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The politics of killing bin Laden

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Leaving aside all legal considerations, a mission that reflected a rational anti-terrorism policy — at least in a country not in the grip of continual hysteria — would have aimed to capture him alive.

Instead, the White House opted for justice the catharsis of sudden violent revenge and the advantages of cheap political theater. That as a matter of practical domestic politics it probably had no choice is ironic testimony to how far bin Laden actually succeeded in his crusade against the United States.

Update: Speaking of strawmen, I’ve written nothing that criticizes the SEAL team for their actions, since those actions are most reasonably interpreted as a precisely calibrated carrying out of their orders. Unlike the commentators who seem to think the SEALs shot bin Laden because they were frightened by the possibility that he might set off a booby trap of some sort, I have no doubt that the SEAL team would have captured bin Laden rather than shot him if their mission had been in fact to capture him, whatever concerns they might have had about danger to themselves.

Anyway the whole “booby trap” line of thinking is rather absurd — if OBL had booby trapped his bedroom then attempting to kill him rather than capture him would only slightly reduce the risk to the team, if at all. If OBL was going to set off a bomb he had several minutes to get himself ready to do so, and I doubt he would have given the team a chance to shoot him first. It’s just a bald rationalization to make the mission look more ambiguous than it was (it’s instructive that I haven’t seen a single right-winger argue that this was anything other than a kill mission, even though in their eyes that interpretation actually makes Obama look better).

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  • Norman Thomas

    Capturing Bin Ladin would not have been to our advantage. While the armchair generals with no military experience think about the intelligence possibilities, the political problems far outweigh any advantage.
    For starters, some idiot would start suggesting that he be tried in a civil court as if he were a burglar. And then the next call would be to try him in NYC.
    Secondly, this would surely cause many kidnappings of heads of states and ambassadors to try to ransome Bin Ladan or other violent acts.

    I say TRAIN WRECK!!

    • Malaclypse

      For starters, some idiot people less frightened than Norman would start suggesting that he be tried in a civil court as if he were a burglar mass murderer.

      Fixed.

      Secondly, this would surely cause many kidnappings of heads of states and ambassadors to try to ransome [sic] Bin Ladan or other violent acts.

      Because heads of state have no security around them.

      • calling all toasters

        Good point. And the Daniel Pearls of the world are eminently expendable.

        • That didn’t make the slightest sense.

          • calling all toasters

            Let me clarify: Norman cited a real threat, but misstated who is likely to be threatened. Malaclypse said it’s not a threat because the wrongly identified parties are well-protected. I pointed out that there are other people our society values who are not well-protectec.

            • None of which makes the idea of retaliatory terrorist acts (none of which have occurred in relation to any other captured terrorist leader or the trial of such a leader) anything less than a paranoid fantasy.

              • Lindsay Beyerstein

                We can’t suspend the rule of law indefinitely because terrorists might retaliate if we try to enforce the law.

                Do you realize how weak that makes us look? We’re so scared of a disorganized network of stateless terrorists that we’re reduced to shooting a OBL in his pajamas in the dead of night because we’re too chickenshit to try him in our own court system? That’s pathetic.

                Why assume the retaliatory attacks would be worse for capturing bin Laden than for killing him?

              • ajay

                none of which have occurred in relation to any other captured terrorist leader or the trial of such a leader

                Taking hostages and demanding the release of your imprisoned comrades or leaders is not exactly unheard of.

            • hv

              Norman cited a real threat…

              Cited?

              Real?

            • Ben

              Things you are assuming in your argument:

              – The rate of terrorist kidnappings/killings in response to catching bin Laden is different than the rate of terrorist kidnappings/killings in response to killing him.

              – The “capture” rate is higher than the “killing” rate

              – You can estimate how much higher the “capture” rate is than the “kill” rate

              – This estimate outweighs the benefits of capturing bin Laden rather than killing him

              As they say, show your work.

      • timb

        Mal 1, Norman 0

    • skidmarx

      this would surely cause many kidnappings of heads of states

      “Hello, White House?”
      “This is al-Qaida. We’ve got Sarkozy.”
      “That’s of small importance to us.”
      “We’ve got Medvedev.”
      “I guess we’ll be dealing with Putin again.”
      “We’ve got Ouattara.”
      “Who?”
      “The president of Ivory Coast.”
      “Get the fuck out of here.And if you can kidnap them, why don’t you just free Bin Laden yourselves?”

      And wouldn’t it be a criminal rather than a civil court, or is it different in the US?

      • Malaclypse

        And wouldn’t it be a criminal rather than a civil court, or is it different in the US?

        It would, but I missed correcting that while mocking his general incontinence.

        • DocAmazing

          “Germans?”
          “Forget it. He’s rolling.”

      • And wouldn’t it be a criminal rather than a civil court, or is it different in the US?

        He meant civilian, not civil.

        We do indeed have criminal and civil courts in the US.

    • “this would surely cause many kidnappings of heads of states and ambassadors to try to ransome Bin Ladan or other violent acts.”

      Where’s the actual capacity for AQ to do this?

      • timb

        I think we can pretty much be sure that AQ has very little capacity to do anything.

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          It took them four days to put out a press release responding to bin Laden’s death. This is not an organization on top of its game.

          • Not anymore.

            • DrDick

              Not for a very long time.

              • timb

                Since about 9/12/11, I’d estimate.

                Just think, Bush could have ended this thing at Tora Bora 8 years ago, if he weren’t so incompetent

              • Malaclypse

                Just think, Bush could have ended this thing at Tora Bora 8 years ago, if he weren’t so incompetent

                A lot of money has been made with the War on Terra. I’m not sure incompetence is the right word.

              • Since about 9/12/11, I’d estimate.

                I’d go a bit longer than that. Remember Bali.

                But, yeah, for about 8-9 years, AQ Central hasn’t been able to do much. We’ve been putting a lot of pressure on them.

                Just think, Bush could have ended this thing at Tora Bora 8 years ago, if he weren’t so incompetent

                Well, he was distracted. He was gearing up for Operation Iraqi Really Big Idea That Couldn’t Possibly Go Wrong.

                Grr….

              • Mal,

                A lot of money has been made with the War on Terra.

                But with the Iraq War in the on-deck circle, there was no need to string out Afghanistan. Remember, “There are no good targets in Afghanistan.”

  • Anderson

    Instead, the White House opted for justice the catharsis of sudden violent revenge and the advantages of cheap political theater. That as a matter of practical domestic politics it probably had no choice …

    It would be nice if the first sentence recognized that the second sentence makes nonsense out of it.

    (1) Justice has little to do with CT policy. On practical grounds, interrogating OBL would’ve bee preferable. That is all.

    (2) Having no choice as a political matter, Obama faced either killing OBL, or letting him alone. The choice of the former was surely due to considerations other than “revenge” or “political theater.”

    Obama is partly to blame for the political situation; he shrugged off torture prosecutions and Article III courts as political “time wasters” (his little speech on the long-form birth cert, I think, was quite revealing in that respect), preferring to expend his political capital on health care etc. But there is no reason to characterize him as having the lowest possible motives.

