07 May, 2011

Justice Done, Justice Delayed, Justice Denied

It took almost a decade but a mass murderer met a merited fate at the order of the duly elected President of the United States and our courageous warriors.

On May Day 2011, President Obama made this announcement –

“Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”

He did this with an appropriate demeanor and through well-chosen words. This was a solemn message and it was delivered in a befittingly dignified manner. American citizens watched and listened to their President honorably fulfilling the role and the office. Not only the news, but the delivery of the news is something that should gladden the hearts of all patriotic Americans and swell them with justifiable pride.

As I watched this and enjoyed a strong thrill of admiration for the people who carried out this, dangerous and noble mission as well as the man who gave the order to undertake it. I reflected on something else our President had said before he gained the office. This came in an October 2008 debate with Senator McCain the Republican candidate:

"What I have said is we're going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants. And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.” A promise made and a promise kept.

The preceding administration made relentless use of bellicose language and bravado. They exploited the 9-11 tragedy for partisan advantage at every opportunity. They and their Congressional henchmen enacted the grossly misnamed “Patriot Act”; they launched a preemptive war against a nation for whom they held a grudge. They prematurely celebrated “Mission Accomplished” before they coherently stipulated what the mission was. They lied the nation into war and refused to commit the forces necessary to capture or kill bin Laden a month and a half after 9-11 in the battle of Tora Bora. United States Central Command refused to commit the troops requested by the CIA team leader as necessary to prevent the escape of bin Laden through snow covered mountains in the area of Parachinar, Pakistan. The CENTCOM commander was Tommy Franks; the Secretary of Defense was Donald Rumsfeld; the Commander in Chief was George W. Bush.

Neither Franks, Rumsfeld, nor Bush ordered U.S. troops into Tora Bora to capture Osama Bin Laden right after the Afghanistan invasion. Instead, they relied on warlords who were of dubious loyalty and ability to find Osama bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda in that mountainous region. Later, when Iraq became this administration's priority, it shifted Special Forces from Afghanistan to Iraq.

What Bush said about bin Laden at varied, depending on how he was trying to spin things: First, capturing Osama Bin Laden is the number one priority - :

"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." G.W. Bush, 9/13/01 and UPI: Bush said he wants accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive.” Washington Post, 9/17/01, “I want justice...There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,'"- G.W. Bush, 9/17/01, UPI

A few months later the Decider commented on bin Laden "I truly am not that concerned about him. It's not that important. It's not our priority." "...Secondly, he is not escaping us. This is a guy, who, three months ago, was in control of a county [sic]. Now he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run. Listen, a while ago I said to the American people, our objective is more than bin Laden. But one of the things for certain is we're going to get him running and keep him running, and bring him to justice. And that's what's happening. He's on the run, if he's running at all. So we don't know whether he's in cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open -- we just don't know...." - Bush, in remarks in a Press Availability with the Press Travel Pool, The Prairie Chapel Ranch, Crawford TX, 12/28/01, as reported on official White House site.

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." - G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

"I am truly not that concerned about him." - G.W. Bush, responding to a question about bin Laden's whereabouts, 3/13/02.

The cowboy president had flipped from ‘I want justice” to “I have no idea and really don't care” in the space of six months.

Over a period of 31 months, the current president had held steady to a solemn promise made as he sought the highest office in the Republic. There is something to laudable about intelligence and diligence and true Patriotism. In 1789, a group of wise and daring men, founded a truly novel form of government for six purposes, among them to establish justice. On May 1, 2011, our President gave us another example of what fulfilling this purpose looks like in practice.

There was a welcome, but all too brief, out pouring of unity among Americans. Partisanship receded and citizenship surged to the fore. Unfortunately, the news cycle had hardly completed a full turn when the scrambling for credit began.

