Free speech is the antidote to Trump

Eyes up in Britain

benjamin_franklin_freedom_of_speech_quote Benjamin Franklin got it right. By DonkeyHotey; CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The polarising president is a threat to truth itself. Beating him requires a renewed commitment to the most fundamental western value of all.

We can see where this is going. Donald Trump has promised a crackdown on media companies which cover him unfavourably. He tweeted an attack on the New York Times while soldiers he commanded were taking part in a failed raid in Yemen. He held a press conference where he berated the media for more than an hour.

His and his cronies’ lies have become ‘alternative facts’. His spokeswoman has cited a non-existent massacre as justification for his most controversial policy. He has lashed out at the intelligence agencies and begun a review which threatens their independence.

This wannabe autocrat is not just a threat to a 240-year-old republic founded on small-l liberal values…

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Just Beyond Ludicrous

Our own David Paxton on why the “efforts to deal with Labour’s antisemitism problem are going nowhere fast.”

David Paxton

In Labour’s antisemitism debacle, the Guardian’s Owen Jones is above reproach. He is above reproach because he has written articles explaining that antisemitism is bad and that it must be confronted. He has also written one explaining that the Holocaust was bad. What more could he do?

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has also said that antisemitism, and all forms of racism, are bad. His mother was at Cable Street so how can he be criticised for supporting and befriending unabashed Jew-haters? He then is also above reproach.

In his piece from March, Jones called for a commission on antisemitism and, because balance or something, one on Islamophobia too. He suggested these should be chaired by a Jew and a Muslim respectively.

Corbyn eventually called for an inquiry, it wasn’t to be chaired by a Jew but so what, it was to be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti. She is above reproach because she is Shami Chakrabarti. Or as she is…

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Labour comrades: One day this will all be over, all we can do now is be ready.

Nora Mulready

Here we are, again, having elected Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Labour Party, solidifying a terrible chapter in Labour’s history with the cement of a fresh mandate for destruction. This time we know that appeals to Corbyn supporters about how poisonous, unelectable and just plain wrong the Party will become are pointless. It happened. They didn’t care. And in Labour now, they are many and we are few. No, we are now living in a changed Labour order, the kaleidoscope was truly in flux and by God did they reorder our world. The Labour Party has been captured by the Hard Left, top, middle and bottom, and there’s little dignity or integrity in denying this anymore. It’s done. The question is, what do we do now? Here are some thoughts. Mostly they require time, patience and honesty.

Jeremy Corbyn must fight an election as the Leader of the…

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There’s Nothing Moral about Stop the War

An excellent read on the fallacy that underpins the Stop The War movement

Soft Left Politics

Making the case for war should always be the last resort. An intervention should only be motivated by our duty to save lives.

The world is now interconnected by global social media and corporate media outlets. An atrocity cannot happen that we will not hear about.

The question is do we just stand by and allow it to happen?

For many on the left, post-Iraq War foreign policy is one afraid to answer that question. Humanitarian intervention, even in the case of human atrocity, is ‘bad’ because any Western intervention creates only more chaos and instability.

The solution must merely be a political one, longer and driven by discussion.

Yes, we must search political solutions where they exist. But the left have forged a supposedly leftist position in which one is ‘anti-war’ to the extent of apologising for fascists, tyrants and terrorists – and ideologically opposing any intervention, even when…

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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.

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 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.