    • jeer9

      Obama is partly to blame for the political situation

      I’d say Obama is completely without blame in this matter. Sure, he has some influence with Holder on prosecution of Bush/Cheney torturers, Wall Street fraud, and whistleblowers who break the law, but it’s not as if he can whimsically decide who to take down or not. The mission to kill OBL required enormous courage on the president’s part (if it had all gone wrong, the public would have received the news during a prime-time announcement as well), the highest political motives, and, as a bonus, several hours of suspense-filled manly real-time viewing. I like the idea of interrogating OBL (enhanced, no doubt) but eventually word would have leaked out that he was in our possession and those DFHs would have started screaming for a trial. Better to do the right thing, take the riskier course, and wrap it up all at once. Thank goodness, Obama truly expended so much political capital on ACA or we’d be in a world of trouble. What is Campos thinking?

      • Out of curiosity, what exactly is your problem with criminal trials?

        Did they work so badly in the cases of Timothy McVeigh, the Blind Sheik, Richard Reid, or any of the dozens of other terrorists who are currently rotting in federal prison or dead by lethal injection?

      • Also, you keep talking about how “courageous” Obama was to “take the riskier course,” because the operation could have gone wrong, but wouldn’t a mission that all-but-ruled-out killing bin Laden have come with exactly the same risks as an operation that aimed to kill him?

        It seems to me that it was risky and courageous to send in special forces instead of Hellfire missiles, but I don’t see how the emphasis on killing vs. capturing comes into play here at all.

        • Malaclypse

          Also, you keep talking about how “courageous” Obama was to “take the riskier course,” because the operation could have gone wrong, but wouldn’t a mission that all-but-ruled-out killing bin Laden have come with exactly the same risks as an operation that aimed to kill him?

          I’m pretty sure jeer was being sarcastic.

          • jeer9

            JFL’s a bit tone deaf, or irony-resistant.

            • …and too willing to attribute intelligence and thoughtfulness to you.

              In the future, I’ll try to keep in mind that you’re a smartass wanker with no real point.

              • timb

                His point is that Obama is terrible and rvil and all true liberals should oppose him.

                In other words, what you said, Joe

              • jeer9

                …and too willing to attribute intelligence and thoughtfulness to you.

                I am never tempted to make that mistake when reading your comments … or Timb’s for that matter.

              • Out of curiosity, do you imagine that statement does anything except make you look like an asshole?

                “Hey, look at me! I’ve never been tempted to assume that people who disagree with me are arguing in good faith or have anything to say! I rule!”

              • jeer9

                In the future, I’ll try to keep in mind that you’re a smartass wanker with no real point.

                I’ve already exchanged views with you on this site before. Once was enough to convince me of your overexcitable cluelessness. But I repeat myself. I will let the pathetic reading skills which “inform” your tin ear responses pass in the future. Or Mal can explain them to you. He is far more patient than I.

              • Ah, the Breakfast Club dodge.

                Bender, face in the floor: “I don’t want to get into this with you, man.”

              • jeer9

                It should be familiar to you as you use it frequently; though I realize it’s probably difficult for you to remember all the a-holes with whom you come into conflict.

            • Are you sure you don’t have me confused with someone else? Because that is exactly the opposite of reality. If anything, I err in going on and on and on replying to assholes like you, and take way too much pleasure in pounding you into the pavement.

              For instance, you just wrote a comment that amounts to “No, you are!” and yet here I am, wasting my time with you.

              • jeer9

                Are you sure you don’t have me confused with someone else?

                No, JFL, you are inimitable. Rarely does one come across a commenter so highly strung, deeply combative, and devoid of self-awareness. Your presence in such threads, while entertaining, remains sadly content-free.

              • Malaclypse

                Rarely does one come across a commenter so highly strung, deeply combative, and devoid of self-awareness. Your presence in such threads, while entertaining, remains sadly content-free.

                Oh come now. Two words: Teh Donalde

    • It would be nice if the first sentence recognized that the second sentence makes nonsense out of it.

      Good point. You can’t “opt” for something if you have “no choice,” and you aren’t motivated by “the catharsis of sudden violent revenge and the advantages of cheap political theater” if your decision is forced upon you by politics.

    • If we’re going to say that Obama had no choice but to give the Seals carte blanche to use any amount of force that, in their discretion, was necessary to successfully and safely complete their mission, I think that’s a fair assessment.

      If we’re going to say he had “no choice” but to issue a “wink wink, nudge nudge” order that Bin Laden was to be killed and not captured, I disagree.

  • c u n d gulag

    In the best of all possible worlds, or even in the US before the Bush Junta convinced people that torture was the way to go and that public trials were way too scary for the masses to take and our complicit Congress and MSM agreed, I would have preferred OBL be captured alive and brought to trial in NYC and DC.

    I have NO confidence in these stupid military tribunals providing anything resembling justice.
    Military tribunals are something Banana Republics use – and yes, I know, we’re just about there.

    Would I like to have seen OBL walk?
    Of course not!!!
    And in a fair trial, there’s be no chance of that happening if the prosecutors were at all competent with the evidence, and the presentation of it. And the whole world could have seen what we do and how we do it. We would have had to present our case to the world, who, except for the religious zealots, would have believed it. Instead, now we use secret military tribunals with who know who in charge, who knows where, and what the evidence presented is?
    Disgusting!

    I prefer what happened to the perception of sham justice that military tribunals give the appearance of giving, rightly or wrongly.

    We used to be a nation of laws.
    It’s too bad we had ignorant and craven cowards as this countries leaders at a time when we truly could have shown the world how a mature nation confident of its laws and legal structure handles something as evil and tragic as 9/11.
    Instead, our “leaders” pissed and shat themselves, started running around torturing people willy-nilly, and invading and occupying contries, all to hide their own incompetence that allowed 9/11 to happen in the first place.

    We are but a pale shadow of the nation we were before the incompetent Little Boots and the whole Bush Crime Family hijacked this country.
    And sadly, I don’t see us rebounding any time soon – if ever…

    • I have NO confidence in these stupid military tribunals providing anything resembling justice.
      Military tribunals are something Banana Republics use…

      Actually, our own troops, when accused of a crime, are tried in front of a variety of military tribunal, one called a “court martial.”

      And the Nuremberg Tribunals were, of course, military tribunals.

      On the point of legitimacy of the trials, both perceived and substantive, the important point isn’t military vs. civilian, but the procedures and structure of the tribunal. Plenty of civilian trials in American civilian courts throughout our history have been farces, while plenty of military trials have been perfectly legitimate.

      • c u n d gulag

        Good points. Thanks, I stand corrected.

        But I’d still have preferred either a public trial here in DC/NYC, or let The Hague hold the trial.

        • I wouldn’t call my comment a “correction.” You raised a good point.

          Even assuming the most fair, legitimate military trial in the world, there is still going to be PR problem. It’s quite natural for someone to hear “military tribunal” and think of, say, hooded figures in secret court rooms in some banana republic.

          And we can’t just assume that military trials will be fair and legitimate. I trust Obama and Panetta a hell of a lot more than Bush and Rumsfeld, but we’re still going to have to keep an eye on the proceedings in a manner that we wouldn’t if they were civil trials.

          I would definitely prefer civilian courts to military tribunals – don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying, military tribunals are not necessarily illegitimate. They can be perfectly fair.

          • c u n d gulag

            No, you’re right.
            I had completely forgotten that the Nuremberg Trials were military tribunals – and I’m very well versed in WWII history. Maybe it was that I forgot that SCOTUS Justice Robert H. Jackson was serving as the US’s prosecuting attorney and not a judge.

            Ooooops!!! A mental blip, I hope.
            This ‘aging’ thing sucks!

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        OBL should have been tried in civilian court. The only way to truly end the “war on terror” would be to walk back the ridiculous idea that the United States of America is literally at war with a lose network of stateless terrorists.

