Brown Men Can’t Wear Tweed

By David Paxton

‘Hit piece’ is a pejorative. Something trashy, something demeaning to the writer. It attempts to diminish its target under the guise of objective reporting and will use low tactics to get there. What makes a piece of journalism a ‘hit piece’?

Nathan Lean’s New Republic latest, What Does Maajid Nawaz Really Believe?, provides an object lesson.

Maajid Nawaz is a former Islamist who now heads the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam. Lean’s title suggests an emphasis on the ‘really’. There is the Nawaz that we see, hear, and think we know, and then there is the truth which Lean seeks to expose.

Glenn Greenwald shared Lean’s article, calling it a ‘great investigation’. What were the methods of investigation and what truth has it revealed? Why is Nawaz so worthy a target?

The opening paragraph hints at where we are headed.

…It’s January 2013 and the British activist, sporting a slick black tuxedo and a gelled coiffure…

He was wearing a dinner suit, the standard formal attire for a debate at the Oxford Union. On its own this is just some mediocre scene-setting but it ties in with a later passage.

Before long, the scrappy son of Essex had a book deal, and traded in his prison garb for Harris tweed waistcoats and red corduroy pants—a get up he described as “versatile and smart” in his 2014 Sunday Times “Masters of Fashion” profile. “My day can include being in the Newsnight studio or with friends or at Downing Street, so dressing is tricky,” he said.

It’s practically impossible to talk about your appearance during an interview for a fashion feature and not sound a dick when you’re subsequently edited and quoted. It’s easy ribbing, and I dare say, fair game.

Nawaz likes his clothes. I disapprove of his winged collar and dislike the way he keeps his blazer done-up when he sits but… is this meaningful? Why include it? The last time a hit piece came his way, disappointingly via the Guardian, meeting him was described thus:

…a buzzy private members’ club in Covent Garden. I find him in the second-floor bar, crisply turned out, ready with an engaging smile, sipping a skinny flat white.

His coffee, his clothes, his up-town location. These expressed irrelevancies, noticeable by their level of detail, form a pattern. It’s part of a wider narrative, Nawaz the “turncoat”. The “scrappy son” who abandoned his authentic roots for the temptations of The Man. Tweed, red trousers, dinner jackets, the uniform of the overlords, part of the establishment. He has sold out.

Lean continues:

Nawaz jet-sets from Ivy League lecture halls to annual gabfests in the Colorado mountains; from the stages of TED talks to awards galas; and from the backrooms of British officialdom to Senate hearings in Washington

‘Jet-sets’ is to ‘travels’ what ‘quaffs’ is to ‘drinks’. Have you got the picture yet? You must have, because it isn’t aimed at the reader who appreciates subtlety. We fight The Man, he draws from his teat.

he says, gazing out at a farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries.

David Cameron tapped him as an adviser on combatting extremism, Tony Blair gushed admiration in a front-cover book blurb, and George W. Bush picked his brain about torture at a backyard barbeque in Dallas.

Success in Nawaz’s stated mission means meeting politicians and raising awareness wherever possible. So the more successful he becomes the easier it is for the ‘sell-out’ narrative to be supported by such snark.

indications, they say, of a turncoat who cares more about being a well-compensated hero than he does about the cause he champions.

…shown Maajid a way of attaining the sort of fame and status he desired

[Maajid and Ed] were in a unique position [and] one that would equate to fame and riches, but rationalized it to themselves that they were fighting a good fight against Islamists

Such is Nawaz’s playbook for achieving fame…

He had an “insatiable lust to be recognized,”

Accepting the tale of Nawaz the turncoat and that he saw riches, wanted them, and acted accordingly is made easier by the idea that he never really believed in the fundamentalist ideology in the first place. He has always been about the fame/money/prestige.

“He is neither an Islamist nor a liberal,” he said. “Maajid is whatever he thinks he needs to be.”

Nisbet remembers Nawaz as a guy who wasn’t particularly religious, but labored to appear committed to Islamism in an effort to win popularity and promotion.

This is all psychological conjecture. To support it, Lean supplies us with quotes and opinions obtained from “interviews with his friends and relatives”. One must ask how many of these friends are still friends. Lean doesn’t always let us know which are ideological enemies with motivation to attack, which remain Islamists, or which are still Hizb ut-Tahrir. In one case, that of Ian Nisbet, he does state that his interviewee is currently a member of that Islamist group, a fact that would lead most journalists to discount his comments entirely: of course an extremist doesn’t have a favourable view of a counter-extremist. So which of the others isn’t an extremist? A credible piece of journalism would furnish the reader with relevant context such as this. But this is a hit piece. Information isn’t the aim.

Barely a paragraph of Lean’s passes without an obvious internal contradiction, cheap shot or half-truth. He claims that because Nawaz wasn’t vocally disavowing his Islamism while locked up with a plethora of Islamist hard nuts this amounts to something of a contradiction. He claims Nawaz became more radical and not less.

Even assuming Lean is correct about this, it would be proper to have considered that an intensified radicalism is among the things you could expect from someone losing the faith. Upping the ante and trying to drown out the doubts would be a reasonable expectation.

Lean draws inferences from Quilliam’s funding. If I were more of a ‘follow the money’ sort I would make a big deal of the fact that Lean is director-of-research for the Pluralism, Diversity and Islamophobia project at Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. This centre being funded to the tune of $20m by the aforementioned Saudi prince.

His timing was curious. Nawaz broke ranks with Hizb ut-Tahrir the same week that his Newham College classmate and ex-party member, Ed Husain, rose to quasi-stardom with the publication of his kiss-and-tell memoir

‘Kiss-and-tell’ is an interesting choice of description. It smacks of betrayal. Did Husain really rise to ‘quasi-stardom’ in a week? From a book? Was this when Nawaz insta-flipped from one thing to another?

Nawaz’s version, explained at length in his book Radical, seems far more plausible than the idea he saw somebody get some attention and immediately decided he wanted a piece of the action. Does his new-found fame, his income, his status please him? Probably. Does he have an ego of note? Perhaps. Has Lean come even close to demonstrating that this is all he is about and that we should doubt his ideas accordingly? No.

There’s value in ad hominem arguments to explain that which cannot be explained logically. Once you have exhausted attempts to understand somebody’s views by the validity and consistency of the arguments then there is room for analyzing other motivations. But as so often with discussions of Nawaz, this isn’t even attempted. This is about Nawaz serving ‘The Man’. This is the crux of the entire piece.

One might choose to call The Man, ‘liberal democracy’, or ‘the rule of secular law’, but in this story it is the rich oppressor. Nawaz extols and evangelises the former but it’s the latter Lean insists he’s part of. This is the ‘Uncle Tom‘ line of attack.

Lean has previously called Nawaz a ‘native informant’ and Sam Harris’ ‘Muslim validator‘ and ‘lapdog‘. Follow the thread below Greenwald’s tweet or run a search for “Nawaz+Uncle+Tom” to see how rife this abuse is. Nawaz is unable to be a man with agency, or with beliefs he has developed over time; he has simply crossed to the other team, the enemy, and has done so for corrupt reasons. A brown man in a suit speaking with non-brown men of importance. How dare he.

A search of who was keen to promote this article hints at why the ‘Uncle Tom’ narrative gains traction: Glenn Greenwald, CJ Werleman, Murtaza Hussain, and Nafeez Ahmed; are all fine examples.

The story of Uncle Tom is from a time of slavery. It is expressly racial. As a modern insult, he is on the side of the oppressors when he should be with his own side, the oppressed. The Regressive Left and their Islamist fellow travelers are well placed to see a parallel.

The former see the world as a relativist mush of identity politics and power dynamics. Secular democracy is not superior and there are no universal values. Under pure relativism, moral status is inversely proportional to power and the West is powerful.

The latter endorse all the Islamic grievance tropes they can find. There are reasons why those blessed with the final revelation aren’t running the world and these include the nefarious tactics of the Infidel. It is manichean.

Those who believe in ideas, those who believe secularism superior to theocracy, have little difficulty accepting a brown person, or even a Muslim brown person, supporting universal liberal values. Those who believe in identity politics do. They see a race traitor. They see an ‘Uncle Tom’

When this comes purely from Islamists it is explicable and expected. When it comes from those who claim to be of the Left it is as depressing as it is commonplace. The racism of the anti-racists. The know-your-placeism which drives the useful idiots of jihad to protect the extremists by attacking the moderates.

…many of his former close acquaintances …see him as an Islamic Judas Iscariot, a Muslim who turned his back on his fellow believers when state coffers flung open—and their testimony reflects that sense of betrayal.

Correct. They do. But these ‘former close acquaintances’ are Islamists. As the writer Jamie Palmer put it, “I’m pretty shocked to discover from Nathan Lean that Maajid Nawaz’s former Islamist colleagues think he is a traitor. Who’d have thought?” The real shame is when they are supported by those who should know better.

Stripped to its essentials, all we have in this piece is a description of some Islamists unhappy with Nawaz fighting Islamism. Oh, and that he’s an easy mark for tailors. That’s it.

In response to a complaint that the ‘lapdog’ comment was personally insulting rather than substantive, Lean said the following.

Yet somehow, the satisfaction I get at seeing how much it irritates your tribe, is, indeed, worth it.

Lean is in a tribal fight and will take satisfaction from saying what hurts rather than what informs. And I don’t need a juicy quote from an ideological enemy to demonstrate it. Lean is of course free to do this but The New Republic continues its destruction of its own reputation by enabling him.

Nawaz doesn’t obfuscate. He “jet-sets” to “Ivy League halls” and to stand on “stages” “crisply turned out”, sometimes “sporting” “tweed”, sometimes in front of a “farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries” and he clearly explains his views. Those views are not hard to find, he works hard to make sure you hear them. The New Republic could easily pay for a writer to engage with those ideas. What business has it giving space to a pitifully ineffective hit piece?

I would condemn a great hit piece as ethically poor while respecting its quality, but Lean has managed to do nothing bar produce a lesson in poor journalism and throw away any residual credibility he might have had. He is the sappy suicide bomber who forgets to find a crowd before detonating and only manages to kill himself.

For a writer, character assassination where the only character assassinated belongs to the assassin is a short-term gig. But others will come along to have a go. The more frequently such pieces appear, and the more the likes of Greenwald promote it, the more you know Nawaz is damaging the narrative and credibility of those who should be damaged. If there’s truth to the adage that you should know a man by his enemies, then Maajid Nawaz appears to be well worth the knowing. In spite of his taste in clothes.

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Glenn Greenwald – “One Year On”

By David Paxton

The anniversary of the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo has inevitably generated some reflection in the media. Some people dug out what they wrote at the time to see how they’d fared, a new BBC documentary was screened and several commentators have written their ‘one year on’ pieces.

Glenn Greenwald became such a commentator when he posted Where Were the Post-Hebdo Free Speech Crusaders as France Spent the Last Year Crushing Free Speech. Normally you would have to pay me to read Greenwald but after having been so revolted by his post-Hebdo article a year ago I was intrigued to find out what the 12 months had taught him.

As it turns out, not very much.

The gist of his piece is that people that stuck up for Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did seemed not to care when other speech was threatened. It’s an argument about double standards. To justify it he gives examples to support his impression of inaction and links to his magnum opus of false equivalence from last year (I criticised it at the time here).

Greenwald might be correct in stating that the people adamant about the rights of the satirical magazine were less adamant about the rights of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. He may also be correct in saying the noise about people being arrested for BDS protests was insufficiently loud.

However, in doing so the way he does he is making a category error and presumably doing so knowingly. Charlie Hebdo’s staff were not killed for ‘hate speech’ they were killed for blasphemy and it was the speech they were killed for that others expressed solidarity with.

I don’t approve of hate-speech laws. I don’t agree with holocaust-denial laws either. I don’t think BDS campaigners should risk arrest under any speech laws and although I think Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is an antisemite and a terrorist sympathiser I don’t think court is the place to fight him. Seemingly though, French law disagrees with me. The mistake Greenwald is making is to assume that it is unreasonable to agree with French law, see value in blasphemy, and stick up for Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish, without being a hypocrite.

In order to make his case of hypocrisy Greenwald, once again, chooses to mischaracterise what Charlie Hebdo did, what they were killed for and why people rightfully expressed solidarity.

He says:

It was only when anti-Islam cartoons were at issue, and a few Muslims engaged in violence, did they suddenly become animated and passionate about free speech. That’s because legitimizing anti-Islam rhetoric and demonizing Muslims was their actual cause; free speech was just the pretext.

I think it predictable that slaughter and mayhem might provoke passion and animation and that its suddenness would be directly proportional to the suddenness of the violence. This is regardless of whether Islam is involved or not. By what logic does Greenwald make the assumption that a dislike of Islam, rather than a dislike of slaughtering cartoonists for blasphemy, is the animating factor here?

Without pretending this is so he is unable to then falsely compare it to the lack of objection to the legally-approved French treatment of hate speech and thus demonstrate hypocrisy.

Note how he moves seamlessly from support of an anti-religious cartoon to wishing to ‘demonize’ the followers. This is how he does it, a bait and switch. He seeks to prove hypocrisy by mischaracterising the blasphemy for which they were killed as the equivalent of the illegal racism of others .

A year ago Greenwald made this hypocrisy case by comparing it to antisemitism and the reaction to it.

He is pretending to make the following point:

“If you allow Muslims to be demonised then you must allow Jews and others to be demonised”.

But what he is actually saying is:

“If you thought that Charlie Hebdo were right to draw Mohammed then you can’t object when others are racist.”

This is no better than suggesting that if you defend the content and intention of Monty Python’s Life of Brian you are obliged to defend the content and intention of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

His latest piece continues:

They insisted that it was not enough to denounce or condemn those who murdered the Hebdo cartoonists. Instead, they tried to impose a new obligation: one must celebrate and embrace the ideas of the Hebdo cartoonists, support the granting of awards to them, cheer for the substance of their views. Failure to embrace the ideas of Charlie Hebdo (rather than just their free speech rights) subjected one to accusations — by the world’s slimiest smear artists — that one was failing to uphold their rights of free expression or, worse, that one sympathized with their killers.

Greenwald doesn’t mean the idea of religious satire in a general sense. He suggests people demand that you have to agree with all of the specific content of Charlie Hebdo. I say this is false. Supporting, and advocating the supporting of, their bravery in continuing to blaspheme and stand in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, under threat of death, is not to say you must agree with all of their content all of the time.

You can claim that some of what Charlie Hebdo did is bad (I don’t), even that it is anti-Muslim (I don’t), and still completely agree that the work they were killed for, namely the blasphemy and religious mockery, is distinct and of value. It is even easier to make the case for supporting it and disseminating it when it is threatened by violence.

In attacking the ‘slimiest smear artists’, he is actually addressing the reaction many, including myself, had to the ‘but’ brigade. Those that would say, “Of course nobody should be murdered for drawing a cartoon but they were virulent racists…” etc.

The objection to statements like this came not from an insistence that one must agree with the contents of the magazine but that the formulation and its timing hints at something malign, namely that the author is blaming the victims and/or minimising the crime of their murderers.

If your opening section of a piece about the newly dead expresses your agreement with the murderer’s opinion of them then it may well raise questions. If the synopsis of that opinion is a smear and a mischaracterisation then the suspicions are only raised further.

If you then seek to highlight examples which they were not murdered for AND these examples too are false, then it really doesn’t require the ‘slimiest of smear artists’ to start questioning your sympathies.

If what Greenwald says is on the up he should have had little difficulty a year ago demonstrating where Charlie Hebdo were demonising all Muslims. Instead, for example, he falsely claimed that the following cartoon was “mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens.”

welfare

Greenwald has had plenty of time to learn that the abuse of asylum seekers and immigrants by French nativists is the target of the satire but he shows no sign of acknowledgement.

