This Machine Kills Terror
May 10, 2011 § 29 Comments
I got into a
long and annoying ‘epic’ blog debate with a friend over Chomsky’s piece on the killing of Osama bin Laden here. Having spent way too many words on it to let them all go to waste, I decided to republish some…on this blog. Below are my key points:
what we have, in essence, an ambiguously defined attack on ‘the homeland’ (9/11), a hastily cobbled together accusation of (formally indicted) 1998 bombing suspect osm used as specious justification for the long-desired military invasion and occupation of afghanistan and then (to a lesser extent) iraq. then, in the background, a serious investigation with necessarily provisional results that the u.s. gov cherry picks from time to time to justify this or that military action. chomsky is pointing out the discrepancy between the results of that investigation and the ideological uses to which it was put. in this case that use is the targeted killing of someone the u.s. had basically already given itself permission to kill at will prior to any investigation, by cobbling together its own legal process after 9/11 largely in defiance of international law. so, leftists can critique the u.s. gov for breaking laws they no longer respect, or they can critique the u.s. for starting wars for reasons that were, as everyone agrees but is not allowed to say in public, bullshit anyway. either one makes us look like we have our heads up our asses. but that kind of goes with the territory. maybe you could call it ‘utopian.’
i’ll admit it’s easy to misread chomsky’s “Nothing serious has been provided since.” but if we’re going to be precise, that refers to his responsibility for 9/11, which the u.s. initially considered ‘full’ (so as to invade faster) but was very quickly dialed down to something more vague in favor of ksm and his team, who did the real work themselves.
i don’t think what obama actually did should be considered acceptable or defended because it’s ‘closer’ to the ideal [an internationalist version of this, basically] than full-scale military invasion, both of which were launched for different reasons. the targeted killings are in fact being carried out under presidential authority, with no oversight from anyone, no recourse if there are ‘mistakes’ (obama said himself they were only ’55-45′ on whether bin laden was even there), and under a vague interpretation of international law. there are probably significantly fewer civilian casualties in commando operations than drone strikes but we don’t hear about them (they’re secret) and they operate on the same principles (the decision over which to use is tactical). the fact that they killed a celebrity overrides all of that for most commentators (including the u.n.), but it is still an example of the quasi to extra legal way this war has always been carried out. defending it defends u.s. policy and creates a precedent that may well become accepted as legal.
i guess this isn’t obvious, but i agree it would be ideal for terrorists to be treated more like international criminals than vague non-state military threats (‘terrorist’) that we can do anything to. i maintain the point of the chomsky piece was to rhetorically emphasize that difference. this is necessary because even defenders of assassination, torture, extraordinary renditions, and offshore prisons (actual anti-terrorist praxis) sometimes seem compelled to use criminal justice arguments, even though they don’t apply. that inconsistency is what drives of most of the public debate about this and keeps it in a state of perpetual cluelessness. leading to bizarre situations in which an assertion from an unreliable, secondhand source that says osama was ‘reaching for his gun’ or ‘maybe doing something else threatening’ can singlehandedly repress not only the competing accounts from u.s. officials and others (a few of which i cited at the top of the thread though what the hey,here’s another) but the simple commonsense acknowledgement that the operation was on military/CIA/Team America rules, therefore existing on a higher ontological plane than our mere legal formalisms can hope to reach.