        Al Qaeda, which at this point is more of a brand than an organization, is not a suitable object to declare war on.

        We’re no more literally at war with Al Qaeda than we are at war with drugs. The problem is that we’ve twisted our legal system in knots trying to make an incoherent metaphor into an implementable legal doctrine.

        Until we repudiate the war metaphor, we’re going to be stuck with Guantanamo where the U.S. asserts the right to hold prisoners until the war is over, but the war has no natural end. As we’ve seen, killing OBL didn’t end the war.

        • “War on Terror” was indeed a metaphor, like “War on Drugs” or “War on Poverty.” That’s why Obama dropped both the term and the concept.

          We are actually, non-metaphorically, at war with al Qaeda, complete with Congress invoking its war powers. That was not just a term meant to express determination, but an actual legal action with practical and legal consequences.

          We can’t defeat “terror,” which is a tactic. We can defeat al Qaeda.

          As we’ve seen, killing OBL didn’t end the war.

          No, it didn’t end the war. Could you please name for me a single war which actually was ended by the killing of an individual?

          • Lindsay Beyerstein

            It’s a mistake to declare war on a loose network of of stateless terrorists. Al Qaeda is more of a brand than an organization. Being at war with AQ is an excuse to be at war forever. AQ has no territory to capture. Nobody has the power to surrender on AQ’s behalf, as someone else in the network will always spring up and announce that the fight goes on.

            If we were really at war with al Qaeda, we’d treat the prisoners at Guantanamo like real POWs. What we really want to do is treat them like suspected criminals, which makes sense if they’re suspected terrorists, but we can’t bring ourselves to follow through on that either because that would involve trials and rights.

            Instead we created the bogus category of “unlawful combatant” to allow us to deny them the rights of other POWs. Supposedly, they were disqualified from the usual rights of POWs because they were “unlawful combatants”–which is pretty rich when you declare war against a non-state entity and then allow yourself to take away the usual rights of POWs because they didn’t wear uniforms.

          • timb

            WW2? Hitler died and his generals sued for peace immediately and concluded it a week after his death

            • timb

              Mithridates?

              The killing of Sextus Pompeius? Alexander’s war against Persia? Pompey’s death on the beach of Egypt?

              Ask a rhetorical question, get a rhetorical answer

            • It took a whole lot more than Hitler’s death to make that happen.

          • It’s a mistake to declare war on a loose network of of stateless terrorists. Al Qaeda is more of a brand than an organization.

            That wasn’t true at the time we went to war against them. They were indeed a centralized organization. Their splintering took place after, and as a result of, the pressure put on them.

            Being at war with AQ is an excuse to be at war forever.

            Oh boy, now the conspiracy theories. Look, it would have been awfully convenient to declare war against a state (and in fact, that’s what Bush did with the Iraq War), but a state didn’t launch the most deadly attack against civilians in our country’s history. Al Qaeda did, so we declared war on them.

            AQ has no territory to capture.

            No anymore. They used to more-or-less run Afghanistan, in partnership with Osama’s father-in-law, Taliban dictator Mullah Omar.

            Nobody has the power to surrender on AQ’s behalf…

            True. This is not an argument that we aren’t at war, though. It’s an argument that we’re in a different kind of war.

            If we were really at war with al Qaeda, we’d treat the prisoners at Guantanamo like real POWs.

            Does not follow. As if the Bush administration was scrupulous in following international law in its wars.

            What we really want to do is treat them like suspected criminals, which makes sense if they’re suspected terrorists, but we can’t bring ourselves to follow through on that either because that would involve trials and rights.

            Actually, they’re getting trials and rights – trials whose procedures must pass muster with SCOTUS – even if we’d prefer that they get trials in civilian courts.

            Instead we created the bogus category of “unlawful combatant” to allow us to deny them the rights of other POWs.

            Unlawful combatant isn’t a bogus category, and it predates the Bush administration. As with so many other things related to terrorism, it wasn’t the existence of the concept that the Bush administration was wrong about, but the application.

            • That is to say, you’re supposed to try the accused unlawful combatants, and convict them, before changing their status.

              But look at the Japanese in World War Two. Did they treat their detainees as POWs? No. Does that mean they weren’t really at war? No, it means the government they had at the time didn’t treat detainees right when they captured them in that war.

        • As we’ve seen, killing OBL didn’t end the war.

          It didn’t hurt.

          I’m actually quite surprised by the news that’s coming out about the Taliban, the ongoing involvement of bin Laden in a command and planning role, and the disarray within al Qaeda itself. I’d more-or-less accepted the notion that he had been sidelined, was mainly a figurehead, and that the fighters in Afghanistan didn’t have much of a connection to him.

          I guess not.

  • Daragh McDowell

    I have to say I find these ‘we coulda/shoulda captured OBL’ arguments to be unconvincing for one major reason – the SEAL team had very strong reason to suspect, indeed assume, that OBL had either booby trapped himself or his compound which he could set off with relative ease if not neutralised. That he was not is fantastic good luck. But it doesn’t change the fact that prior to the operation, the assumption that he would use himself as an IED was very justified.

    • Norman Thomas

      Good luck with any arguement that supports the United States here.

      • timb

        Or pretends that an old man who lived in his hide-out for 5 years spent the time everyday to set and re-set booby traps. Bin Laden was as booby-trapped as the cartoon version of him in Norman’s head, i.e. the super villain he believes bin Laden was, because he saw The Dark Knight.

        Although, I do like patriotism used to defend the possible execution of bin Laden, when Campos’s article is about how America used to have a system of laws which governed its actions. It’s nice to see versions of patriotism so different.

        • Or pretends that an old man who lived in his hide-out for 5 years spent the time everyday to set and re-set booby traps.

          Huh?

          Someone who spends years on end hiding in a hide-out seems like exactly the sort of person who’d set booby traps in case of a raid.

          • timb

            In his luxury mansion, with his children and wives and associates? Seems like such person would only exist in your brain, joe

            • What are you babbling about now?

              Are you giving up on the “nobody who lives in a hideout would booby trap it” line, but feeling pissy about it?

              Look, you made a stupid statement. Try to show some class.

            • Daragh McDowell

              Yeah, because if there’s ONE thing OBL was known for it was his unwillingness to put his associates and family in harm’s way, and the excessive value he put on life.

            • In his luxury mansion, with his children and wives and associates?

              The statement I was responding to:

              Or pretends that an old man who lived in his hide-out for 5 years spent the time everyday to set and re-set booby traps.

              Luxury mansion? Children? Wives? Associates? Perhaps I’m having browser issues, but you didn’t write anything about any of them in this statement.

              Perhaps they were supposed to exist in my mind, though.

              • hv

                Wait, is Mr. Terminology suggesting that the word “hide-out” is mutually exclusive with luxury mansions in all cases?

                Hint: fail. I’ll let you take it from there.

              • is Mr. Terminology suggesting that the word “hide-out” is mutually exclusive with luxury mansions in all cases?

                Nope. You did indeed fail.

                Rather, I pointed out that you moved your goal posts, and pretended that a list of items that weren’t in your original statement prove that my criticism of it was wrong.

                You should just stop now.

              • hv

                Um, Joe, could you please link to a post by the commenter “hv” that you think represents the original goalposts that you are having a tantrum about?

              • Ooh, you got me! You defended the statement but didn’t write it!

                I guess you’ve reached the “take whatever victories I can get” part of the argument.

              • hv

                Look, you made a stupid statement. Try to show some class.

                Apology accepted for accusing me of moving the goalposts. It was vicious, but I am big enough to overlook it.

                Ok, now that we know the ways you thought I was Teh Fail are false, we can get back to you.

                It is time to discuss what “giving up” means, Mr. Terminology.

                Are you giving up on the “nobody who lives in a hideout would booby trap it” line

                (emphasis added)

                See, because if a luxury mansion can be a hide-out, then timb (ahem) wasn’t giving up on anything, but instead was becoming more detailed or more precise.

                Now, you can allege that attempting to include the known details of the case at hand is somehow moving (narrowing?) the goalposts, fine. But please don’t allege that it is “giving up” on the hide-out line.

                See the difference yet? Not something that I would feel the need to point out to everyone, but I knew that Mr. Terminology would be quite excited to get to the bottom of this.

                I guess you’ve reached the “take whatever victories I can get” part of the argument.

                On the contrary, there is just a natural order to how best orchestrate the pwnage. You had to be given an opportunity to double down.

        • Daragh McDowell

          You don’t really need to ‘reset’ a suicide bomb, or C4 trap if you’re using some form of external trigger rather than a timer or some such. And while I don’t think that opinions on the politics or legality of killing bin Laden are really ‘about’ supporting or not supporting the USA.

          We are after all talking about the decision to undertake actions that will lead to the ending of a human life, and the procedures and standards we expect to be met on behalf of the people ordering them. I think there’s a lot of room for reasonable debate on this topic. I’m one of the people who thinks that on this occasion they were.

    • There is something a bit Keyboard Commando-ish about this liene of argument, isn’t there?

      “If I was one of those SEALs, I totally would have grabbed bin Laden instead of shooting him when he went for the guns in his room.”

      OK, Sgt. York. Whatever you say.

  • Bart

    “…bin Laden actually succeeded in his crusade against the United States.”

    Yes, his attack caused our leaders to bleed us dry, and the bleeding and concomitant decline will continue long after bin Laden’s death.

    Will historians eventually see his role in our decline as pivotal?

  • Joe

    As Anderson notes, “cheap political theater” in the reality of the situation is not what went down here.

    Killing OBL was well defensible on law of war grounds even if we assume (I won’t) like Campos that it’s so bloody obvious that we could have easily got him into custody w/o killing him. He speaks of Obama having “no choice” but decides to sneer at him for having lowly motives anyway.

    PC again is the weak link at LGM.

    • Joe

      “actually succeeded in his crusade against the United States”

      This too is a bit much. The democratic revolutions in the Middle East that do not appear to see Al Qaeda as a role model is notable too.

      A nation that interned over 100K Japanese had various skeletons in our closet; we have some more to be ashamed of, but let’s not give the asshole his victory lap quite yet.

      And, btw, this is not the first time we “disposed” of someone we didn’t like. Unlike in various other moments, there is some real legality in doing so.

      Oh, a top anti-terrorist expert was on Rachel Maddow earlier this week noting the significance of cutting off the head of the terrorist group. Seems pragmatically useful. Also, it very well might help politically to wind down in Afghanistan and focus on more pinpoint efforts against overseas terror. Again, quite “rational.” As is the realism if KSM can’t be properly tried, OBL won’t be.

      It’s all political theater though. Sure thing.

      • DocAmazing

        KSM can’t be properly tried

        Sure he can. It just requires some political courage. Let’s not confuse cowardice with inability.

        • Joe

          I’m sorry. I thought the word “can” there was a matter of how things realistically are in the state of affairs, not some theoretical matter of possibilities.

          On that front, there is so much water under the bridge, including mistreatment and so forth, a truly “proper” trial of KSM by Mr. Civil Libertarian would be very hard. Not that Mr. CL is around.

          The ‘political courage,’ half of which at least is not Obama (the subject of the post), lacking etc. is part of what “can” be done realistically. At some point, the word “can” has to imply realistic results.

          • If by “theoretical” you mean “actual” then I suppose you have a point. But one way or another you may want to look into the meaning of the word “theoretical”.

            • Joe

              Other than word police, what is the point of this? A blog reply isn’t some legalistic bit of exactitude.

              Looking it up, the term means something confined to theory or speculation. I don’t see how that won’t work in context.

              What “can” in context was what really is likely to happen, not some speculation of how things might go down where the Mets “can” win the World Series this year.

        • Sure he can. It just requires some political courage.

          It would have been better to write “Obama can’t order KSM tried, because that would require some political courage on the part of Congress.”

    • PC again is the weak link at LGM.

      Did you see the wholly-unevidenced assertion in his article that bin Laden, the huge donor to the mujahadeen, who was well-known for denouncing collaboration with the United States during the Soviet-Afghan War, was actually receiving American money?

      Paul Campos decides what’s true based on its conformance to his ideological predisposition.

      • Paul Campos

        bin Laden’s historical relationship with the U.S. government was inconveniently complex, going back to the days when he fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with the aid of American money and weapons.

        “After leaving college in 1979, bin Laden arrived to Pakistan and joined Abdullah Azzam to take part in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[62][63] During Operation Cyclone from 1979 to 1989, the United States provided financial aid and weapons to the mujahideen leaders[64] through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Bin Laden met and built relations with Hamid Gul, who was a three star general in the Pakistani army and head of the ISI agency. Although the United States provided the money and weapons, the training of militant groups was entirely done by the Pakistani Armed Forces and the ISI.”

        Joe from Lowell either doesn’t know basic US history, or doesn’t know how to read.

        • So, since Osama “met and built relationships with” a general in the ISI, that means that this huge donor actually a recipient? How do we know he wasn’t collaborating on military strategy, or finding recipients for his own donations, or engaging in any of the million other activities that two leaders fighting the same enemy might perform?

          No, he must have been taking American money, even as he denounced taking American money…because it fits your story.

          Meeting with and building relationships with someone in the ISI means you are taking money from them, even as you donate $millions of your own money to the cause?

        • Joe from Lowell either doesn’t know basic US history, or doesn’t know how to read.

          Actually, I know basic US history enough to know that there is no evidence for your assertion, and I can read well enough to note that there is nothing whatsoever in your quote indicating that Osama received American money.

          Which, apparently, you couldn’t manage to read, since you think a quote that doesn’t state, or even suggest, that Osama received US funds is not only proof of that assertion, but such overwhelming proof that you can do a little endzone dance.

        • Or maybe you’re just so incompetent at your chose career that you don’t understand that intelligence agencies do things other than provide funding to everyone who meets with them.

        • PS – nice wikipedia quote lol.

          • Paul Campos

            The anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s were funded in significant part by the USA. OBL was part of that resistance. You seem to think that OBL’s activities in Afghanistan were funded in part by the USA only if he were sent checks in his name by the CIA.

            All it takes is the slightest criticism of Obama to turn many an LGM commentator into somebody who sounds exactly like a right-wing apologist for every aspect of US foreign policy.

            • The anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s were funded in significant part by the USA.

              Much of the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s were funded in significant part by the USA.

              OBL was part of that resistance.

              To be more precise, OBL was a huge donor to that resistance. He wasn’t a fighter, he wasn’t a military leader, he was a rainmaker, providing funding to the muj.

              You seem to think that OBL’s activities in Afghanistan were funded in part by the USA only if he were sent checks in his name by the CIA.

              HE WASN’T SENT CHECKS, Paul! He wrote them.

              All it takes is the slightest criticism of Obama to turn many an LGM commentator into somebody who sounds exactly like a right-wing apologist for every aspect of US foreign policy.

              Blah blah blah Obama blah blah blah. It must be very nice to know that you aren’t ever wrong, just that the people who call you out are ideologically unreliable.

              Waving your hands and shouting “Hey, look over there! Barack Obama!” isn’t going to make your ignorant, Wikipedia-quoting argument about Osama bin Laden, the multi-millionaire DONOR to the mujahadeen, waving a cup in front of the ISI true. Or even plausible.

              • hv

                He wasn’t a fighter, he wasn’t a military leader, he was a rainmaker, providing funding to the muj.

                Doesn’t this undercut your “keyboard commando” ad hominems?

              • No.

                I’m not sure you know what the term means.

                Terms, actually. I don’t think you know what “Keyboard Commando” means, and I don’t think you know what the ad hominem fallacy is.

                Hint: it’s not just a personal insult or characterization. It bears some relationship to the truth value of an argument. I’ll let you take it from here.

              • hv

                I have to disagree, the more you argue that OBL wasn’t a fighter or a military figure, the more my expectation that SEALs could capture him rises. I find there to be a relationship between these positions.

                Put it in whatever terms won’t make you have a little tantrum, and dodge the content.

              • If you’re going to write that vaguely, you shouldn’t be surprised that your comment gets read as all snark and no content.

                There is no question that the SEALs “could have” captured bin Laden. They “could have” done so even if he was a 22-year-old muj with a rifle at the ready. It just would have been done with significant casualties.

                The SEALs “could have” ignored the usual rules of engagement, which tell them to shoot if someone they think is going for a gun refuses to comply with orders. The question is, does the fact that they fired on bin Laden, apparently under those circumstances, mean that they were ordered to kill, not capture, him?

                I think one of the bloggers – Paul? – had it right a couple of days ago, when he used the phrase “capturing him was not a priority.” They could have been ordered to bring him in alive at all costs, but clearly, they weren’t.

            • Anderson

              Dude, I’ll take the Pepsi challenge with you any day on criticisms of Obama.

              The problem is that you write really dumb posts sometimes, and the commentariat here is generally smarter than that.

            • The anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s were funded in significant part by the USA. OBL was part of that resistance.

              The Tea Party in the 2010s is funded in significant part by the Koch brothers. Don Blankenship is a part of the Tea Party.

              Therefore, in Paul Campos’ world, I just proved that Don Blankenship receives money from the Koch brothers.

              But nevermind all of that; I voted for Barack Obama, so therefore, it makes perfect sense.

              • hv

                But let’s just carry that analogy the rest of the way… would people who suggest that SEALs could capture the Koch brothers, would they be keyboard commandos?

              • Making the abstract statement “SEALs could capture David Koch” wouldn’t make one a Keyboard Commando.

                Now, if there was a SEAL raid that killed David Koch, making claims about what those SEALs knew and second-guessing their actions – saying that they could have “easily” captured him, and knew they could do so, and asserting that they must have been trying to shoot and capture him from the beginning, because there was no way they could have shot him when he went for a gun or didn’t comply with orders to stop, would make one a Keyboard Commando.

            • Ed Marshall

              You should probably pick up a copy of Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars, it would serve you better than wikipedia, Paul.

        • I’m sorry, this is so stupid, and topped off with such a pointless insult, that I can’t help but dance on your grave a little more.

          A general in charge of distributing foreign funds to the mujahadeen for training and weapons meets with a huge Arab donor, who provides million of dollars in funds to the mujahadeen, but who does not himself carry out training or sell weapons, and the rational conclusion is that the general was giving, not receiving, funds from the donor?

          That does not make any sense. Paul, you’re choosing to believe what you want to believe.

          • John

            Yeah, this has been a remarkably idiotic line of argument from Campos.

  • DocAmazing

    Obviously, a trial would have been preferable, incontinents like Big Wrongful Norman above notwithstanding. Capture might just have been possible, but I’m loathe to second-guess the SEAL team: those guys are professionals, but they’re not superheroes, and in a situation with a very high pucker factor (abduction or killing within sight of a Pakistani military academy), operators are naturally going to err on the side of shooting and scooting.

    The part of the post that I disagree with is the idea that the US would have brought someone like bin Laden to trial at some point in the past. While it is certainly true that we’re more authoritarian now than we were in the ’90s, it’s important to face up to the fact that a lot of our covert overseas activities post-WWII amounted to subversion and assassination. The US that helped usher in the rule of the colonels in Greece or the reign of Pinochet was not on that was likely to observe such legal niceties as a trial for a terrorist.

    The US must absolutely improve its foreign and domestic policy WRT due process, but let’s not kid ourselves about some Golden Age of the rule of law.

    • Norman Thomas

      Capture might just have been possible, but I’m loathe to second-guess the SEAL team

      So, how ’bout a hot steamin’ cup of SHUT THE FUCK UP, then?

      • witless chum

        LOUD NOISES!

    • Amen. Second-guessing the SEAL team is exactly what this column is.

      Paul Campos, from his desk, has decided that the SEALs in that compound, who had just been shot at, and had stormed the room of a guy well known for ordering suicide attack, totally weren’t reacting to what they thought was danger.

      Unless you assume that the SEALs knew it would be safe to run across the room and grab bin Laden, and chose not to, then the killing of OBL doesn’t in any way support the assertion that they were ordered to kill not capture (or whatever term of equivocation one uses instead).

      • timb

        The words of the President: “Bin Laden was captured and then killed.”

        The words of Jay Carney: He wasn’t armed.

        The last story released by the White House: there were 3 people in the house, one of them was armed.

        OBL was shot twice in the side of the head; for God sake, do the math.

        • Those are not the words of the president. Those are the words of bin Laden’s daughter. The words of the president were “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

          The words of Jay Carney: He wasn’t armed.

          And in the words of the military and CIA, there was an AK-47 and a handgun in the room, near him.

          The last story released by the White House: there were 3 people in the house, one of them was armed.

          And…? Tell me, Sgt. York, how does that demonstrate that he was executed, rather than shot by a SEAL going for a gun?

          OBL was shot twice in the side of the head

          False. Bin Laden was shot once in the chest and once above the left eye, both of which are in the front of one’s body. In fact, shooting once at the center of mass and once at the head is a standard special forces “double tap.”

        • hv

          I’m afraid if I do the math, I will be accused of being a Keyboard Accountant.

          • I loom way too large in your consciousness, hv.

            Tell me, when you have nightmares about me, what does my facial hair look like?

            • hv

              In a way, you’re kinda right. I have definitely been imagining the look on your face during certain of these occasions, as you frantically scroll up.

          • Malaclypse

            I’m afraid if I do the math, I will be accused of being a Keyboard Accountant.

            Keyboards are for amateurs. Real accountants need number pads.

          • Malaclypse

            You need to go back to arguing Platonism, hv.

            (Seriously, I’m interested in your reply to my reply).

            • hv

              I’ll get there, I can’t do that off-the-cuff like I can toy with Mr. Terminology. (Sorry!)

              • Way.

                Too.

                Large.

                If I see a comment from you in two days, I won’t remember who you are. You, however, already have a nickname for me.

              • FYI, I vaguely remember that I once corrected you for using unclear language, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what the subject was, or what mistake you made.

                It seems to have been a real turning point for you, though.

              • hv

                I think it will shock you when you discover exactly how far you have to delve into the LGM archive to discover the eposide of you getting “snarky” about my terminology.

