the simple fact that Bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist on Earth, is no longer defying the U.S and the rest of the world.

It is the tragic reality of humanity that even someone like me, who is moderately pacifist, has to concede that their are some people whose deaths make the world a better rather than lesser place, and though i may not celebrate his death particularly,

To finish this part of the blog (and i intent to write about something other than Osama Bin Laden tomorrow) i want to post links to three articles written by one of my favourite journalists, Robert Fisk. He writes for 'The Independent' and has lived in Lebanon from 1976, becoming one of the most respected Middle East correspondents around. He is one of the most appropriate journalists to source here as he is one of the few Western journalists to interview Osama Bin Laden, speaking to him three times between 1993 and 1997. This is his response to Bin Laden's death, published today - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-was-he-betrayed-of-course-pakistan-knew-bin-ladens-hiding-place-all-along-2278028.html , and these are the accounts of two of the times he met Bin Laden http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-a-close-encounter-with-the-man-who-shook-the-world-2278035.html / http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-my-deadliest-moment-with-the-worlds-most-dangerous-men-2278036.html .

So, that's my take on the death of a figure who is regrettably, one of the iconic people of my lifetime.

To finish today i'm going to post a song i find uplifting, because writing, and for that matter reading, about a man like Osama Bin Laden is a depressing experience, so i want to cheer myself up and i suspect anyone who's read through to the end may want to be cheered up to.

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