Osama Bin Laden is dead. Not exactly a new story, but now President Obama's telling it people are finally believing it is true. Bin Laden was reported dead in 2001, and then again in 2006, and then again in 2007 (twice), as well as on a few other occasions. Virtually nothing has been heard of him recently, with the media preferring to cover the likes of Anwar Al-Awlaki and Adam Gadahn - both Americans. There are, of course, the usual doubts and theories as to who Awlaki and Gadahn really work for and what they represent. One story in particular has Awlaki dining at the Pentagon within months of 9/11:
You can read an extract from FBI documents on this story here. Awlaki was supposedly invited to dinner as part of an 'outreach program' to 'moderate Muslims', though I would guess that most people's memory of the immediate post-9/11 period was one where all Muslims were branded potential terrorists. As such, this excuse for Awlaki going to dinner at the Pentagon doesn't make much sense.
So, how did Osama Bin Laden die? The details aren't clear. He was apparently holed up in a 'compound' in Abbotabad, Pakistan and was tracked to there by US intelligence in the last few days. They launched a dual operation with Pakistani special forces, and somehow Bin Laden died. According to the BBC, a strike team carried out a forty minute assault against the 'compound' and Bin Laden was shot during the fight. A different BBC story says he was 'shot in the head while resisting'. They note how:
At some point in the operation one of the helicopters crashed, either from technical failure or having been hit by gunfire from the ground. - BBC
So they don't tell us whose helicopter crashed, or when, or why. Remarkably, The Sun (a journalistic entity with far less reach and reputation than the BBC) were more certain:
An American helicopter crashed during a brief firefight at the complex involving Navy Seal Team Six, an elite counter-terrorism unit, and bin Laden's body was carried away on foot. - The Sun
This implies that in fact Bin Laden's body was in the helicopter when it went down, and was recovered and taken away. There are many other reports to this effect. The Chinese English language news service had different information:
At about 1:20 a.m. local time a Pakistani helicopter was shot down by unknown people in the Sikandarabad area of Abbotabad. The Pakistani forces launched a search operation in the nearby area and encountered with a group of unknown armed people. A fire exchange followed between the two sides.
When the fire exchange ended, the Pakistani forces arrested some Arab women and kids as well some other armed people who later confessed to the Pakistani forces they were with Osama Bin laden when the fire was exchanged and Bin Laden was killed in the firing. - Xinhuanet
As per usual with these sorts of heavily-promoted events, the reporting is at best a bit sloppy and contradictory, and at worst a total sham. Was the helicopter Pakistani or American? Was it shot down early on, which then caused a search and rescue operation, or was it shot down during the firefight? Were forces drawn to the area by the helicopter crash or had they been tipped off by an informant? Was Bin Laden shot in the head while resisting, or was he killed as part of the lengthy firefight? Was it even Bin Laden? The BBC casts a bit of doubt citing the AP:
It says CIA experts analysed whether it could be anyone else but they decided it was almost certainly Bin Laden. - BBC
Only almost certain? But according to the Telegraph and others, Bin Laden was identified via DNA taken from his sister's brain (she died of brain cancer a few years ago). This does pose the question of how did they get a DNA match so quickly. Again, the officials have cast doubt on the evidence, according to ITN:
US officials say that initial DNA results prove that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead.Indeed, we have only one decidedly dodgy picture of a dead Bin Laden, being widely used by the mainstream media as part of the story. See for yourself:
The officials said the test showed a "very confident match" that it was bin Laden who was killed in the US special forces raid at a luxury compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. - ITN
The Defense Dept has apparently admitted that this picture is a photoshopped fake that has been around for a while. A Telegraph article confirms this, linking to a composite of the images used to fake the Bin Laden image above.
Casting further doubt, it has been unanimously reported that the US dumped Bin Laden's body at sea, supposedly in accordance with Islamic rites requiring burial of the dead within 24 hours. This seems to be a ridiculous decision. Islamic scholars are already saying that a burial at sea is a violation of Islamic practices, and if Bin Laden was the mass murderer they claim then why pay him such respect? After all, this is a man they admit to summarily executing without any sort of trial whatsoever. The decision to dump the body makes much more sense if this whole thing is a deception operation of some kind, as there would be a need for a cover-up.
The media also unanimously referred to the location of the firefight as a 'compound'. The video of the building suggests otherwise:
It appears to be nothing more significant than a large house with a wall running round the outside, not unlike many wealthy peoples' houses.
The word also has echoes of the state-sanctioned murder of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in February 1993.
As noted in this documentary, the use of the word 'compound' helped militarise the situation, making the state's massacre seem more justified. The celebratory speech by Barack Obama admitted that:
A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. - Obama Speech in FullDespite admitting to extra-judicial murder, and in a foreign sovereign state no less, he claimed:
On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror: Justice has been done. - Obama
It is worth watching Obama's speech, embedded below, alongside Paul Bremer's 'we got him' moment when the US said they caught Saddam Hussein, and Bush's speech on the same.
