Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Justice has been done"

In the cover of darkness four stealth helicopters descend on a compound 60 kilometers north of Islamabad, Pakistan in a garrison town called Abbotabad. Soon there is gun fire and a blaze. A continent away Americans are perturbed when their daily dose of television is interrupted by an imminent broadcast from the White House. Speculation begins and the media men and women begin to do what they do best, chatter. Soon the "Breaking News" headline turns to "Osama Bin Laden has been killed". Moments later a president walks down a red carpet to a microphone and addresses the world. He reveals that a covert CIA operation has borne fruit and Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, is dead. And "Justice has been done." Within minutes a crowd gathers outside the White House gates. USA!, USA! the chanting gets louder and louder. Jubilation is in the air. In New York, where it all began, some people are ecstatic and others finally remove their countdown signs. The wait is over. America's "Public Enemy No:1", "The Face of Evil", is finally gunned down after 9 years and 232 days since 9/11. But his ghost lingers on.

As the details begin to leak through the news cycle, the story of how it went down begins to emerge. The Navy Seal team that descended on the compound made their way to the third floor of a bungalow where they found Osama Bin Laden. They shot him in the head and then carried him away to a waiting helicopter. On the way to him they killed two of his couriers, a son and a woman. A helicopter which was meant to carry Osama's family as hostages, had a malfunction so it had to be blown up. Before the military could be alerted, the Navy Seal team was out of Pakistani Airspace, the whole operation concluded in a precision 40 minutes. They had been training for this for more than a year. After a brief landing in Afghanistan the body of Osama Bin Laden was moved to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea. He was reportedly buried at sea mindful of Islamic religious customs.

The official White House report, which is the only report, first claimed Osama Bin Laden resisted and therefore had to be killed. They then revealed he was unarmed. What emerges from the operation details is that the Navy Seal team was there to carry out an assassination and they succeeded.

Osama Bin Laden for a long time has been the most reviled person in the west. His exploits attained global notoriety, when his suicide bombers attacked the American war ship USS Cole and bombed the US embassies in east Africa. In retaliation when president Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike on his camps in Afghanistan he openly wowed to bring the war to America's streets. His anger against the United States for its presence in his holy motherland of Mecca and Madina, galvanized extremists across the Islamic world to his cause. Even many moderate Muslims in the Arab world gravitated to his call for Jihad as they perceived America to be an imperial power that knew no boundaries and had no honor as it propped up despotic Arab regimes. On 9/11 the epic myth of Osama Bin Laden solidified as the greatest terrorist attack ever, took place in downtown Manhattan. That t0wering act of violence and the chutzpah exhibited made him a larger than life figure. The soft spoken videos that appeared on Al Jazeera, painted him as an Islamic revolutionary. He had become Time magazine's most influential man of the year.

The grotesque crime that was committed on 9/11 unleashed a river of blood. America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, causing thousands of deaths and Al Qaeda pushed back escalating the orgy of violence. Bin Laden successfully lured America into spending a trillion dollars on a misguided war that reportedly claimed a 150,000 lives. An extremely heavy reckoning for one mans fiendish mission for blood thirsty revenge and destruction.

The story of Osama Bin Laden is no different from that of any other extremist who is driven by a singular ideology. The ideology of seeing the world reconfigured, guided by an archaic and medieval code of mistrust and intolerance of the other. This ideology exists all around the world and some states like North Korea put it into practice very successfully. And every now and then comes an individual who puts it into action in their own psychotic but clever way. For Bin Laden that ideology took some time to form, but once it did, it had to be put into action by any means. Osama Bin Laden had the means, in the form of ancestral wealth, which he showered generously to gain respect and admiration from people from all walks from Afghanistan to Sudan. Politicians, spies, clerics, fanatics and men with guns all aligned themselves to him. He was then able to mobilize young men along with like minded partners such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, to do his bidding, and that they did with their very lives.

Even though he was being watched closely way before 9/11, it was that monumental act that made him a formidable adversary. The CIA had a whole task force dedicated to tracking and killing Osama Bin Laden. For most he became the most evil man alive and for a sizable lot he became a hero, a man who finally hit back at the imperialists, and pulled it off from a cave.

In this so called "civil society" we live in, the word "Justice" is associated with the idea of laws, and justice is only done when all the evidence is presented for the world to see in the form of hard fact. That is what is done in a democratic society and democratic values know no geographic boundaries. They are the values of higher purpose, arrived at through centuries of injustice, wars, genocide and mass murder. They give credibility to those who uphold them no matter the circumstances.

While most people were elated by the extermination of Osama Bin Laden, there were those who felt that his capture and prosecution would have given America more credibility in the eyes of the world. There are numerous arguments for and against posing a person such as him in a western court of law such as the ICC (International Criminal Court). The primary one being, that putting him on trial would be a logistical nightmare and it would rally more people to his cause and would create an expensive spectacle which is not worthy. The other argument is that, the evidence against him would be very hard to bring to bear in a court of law. But I think putting him on trial would have been a much more worthwhile enterprise than spending a trillion dollars on a war that has brought nothing more than misery. There was also a sentiment expressed that his death brought "closure". Unfortunately "Bin-Ladenism" will be much harder to eradicate and closure will be only momentary.

Osama Bin Laden is certainly not the first fanatic to have walked the earth committed to mass murder. The recently arrested Serbian General Ratko Mladic, had been on the run for sixteen years, and will finally face justice at the Hague. When compared to the Nazis, Bin Laden's agenda is quite tame. Even though the Nazis were a state sponsored machinery, they had similar goals of establishing a society guided by a singular vision of absolute domination through violence and terror. Yet at the end of the war the Nazis were not exterminated in revenge killings. They were put on trial, to show to the world that what evil lies within needs to be examined and rooted out so it does not linger on and disease the human spirit. The Nuremberg trials brought credibility to the western allies and lead to the formation of laws that guide us to a higher mission. Ben Ferencz, US prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials has openly criticized the manner in which Osama Bin Laden was done away with. Not just because it was an assassination and assassinations are illegal under US law, but also because we lost credibility. We acted like one of them. Dealing a blow but also making sure that the cycle of violence would continue for generations to come.

President Obama came through on his campaign promise and emerged as the tough democrat. Heady from the global applause he no doubt thinks he has secured a second term in office. His Attorney General Eric Holder declared the disposal of Osama Bin Laden as an act of national "self defense". While we wait for Al Qaeda's next move, there is already a heightened sense disquiet in the world. The dubious and duplicitous nature of Pakistan's power centers are extremely worrisome. While complicit they feel violated and are carefully playing their chips seeking favor from China as plan B. While hunting down Osama Bin Laden may have been a popular thing to do, it is his ghost that will haunt us for some time to come.

Osama Bin Laden to the people who knew him dearly was "Sheik Osama Bin Laden". The word "Sheik" is used as an expression of deference and respect. His followers are many and that is a fact that cannot and should not be ignored. He is still a hero to many, even though he has killed and maimed thousands of his own kind. But in any Jihad there is collateral damage and people are willing to see it that way as America sees its killing of innocent people as collateral damage. Where and when the killing will end is anybody's guess. The Taliban it seems are coming around to talk peace, while they keep blowing up more and more people where and when they can. For "Justice" to truly be done there has to be equal justice for all. As long as that escapes us, wars and tit for tat killing will be the main stay and extremists will emerge to fill the vacuum. The turmoil shaking the Arab world, which some are calling the "Arab Spring" could be an antidote to extremism. But only if it is allowed to thrive and be nurtured as a long term investment and not a short term reprieve. It is what it is.