Those he derides for stating he should acknowledge the value of printing the Mohammed cartoons were not also insisting that he supports the point made in the above cartoon. Not even what it actually meant let alone what Greenwald pretends it does.

He wasn’t attacked because he refused to say he liked Charlie Hebdo but because he smeared them in his first piece after they were slaughtered and because he pretended that blasphemy was racism.

Charlie Hebdo’s staff were not killed for the persistent demonising of a minority or for racism or for anything of the sort. They were killed for blasphemy. The killers were abundantly clear on this point.

The riots, calls to murder, and the razing of embassies following the Danish cartoons publication did not constitute a movement speaking in solidarity to the Muslim underclasses of Europe. These occurred across the world and in Muslim majority countries. They were religious chauvinism. They were ‘avenging the Prophet’ and defending religious honour.

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were a continuation of this and it was against this that people stood in solidarity. The objections to BDS campaigners and Dieudonné M’bala M’bala are not the same thing. You are not being hypocritical when you say that the blasphemy for which they were specifically murdered is valuable and antisemitism and racism is not. Greenwald insists on conflating them.

As Caroline Fourest puts it:

Others, completely irresponsible, with their twisted minds, insidious semantics and complicit blindness have again started to fabricate targets, by confusing blasphemy with “Islamophobia”.

Fourest, Caroline (2015-12-01). In praise of blasphemy : Why Charlie Hebdo is not “islamophobic” (essai français). Grasset. Kindle Edition.

If Greenwald says that free speech on the continent should better resemble the American model under which he operated as a lawyer, I would agree with him. If he wishes to campaign against hate speech laws in Europe, and in particular France, I will support him. But if he does so by saying that Charlie Hebdo were doing the same thing as Dieudonné M’bala M’bala or Der Stürmer,  I will say he is still, one year on, lying.

When confronted by events which generate conclusions unfavourable to our existing and cherished views, we have a bad habit of saying things which we later regret. Sometimes we abandon logic or decency and sometimes we lash out at the wrong people. Fortunately, some reflection often brings the best out in us and we reassess and we adapt and we evolve. This happened for some that disparaged Charlie Hebdo in the same articles, and sometimes in the same paragraphs, which condemned their slaughter. But not for Glenn Greenwald.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Part 2 – Tragicomedy

By David Paxton

In Part 1 I explained why I consider the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound to have been a legitimate military action against a military target under the principle of self-defence.  I suggested it should not be considered an illegal ‘assassination attempt’.

In this part, I wish to examine various reactions to the raid, including Corbyn’s, and the controversy these caused.

Tragedy and Farce

The fallout following the unearthing of Corbyn’s statements came to a peak when David Cameron alluded to it in his conference speech in October. It was a few seconds in a 1 hour speech, 100 words inside of 6500. However, he caused quite a stir and brought many people to a point of anger.

This is what the prime minister said:

And on the subject of protecting our country from terrorism, let me just say this:

Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader.

But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”.

No.

A tragedy is nearly 3,000 people murdered one morning in New York.

A tragedy is the mums and dads who never came home from work that day.

A tragedy is people jumping from the towers after the planes hit.

My friends – we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.

This was apparently to take Corbyn’s words out of context, to be dishonest. I have heard this directly called a lie. Some have gone as far as to make a comparison with the following picture or this link, a version of which was reported in the Mirror.

Cameron Tragedy

The idea being that the same could be done to Cameron. But is it the same? Obviously it isn’t literally the same as Cameron was clearly quoting somebody but is this a comparable act of bad faith?

Peter Hitchens, always keen to condemn Cameron, said the following:

Though I doubt whether Mr Blair would have had the nerve to make the deeply dishonest misrepresentation of Jeremy Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden.

The false and cheap suggestion that Mr Corbyn does not regard the events of September 11, 2001 as a tragedy – when he specifically said that he did – was a disgrace for which Mr Cameron should quickly make amends.

I attempted a discussion with Hitchens via Twitter to explain why I don’t consider it ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised’ of Corbyn. One of the questions Hitchens asked me was ‘don’t you prefer trials to summary executions?’. Furthermore, he alluded to a Boris Johnson article from 2001 which, apparently to him, to this article from the Huffington Post, this from Russia Today, and many on social media, sees Johnson getting away with what Corbyn does not.

Hitchens Quote 1Hitchens Quote 2

Others have made comments about the rule of law as if the actions that night somehow worked against it. Popular secularist-blogger, Futile Democracy, said exactly that. To him the operation that killed Bin Laden was tragic because it abandoned the rule of law.

Futile Democracy Quote 1

He writes with moral seriousness, he isn’t a knee-jerk anti interventionist or a pacifist and he has a firm grasp of facts and ideas, and yet, I struggled to get answers from him regarding which or whose law had been abandoned or broken.

In the episode of BBC Question Time subsequent to the raid, Lord Ashdown and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown were in fine moralising form though at least Ashdown managed to be fairly reasonable. It took Alibhai-Brown to push this tale to the levels of farce. Regarding Bin Laden’s burial at sea she literally stated that it makes us no better than the terrorists and that it would ‘set off another generation’.

In brief then, the complaints from Corbyn and others following the killing of Osama Bin Laden are as follows:

  1. There was no attempt to arrest Osama bin Laden. This was therefore an assassination.
  2. The operation has made the world a more dangerous place.
  3. The operation was a tragedy like 9-11 was and the invasion of Afghanistan was.
  4. Cameron implied that Corbyn didn’t think the attacks of September 11th were a tragedy after he explicitly said they were.
  5. Cameron lied, he quoted Corbyn out of context and in bad faith.
  6. Osama bin Laden was ‘summarily executed’ via an ‘extra-judicial killing’.
  7. The U.S. abandoned the ‘rule of law’.
  8. The U.S. government, in doing this, and especially in disposing of the body, showed they are no better than the terrorists.
  9. Boris Johnson said the same thing as Corbyn but received different treatment.

I believe all these to be fairly worthless complaints. Some are misjudged and some are utterly ludicrous.

I’ll go through them in a rough reverse-order and try to keep this on the brisk side of comprehensive.

Boris Johnson

In 2001 Johnson said:

Osama bin Laden… is both sinister and ludicrous at once, and a trial would expose that. If it is really true that a trial would provoke a revolt in the souks, then that is a small price for showing the souks how we in the West obey the rule of law

The piece apparently implies hypocrisy to the disadvantage of Corbyn. Johnson indeed suggests a trial is superior to abandoning the rule of law but what nobody else seems to be bothered to note is that the dichotomy he provides isn’t between a trial and an operation similar to the one which occurred and which I discussed in detail in Part 1, but between a trial and a ‘murder’.

He said:

It is Osama bin Laden, badly injured, and against all predictions, he is trying to surrender. The man who encouraged demented young men to take their own lives is making a pitiful attempt to save his own.

What do you do? Do you blow him away? You could sort of accidentally squeeze the trigger and pow, no more bin Laden; and if you did, there is hardly a person in the West who would condemn you.

To be sure, there would be long editorials in the Guardian, denouncing the shoot to kill policy of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and John Pilger would accuse you of being a war criminal.

….

No matter how angry you might feel, and how vividly you recalled the events of September 11, you might think, as you raised your rifle to point at his chest, that British soldiers are not taught to murder unarmed people in the act of surrendering.

This isn’t just word games or a lawyer’s quibble, Johnson  described a specific situation. He described a murder. Osama bin Laden wasn’t in the act of surrendering. What occurred in 2011 was not illegal. The rule of law was not abandoned. In a military raid they had every right to shoot him.

Nobody is arguing that you cannot prefer a trial. Nobody is making an accusation from Corbyn’s doing so. It is the rest of what was said that is being compared and the rest is different from what everybody else has said.

