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.


Tagged: , , ,

§ 29 Responses to This Machine Kills Terror

  • gerrycanavan says:

    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 wrote this in the other thread too, but this makes a lot of sense to me and is the biggest problem with what I’ve been saying about bin Laden. I don’t know that I agree that it’s the overriding, determinative concern, but it is a problem.

  • kenoma says:

    Every early statement from US sources admitted (or bragged about, really) several times that this was a ‘kill operation’. They later modified this to saying “He would have had to have been naked for them to allow him to surrender”. They’re not earnestly denying that this was an extra-judicial killing – what minimum justification they offer is really operating as a mockery of the idea that legality in this case would be a significant issue for anyone but cranks.
    Unless the story has changed, the US Seals have documentary evidence of the whole operation – it was filmed. If the corpse photos are too gruesome for the public, we could at least see a couple of stills of this moment when Osama resisted.

    Chomsky is right: there is nothing actionable to connect Bin Laden to 9/11. No intercepted messages, no moey trail, nothing. The ‘confession’ is contradicted by other statements by Bin Laden, where he denied any involvement. In any case, corpus delicti applies: out of court confessions in themselves have zero legal weight, even if they’re correctly translated. traxus is right, this is exactly the point that Chomsky was making.

    It was just stomach-churning to have talking heads talk in the most blase terms about the US “avoiding the spectacle of a trial.” It’s not just precedent-setting, but also works as a kind of justification for every previous extra-legal murder in the war on terror.

  • kenoma says:

    There was supposed to have been a firefight, but then there wasn’t; a White House spokesman said, apparently straight-faced, that “resistance does not require a firearm.” This is funny stuff, almost as funny as “buried at sea”

  • kenoma says:

    I mean funny ha-ha, not funny peculiar btw… we are well beyond ‘funny-peculiar’

  • kenoma says:

    Oh and jesus, Gerry… Noam “comes shockingly close to Trutherism”? Such a melodramatic formulation comes ‘shockingly’ close to McCarthyism: it really is childish to maintain that scepticism regarding the government narrative of 9/11 is unspeakable. And ‘trutherism’… it’s just an ugly term, sounds like early church fathers defining heresies they deem anathema.

    • gerrycanavan says:

      It really depends what you mean by “scepticism.” There are plenty of theories about 9/11 that (if not “unspeakable”) are too preposterous to take seriously.

  • kenoma says:

    Believing the SEALs and their motives or the innate guilt of Bin Laden comes ‘shockingly’ close to Rumsfeldism and Yooism…

    • gerrycanavan says:

      In the other thread Traxus was insisting that it’s unfair to suggest Chomsky is a 9/11 skeptic. (A point I think he’s probably right about, for what it’s worth, though I think Chomsky was very “inartful” in the way he phrased his points in this short piece.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying he IS a 9/11 skeptic, and that that’s a good thing, right?

      • Very few people believe now that Osama Bin Laden ordered the anthrax attacks on Congress and TV network news. If you are still persuaded of this, you are in a very small minority which doesn’t even include the journalists and politicians who originally persuaded you. Most people would consider healthy scepticism about these kinds of stories until evidence is presented in court a good thing.

      • I doubt Chomsky is any more credulous about this than the average person. But seriously – who can even keep up with what you nontruthers claim to know about the events of 2001? Who are you guys even claiming were the financiers now? And what do you now know was Hezbollah’s involvement? Who can even know day to day if they are a truther or not?

  • traxus4420 says:

    “They’re not earnestly denying that this was an extra-judicial killing – what minimum justification they offer is really operating as a mockery of the idea that legality in this case would be a significant issue for anyone but cranks.”

    they’re affirming the death was extra-judicial aren’t they? is anyone claiming they ran this by a court? of course now that’s not legally required – it seems the only way anyone could have a legal case at this point would be documentary evidence that osama prostrated himself before his attackers, while calling out ‘i surrender.’ naked, apparently, and somehow all before they shot him in the face.

    the most damning story i’ve seen comes from osama’s 12 year old daughter safiya, claims he was shot in front of her after surrendering, then dragged into a helicopter. obviously this probably isn’t the most reliable source, but then which are?

    amal (his wife who was shot in the calf)’s story apparently jives with the white house (current) account:

    Amal al-Sadah has told officials that she had just moved with her husband to their bedroom and switched off the lights when they heard gunshots.

    Before Osama could reach out for his Kalashnikov, the commandos burst in and shot him, she said, reported Dawn.

    we’ll hear about the forthcoming u.s. interviews with his wives before we get any video.

  • traxus4420 says:

    “there is nothing actionable to connect Bin Laden to 9/11 ”

    as leader of the organization the 9/11 planners are determined to have belonged to, and after khalid mohammed’s testimony, i think they had enough to arrest him for something.

  • You are all too young to understand how horrific the fact of this conversation is.

  • Clearly he should have been kept alive as a slave but had his tongue cut out and both his corneas, a kidney, a lung and part of his liver removed for transplant.

  • traxus4420 says:

    In a late-night appearance in the East Room of the Imperial Palace, Lord Vader declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that agents of the Imperial Army and stormtroopers of the 501st Legion had finally cornered Kenobi, one of the leaders of the Jedi rebellion, who had eluded the Empire for nearly two decades. Imperial officials said Kenobi resisted and was cut down by Lord Vader’s own lightsaber. He was later dumped out of an airlock.

