Frontier Justice

We would have preferred that Osama bin Laden be brought back to stand trial in a federal court in the United States as a common criminal. He should have ended up in a federal lockup, with other members of al Qaeda, facing a judge and jury on murder charges. But if the Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan say he was shot while resisting arrest, we are inclined to cut them some slack.

We don’t regret dodging the controversy over whether bin Laden should be tried by a military tribunal or a federal court, whether that trial should be in New York or in the United States at all, whether he should be waterboarded first, whether testimony obtained by torture of other al Qaeda confederates implicating bin Laden should be admissible as evidence in court ... We won’t second-guess the commandos, who were understandably anxious about sweeping the compound before the Pakistani military (of uncertain disposition) showed up.

Of course, you are welcome to draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, right wingers have sought to minimize the credit President Obama is getting for following through with his promise to bring bin Laden to justice — albeit frontier justice. The wingers demand that George W. Bush get some credit, too.

In our view, Bush deserves only blame for his negligence toward bin Laden and al Qaeda and his recklessness in diverting US resources to the invasion of Iraq.

Bush notoriously ignored warnings before 9/11 that bin Laden was determined to launch an attack in the United States. After 9/11, Bush invaded Afghanistan, but left much of the fight to Afghan warlords. When bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were holed up in a mountain redoubt in Tora Bora in mid-December 2001, Bush refused to provide US reinforcements to encircle bin Laden. The White House nixed Delta Force plans to intercept bin Laden, which allowed him to escape with Zawahiri into Pakistan. In March 2002, six months after the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, Bush suggested that capturing bin Laden was not a top priority for his administration. “Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time,” Bush told the press. “The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s just a person who’s been marginalized. … I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.”

A year later — about the time Pakistani forces captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and turned him over to the US — Bush moved on his top priority when he invaded Iraq and its oilfields. The 9/11 attacks had shocked the world and provoked an outpouring of sympathy, including from the Islamic world. But when Bush invaded Iraq and conflated all terror threats, from al Qaeda to Hamas to Hezbollah, America not only gave Islamic jihadists in the Mideast a local target, but the ouster of Saddam Hussein removed a major irritant to Iran. At the same time, bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban got a chance to regroup in South Asia.

Finally, in 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes that bin Laden was “not a priority,” and he closed the CIA desk assigned to searching for bin Laden — coincidentally, about the same time bin Laden was moving into his suburban compound at Abbottabad. At that point, the search for bin Laden apparently got about the same priority as the search for mortgage fraud.

Bush apologists also made the preposterous claim that waterboarding of prisoners helped identify bin Laden’s courier, which eventually led the CIA to the compound in Abbottabad. In fact, the information on the courier was gained during conversations with detainees after waterboarding was stopped. Military interrogators say torture, such as waterboarding, is more likely to produce resistance and/or false information; the tortured prisoner is inclined to say anything to stop the torture, and information elicited through torture is more likely to result in wild-goose chases than solid information.

As for Pakistan’s outrage over the US violation of their sovereignty, much of that is probably intended for domestic consumption, but Obama’s action should not have been a surprise: During the 2008 campaign, Obama said he would go after bin Laden if he were found to be hiding in Pakistan. GOP presidential nominee John McCain said Obama was “confused and inexperienced.”

The raid that killed bin Laden also netted a treasury of information in computer hard drives and flash drives used by couriers. It turns out that bin Laden continued to direct his far-flung franchises. So much for Bush administration “intelligence.”

There’s no telling where bin Laden’s info cache will lead, but when it was disclosed that al Qaeda planned to attack US railroads on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one commentator said it showed how out of touch they were with American society if they go after our trains. But when it comes to disrupting American transportation, Islamic jihadists are pikers when compared with right-wing Republicans in the United States. Al Qaeda could not hope to do more damage to US railways than the GOP has done over the past decade, from cuts to Amtrak service during the Bush administration to new Republican governors’ rejection of federal grants to upgrade rail lines in Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times (May 9) that Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton in 2001. Bush passed tax cuts that have added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the past decade. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan added another $1.1 trillion. And the Great Recession, brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation, led to a collapse in revenue and a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

Obama used old-fashioned stimulus spending to pull the economy out of the tailspin when he took office and now he has finally run bin Laden to ground. But with millions of Americans still unemployed, Republicans still insist on pursuing the same “voodoo economics” that put the economy in the ditch. House Republicans are calling for dramatic cuts to domestic spending while they rule out any tax increases on the rich.

Obama should take advantage of bin Laden’s death to draw down the war, bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and at least let taxes return to the level that brought Bill Clinton a balanced budget during the economic boom of the late ’90s.

In the meantime, we can be glad that a competent administration is in charge in the White House after the eight years of proven incompetence by the Bush/Cheney regime on domestic and foreign policy.

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, can we have our Bill of Rights back? In the month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and anthrax attacks on media and Senate offices, a panicked Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, which expanded law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, email, medical, financial and other records without court orders; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering in the US; expanded the Treasury Department’s authority to regulate financial transactions and broadened the discretion of authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.

The Act blurred protections that previously were thought to be carved in stone in Amendments Four through Eight, which were supposed to protect the right to search and arrest warrants, rights to fair and public trials by jury and prohibitions on excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

Terrorism will continue, but panic doesn’t need to permanently rule our response to it. Several provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire at the end of May, including so-called “215 orders,” which give the government access to fishing expeditions in financial records, medical records and even library records; the roving wiretap provision that allows the government to listen in on phone calls without specifically identifying a phone line for their tap, or even a target; and the “lone wolf provision,” which allows surveillance on non-US citizens who have no connection to a terrorist organization. A comprehensive review is needed before any part of the Act is renewed. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2011


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