If people really wanted to pick at Johnson’s words on this subject they would be better going after his piece of 2011. In this he says more interesting things:

This was an assassination, a liquidation, an extra-judicial killing and a termination with extreme prejudice. Whichever way you look at it, President Obama has carried out one of the most effective whack jobs ever seen, and if he doesn’t get re-elected I will be amazed.

In so far as President Obama has a duty to protect America and Americans, he almost certainly has the necessary legal cover, provided by Congress, to remove bin Laden from the scene by any means at his disposal, and that is what he has triumphantly done. As an argument, it is not without its difficulties. If America is to go around indulging in extra-judicial liquidation of anyone who poses a threat to American interests, then we are entitled to wonder where it will end. We may be worried that the enemies of America may be spurred to symmetrical retaliation and that we will be caught up in a cycle of killing and counter-killing.

But it is at least plausible, and emotionally convincing, to say Osama bin Laden was a clear and present danger to America; he had it coming, and the president had him killed. All I ask is that we stop pussy-footing around about “hostile acts” and accept that this was an execution.

So why don’t we all just cut the cackle and admit the groaningly obvious. It is perfectly clear why the US will not release the video footage they were all watching in the White House, and that caused Hillary to press her knuckles to her mouth. There was no firefight.

It’s a confused piece and, in parts, dead wrong.

There was a firefight:

…As he started toward the stairs, which were directly in line with the door, AK-47 rounds tore through the glass above the door, narrowly missing him. I rolled away as the bullets cracked just inches over my head.

Owen, Mark; Kevin Maurer (2012-09-04). No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden (p. 220). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The SEALs didn’t have live helmet-cams or the like. The video feed being watched was from the drone circling overhead. According to Mark Bowden in The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden it was the helicopter crash visible via the drone which was responsible for Clinton’s expression.

If, as Boris says, Bin Laden was posing a threat then this isn’t an ‘execution’ but a military strike on a military target. They can simply kill him.

That’s the general threat. There is also the idea of immediate threat which is relevant if this was not a to be considered a military action. The U.S. discussed what a reasonable course of action a suicide-bombing advocate who loves death would have to take to not be considered an immediate threat. It sounded fair to me and Bin Laden didn’t take that course of action. Therefore, the ‘pussyfooting around’ is no such thing.

Either way, Johnson did not say what Corbyn said. As confused as his second piece is he never chose to describe the killing of Bin Laden, or even his missing out on his day in court, as a tragedy comparable with the attacks of September 11th 2001. This forms the basis for a sensible guess as to why, other than hypocrisy, they were treated differently.

The Body

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s protestations were so pathetic that I was tempted to leave them where they lay. However, I think her effort serves to highlight a trait that runs through many discussions of this type. One which I describe as ‘sophistication-via-masochism’. The making a fetish, which by definition is illogical and unreasonable, of blaming the West.

Her discussion on Question Time went thus:

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

The rules of war say, and Paddy [Lord Ashdown], I don’t know, can confirm or deny this, when people are killed in battle their bodies are given to families to bury, properly. This did not happen. He’s no friend of mine but they should have done that.

…If we say we are more civilized then we have to act. And it’s difficult. What do you think is going to happen now?  People ‘A’ won’t believe he’s dead, ‘B’ and the lady’s completely right this wasn’t done according to proper rites. It will just set off another generation.

Douglas Murray:

….What Yasmin is doing… is holding America and our allies to such a uniquely high standard that no society could ever live up to it. That even the worst enemy of a society has to be buried according to the customs that they would want. I can’t raise it in me, Yasmin to think that whether or not the customs around his burial were perfect in your eyes is the most important thing in the Bin Laden story

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

Then you are as barbaric as them… you’re no better.

For Alibhai-Brown it will be the outrage arising from outrageous outrages, such as giving Osama Bin Laden an Islamic burial at sea, which  will ‘set off another generation’. Those potential jihadists who were previously on the fence about a life of terrorism will apparently be motivated to kill random civilians due to events such as this. And presumably, once again, this would all be our fault. It’s incredible the number of things we need to do to ensure we don’t make these perfectly reasonable people angry.

Her attempt to criticise U.S. actions as part of a ‘cycle of violence’ argument echos Corbyn’s comments. I shall discuss this later.

From Mark Bowden:

After much discussion and advice, it had been decided that the best option would be burial at sea. That way there would be no shrine for the martyr’s misguided followers. So the body was washed, photographed from every conceivable angle, and then flown on a V-22 Osprey to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson cruising in the North Arabian Sea.

As a formality, the State Department contacted Saudi Arabia’s government and offered to deliver the body to his home country, but bin Laden was as unwanted there in death as he had been in life. Told that the alternative was burial at sea, the Saudi official said, “We like your plan.”

Procedures for a simple Muslim burial were performed on the carrier. The body was wrapped in a white shroud with weights to sink it.

The last sequence of color photos in the death album were not grotesque. They were strangely moving. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight Monday morning, May 2. One frame shows the body wrapped in the weighted white shroud. The next shows it diagonal on a flat board, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water with a small splash. In the next it is visible just below the surface, a ghostly torpedo descending. In the next shot there are only circular ripples on the blue surface. In the final frame the waters are calm. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden, Mark (2012-10-16). The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (p. 264). Atlantic Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

You will recall that Alibhai-Brown, to her shame, said “Then you are as barbaric as them… you’re no better.” I ask you to consider the events and decisions described above and then choose whether these are the reasonable actions of a serious and civilised nation or more in keeping with the barbarism of Jihadist murderers?

Let us grant Alibhai-Brown the presumption that she knew nothing of the U.S. contact with the government of Bin Laden’s origin, the home to most of his remaining family, and that the U.S. had already correctly speculated what that government would say. Let us also assume she was smart enough to have realised that the U.S. had, after considered thought, decided this was the most beneficial course of action. This wasn’t something they would have forgotten so simply bunged his body off the side of a ship. It should be obvious that they thought it safer not to create a shrine and a cause for future problems. Serious people concluded that this was the preferred option. I suspect it was more than Bin Laden would have hoped for.

The U.S. government have a duty to the safety and security of their own citizens. Alibhai-Brown tells us that ignoring that duty in favour of her sanctified process of dealing with the mass murderer’s corpse is not only right and moral but to do otherwise makes you barbaric. And more, as barbaric as the mass-murderer himself.

Does it not seem like this was a final, desperate, complaint she clawed from the bottom of the barrel? The remaining chunk of mud to fling at what she described on the program as the ‘ugly American’? And does this not speak to a deeper problem?

What she said is daft. More than daft, it is perverse. When no logical explanation can be provided for somebody’s argument then one is forced to search for the ad hominem. In this case, a fetish is all I have.

Only somebody utterly compelled by their fetish would appear on television to discuss matters of great import yet choose to shower us with the effluent of their proclivity. 

This is your brain on sophistication-via-masochism. We should perhaps be grateful to Alibhai-Brown for providing us with such clear example.

If the masochism she publicly indulges wasn’t so widespread she would have been mocked and jeered by the television audience. Instead, alas, there were plenty there who heartily applauded.

Abandoning The Rule of Law

They didn’t and Part 1 explains why, so I’ll breeze past this. I will simply note that anybody suggesting that the United States government did abandon the rule of law, and who wishes to be taken seriously, needs to at least explain which law was abandoned and in what way.

If the law is so important to you and you think the raid broke it when it killed Bin Laden, why would you support his kidnapping for trial from a foreign country?  What is it that makes the latter legal but the former an abandonment of the rule of law? Is the rule of law something that gets broken in degrees?

Word Games

Hitchens called the killing of Bin Laden a ‘summary execution’. Johnson called it an ‘assassination’. Part 1 of this explains why they are both wrong.

Both of them also described it as an ‘extrajudicial killing’, as have countless others.

