Truth Revenge, Justice and The Rest of It
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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]
Justice? Fucked if I know.
Sanctifying? Perhaps it sanctifies the myth.
Is the search for truth important in justice? Did any portion of the truth die with the villain?