John Whitbeck – Further to my message of last night (below), I have just seen on BBC World News a video clip from remarks delivered last night by President Obama before a White House dinner for members of Congress in which he triggered a bipartisan standing ovation by referring to an “operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden”.
The president appeared, as usual, to be choosing his words with care as he confirmed, even more explicitly than in his speech the prior night, that Bin Laden was captured before being killed.
One must give the president credit for honesty, particularly since, if the “War on Terror” were a real war, summary executions of captured persons are indisputable war crimes.
Assuming (as I am inclined to do, particularly in light of the president’s apparent honesty on the delicate matter referred to above) that the president has been told that Osama bin Laden was among those killed in one of the bloodstained bedrooms in Abbottabad and that it is unlikely that the uniformed military would dare to lie to him in this regard, I remain astonished that no supporting evidence has yet been made public. It is inconceivable that no pictures of his body were taken before it was consigned to the seas. Failure to provide any evidence on this most fundamental aspect of that commando attack cannot logically be explained if Bin Laden was truly among the dead.
Of course, it is possible that only “conspiracy theorists” do not believe without question everything that the U.S. Government says and are troubled by issues like evidence or the lack thereof. After all, when the U.S. Government issued its remarkably rapid explanation of the 9/11 events, Secretary of State Colin Powell promised that the evidence on which this explanation was based would be released shortly. Perhaps because the explanation was almost universally accepted without question, the promised evidence was never released. Its release may simply have been deemed unnecessary in these circumstances. In any event, the “9/11 Commission” accepted the explanation as “given” in its terms of reference and dealt with other issues.
This is one of the reasons why many people (myself included) have been eager to see a real trial of one of the alleged “9/11 conspirators” (not simply a guilty plea by someone whose mind has been reduced to mush by water-boarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques”) at which the “official conspiracy theory” was required to be laid out and proved by clear and convincing evidence. It would be a great comfort to the American people — and particularly to those whose attention to the evidence and analyses developed and published in recent years has left them doubtful and deeply troubled — to know that their government has been honest with them about the “day that changed the world” — or at least changed America’s relationship with the world.
Just possibly, this may also be why we have not yet seen such a trial and are unlikely to do so — and one of the reasons why Osama bin Laden was, by the president’s own admission, summarily executed after being captured.
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
In the article transmitted below, Phyllis Bennis is right to italicize “After” in President Obama’s statement “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden”, but the conclusion which I immediately drew from the choice of that word is that Obama, as a highly intelligent lawyer who chooses his words carefully, could (and would) have said “during a firefight” if, indeed, the reported single bullet to the head had been inflicted during a firefight. By choosing the word “after”, Obama was admitting (at least prior to any subsequent reconsideration of the implications) that Bin Laden was captured (presumably well within the capabilities of 40 super-trained special operations forces, of whom he assured the American people none were harmed during the operation, attacking someone in his bedroom at night) and, subsequently, summarily executed. (In its most recent reporting, AL-JAZEERA ENGLISH has used the phrase “captured and killed”.)
Most Americans clearly no longer have any problem with their government’s extra-judicially assassinating or summarily executing “bad guys”, but the current official story, if true, does represent a further, probably inevitable distancing of the United States government from respect for the “rule of law” which it continues to preach to others. (In light of all the problems experienced with bringing lesser lights in Al-Qaeda to trial — or even to a military commission — it is inconceivable that the U.S. Government would have wished to capture Bin Laden, keep him alive and face the nightmare of custody and a potential trial.)
Perhaps the U.S. government will in the coming days present some actual evidence that Osama Bin Laden was killed last night in Abbottabad, but it is noteworthy that NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER has been produced so far and that the government seemed in an ungodly hurry to toss the best possible evidence (the alleged body) over the edge of one of its aircraft carriers and into the irretrievable deep.
When the Bolivian military killed Che Guevara, they invited journalists to view and photograph the body so as to leave doubt that Che was indeed dead. If the Americans actually had Bin Laden’s body in their custody, one would have thought that they would have had every conceivable incentive to do something similar before disposing of it.
In any event, I will try to be more optimistic than Phyllis regarding the potential impact of the announcement of Bin Laden’s death on America’s ongoing post-9/11 wars in the Muslim world. Last night’s dancing in the streets of American cities and celebratory chants of “USA! USA!” raise the hope that the belief that Bin Laden is dead and that “We got him!” may finally constitute a cathartic moment, satiating the lust for vengeance against Muslims generally among a clearly traumatized people and making them less willing to countenance spending further hundreds of billions of dollars killing yet more Muslims to no good purpose (indeed, counterproductively) with no end in sight.
Whatever happened (or did not happen) last night, that would be an excellent result for the world.
John V. Whitbeck is an American international lawyer now living in France. A graduate of Harvard College and its Law School. Since 1988 his articles on behalf of Middle East peace have been published more than 450 times in more than 70 Arab, Israeli, and international newspapers, magazines, journals and books. He is on the Board of Directors of the Council for the National Interest.