The former government lawyer, Carl Gardner, wrote an excellent piece on the trouble with this term.  In it he uses Orwell’s Politics and the English Language to demonstrate why the word is so shifty. As the title of his piece demands, ‘if you think it murder, say so’. He wrote:

The phrase extrajudicial killing is indeed spreading and corrupting thought. Judicial killing not being fine, “extrajudicial” adds nothing and means nothing. All that these critics are actually saying is that killing’s to be feared, or always wrong: something that’s either banal or plain inaccurate, since killing can be justified in self-defence or war, or even out of compassion. But what are they trying to say?

The convenience of extrajudicial killing is that it implies wickedness vaguely connected with the law, without accusing anyone of breaking it; and its repetition suggests to the mind unspecified wrong by sending thought to sleep.

If this is an ‘extrajudicial killing’, and we can probably assume from his use of it it is a bad thing, then what sort of killing isn’t?

Entering the Bataclan theatre and killing the terrorists inside?

Shooting a Nazi machine gunner at Normandy?

The killing of Yamamoto?

What does Hitchens think he means? Is it different if under the rules of war? Is this an attempt to say ‘targeted killing’ that went awry? Is any killing bar judicial-execution, which Hitchens advocates, unacceptable?

Once again, this was a military strike against a military target. Either Bin Laden was murdered or he was legally killed. If Hitchens wants to call it murder he really should. If he doesn’t he should not be hinting at wrongdoing without owning the accusation. Does he not know what he’s talking about or does he not care?

Justice

Perhaps much of the trouble people have had with the raid stems from the sense of it being an act of reciprocity or revenge. Bin Laden carried out acts and this act was done in return.

The killing was announced to the world with the language of ‘justice being done’. It was billed as being a relief to the families killed in 9-11.

The question then is can a military assault under self-defence also be considered an act of justice? I don’t see why these are to be considered mutually exclusive. In Part 1, I used the killing of Heydrich as an analogy. Am I unable to deem his death both a military act in an ongoing war and a righteous act of justice? I say I am able. Either way, this doesn’t render the killing of Bin Laden illegal, barbaric, or anything negative.

Just because in our society, and to our citizens, justice involves courts and juries I do not see why taking military action against an active enemy, outside of our jurisdiction and control, cannot be described in the same way. Both take the most civilised form which it is practicable to undertake in the circumstances we find.

Context

Any quote or excerpt is, by definition, out of context. The moral component comes with the question as to whether the exclusion of context deliberately changes the meaning. But if the context is important let’s have the full context.

Jeremy Corbyn was appearing on Press TV, an Iranian government channel of low repute and one on for whom he has been a presenter. The editorial line of that channel, which they stick to, seems to go against all the principles Corbyn professes belief in. But they are deeply anti-West.

They also pay. Corbyn’s parliamentary register shows the contractual (not to say lucrative) nature of the relationship, with four payments totaling up to £20,000 between 2009 and 2012.

The particular program in which he was appearing when he made his comments was titled: Why is Obama Reluctant to Show the Final Moments of Osama bin Laden’s Life? 

The title hints at the conspiratorial ramblings so popular on Press TV.  The entire text of all Corbyn’s contributions of that episode are to be found here after being lovingly transcribed by myself. Here is another transcript provided by the Daily Mirror. In them is plenty of context. For example:

…the president has to explain why he’s not confirming evidence of the death, why the burial at sea, if there was indeed a burial at sea and if it was Bin Laden. Because Bin Laden may well have been dead a year or two for all we know.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the “if there was indeed a burial at sea and if it was Bin Laden”. It reminds me of South Park’s Johnnie Cochran and “ladies and gentleman of this supposed jury”.

There is more context:

Well, I can’t answer the question of why, we can only guess there is something fishy here.

And yet more:

Right and the next stage will be an attempted assassination on Gaddafi…

This is the context of Corbyn’s ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden’. He was on the propaganda network of the Iranian regime spouting conspiratorial bollocks. For money. Though, before it seems like I’m suggesting he said it JUST for money, let me be clear: It’s worse. He believes it.

The context of his ‘tragedy’ remark does not help him. If he has been taken out of context he should be thankful for it.

Still though, there is the question of whether he said the lack of a trial was a ‘tragedy’ or Bin Laden’s killing/death was.

He Said It

I’ve heard this a lot:

Corbyn didn’t say killing OBL was a tragedy, he said not putting him on trial was.

Sure, but it’s the same thing. If not achieving Outcome A (a trial) = Tragedy then Outcome B-Z (not a trial) = Tragedy. There’s not a lot you can do against that. If Jeremy Corbyn said that not putting Bin Laden on trial is a tragedy then all other outcomes are, to him, a ‘tragedy’. This saves somebody like Cameron from the accusation of a ‘lie’.

Is that too lawyerly? Too sneaky? Perhaps you think in accusing him of calling the killing a ‘tragedy’people are allowing the uninformed audience to assume that Corbyn was lamenting the death of a close chum or something. This would mean we were being asked to think Corbyn felt the absence of a living Bin Laden was the tragedy rather than Western civilisation’s missed opportunity in putting the man on trial. In this regard I wonder if Cameron have been less criticised if he had said ‘the killing’ of Bin Laden rather than ‘the death’?

Regardless, if this is the case it is, at worst, a bit of sharp practice. Though I for one never thought that this is what was meant or insinuated and nor was it why Corbyn’s comments angered me. I need no strawmanning. What Corbyn said is worthy of condemnation when steelmanned. It sounded bad when Cameron and so many others said it because it is bad.

If you do object to an apparently misplaced implication in the criticism of Corbyn, if that is the basis of your defence of him, then it demands us to ask ourselves what he did in fact mean.

Tragedy Upon A Tragedy Upon a Tragedy

Here’s the rub, Corbyn didn’t just call the absence of an ‘attempt to arrest him’ a tragedy. He called it a tragedy like 9-11 was. Therein is where all known defences of Corbyn fall to shit.

He said:

This was an assassination attempt and is yet another tragedy upon a tragedy upon a tragedy. The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack in Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.

How exactly is the result of the raid on Bin Laden a tragedy like 9-11? If they are all tragedies then what is the tragic strand that unites them? What is the underlying and consistent theme of tragedy?

This needs to be answered by anybody stating he was taken out of context. If you have no reasonable explanation for this you are best to keep quiet when tempted to say you understand what Corbyn meant and that the rest of us are being unfair to him.

Hitchens’ ill-considered stab at Cameron provides us with a nice point to work around. And, for what it’s worth, I think Cameron was being clever.

Hitchens said:

The false and cheap suggestion that Mr Corbyn does not regard the events of September 11, 2001 as a tragedy – when he specifically said that he did – was a disgrace for which Mr Cameron should quickly make amends.

Ok. But Corbyn called them both tragedies. Cameron suggested 9-11 was a tragedy because of human reasons such as:

A tragedy is nearly 3,000 people murdered one morning in New York.

A tragedy is the mums and dads who never came home from work that day.

A tragedy is people jumping from the towers after the planes hit.

There is a choice. Did Corbyn call Bin Laden’s death a tragedy due to the sadness and horror of the act or did he call a 9-11 a tragedy due to the ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised objection’ to its lawlessness? You can have one or the other. And I suggest you want neither.

Cameron knew what he was doing. The 9-11 reference wasn’t ‘false and cheap’, it was a move of wit and sophistication from a politician making a political speech. It spoke a truth about Corbyn and it left open the chance for people, who were so keen to have a crack at Cameron they couldn’t be bothered to consider what Corbyn actually said before they leapt to his defense, to be reduced to spouting nonsense. Further analysis ends up making him look worse and his defenders silly while all the while keeping the conversation on Corbyn and security.

You may have preferred if Cameron had taken the time to lay all this out at length and in depth. But he was making a podium speech to his troops which excuses brevity and some level of simplicity. Does it excuse lying and falsehoods? No. But I think I have demonstrated that that simply didn’t occur.

In short – Corbyn said Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy like 9-11. If he thinks it was a tragedy in the way Cameron describes 9-11 then he wasn’t being misrepresented or taken out of context, smeared, or slandered. He is guilty as hell and all the shit slung his way was well deserved.

Cycles of Violence

There is but one way in which Corbyn’s comments have a semblance of coherence. Though it isn’t one his defenders seem to acknowledge as his actual intention. I don’t blame them.

Corbyn often speaks in terms of cycles of violence. It’s the most sophisticated thought he has and he applies variations of the logic wherever he can. You know the drill, if we don’t want nuclear war the West must give up their missiles because our enemies only want theirs because of us. Peace by bending over. Our inaction will invite their inaction. If we prefer fascists to stop murdering their way through the Middle-East we must resist shooting at them so they will embrace folk guitar-music. Or something.

The U.S. attacked Bin Laden and killed him. This is an outrage which will feed the cycle, as were the attacks on September 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. He lumps them together because each to him is a missed opportunity to be unilaterally peaceful and thus spontaneously usher in multilateral peace.

Can’t we learn some lessons from this, that we’re just going to descend deeper and deeper…

…and so it will go on and this will just make the world more dangerous and worse and worse and worse…

This is Corbyn’s foreign policy mantra. The reason jihadists are a bit coarse and boorish is because of us. It’s all reaction. If we were only willing to talk, to show that we care, the death cult would start talking and we move onwards and upwards in cycles of peace. It is a coherent idea. The only problem with it is that it’s bollocks.

Jaw jaw might well be better than war war and one outrage might well begat another. But it doesn’t mean one side’s perpetual unwillingness to take military action will bring peace. I’ll spare you the full explanation of this because you know it already, it’s a triumph of slogans over experience and who but a few fringe-hippies still believe this nonsense?

It’s bollocks in general terms and as a prescription but it gets worse when you consider it in this particular context. Here it is another example of what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ejaculated into debate.

It’s been 5 years since Bin Laden’s camouflage alarm call and how many jihadists have listed “the Sheik didn’t get his day in court” on their grievance list? Would this have made the murderously angry any the less murderous than keeping him in a U.S. prison?

I doubt even Bin Laden was offended by the manner of his death. Though somehow Corbyn is on his behalf. He insists that shooting a man famous for ordering civilians killed without trial will lead to more violence and that it is part of a descent into barbarism like 9-11 was. I struggle to believe that people sawing heads off on HD video, which they publish as an advertisement for their way of life, are truly to be riled in this way.

This is such an unreasonable proposition that mere stupidity isn’t a good enough explanation. It is that squalid fetish once again. To follow it is to essentially render us powerless to take any action in our own defence which has its own immorality and, perhaps worst of all, it sets up a ready-made exculpatory analysis for future terror. If anything were to follow it it would be our fault again and not that of the fascist thugs.

This is your brain on sophistication-via masochism.

Conclusion

The negative reactions to the ‘tragedy’ comment were quickly written off by Corbyn admirers as almost any criticism of him is. But I also found lots of fairly impartial people did the same. Even before Cameron mentioned it. People were instantly convinced he had been smeared and that closer examination would reveal nuance that exculpates him. I looked at the nuance and it doesn’t.

The comedic ramblings of the 62 year-old adolescent should have remained ignored in the depths of YouTube, but somehow 250,000+ people, apparently intent on us virtue signalling our way to impotence and defeat, elected him leader of a great political party. It becomes worthy of attention.

Corbyn has some detailed explaining to do. His appearance on such a show and on such a channel is a problem anyway but his specific comments were shameful. The childish moral wailing, or as Peter Htichens describes it, the “perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama Bin Laden”, were sandwiched between low conspiracism and worthless conjecture.

To have a public attack of the vapours when a man who declares war on the United States, who murdered thousands of her citizens, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of others around the world, who still planned attacks, who claimed to love death, who begged to fight, lived to fight, and then eventually got a fight and lost… is perverse. It is pure masochism.

Shooting Bin Laden may not have been your perfect outcome and I won’t begrudge anybody for wishing he currently sat stateside in a supermax prison. But his killing wasn’t a descent into lawlessness or barbarism or anything close. The children in the compound lived and the minimum damage was done to complete the task. In hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden the United States demonstrated something laudable.

They showed that justice will catch up with you in one form or another. They showed that diligent, thorough, hard working people were willing to dedicate a good portion of their careers, on civil service wages, to tracking down the culprit and the threat. Then they showed they were willing to take physical and political risks to move the task to completion. Perhaps a trial would have shown something better on top, perhaps a different conclusion might have been preferable. But wildly so? At what risk is this advantage to be achieved. Should they retrain troops to the point that their lives are worth less than the public relations potential of putting a man, who didn’t want to come quietly, on trial? How many trained and willing soldiers should be risked? What punishment would we suggest after the first one or two are shot the third kills the target?

A man who worshiped death, killed countless and swore he would never surrender was dispatched. And if you think I am getting to close to sanitised euphemisms, he was dispatched by a bullet cracking open his skull and emptying the contents onto his bedroom floor. Force is ugly. But this was no tragedy and nor was it a further descent in cycles of violence. It was a disciplined, professional, controlled and considered act that was sensible, proportionate, necessary and had no credible alternatives to it suggested. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that those stating otherwise are one of the following: anti-American, masochistic, foolish, naive, working to an agenda, sympathetic to terrorists, or in the tragic case of Jeremy Corbyn, most of the above.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Part 1 – Kill/Capture

On the 27th May 1942, in the culmination of Operation Anthropoid,  Reinhart Heydrich was attacked in Prague by Czechoslovakians Jozef Babcik and Karel Svoboda. He died 6 days later in hospital thus rendering the operation a success. Heydrich had recently earned the sobriquet ‘The Butcher of Prague’ to go with his others, “The Hangman”, “The Blond Beast”, and the “Young Evil God of Death”, and he was one of the key architects of the final solution. His death meant that he never got to sit at trial in Nuremberg with his colleagues.

I invite you to ask yourself if the following statement sounds reasonable:

Heydrich’s assassination was yet another tragedy on a tragedy. The Holocaust was a tragedy. And so it will go on and this will just make the world more dangerous and worse and worse and worse.

When it was revealed that Jeremy Corbyn said something almost identical about the killing of Osama bin Laden, many were keen to clamber to his defence and much of that defence was abject nonsense. There are perhaps objections to my above analogy based on scale of crime but it is the other possible objections to it that I wish to examine.

Here is what Corbyn said:

This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy. The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy… This will just make the world more dangerous and worse and worse and worse. The solution has got to be law, not war.

Even if you happen to believe that a trial was a better outcome than his death in his bedroom, it doesn’t render many of the objections to what happened either well reasoned or moral.

The wider reaction to the killing, including Corbyn’s effort, is a telling case-study in the lengths so many are willing to go to in their attempts to demonstrate sophistication-via-masochism. The tactics of soldiers were second guessed without realistic alternatives being proposed, laypeople suddenly become legal experts of the sort happy to contradict legal experts and, of course, with it came the ubiquitous and self-flagellating cries of ‘we are no better than the terrorists’. There was a lot of it, from various quarters, and I shall endeavour to unpack it here.

In this, Part 1, I shall discuss the legal/military context, the raid itself, and the decisions that were made. In Part 2, I shall examine in detail people’s objections, including Corbyn’s, the objections to the objections, and the subsequent debate.

War, What is it Good For?

The three basic principles of lawful warfare had long been necessity (violence as a last resort), distinction (targeting the right people), and proportionality (not killing the wrong people). Very few would argue that the nation was not justified in using force to protect itself from Osama bin Laden and his movement, bent on suicidal acts of mass murder.

 

Bowden, Mark (2012-10-16). The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (p. 69). Atlantic Books Ltd.

Bowden presumably wrote this before he had heard of Jeremy Corbyn and his many supporters.

The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was a use of military force against a military target. If you agree that it was legitimately so, almost all the objections people have expressed fade away. If however you think it illegitimate, then you have some arguing to do.