Notice the difference in management styles - the Neocons openly vainglorious and self-congratulatory, the Neolib Obama deferential and authoritarian. As appears to be the Modus Operandi of the Obama military PR strategy, here the celebrating was done by apparently ordinary people.
Just as in the 'Twitter revolutions', it was the microblogging site that first broke the news of the assault on the house in Abbotabad. You can read the tweet about a helicopter hovering overhead here. Citizen journalism, or planted information? You decide. Within minutes of the news reaching America there were hundreds of citizens demonstrating in New York and Washington, at the former site of the WTC and outside the White House. In each case the crowds were large enough to make for good TV, but not so large that they were too obviously a rent-a-mob. Whether these were spontaneous demonstrations or not, they helped ensure the feelgood factor.
As did the details from Obama that there were no civilian casualties, and no US military casualties, in the forty minute firefight. This only begs further questions. If it was that easy, why did the firefight last for forty minutes? If they didn't kill anyone at that stage, including Bin Laden, who were they shooting at for nearly three quarters of an hour? If there were others around, protecting Bin Laden, then what happened to them? Did they just decide to give up? Did they run out of ammunition? Were they also killed and this was studiously unreported? If it sounds too good to be true then it's probably horseshit. From a PR point of view, this couldn't have gone any better. If they are capable of fomenting 'spontaneous' uprisings in the Middle East then they're more than capable of doing it in the comfort of home.
Nonetheless, they haven't pushed the good news too hard, as the story has come with rumours of revenge attacks by Islamists and another round of hyping the terror threat. British PM David Cameron gave a much briefer statement than Obama, and almost exclusively focused on the 'negative vibe' of the possibility of terrorist reprisals, and the victims of the wave of terrorism supposedly inspired and directed by Bin Laden.
So what is going on here? Is this all just electioneering PR to give a boost to a vastly unpopular president? This is without doubt the finest point of Obama's administration so far. It also comes only days after the defense reshuffle that saw head of US forces in Afghanistan David Petraeus (a man predicted to run against Obama in 2012) moved over to head the CIA, and Leon Panetta move to replace the retiring Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense. Was this a move to placate Petraeus and give a boost to US defense policy? One must wonder, of course, at why Obama would choose this week of all weeks to make such big changes in the leadership of key institutions, when the US was supposedly involved in its most important covert operation for decades.
There may be more at stake. The execution of a public hate figure is a popular but illegal move, and it is only due to its popularity that its illegality is largely overlooked. We saw this only hours before the Bin Laden news came in, with word that NATO strikes against Libya had resulted in the deaths of one of Col Gaddafi's sons and three pre-teen grandchildren. This was not just the extra-judicial assassination of a terrorist, but the premeditated murder of innocent people in the name of 'protecting civilians'. Opposition to the Libya 'intervention' has been swift, cutting and on a large scale, and then along came the biggest victory, at least in terms of public perception, that the Western powers could ask for. So, was this news a vain attempt to curry favour with a disillusioned public, so as to shore up a failed, corrupt foreign policy?
There is a yet wider possibility. Since at least 1979 the NATO pact have been encouraging, financing, training and facilitating militant Islam as a force of destabilisation and mercenary terrorism. While groups like Al Qaeda have overtly been targeted as a designated enemy, they have covertly been prodded and manipulated in the furtherance of geostrategic goals. It appears with the Libya intervention that this process is being accelerated, and more openly admitted to. 'Revelation of the method', perhaps. Early on in the Obama administration the term 'war on terror' was dropped in favour of phrases like 'the struggle with violent extremism' - a much broader concept, even harder to define. This struggle has so far taken the form of increased special forces operations (death squads), increased drone strikes against terrorist bases (murder of civilians) and now the decapitation of the major enemy network.
In fact, even the notion of Al Qaeda as a network has been dropped, it is now a 'franchise' or just an 'ideology'. Perhaps the controlled demolition of Osama Bin Laden is a key step in the redrawing of the lines of sight in this battle. After all, if there's no Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is a decentralised loose-knit bunch of crazy Muslims, then it is a lot easier to justify sponsoring this or that particular group of crazy Muslims for this or that particular goal. As the double deal that is the war on terror becomes ever more apparent to an ever largening number of people, simple denial won't wash. By redefining the enemy as less a paramilitary entity - Al Qaeda - with a general - Bin Laden, and more as an ideological confluence led by Awlaki and the like, the double deal becomes more palatable and acceptable.
Recall the words of Graham Fuller, former National Intelligence Council member:
The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against [the Russians]. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia. - Fuller
With the great Muslim bogeyman now officially out of the way, this policy can be more fully endorsed and enacted. Consider that the lines between 'us' and 'them' are now so blurred that various newscasts accidentally reported that in fact Obama, not Osama, had been killed.