        • Someday, the comment with the links will come out of moderation.

          Until that day, here’s the comment without them:

          Those are not the words of the president. Those are the words of bin Laden’s daughter. The words of the president were “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

          The words of Jay Carney: He wasn’t armed.

          And in the words of the military and CIA, there was an AK-47 and a handgun in the room, near him.

          The last story released by the White House: there were 3 people in the house, one of them was armed.

          And…? Tell me, Sgt. York, how does that demonstrate that he was executed, rather than shot by a SEAL going for a gun?

          OBL was shot twice in the side of the head

          False. Bin Laden was shot once in the chest and once above the left eye, both of which are in the front of one’s body. In fact, shooting once at the center of mass and once at the head is a standard special forces “double tap.”

  • Davis X. Machina

    at least in a country not in the grip of continual hysteria

    I finally bought my granny some wheels — it’s for Mother’s Day — and she’s finally going to get to be a trollybus.

    You just have to want it bad enough. And I finally did.

  • brenda

    If that lack of catharsis was a contributing factor to our gradual slide into Security State Theater, and I think it was, then you could argue that approach might be a necessary step to get anywhere near to a rational anti-terrorism policy.

  • calling all toasters

    the White House opted for justice the catharsis of sudden violent revenge and the advantages of cheap political theater.

    Yeah, Paul I was was just thinking the same thing. The parade, the big speech at ground zero, the smirk of triumph and fist pumping at the announcement, the splattering of the death picture across all the front pages, the “we’re coming for you” warning to other terrorists, Obama taking Osama’s gun as a souvenir: all this was cheap and unnecessary.

    • And your comment (whether one agrees with it or not is irrelevant) anonymous commenting calls for…?

      Why so few willing to show themselves?

      Just curious.

      • calling all toasters

        I can’t speak for others, but I maintain anonymity because I am the al Qaeda second-in-command. Sorry, was.

        • Malaclypse

          You realize that Donalde will link to this as evidence of LGM’s terrorist sympathies, and Gellar will then do s series of ALL CAPS exposes of our collective guilt for harboring you?

          • calling all toasters

            Eh, my life was in a rut anyway.

        • Beats being #3.

          There are three constitutional officers in the Al Qaeda Charter:

          Mastermind

          Vice-Mastermind, and

          Keeper of the GPS Beacon.

          • calling all toasters

            Inevitably Killed Foot Soldier hasn’t had any suction since Star Trek.

            • I’ve been promoted? I’m now third in command?!?

              Praise Allah, I…hey, what’s with the red shirt?

  • Osama couldn’t be captured because doing so would have repudiated everything Obama stands for and vindicated the Bush administration’s GWOT. Obama ordered kill on sight to avoid embarrassment. It was a political assassination to save his own hide. Killing Osama was not about national security or justice. I was all about protecting “The One.”

    • I love the way I can literally hear your teeth grinding when you wrote this comment.

      Why do Republicans make such incompetent Commanders-in-Chief?

      • Do you think it’s because their spoiled Richie Rich upbringings leave them incapable of confronting adversity?

    • calling all toasters

      Elevated your game to lunatic gibberish, I see.

      • DrDick

        His meds are starting to wear off.

  • Holding OBL without a trial of some sort seems implausible.

    And a trial would have been the side-show of the century and diverted attention from very political matter in the USA.

    And it would have been to no purpose as OBL might well have stipulated his guilt and used the trial to frame his attacks as a matt of self -defense against the Umma by the USA, Israel, Britain etc.

    Yes in the ideal world a trial might have been desirable. But such world doesn’t exist and to in effect give bin Laden a forum would have been a waste.

    • The first WTC bombers tried to use their trials for such a purpose, too.

      How’d that work out for them?

    • calling all toasters

      Holding OBL without a trial of some sort seems implausible.

      Don’t follow the news much, do you?

    • You really have no experience with trials in federal court, do you.

      Federal judges don’t let defendants run amok.

      Federal judges can and will limit the proofs to the issues in the case. Take the time to acquaint yourself with how well other terrorist’s efforts to subvert their federal trials have worked out.

      There is overwhelming evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, including any number of self-incriminating recorded statements. It would be a very easy trial for the prosecution to win.

  • Dave

    Why is it that liberals are now taking the time to put on their velvet evening jackets and lecture people about the desirability of killing obl, after he is fucking dead? You had ten years to make this case, and you never bothered. But now you want to articulate your principles, when it doesn’t matter at all? I don’t know how you can talk like you’re not a barbarian without stipulating at the same time that what you’re saying is completely meaningless.

    • Dave

      whoops, should read “…desirability of capturing/not killing obl, after he is fucking dead.”

    • I would think that anybody who cares about the gathering of intelligence as part of winning the so-called “war on terror” would easily understand why it would be beneficial to capture bin Laden.

      • Dave

        Unpersuasive on two counts. We gathered intelligence, for whatever it’s worth. Second, there’s no such thing as a war on terror.

    • Ben

      . . . where does the velvet evening jacket thing come from? Does Hugh Hefner routinely hold court about the failings of American empire? In any event oh man I wish I had a velvet evening jacket.

      Anyway, let’s see: your complaint is that nobody took the time to craft an argument about something which wasn’t a public priority during a time when the President (both Bush and Obama) is doing and defending things which are illegal.

      So you’re upset that nobody went: “Hey guys! Quit arguing over whether torture is legal! I want to argue about what we should do with bin Laden if we find him, even though our President is utterly dismissive of the idea that his capture is an important part of the War on Terrah and has shuttered the CIA unit tasked with his capture!”

      Or: “Hey guys! Quit arguing over whether Obama is committing war crimes with pilotless drones! I want to argue about what we should do with bin Laden if we find him, even though Obama hasn’t given any indication that he gives a higher priority to finding him than Bush did!”

      That about right?

      • Dave

        That’s about right, except for the notion that there has never been an opportune time for the left to make itself heard on this issue. Like for example when Obama said for an entire year that he would order people into pakistan to kill al qaedas. Not only did the left not object; Democrats nominated him to be their candidate. Whoops!

        So, like, some time before the last few days would have been fine for someone somewhere to assert that obl should not be killed. Today, though, your professions are not interesting or consequential.

        • Ben

          Obama: if we get intelligence about terrorist networks in Pakistan, I will engage them.

          Hillary: No you idiot you don’t say that out loud – there are delicate geopolitical sensibilities to consider – you clearly are not ready for politics on the world stage.

          McCain: “that one” isn’t ready for politics on the world stage.

          Bush: Hey y’all don’t mind me I’m just ramping up drone strikes and trying to treat women like chattel.

          Dave’s ideal liberal: Hey guys! Let’s stop talking about the actual criticisms levyed at Obama by his political opponents during an election cycle! Let’s argue about a tangental question which assumes those issues have been settled: what he’ll do if faced with the decision to capture or kill bin Laden! Also let’s ignore the people who are justifying the illegal things Bush is doing so that we may argue this interesting hypothetical question!

          Honestly dude it’s like you’re suuuper pissed that liberals haven’t established their positions for every conceivable future event. If the plague breaks out tomorrow will you be angry at liberals for not having already argued amongst themselves and made public their agreed-upon ethical concerns regarding the situation?

          And why single out liberals for not having thought everything through? Libertarians, social conservatives, socialists, fiscal conservatives and the cheetohed Jonah-Goldbergians also have stances regarding these issues. Are you mad that none of those groups have voiced their opinions about every scenario that could ever happen as well? Shouldn’t you be?