Key to this debate therefore, is whether or not you agree that the American stance taken after 9-11 is legitimate. Namely, that in seeking to hunt down, and degrade the capabilities of Al-Qaeda and associated terror organisations, they were able to call it a war or at least treat it as such. This is an interesting and complicated discussion.

The difficulty in persuading some people of this legitimacy lies in their accepting the idea of being at war with non-state actors. Here, from a BBC documentary titled ‘Shoot to Kill’ which examined the circumstances surrounding the British SAS killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar, is an interview with the then Ulster Unionst MP Enoch Powell.

Enoch Powell:

What happened in Gibraltar was a catastrophe. The catastrophe was this, there was at no time a car bomb in Gibraltar. Nevertheless three human beings were shot to death by soldiers, although those human beings were neither in possession of arms, nor in possession of the means of detonating a car bomb had there been one. Now that seems to me to be in itself a catastrophe and an event for which there must be responsibility. And responsibility must be taken at a visible level and at a visible point, both to Parliament and to the public of Britain.

 

Tom Mangold:

Is it not frankly an unpleasant but perhaps necessary solution to kill those who we confident are engaged in offensive operations?

 

Enoch Powell:

Well I am astonished that the proposition should be put forward that because a person is suspected of preparing to commit a crime, therefore he should be shot without trial.

 

Tom Mangold:

But surely what happened is just a dilemma of the war that’s being fought against terrorists?

 

Enoch Powell:

It’s really using metaphorical language to talk about the war against terror. People do go around and say ‘why don’t we declare war on the IRA?’ The answer is the IRA isn’t a thing upon which war can be declared. It is not a nation state. And if you were to make it a nation state, and say we are going to treat you as a nation, and recognise you as a nation, and declare war upon you, then you would in fact have installed the IRA in the very position in which they seek to obtain by means of terror.

The above excerpt constitutes a fine argument against the use of military force in anything beyond supporting police actions under civil law. It does however have limitations when applied to Islamic terrorism as opposed to that of the Irish nationalism.

Spain, the United Kingdom (including Gibraltar), and the Republic of Ireland are all advanced western nations and part of the European Union (then the European Economic Community). There is effective domestic policing power to call on in these places. The use of military personnel in that conflict was always under normal civil law and there wasn’t really a point where this was ineffective enough to warrant attempts to work under the laws of armed conflict.

Some are stuck on Powell’s dilemma that without a recognised nation state you cannot go to war. If you adhere to this view you are effectively suggesting that many direct threats are beyond any measures at our disposal. What use is Western civil law and policing actions in Taliban controlled Afghanistan? Even in Pakistan in 2011, to force US operations to function under Pakistani domestic units and laws or to delegate the action to them entirely is to mean a target such as Osama bin Laden is unlikely to be seriously troubled. How can you have trust in the operational security?

Before you even get to a legal argument about whether you can use military force, under laws of armed conflict and against non-state actors, you have to provide a strategy to deal with threats in the more conventional ways you deem acceptable. If you cannot then you have to take ownership of the fact that you’re essentially rendering an effective response impossible. That would indeed be tragic. The law might be an ass but we should ensure it isn’t impractical to the point of also being murderously ineffective.

Military action against non-state actors has a long history. Soon after the independence of the United States their Congress authorised their president to “cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify” against the Barbary Pirates. In the modern era this is becoming ever more common.According to Benedetta Berti, a fellow at at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), of the 260 peace agreements signed between 1975 and 2011, 196 of them were between a state and a non-state actor. Such conflicts are now a fact of life and our notion of war and peace has to adapt to deal with this.

More Americans died in the September 11 attacks than in the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that saw America at war with the Japanese Empire and Germany. Terrorists flew American Airlines 77 into the Pentagon, a military target, they flew American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 in the two towers of the World Trade Centre, which constituted an economic target as well as a mass civilian-casualty attack. United Airlines 93 was, to the best of our knowledge, intended to crash into the White House or the Capitol Building, both government targets. An organised terrorist group, with support from at least one government of a nation state attacked the government, commerce, and military of the United States of America.

With the above in mind are we seriously to suggest that a response to the attacks must be limited to civil law because Al-Qaeda are not a recognised nation state?

On the 12th of September the NATO Council resolved that “if it is determined that the attack against the United States was directed from abroad, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington [NATO] Treaty”.

On the 14th September Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) which constituted the President’s legal justification for the ‘War on Terror’ and which did so in terms of ‘self defence’.

Military action against Al-Qaeda and those plotting terror attacks against America therefore became a matter of self-defense and became legal under U.S. law. I am immediately wary of anybody declaring certainty about international law as it is an evolving and often untested body. However, to the extent that we can ever be certain about it, the use of military force against Al Qaeda by NATO appears legal.

Michael Scheuer, ex-Head of CIA Bin Laden Unit said of the Bin Laden of 2011:

He was far more than a figure head, he was controlling, or at least participating, in the planning of operations or the conduct of operational activities

The laws of armed conflict, once invoked, mean that combatants like Osama bin Laden can be killed wherever they are found. If his compound had been bombed it would have been legal under the laws of the United States and international law. The foreknowledge of children at the compound might have raised questions regarding proportionality but a raid by ground forces does not. I say this was not an abandonment of the rule of law, if you disagree I think the least one should expect is the name of the law which has been broken.

There are solid arguments against declaring war on terrorist organisations. The concept of war without end, the risk of declaring too many people military targets too easily. These are dangers and they are to be observed and mitigated where possible, but alone they do not make military force unreasonable. Unless you are saying that we must treat all threats from non-state actors as requiring policing actions rather than military ones do you not have a responsibility to also show how these should work and be effective?

This debate is complicated, and it warrants much further discussion. There are points of confusion where some military rules don’t reflect our reality, for example, what is a ‘combatant’ in the rules of armed conflict when a Jihadist doesn’t wear a uniform? However, I am happy to move on under the assumption that you won’t be suggesting that a jihadist must wear a uniform before we can kill him. I am also content that I have established why the raid on Bin Laden’s compound should rightfully be seen as an military operation under military law.

Targeted Killing

Some of the objections to both the raid on Osama bin Laden and drone-based missile strikes stem from an objection to targeting specific individuals. It seems that to some people there is a moral difference between being at war and killing members of the enemy armed forces wherever we find them, and with agreeing to kill somebody whose name we already know. What then is the difference between an ‘assassination’ and an effective military strike beyond the fact that one is deemed illegal?

Having established why we should, as far as law and tactics are concerned, consider ourselves at war with Al-Qaeda, I struggle to see much distinction. I can understand that there are valid concerns about how easily and how widespread we chose to apply the idea of terrorist ‘suspects’ being deemed ‘enemy’. Factors such as their location, the level of evidence (they aren’t wearing uniforms), their nationality, all apply. And with these come a valid slippery slope argument.

Once again this can become a complicated moral discussion, especially at the margins. However, is it really complicated when we consider Osama bin Laden?  He wasn’t a US citizen, he was technically without a nationality, the case against him as a threat was overwhelming and conclusively proved as correct after his death with the intelligence the SEALs gathered, and he had declared himself to be an enemy of the United States. In addition to these reasons, Osama bin Laden was a leader. He was tactically important to Al Qaeda and also important in terms of reputation and morale.

Precedent for the deliberate targeting of a specific and important person in war is found in the U.S. targeting and killing of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Who wishes to state that this outcome is in any way tragic? And if not, how is it different from the raid on Osama bin Laden?

I am reminded of the justification provided by the fictional President Walker in The West Wing for the killing of a terror leader:

International law has no prohibition against any government, superpower or otherwise, targeting terrorist command and control centers. And Abdul Shareef was a walking command and control center.

Such an extreme justification was required in this fictional case because the target posed no immediate threat and was protected by diplomatic immunity. However it is a well phrased justification for why, if we are for some reason unable to consider Osama bin Laden as an unlawful enemy combatant, it is still valid to attack. His continued insistence of directing and requesting terror operations made him a clear threat and, via self-defence, a legitimate target.

Kill/Capture

For the special forces soldiers the only extraordinary things about the raid of May 2nd 2011 were the fame of the target and the location of the compound. The latter being not only in Pakistan but in Abbottabad and therefore near a Pakistani military academy.

The actual raid itself is of an identical type to the literally hundreds that each team member would have personally undertaken. Under the command of General Stanley McChrystal, and as part of the surge in Iraq, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) had been mounting high-tempo operations for years. Individually, a special forces soldier on a post-surge Iraq tour could expect to go out on raids at least once a night. JSOC collectively, especially after the tactics were spread to other theatres including Afghanistan, had conducted many thousands. These kill/capture raids, conducted at their very high frequency, proved dramatically effective in downgrading the capabilities of the organisations they were targeting.

This is to say that the tactics and conduct of such a raid were very well established. All evidence of the raid we have available suggests these were adhered to on that night. Therefore, those second-guessing the conduct should be aware that to have done it differently would mean they are suggesting inventing some new way of mounting an operation of this nature. The chances are, they are doing this from a position of ignorance.

A British S.A.S officer, who mounted hundreds of such raids under the command of JSOC, explained to me that:

We and the Americans had a saying, ‘they have a vote’. If they want to come quietly they can. If they don’t, we can’t make them. But the mission is clear and one way or another, they are going.

Often on such raids the process of a ‘call out’ would occur. The team would literally call over a loudspeaker for the targets to come outside to be arrested. If they refused or put up resistance the building was either bombed or it was subsequently cleared out by the operators. What didn’t happen, and certainly could not when in the planning of the Bin Laden raid they gave themselves a 30 minute minimum time for a Pakistani military response, was to do what would be usual in a civil situation and mount a siege. In the case of Bin Laden, resistance was put up. To adapt the aforementioned saying, they voted.

Even under domestic policing laws, immediate danger to those surrounding them is enough for a law enforcement officer to use deadly force. With Osama bin Laden, the king of suicide bombers, the man who loved death more than we loved life, the threat was clear and apparent. This was clear before the raid, in an interview with Mark Bowden, President Obama said:

Our basic attitude was that, given his dedication to his cause, the likelihood of surrender was very low. We also knew that there would always be the possibility of him strapping on explosives and trying to take out a team with him. So I think people’s general attitude was, if he’s going to surrender, he better be naked and on the ground. Had that occurred, then we would have arrested him and held him. I won’t go into all the details of what those various steps would have been, but ultimately, we would have brought him to justice. We would have brought him back here.

 

Bowden, Mark (2012-10-16). The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (p. 190). Atlantic Books Ltd.

The above description of circumstances for capture mirrors almost exactly the legal advice the SEAL team were provided before embarkation.

From Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer’s book, No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden:

A lawyer from either the Department of Defense or the White House made it clear this wasn’t an assassination. “If he is naked with his hands up, you’re not going to engage him,” he told us. “I am not going to tell you how to do your job. What we’re saying is if he does not pose a threat, you will detain him.”

The threat during the raid was also clear. The following are further quotes from No Easy Day demonstrating the fear of imminent danger:

It had probably been about five minutes since we hit the ground, and now twenty-four guys were swarming the compound. At least two charges had blown and, coupled with the helicopters, we knew they had heard us coming. Without a doubt, we figured the occupants of the compound would now be prepared to defend themselves…

 

…As he started toward the stairs, which were directly in line with the door, AK-47 rounds tore through the glass above the door, narrowly missing him. I rolled away as the bullets cracked just inches over my head. The first rounds always surprise the shit out of you. I could feel pieces of glass hit my shoulder. “That is not a suppressed weapon,” I thought. It was easy to tell who was firing, since we had suppressors on our weapons. Unsuppressed rounds meant enemy fire. Someone inside had an assault rifle. Aiming chest high, he fired a blind barrage. He was a caged animal. There was nowhere he could go and he knew we were coming.

 

…The door cracked open slowly, and I could hear a woman’s voice calling out. That didn’t mean we were safe. If she was coming out with a suicide vest on, we were dead. This was Bin Laden’s compound. These were his facilitators. Shots were fired, so we knew they were willing to die to protect him.

 

…We had no idea what to expect. By now, Bin Laden or whoever was hiding inside had plenty of time to get a weapon and prepare a defense. Since the only way up was through a spiraling staircase, we could easily get bottlenecked.

 

…The only one left was Bin Laden. But I pushed those thoughts out of my head. It didn’t matter who it was on the third deck. We were possibly walking into a gunfight, and most gunfights at this range only last a few seconds. There was no margin of error.

The people in the compound were part of a jihadist organisation made famous by the use of suicidal warfare. Even then, they had a vote and they voted by firing at the soldiers on the raid. When people then call what happened in the compound a ‘summary execution’ what do they actually mean? What would Jeremy Corbyn have wanted ‘an attempt to arrest him” to look like?

There might well be gradations in the emphasis between the ‘kill’ and the ‘capture’. Both are legal however. Even if the individual target in question is prioritised as a potential source of information and thus better taken alive, the soldiers on the ground still have full control over whether to kill or not. In short, you can prioritise capture but you can never guarantee it or order it to be guaranteed. It is the soldier on the ground to decide based upon his appreciation of the threat and made in the split-seconds he has available. If the enemy is making clear attempts to surrender and is doing so in such a way that it is clear they no longer remain a threat, then shooting them is against the rules of war. There is absolutely zero evidence that this transpired on that night and plenty of evidence against it. If it had it would have gone against Bin Laden’s previous statements and against the fact that the firing at the compound was initiated by Bin Laden’s men.

Corbyn said:

there was no attempt whatsoever, that I can see, to arrest him, to put him on trial, to go through that process. This was an assassination attempt and is yet another tragedy upon a tragedy upon a tragedy.

Thousands of these raids have taken place against military targets in Iraq and Afghanistan, was it ok then or was each raid merely an ‘assassination attempt’ and a ‘tragedy’? Is it something about Osama bin Laden that makes it more conducive to a civil policing operation? Does this mean that those of you who class this as a tragic abandonment of the rule of law would refuse, if it were possible, to go back in time and approve one of the missile strikes on Bin Laden that President Clinton passed up before 9-11?

If going into Pakistan and undertaking this operation, in this way, is a tragedy for you what should they have done? Asked the Pakistan police and intelligence to do it? What do you think the chances of Bin Laden being caught and tried were in those circumstances?  Are you saying we cannot target active terrorist leaders and strike them in a military manner? Or are you suggesting the U.S. should have gone in, surrounded the compound, called for a surrender and waited for the Pakistani army and F16s to show up? Perhaps you think the U.S. forces were right all the way up until they got onto Bin Laden’s floor in the compound and the mission only then became tragic because they didn’t run in with billy clubs and tasers, not caring that he was potentially lethal.

You need to say it, you need to explain to those that actually made decisions, or to people like myself who are convinced they were the right ones, what you would have done so we can begin some ridiculing and second guessing of our own.

Bin Laden had a vote. He had a vote for over a decade and he never turned himself in but instead kept plotting and directing terrorism. He kept voting ‘no’ right up until the moment of his death. The night he died he had men with him, commanded by him, who sprayed automatic fire at those coming for him. He had a vote and he was taken on his word that he probably wouldn’t be taken alive. He didn’t signal surrender, he didn’t come quietly, he didn’t lie down clearly showing no devices, and he didn’t have his hands on his head. As it happens he poked his head around a doorway to look for people who themselves were half expecting to be shot or blown up at any moment and he was shot himself.

Bin Laden talked and played a big game and this is how the game finished for him. And it was entirely down to him. If he wanted a trial he could always have had one. If you are one of those that wish he had had one you should explain how we were to realistically ensure that it could have happened or accept it as but a minor disappointment. By no reasonable measure is it a ‘tragedy’, let alone one to be compared with 9-11, but if you insist that it is, it is a tragedy all of his own making.