One odious aspect of this struggle to grab credit for this accomplishment was the drive to justify torture due to its alleged productivity in gathering information that put the intelligence community on the right track. This claim stems from the apparent fact that a Pakistani-born detainee named Hassan Ghul provided the first hint in the long chain of evidence that led to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Mr. Ghul reportedly revealed the nom de guerre of an al-Qaeda courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. A phone call by this courier to a person monitored by U. S. Intelligence launched the chain of events and actions that ended with a SEAL team raiding the compound and killing bin Laden. Based on this sequence, apologists for torture are saying, “See, it worked. But the truth is that there’s no proof — and not even any legitimate evidence — that torture cracked the case.” [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/torture-wasnt-the-key-to-finding-bin-laden/2011/05/05/AFsacD2F_story.html]

Problems abound with this assertion. First, expert interrogators generally assert that torture produces so many fabrications and unreliable claims that it often makes finding the truth a proverbial “needle in a hay stack” endeavor. Second, the experts contend the19 techniques permitted by law specified in the Army Field Manual [AMF] are not only effective, but also more effective than those methods euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
[http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1873897,00.html#ixzz1LZtZjwvF] The AMF does not require subjects to be treated with kid gloves, but it does prohibit torture. Interrogators are encouraged to use clever and manipulative methods to get terrorist suspects to reveal their plans, objectives, associates and other useful information. Because matters of life and death are at issue, this seems reasonable and reasonably humane.

The real problem with this retrograde action to rehabilitate torture is that is fails to do justice to the people and procedures that genuinely worked. Furthermore, “torture is a violation of U.S. and international law — and a betrayal of everything this country stands for. The killing of bin Laden resulted from brilliant intelligence work, for which both the Bush and Obama administrations deserve our thanks and praise.” However, It does not justify torture. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/torture-wasnt-the-key-to-finding-bin-laden/2011/05/05/AFsacD2F_story.html.

For the better part of a decade, the Republican leaders of the federal government had violated all our traditions of spy craft; they had authorized a betrayal of solemn international commitments we had taken the lead to forge; and they started wars that had nothing to do with the core of the quest. Then, in two years, three months and eleven days the target was located and eliminated once a Democratic administration restored the old rules and sound procedures. This serves to remind us that real world intelligence gathering and operations usually are not those portrayed by the dashing James Bond, but those depicted by the dumpy George Smiley. In other words, intelligence work consists of hours, days, month and years of tedious effort culminating in a few moments of frenzy.

Now that the 9-11 mastermind is dead, justice demands that American citizens and politicians celebrate the victory of hallowed ideals and honorable efforts rather than contend for prestige and grapple for partisan advantage. Our President gave his CIA Director explicit instructions to make this achievement the Agency’s top priority in the early days of his first year in office. The Secretaries of State and Defense and the Vice President refrained from dictating to the diplomatic, military, and intelligence professionals what they wanted to hear and gave them the room and the resources to do their jobs to the limit of their capabilities. All of these people played a proper role in bring this fortunate result about and they deserve full faith and credit for doing so.

One final aspect of the denial of justice at work after SEAL Team Six found and killed bin Laden is the quibbling about why he was not taken into custody rather than killed. It is hard to take this seriously, but the President’s detractors will take any opening to besmirch everything he and those working with him do. Mr. bin Laden was killed because he had planned and ordered the cold-blooded murder of nearly 3,000 non-combatants. If it were next to impossible to try lower level al-Qaeda operatives in American courts, how would there have been a trial for Mr. bin Laden? In addition, this was happening in the midst of hostile territory. The members of SEAL Team Six were at risk for death and capture. Therefore, they found the archenemy of the United States, a mass murder of thousands globally and they executed him. “Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby men do what they ought to do in the circumstances confronting them.” In these circumstances, these men did justice.

Now is no time to bicker about the relevance of methods and measures that were never in line with America’s best traditions, ideals, and practices. Justice was delayed. Now justice has been done. In the aftermath of this victory, we must not deny justice to the people and procedures that brought it about. We must “Render therefore to all their dues” as the members of SEAL Team Six rendered to bin Laden his due on behalf of the people and the Republic of the United States.

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