          • Dave

            Are you really claiming that “let’s kill bin Laden” was not an implicit and frequently explicit demand and political position for the last ten years?

            If you think it wasn’t, you’re out of your head. If you think it was, and you never complained before, your complaints today are hollow.

            • “Let’s GET bin Laden” was a frequent demand for the past ten years.

              Speaking only for myself, I never said or even thought “make sure you kill him, not capture” when I spent the last 9 years denouncing Bush for letting him go. I would have been fine either way.

            • Ben

              Are you really claiming a devastating superflu isn’t a viable threat given the terrible flus that have beset us during the last ten years?

              If you think it isn’t, you’re out of your head. If you think it is, and you don’t establish what you think we should do before it hits, your opinion when it comes is hollow.

              Also, I look forward to hearing you screech about how the opinions of people advocating torture regimes and unlimited executive authority are completely meaningless and not interesting.

              • Dave

                Ben, You are why the Left is useless. Go fuck yourself.

              • Dave

                …sorry, very sorry. That was intemperate. What I meant to say was, you, and the Left, are useless to the extent that you can’t formulate demands based on what you want the world to look like. (Remember when the left was pissed for like three days about the Afghanistan surge, and then everyone forgot about it?) So, spare me the “no one could have predicted” line.

              • Ben

                Whoaa. I appreciate walking back the cussing, but calm down man.

                What are you arguing? What you were arguing before, that no opinions on capturing v. killing Osama are valid if they weren’t expressed before his death? Or what you’re arguing in your last post, that liberals can’t decide what they want the world to look like and won’t stick with something if they do?

                If it’s the former: blogs and commentary follow the newscycle. The prospect of catching bin Laden just hasn’t been in the newscycle. Sorry. If you want to argue that the option of arguing about catching bin Laden has been around for ten years, that is true. It’s also true that scads of other issues, such as the prospect of a superflu, have been around for that period of time. Any arguments you want to make about the validity of bin Laden arguments also apply just as equally to those issues. When the superflu hits, are you going to denounce everyone who didn’t voice their opinions on what to do before your deadline? During Katrina, were you running around screaming at everybody because they hadn’t expressed their ethical positions on providing disaster relief in response to a hurricane which broke New Orleans’ levies before it happened?

                If you want to argue this new claim that “liberals can’t formulate what they want the world to be like” with “the Afgahn surge” as evidence: this is asinine. The surge *happened*. Liberals *lost* that debate. It’s a very odd and stringent standard to require everyone keep fighting battles they already lost. That would require social conservatives to keep arguing for making divorce illegal, for example.

                Now for my arguments: liberals *have* voiced opinions on this issue in the past. They’ve argued over the ethics of the roving death squads which killed Osama. They argued it when Bush enacted the policy, they argued it when Obama continued the policy. If you want to be pedantic enough to claim no, this doesn’t count becuase it’s not Osama specific, go right ahead.

                Finally, Dave, it’s obvious you hate liberals and are looking for a way to criticize them. In order to not be a raging hypocrite, you have to be willing to criticize other groups when they exhibit the behavior you’re so pissed at liberals for exhibiting.

                You still haven’t denounced John Yoo, poster boy for torture, for doing the exact same things you torch liberals for doing. Hmm. Are you going to do so? And will you also lambast the social conservatives who hadn’t expressed opinions on end-of-life issues who were howling when Terri Schiavo was being fought over? The conservatives who had never breathed a word about public unions until Scott Walker wanted to play at being Reagan? The conservatives who make a sport out of excoriating Al Gore with tired jokes about the Internet and Tipper?

                If yes, good for you. If not, raging hypocrite.

                Christ, this is long. Apologies for cluttering the thread to all three of the people reading this.

              • Dave

                God. I don’t “hate liberals.” I just think they’re wishy-washy political failures, and I think there’s so much fail in part because they have no demands. They have, I guess, complaints. And none of them ever seems to be redressed. I dunno, Ben, you keep mentioning all the other stuff liberals were engaged in arguing for the last ten years; notice those arguments were lost, or liberals had no hand in winning them. I hate John Yoo as much as you do, but the guy’s still a professor somewhere instead of a prisoner. That’s a failure of liberal politics, and, frankly, a pretty big one. Just add the killing of OBL to the list, I guess.

              • Ben

                “Liberals have no demands.” Health insurance for all. Gay rights. Etc.

                “Liberals have had no recent political successes.” Health insurance for all. DADT repeal. Gay marriage. Etc.

                “John Yoo’s freedom represents a pretty big failure of liberal politics.” No country on Earth would have jailed John Yoo. You’re saying liberals haven’t yet enacted a utopian political order. Amen to that, brother.

                Look, in order to argue with you I’ve just had to recount basic contemporary US political issues and events. Additionally, I’ve pointed out above how you don’t apply the arguments and standards you use against liberals toward other groups, and you didn’t respond.

                I can’t see any point in continuing to argue with you. I’m done.

              • Dave

                Yeah, well, go fuck yourself.

              • hv

                Yeah, well, go fuck yourself.

                Dear Dave, the second time you say that makes it hard to believe that you were sincere in your apologies for the first time.

  • Chris Dornan

    For sure the sordid practical problems of capturing him were real enough — thats the messy cost of the rule of law and all of that.

    But I completely agree with the sentiments, and glad to seem them being expressed more widely.

  • Rachel Q

    So apparently we sent 24 guys and one dog into an enemy compound in a potentially hostile country for less than an hour, one of their helicopters broke down on the way in, and Pakistan had scrambled fighter jets against them before they were back across the border.

    I’m incredibly grateful they accomplished what they did and made it back alive. Asking for more seems a little unrealistic.

    • Ed

      I’m incredibly grateful they accomplished what they did and made it back alive. Asking for more seems a little unrealistic.

      A capture mission might have been less risky for them.

      • John

        How so?

    • Furious Jorge

      It seems odd to me that the SEAL team “making it back alive” seems to outweigh the upside of capturing bin Laden alive. Not that bin Laden “deserved” to live more than the SEAL team – but the SEALs signed up for this sort of work. They knew it was going to be dangerous. To a degree, they are expendable in the service of their mission, and they knew that too.

      Yet I’ve read dozens of comments about how attempting anything more than what was accomplished would have been unacceptably risky for the SEALs. If their health, well-being, and continued survival is paramount, why are they even there in the first place? Why not a drone strike instead?

      • Osama kind of signed on for danger too. Surely, a commander of the US military has more responsibility for the safety of his troops than for enemy combatants. A drone strike might have been legitimate, but it clearly endangered non-combatants more than what actually took place.

  • Pooh

    LGM founders,

    I regret to inform you that Campos’ argumentative style leaves much to be desired and makes you all look worse by association. Even if I tended to agree with his conclusions, the routine strawmanning and question begging in which he engages would tend to put me off. In this post alone there are at least two assertions of arguable fact which are treated as unassailable conclusions.

    • jeer9

      Straw men! Question-begging! Arguable fact treated as unassailable conclusions! What next? Proof by verbosity? I’m calling the rhetorical police. One ringy dingy. … Two ringy dingy.

    • Anderson

      This. I don’t know what is wrong with the other LGM bloggers that they enjoy having this person posting with them. Let him write for the Daily Beast — judging by the assholes I’ve seen commenting there, it’s much more his kind of place.

    • Joe

      Accord. I’m not sure exactly the value of this additional voice which the others aid and abet by providing a platform.

