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Truth Revenge, Justice and The Rest of It

May 5, 2011

O-gamer
Image via: fuck yeah dementia!!1!

GREAT SUCCESS in the war on terror, right? We’re told they killed that one guy, anyway. Which is symbolically a huge huge deal. And there seems to be a lot riding on folks buying into this thing.

What was remarkable about the military operation to me, is the same thing that troubles Jeff Goldstein:

What remains troubling to me is the circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s death: if he wasn’t armed, the SEAL team would have apprehended him if at all possible, unless they were given an entirely new kind of order, one that I’m nearly certain Holder and Obama would have never given (even as this “kill order” story continues to be floated). [Goldstein]

I’m far less certain that kind of order was one Obama would have never given, though this bizarre account of the decision making process, if there’s any truth to it, would seem to confirm but complicate the notion.

If there is any truth to the official account of the raid itself being offered for public consumption, it seems safe to assume, whoever was pulling the strings, the order was given that bin Laden not be taken alive.

Michael Moore offers a hilarious criticism of the decision to execute rather than bring to trial. He starts with a 100% repudiation of the death penalty, and concludes with an endorsement of it LOL:

I am a Catholic, and the position of the Catholic Church and the Pope is that we are 100 percent against the death penalty unless it is in self-defense. Look at the Nuremberg Trials. We didn’t just pop a bullet in the heads of the worst scum in history. We thought it was important to put them on trial and expose their evil. In a democracy we believe in a system of justice and we believe in a judicial system that gives people a day in court…and then we hung them.

It doesn’t mean we can’t hang them afterward… [Moore]

The conventional defense of the decision to kill goes something like this, from Winston Smith:

A bunch of smart, well-informed people undoubtedly started thinking about this soon after 9/11. They apparently concluded what a bunch of laypeople, including myself, concluded: that there were too many problems associated with a trial for OBL. Dude was guilty as sin, and there was no doubt about it. It’s not like he denied it. Putting him on trial would have taken forever, given him a platform, stirred up the crazies…and there is always a nonzero probability that he could be found innocent–prosecutorial misconduct or who knows what. [Smith]

Tried and true. People have this argument handy and ready to go, don’t they? It’s the same rationalization used to prop up military tribunals and justify the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Gitmo.

Smith starts with an appeal to authority. No not the “smart, well-informed people” bit, the presumption of guilt bit. This is the part where we know a terrorism suspect is guilty because the authorities say he’s a terrorist! This is the same magical thinking that leads to a Bradley Manning being held for months and months without trial for “aiding the enemy!”

I know what you’ll say next: bin Laden admitted responsibility! He claimed credit for 9-11. He confessed! To what exactly? What was his role in the attack? I don’t put any stock in confessions. To my mind, they should never be accepted as evidence of guilt. Confessions can be false! I’d consider confessing to a crime to protect one of my kids from going to prison. Maybe bin Laden took credit for 9-11 to add to his own mystique, or to protect al Quaeda operatives out in the field. Who knows? That said, even within the criminal justice system as it stands, defendants who have confessed stand trial before punishment is meted out.

Would a trial have helped the country better understand 9-11? Shed any light on the inner workings and organization of al Qaeda? On bin Laden’s capacity? NO! Because Osama Bin Laden was a symbol. An irrelevancy. A creation of propagandists. A figment of collective imagination. Osama Bin Laden was the Bogyman. This is why Winston Smith gets partial credit for saying, “there was never any intention of taking OBL alive.”

Jonathan Simon looks at this case as well, delving in to the concepts of revenge and justice. While it’s an interesting post, it too gets really weird. Bin Laden seems to have that effect on people, huh?

Having differentiated the military operation as act of revenge served cold, from a measured and deliberate process of penal justice, Simon concludes:

Moments like this, where revenge and justice are together enacted in an act of both courage and dignity, are certain to be rare. We should take them for what they are; experience whatever healing and sanctifying work they can do; and carry on with the business of creating forms of penal justice that transcend revenge and retribution to achieve dignity. [Simon]

Revenge? Yes.
Justice? Fucked if I know.
Healing? Huh?
Sanctifying? Perhaps it sanctifies the myth.

Is the search for truth important in justice? Did any portion of the truth die with the villain?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 1:49 AM

    Are you flirtin’ with me?

  2. May 6, 2011 10:26 AM

    Most everyone considers their standards of justice universal for everyone… except for some people.

    Most everyone considers state violence acceptable so long as the state justifies its exercise by appealing to those universal standards of justice… except for some people.

    Most people have at least somebody, or an idea of somebody, in that exceptional clause.

    • May 6, 2011 10:38 AM

      but, hey, is being principled even a virtue? who am i to say?

      • May 6, 2011 4:13 PM

        I don’t think there is such a thing as being principled as a binary virtue. We all draw boundaries around what people should be treated with some list of rights, and what people can be disposed of in any way.

        Racists have a pretty exclusive boundary for people they are principled about. But so does everyone, like many Americans believe Americans have different rights than others. They are principled so far as that boundary goes, and they have different standards for non-Americans. Obviously you could keep going, the point is that for those people, they believe they are principled.

        Like right now, you think you are principled because you have a problem with Bin Laden being summarily executed. Those who don’t have a problem with that scenario presumably do have the same problems you have in others. The problems boil down to, it was morally wrong to do that to him (because that could one day be me.) For most people, being Osama Bin Laden, arch terrorist, master mind of 9/11, is so unthinkable, so alien, that he exists in a category of unPeople, that are not afforded consideration for what principles apply to the real people.

        Some very few people expand these boundaries to include some animals.

        There is that one religious sect that expanded it all the way out to include all living things and they take care not to even squish bugs.

      • May 6, 2011 4:16 PM

        I would quibble with my “(because that may one day be me.)” I think the because clause has other legitimate reasons, such as “I know what pain feels like and I don’t want to cause others pain without justification.”

  3. drip permalink
    May 6, 2011 3:42 PM

    No one with any say in the decision to execute bin Laden was interested in finding out the truth. They behaved as though they knew the truth. Where they get that idea from, I don’t know. I guess it’s because elections have consequences.

  4. May 6, 2011 3:53 PM

    “Osama Bin Laden was a symbol. An irrelevancy. A creation of propagandists. A figment of collective imagination. Osama Bin Laden was the Bogyman.”

    This nails it for me. All the talk of “justice” and trials is just window dressing as far as I’m concerned. The other day I heard some woman on npr say, “You just can’t help feeling happy about bin Laden’s death.” The only thing I can’t help feeling is annoyance at this whole absurd spectacle. And what irks me is how this one death implicitly justifies and validates the past ten years’ worth of bombings and mayhem in a part of the world where the US has no business being.

  5. May 7, 2011 8:56 AM

    The thing that bothered me the most was the local news outlets being so slow to play the local Six Degrees of Something-or-other angle. They were much quicker after the last Epic Event.

  6. Michael permalink
    May 19, 2011 9:03 AM

    “I don’t think there is such a thing as being principled as a binary virtue.”

    Principled shmincipled. Here’s what’s not a virtue: using violence as a first resort rather than last. There are some people who are consistent on that point, probably many.

    Justin, to the extent that I can actually fathom wtf you’re talking about, you appear to be wrong in a way that oddly seems aimed at excusing the revolting spectacle that ensued with the completion Operation Geronimo. I can say without embarrassment or doubt, that I am more principled when it comes to violence than the stupid idiots jerking off all around us.

    When was the last time, Americans, as a group, expressed collective joy over anything besides killing? This country is a fucking murder/torture cult and intellectualizing about it and splitting hairs dances around the topic. Don’t fucking tell me that I have anything in common with these flesh-eating zombies.

  7. Michael permalink
    May 19, 2011 9:15 AM

    “Would a trial have helped the country better understand 9-11? Shed any light on the inner workings and organization of al Qaeda? On bin Laden’s capacity? NO! Because Osama Bin Laden was a symbol. An irrelevancy. A creation of propagandists. A figment of collective imagination. Osama Bin Laden was the Bogyman. ”

    You are posing the wrong questions and also answering them incorrectly. Of course a trial would have shed light on Al Qaeda. It might have, for instance, disabused Americans of the quaint notion that they ‘hate us for our freedoms.’

    Yes Osama Bin Laden had been mythologized. That does not make him or Al Quaeda irrelevant. He was a CIA asset who went native. Walking, talking blowback and in the midst of a trial, a potential whistle-blower.

    • May 19, 2011 10:12 AM

      you’re forgetting what a trial is: an instrument of state power. if a trial had been allowed to happen it would have been a show trial, a sham. a trial that would reveal what you assert it might doesn’t serve the interests at work. your last two sentences are spot-on here.

      i’ve also found, in every person i’ve discussed this stuff with, that it’s not at all difficult to disabuse someone of the unexamined notion that they ‘hate us for our freedoms.’ it only becomes clear when one stops to thinks about it.

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