5 years, 10 months ago
A striking contradiction has been present for a long time in the so-called war on terror, but this contradiction is highlighted with the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, the highest of all high value targets. There are two narratives that have developed in the short time since he was killed (it’s amazing that any administration could get things so confused).
The first narrative is that the women were thrown out in front of the men and used as human shields. This makes me celebrate. No, not the death of non-combatants, but the action, if it in fact occurred. Bin Laden, who is routinely shown in file tape toting a Kalashnikov and wearing tactical gear, hid in caves at Tora Bora rather than fight, and then fled when he could. Rather than fight with his recruits or even be seen in public, he hides behind walls and then when the fight is brought to him, rather than protect his family, he throws them out in front of himself to avoid being shot.
How rich. Jihadist-Warrior-Martyr my ass. He was a cowardly weasel. I’m okay with this. Or, there is the second narrative to consider, and it makes me happy too. Rather than fighting from behind women and children, they just got in the way and some perished while others were wounded. But the legendary, storied SEAL Team 6 simply went in and shot him. Bin Laden didn’t even have a weapon when he was shot. In fact, not a single shot was fired at the SEAL Team (presumably the Pakistani police know this because of spent cartridges?).
Working hard to justify this to themselves, they are. Eric Holder testified before Congress today.
“The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “He was the head of al-Qaida, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September 11th. He admitted his involvement and he indicated that he would not be taken alive. The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self defense.”
He was a very bad guy and we’re in a war. Fine. But wait, there’s more.
Holder said bin Laden was a legitimate military target and he had made no attempt to surrender to the U.S. forces that stormed his fortified compound near Islamabad on Monday. He was shot in the chest and head.
It was lawful to target an enemy commander in the field and the mission was conducted in the way that was consistent with U.S. laws and values, Holder testified, adding that it was a “kill or capture mission.”
“If he had attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And therefore his killing was appropriate,” Holder said.
Senator Lindsey Graham chimed in thusly.
“You have to believe this guy was a walking IED,” and that any of the Navy SEALs would have wanted to kill bin Laden as far away as possible from the other members of the American team.
Yes, Lindsey, I routinely put on my explosive vest every day when I get home from work. I’m sure that Bin Laden was wearing one too. Holder jumped right on that ridiculous bandwagon by agreeing with Graham, so they both looked even more ridiculous than when they started.
But wait, there’s even more. The narrative gets muddled.
The SEALs’ decision to fatally shoot bin Laden — even though he didn’t have a weapon – wasn’t an accident. The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.
So by walking this back, Eric Holder is actually placing the SEAL Team 6 members at risk by alleging that there was a fire fight, and that resistance can occur with or without a weapon, and so on. No one actually believes that a 54 year old man without a weapon is a threat to the most fit, well-trained warriors on earth. No one.
They shouldn’t feel the need to work so hard at the justification. We already engage in targeted assassinations, i.e., the drone strikes that kill high value targets all over Western Pakistan, just like the strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud (and that strike killed family members as well). Baitullah Mehsud couldn’t surrender to an aircraft, and surely wasn’t pointing a weapon at a U.S. service member when he died. Yet we killed him anyway because he was the enemy, or at least, one of them.
There is confusion over this issue generally because there is confusion at the highest levels of the administration. It’s why flag officers who should know better tried to hold snipers accountable for murder because they shot an unarmed Taliban commander in Afghanistan.
And herein lies the rub. We unleashed SEAL Team 6 to kill Bin Laden, apparently, and I don’t have a problem with that. It isn’t necessary for me to believe that he was holding a weapon or wearing a bomb or somehow a threat to the team. He wasn’t. He was the enemy, and that’s enough for me.
But we hold Marines in the Helmand Province, still under fire, fighting for their lives, to a completely different standard. After recently lampooning the prison system in Afghanistan (something I have done repeatedly), a Marine father responds this way.
According to my son, a USMC 0311 recently returned from Helmand, the effect on their morale when seeing released Taliban was significant. He recalled capturing two bombers after an IED wounded a squad-mate. A week later they saw the two walking by them, smiling and waving. He said apparently American testimony is inadmissible in Afghan courts. Many of the IEDs they saw were command detonated, so they would hustle to catch the bomber.
The officers and visiting Senators would interact with the Afghans, but the 03s in my son’s company didn’t trust any of them, including the imbedded ANP. The only one they would get to know were the interpreters (“terps”), but they were the primary target of the bombers, so they turned over a lot. The squad leaders walked with the terps, so they turned over a lot too.
SEAL Team 6 is to be congratulated. But there’s still fighting going on. The catch-and-release program in Afghanistan is a joke, and prisons do not work in counterinsurgency. The only thing prisons are doing in Afghanistan is making the American fighting man look like a chump when Taliban whom they have captured walk down the road smiling and waving at them. It isn’t winning any hearts and minds, and it isn’t going to change. The system is too corrupt, and we don’t want it to change badly enough. We would rather see Marines lose their legs.
So if you agree with what SEAL Team 6 did to Bin Laden, and if you agree with the drone program, then sleep well. But if you have a problem with the Marines in Helmand doing the same thing to Taliban fighters, then you are inconsistent. Consistency isn’t the Hobgoblin of little minds. It’s the stuff of life.
I simply won’t let this inconsistency pass. I will force it upon me [you] [y’all] [us] [them] [the administration] [everyone]. It’s not okay to be irrational. You can’t have it both ways. If you wanted to see Bin Laden and Baitullah Mehsud dead but you want the Marines to play by different rules in their particular piece of hell, then you must go to sleep tonight knowing that you’re irrational, and you are irrational deep down where it matters most, on basic issues of morality, violence, warfare, life and death.
UPDATE: From the AP.
Only one of the five people killed in the raid that got Osama bin Laden was armed and fired a shot, a senior defense official said Thursday, acknowledging the new account differs greatly from original administration portrayals of a chaotic, intense and prolonged firefight.
The sole shooter in the al-Qaida leader’s Pakistani compound was quickly killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, details that have become clearer now that the Navy SEAL assault team has been debriefed, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
He said the raid should be described as a precision, floor-by-floor operation to hunt and find the al-Qaida leader and his protectors, rather than as it has been portrayed by a succession of Obama administration briefers since bin Laden’s death was announced Sunday night.
Increasing clarity, just not from the administration.