Monday, May 02, 2011

On The Death Of Osama Bin Laden (UPDATE; UPDATE II; UPDATE III)

It's taken nearly ten years, hundreds of thousands have died in the meantime, billions of dollars have been spent, our fiscal, foreign, and domestic politics have been radically deformed, but in the meantime, the man who bears responsibility for the deaths of 3000 on September 11, 2001 is dead.

I'm sorry if it displeases folks, but I am not celebrating. The terrorist attacks ten years ago were monstrous; what happened as a result is nothing more or less than the erosion of our republican values, the poisoning of our public discourse, and the militarization of our foreign police. We made of a man filled with hatred and rage much more than he ever was. While he certainly gave a face and a name to the forces that murdered so many in New York and Washington, he was in the end just one man.

His death may or may not result in a spike in attempts at terrorism against the US, its allies, or interests. At this point, Al Qaeda is so weakened that it is difficult to imagine it mounting a serious attack. All the same, the cycle of death continues. It didn't start with September 11, 2001, and it isn't going to end with Bin Laden's death. So many have already died, so many families torn apart, so much destruction.

UPDATE: According to Tyler Cowen, there is a possibility that the information that led, in the end, to American Special Forces landing by helicopter inside a gated community outside Islamabad, came about through Guantanamo Bay prisoners and our treatments of them.
I have never been pro-Guantánamo, or for that matter pro-torture (and do note the caveats above), but I am willing to report results which may run counter to my views. The moral and the practical do not always coincide, and perhaps we should be celebrating just a bit less. It is possible this is not a totally “clean” victory on our part.
From a Ha'aretz story:
The initial lead which led to his assassination came out of interrogations of Guantanamo inmates – interrogations which often used torture, a fact that has been condemned by human rights groups. One of these interrogations, of top al-Qaida operative who was close to Khaled Shiekh Muhammad, was helpful in indentifying some of bin Laden's closest aides. U.S. intelligence caught up to them and put them under surveillance.
According to TPM, one of those couriers made a phone call. Bad move.
According to U.S. officials, a crucial moment in the hunt for Osama bin Laden came when one of the terrorist leader's couriers held a telephone conversation with someone who was being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
About the original lead being a possible result of torture and illegal detention, Kevin Drum writes:
[I]f the reason you oppose torture is because torture doesn't work, then you'd better be prepared to change your mind if it turns out that torture does work. I'm not willing to do that.

The obvious counterfactual here is that although torture might have produced actionable information that eventually helped locate bin Laden, perhaps we could have gotten the same information another way. And maybe so. But I doubt that this kind of abstract argument has much impact on most people. The fact is that torture probably does work in some cases, and if you oppose it, you need to oppose it even so.
We have no idea, definitively, whether or not the original lead was obtained through "torture", although if the Ha'aretz story is correct, it certainly seems possible.

This does not, in any way, show that "torture works sometimes". As many of Drum's commenters point out, how many folks were tortured and gave all sorts of information that turned out to be false? You would have to torture a whole lot of folks to get actionable information.

As to one or two folks I've read on my FB news feed who are saying they are glad Khalid Sheik Mohammed was tortured, and that had anything at all to do with the death of Bin Laden, all I can say is I wish some people had a bit more shame.

UPDATE II: Maybe all the torture pimping was a tad premature:
[T]here is currently no evidence to suggest that the detainees that provided the information that led to bin Laden were subject to torture. And Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who presumably has some knowledge about what went on at Gitmo, today threw some cold water on this theory:
“The United States Department of Defense did not do waterboarding for interrogation purposes to anyone. It is true that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches at Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding.”
UPDATE III: I feel like Glenn Greenwald here. Anyway, this comment at Crooked Timber sums up exactly the way I feel.
That a mass murderer has met his just reward is good news. But a great patriotic victory, it ain’t. Over at Talking Points Memo, they’re calling it VBL Day without any apparent irony, but this is a far, far cry from finding Hitler dead in his bunker as the Allies take Berlin. Really, even if recent events have definitively ended the prospects for Bin Laden’s insane vision of a new Caliphate, he got a big part of what he wanted as the United States flailed uselessly across the ME and Central Asia, incurring thousands of casualties and inflicting close to a million of them and squandering more than a trillion dollars all the while. As a strategic and/or moral victory for the U.S., this rings very hollow indeed. So good news that a mass murder is dead, to be sure, but all this good news does for me is call to mind all the pointless suffering that the U.S. created on the way to this so called victory.

Virtual Tin Cup

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