      Charli Carpenter, for instance, was an addition and brings various things to the table that are positive additions. PC brings things that some are more likely to sneer at. Not to be mean, but including him while repeatedly sneering at Ann Althouse’s argument style is a bit hypocritical.

      • Pooh

        Fair point on the last.

      • Pooh

        Also completely agree re: Charli, who I frequently disagree with, but always provides thoughtful and thought-provoking arguments.

        • Anderson

          Yeah, I learn stuff from Carpenter — would be very sorry to see her go.

  • Bobby Thomson

    (it’s instructive that I haven’t seen a single right-winger argue that this was anything other than a kill mission, even though in their eyes that interpretation actually makes Obama look better).

    Unless you’re John Yoo, who has a sad because in this administration all Al Qaeda leaders are being killed (at least officially) instead of tortured for the rest of their lives.

    • Speaking of strawmen, I’ve written nothing that criticizes the SEAL team for their actions

      That is indeed a straw man, since the charge is not that you’ve criticized the SEALs, but that you’ve drawn a unsupportable conclusion about their mindset, and therefore their orders, based on questionable assumptions about the implications of their actions.

      But, hey, look at that! You’ve managed to misinterpret a criticism of your argument in a manner that allows you to cast yourself as the victim of a smear that a large chunk of your readership will sympathize with! Again! What are the odds?

      • Paul Campos

        Amen. Second-guessing the SEAL team is exactly what this column is.

        Paul Campos, from his desk, has decided that the SEALs in that compound, who had just been shot at, and had stormed the room of a guy well known for ordering suicide attack, totally weren’t reacting to what they thought was danger.

        You’re incapable of keeping your own argument straight, let alone other peoples.’

        If my argument is that they weren’t reacting to perceived danger then of course I’m not second-guessing them — I’m second-guessing their orders. If my argument is that I’m second-guessing their perception of the actual danger then I’m criticizing them (which I’m not). You contradict yourself from sentence to sentence, which is why I’m not going to engage with you any more on this subject.

        • Ed Marshall

          This just sucks. If we were all sitting around talking about a police raid where some guy got shot in a stupid, botched drug raid no one would here would probably be defending the cops.

          Also no one here would be inventing a conspiracy theory that the cops must have been ordered to murder the occupant of the house.

          It’s obviously a salient fact that this wasn’t cops executing a no-knock warrant in Indiana, this was Spec Ops executing a high stakes mission in hostile territory against a known terrorist, who had made a verbal declaration of war against the United States and carried out a rather unpleasant attack.

          • Ed Marshall

            For what it is worth, I do believe about the only way bin Laden would have come out alive would have been to be lying prone and understood enough english to find out that the military only considers you to be compliant once you are not only prone, but have lifted your hands and feet off the ground.

        • jeer9

          Campos,
          Don’t you know JFL devours a-holes like you for breakfast and then dances on your grave, if of course there’s even enough left of you to bury? He’s gotten so deep within your subconscious that you tremble just thinking of the next bon mot he will utter at your expense. While he doesn’t even remember (pleasant for him) whom he’s crossed swords with (an unfortunate side effect for those suffering from delusions of grandeur), I do wish the attendants at his asylum would more closely restrict access to the laptops.

        • Norman Thomas

          Paul,

          When was the last time you wrote an article lauding the military?

          • Malaclypse

            Paul,

            Why don’t you write the posts I want you to write?

          • hv

            When was the last time one was lacking?

  • Norman Thomas

    Just think, Bush could have ended this thing at Tora Bora 8 years ago, if he weren’t so incompetent

    Just think, Bill Clinton could have ended this thing by just saying “yes” to those who were trying to hand us Bin Laden on a platter.

    But Nooooooooo……..

    • DocAmazing

      those who were trying to hand us Bin Laden on a platter
      Who were they, again? Did they own stock in Sudanese pharmaceuticals?

    • Malaclypse

      Just think, Bill Clinton Ronald Reagan could have ended this thing by just saying “yes” to those who were trying to hand us not funding Bin Laden

      Fixed that for you.

    • Anonymous

      The same Bill Clinton who was accused of wagging the dog by you assholes when he tried to kill bin Laden? That guy?

  • Leaving aside all legal considerations, a mission that reflected a rational anti-terrorism policy — at least in a country not in the grip of continual hysteria — would have aimed to capture him alive.

    I’m pretty sympathetic to the law enforcement/capture and trial approach, but it’s hard to see that the only rational anti-terrorism policy (even in many idealized circumstances) would have aimed at capture. At the very least, it seems rational to aim at bin Laden’s neutralization (whether by death, capture, or other disruption), where that goal is means to prevent future attacks.

    In the particular context, assuming that killing is legally and morally justifiable, it seems rational to make the essential goal preventing bin Laden’s escape or any doubt as to whether he escaped. (I.e., no Tora Bora II).

    • hv

      Dear Mr. bin Laden,

      We would love to capture you but due to our previous incompetence, we are forced by rationality to kill you instead. Sorry!

      It’s not you, it’s us!

      Thank you for your (remaining) time and consideration,
      The US Military

      • Funny! Not responsive, but funny!

        Even an all things considered rational approach needn’t make capturing, itself, the dominent priority, e.g., to the point of allowing him to escape.

        I think there is a good strategic case for prioritizing capture, but I don’t think there’s no case for other prioritizations, esp. if you put legal issues aside.

  • ajay

    Speaking of strawmen, I’ve written nothing that criticizes the SEAL team for their actions, since those actions are most reasonably interpreted as a precisely calibrated carrying out of their orders.

    So, Campos actually believes that “they did nothing wrong, they were only obeying orders” is a valid argument?
    Because I really cannot think of any other way to interpret this sentence.

    • Remember that in this context we’re “Leaving aside all legal considerations”. The question is what the right (from a strategic POV) orders are. And really, the possibilities are something like: Capture at [all|very high|high|reasonable] cost, but don’t kill; capture at [some high] cost, but kill if necessary (so no escape); capture if convenient, but kill; kill is preferred; kill is the only option.

      So, assuming they are all legal, which are reasonable and which are preferable? We can presume that all/high cost doesn’t mean that no self-defence is permitted and we can also presume that capture was reasonably possible. The main differences are in the outcomes and the risk profiles.

      Paul claims (and I agree!) that the best outcome is capture. He also claims that this is the only possible goal of an overall rational policy. I think that’s too strong, but YMMV.

      • “Kill even if there is an attempt at surrender” isn’t legal. The other orders are legal.

        I have to admit the strategic debate doesn’t interest me much. Who knows? OTOH, the legal debate is important because it is important to establish that even the US is subject to international law.

  • Sean

    Paul: Great article, and I certainly agree that taking OBL alive was not a political option in the light of the hysteria. But was the hysteria, resulting in the war on terror, without justification? Well, from the perspective of legitimate mittigated risk vs. cost, it most likely was. Still, the entire chain of events was based on notions so devoid of comprehension that it is difficult to conceive of what a rational response would be, or mean.

  • Sean Peters

    Geez, the “evidence” presented just gets better and better. Now, not only do we have an unnamed official (who, again, may or may not have had anything to do with the operation) claiming there was a “kill order”, RIGHT WING BLOGGERS ALSO FAIL TO DENY THIS. Wow, kill order, QED.

    Paul, really? Are you serious? Mostly I like your writing, but you need to either 1) come up with some damned evidence there was a so-called kill order, or 2) just stop talking about this. You’re making yourself look foolish.

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