    The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered in the Senate District and outside the Imperial Palace, waving imperial flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “Hail to the Emperor! Hail Lord Vader!” In the alien protection zone, crowds sang “The Ten Thousand Year Empire.” Throughout the Sah’c district, airspeeder drivers honked horns deep into the night.

    Yep, pretty much

    • gerrycanavan says:

      I still can’t figure out if that piece is endorsing or mocking critics of the bin Laden raid.

      • traxus4420 says:

        seemed to me to just continue the post-ironic star wars allegory of the war on terror that started after people compared 9/11 to the attack on the death star.

        i thought the explicit fascist reference (“ten thousand year empire”) was the only part that had an edge.

  • traxus4420 says:

    In considering the legal case, some observers have focused on whether bin Laden was armed and fought his Navy SEAL assailants. But that’s confusing covert and military actions with cases of armed self-defense by cops and civilians here at home. The situations couldn’t be more different.

    No, the legal issue actually boils down to one central question: Was the attack on Osama bin Laden truly a CIA-dominated covert action, or was it a mostly military one? The distinction matters because different U.S. legal codes apply to each category. Covert operations fall under Title 50. Military ops, under Title 10. In either case, the killing of the Al Qaeda chief presents legal problems.

    That’s why the White House has carefully avoided both definitions, instead letting the raid fall into a fictional legal category that Jim Thomas, an expert in political-military relations from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, called “Title 60.” In other words, the sum of Titles 10 and 50.

    In the best case, the killing of bin Laden exists in legal limbo. If the raid was definitively Title 10, it violated a slew of restrictions on the use of military force in a country that is not a formal enemy of the United States — this despite the Congressional authorization for using force against Al Qaeda. If it was Title 50, it could possibly be characterized as a political assassination, which is illegal under a 1976 Executive Order.

    “You don’t want to argue against getting bin Laden,” said Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University.

    Instead, Greenberg said, we need to understand what laws we broke … so that we can fix the laws. “What does it mean to have a targeted-killing policy and what are the rules?” she asked rhetorically. With updated codes — perhaps including a real Title 60, we could pull off future high-profile hits on terrorist leaders without breaking our own laws.

  • This does seem to justify to some degree the focus of left criticism on mass culture, since obviously this is all made possible by this endless reiteration of action movie formulae. Without this paradigm of the super evil villain and his elimination, this narrative is unthinkable; such conduct would be completely unacceptable and the narrative in fact laughable to any population who had not been inundated with idiotic but deeply “impactful” entertainments which portray supernaturally powerful menaces neutralised like this. Batman and Joker and the like soften a public up to just enjoy the challenging dark ambiguity; to feel “ah yes, now this is real, gritty, ‘complex'”; the very criminality of the caper becomes a merit in the tale as spectacle.

    • traxus4420 says:

      Consider another fictive scenario. Gangsters are preying on a small mid-western town. The sheriff and his deputies are spineless; law and order have failed. So the hero puts on a mask, acts “extra-legally”, performs the necessary redemptive violence and returns to ordinary life, earning the undying gratitude of the local townsfolk, sheriff included. This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, The Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.

      Films and comics with this plot-line have been named as favourites by many presidents, as Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence pointed out in The Myth of the American Superhero and Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil. The main reason President Obama has been cheered to the echo across the US, even by his bitter opponents, is not simply the fully comprehensible sense of closure a decade after the horrible, wicked actions of September 11 2001. Underneath that, he has just enacted one of America’s most powerful myths.

      we really haven’t moved on even a teensy little bit from bush. if anything it’s just getting worse.

  • Unfortunately most left criticism has only assisted those idiotic entertainments in “appearing”, magically, as visions of truths and performing this function.

  • traxus4420 says:

    more interesting fallout:

    The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week’s raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

    The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

    Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

    Referring to the assault on Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, the [pakistani] official added: “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.”

    The former US official said the Pakistani protests of the past week were the “public face” of the deal. “We knew they would deny this stuff.”

    and rwanda and israel both seem to be taking encouragement from this media-friendly ‘black op.’

  • W.Kasper says:

    Re: mass culture.
    Noticed a shift in the ‘national security’ rhetoric. The traditional ‘paranoid style’ was to emphasise protecting the ‘fair’ and innocent (the Birth of a Nation scenario, and so foundation of several genres). Reagan in Libya: “Was America willing to pay the price?” MIA rescue campaigns. Saving Private Jessica etc. Now the emphasis is on the joys of wrathful revenge – the narrative focus has narrowed. This started with Bush. The neocons had several ‘stories’ on offer to sell their wars (it’s still shocking how many ‘sold’ – the Tea Party have gone wild on a few). Obama inherited the multiplex option, because that was its mainstream level by mid-decade. I expect there’ll be more revenge drama dialogue in future speeches.

  • W.Kasper says:

    The shift from My Darling Clementine to High Plains Drifter.


    “Driving home, I saw people smiling. Old Glory waving. Children chasing bubbles blown by Detroit Lions cheerleaders. For the first time in memory, Americans felt safe to go outside. To see the sun. To breathe free air.

    How can one scoff at such beauty?

    As I thought about bin Laden receiving justice, face blown away, brains on the wall, a celestial presence consumed me. Total peace. “

  • (He really captures the Mr. Mike tone there.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading This Machine Kills Terror at Disaster Notes.


%d bloggers like this: