Barack Obama’s 2012 Reelection Campaign Has Begun
U.S./NATO Murder, Inc.
On May Day weekend, the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization went on a killing spree in North Africa and South Asia. On Friday, the bells of Westminster Abbey pealed, crowds waved Union Jack flags and lords and ladies attended the wedding ball at Buckingham Palace for the odious royal marriage in London. Pomp and ceremony done with, the very next day, April 30, NATO warplanes struck Tripoli, bombing a residential compound where Muammar al-Qaddafi was present. As the U.S./NATO campaign of bombing the Libyan army forces which are battling pro-imperialist monarchist/Islamist rebels was going nowhere, this was a blatant attempt to murder the Libyan leader. But it was soon eclipsed when on Sunday evening, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden, in a raid by Navy SEAL commandos on his home in a suburb of Pakistan’s capital. This assassination succeeded, and the imperialist rulers launched into an orgy of self-congratulation, declaring a “victory” in the “war on terror,” while vowing that, of course, the war would go on.
Several hundred yahoos converged on Ground Zero at the site of the former World Trade Center, brought down in the 11 September 2001 (9-11) attack, to wave the Stars and Stripes. A crowd gathered in Times Square to chant “U.S.A., U.S.A.” all night. In Washington, drunken college students partied in front of the White House, swilling beer and waving cigars. Police and military were out in force around the country The bourgeois media sought to whip up a blood frenzy, with NYC tabloids leading the baying pack: “We got him” proclaimed the New York Post, followed by “Demon Killed,” “How We ‘SEALed’ Monster’s Fate,” and the like. The Daily News had “How We Nailed Him,” “Al Qaeda Treasure Trove in Den of Evil,” and so on. As the U.S.’s initial claim of Bin Laden dying in a firefight unraveled and it became undeniable that this was a cold-blooded execution of an unarmed man, the mainstream media got in on the act. Liberal pundits, sociologists and theologians assured queasy readers that revenge is oh-so-human and “Killing Evil Doesn’t Make Us Evil” (Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, 8 May).
Osama bin Laden, the scion of a wealthy Yemeni-Arabian clan who fashioned himself a mujahed (holy warrior), was the man that President George W. Bush sought “dead or alive” – but preferably dead. His face was on FBI “wanted” posters, along with the offer of a $25 million bounty. But above all, having learned that projecting a hateful figure like Hitler does wonders to build popular support for war, U.S. rulers adopted “UBL” (his acronym in Pentagon/CIA bureaucratese) as the “face of evil” for their terror war. Billed as the mastermind behind the 9-11 attack on the WTC, he is held responsible for the deaths of some 2,600 civilians in that act of indiscriminate terror. (Another 300+ died at the Pentagon, but that was indisputably a military “command and control center,” if ever there was one.) Yet the U.S. government has wantonly slaughtered far, far more innocent civilians in nearly a decade of war since then: over a million dead in the first three years of the Iraq war, according to a study by the British medical journal Lancet (11 October 2006). Only the U.S. styles its mass murder “collateral damage.”
The May Day weekend one-two punch – missing Qaddafi but knocking out bin Laden – underscores that the U.S. and its NATO imperialist allies are in the assassination business big time. Murdering heads of state is supposedly against international law, and ever since President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905 in 1976, U.S. government employees were not supposed to engage in “political assassination.” This was reiterated by Ronald Reagan in 1981 (EO 12333), but that didn’t stop him from seeking to murder Qaddafi five years later. By one 2006 count, since 1976 the U.S. engaged in at least a dozen major assassination attempts. And, of course, there are the innumerable attempts by the U.S. government to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro (Britain’s Channel 4 TV tallied these in a 2006 documentary, 638 Ways to Kill Castro). Assassination by the U.S. of its perceived enemies is, to paraphrase the remark by H. Rap Brown, “as American as apple pie.” But if a rival power did it, Washington would be railing against “state-sponsored terrorism.”
In the April 30 air strike in Tripoli, reportedly by a Danish warplane, British prime minister David Cameron justified this as targeting “command and control.” While the Libyan leader escaped harm, his son Saif al-Arab Qaddafi and three of his grandchildren were killed. This was murder, plain and simple, and the commanders who ordered the strike should, by rights, be prosecuted for war crimes – which, of course, will never happen. If the compound in an upscale Tripoli residential neighborhood was indeed a “known command and control building,” as a NATO spokesman claimed, Libyan military forces are directed in a truly novel way. When a reporter from the Washington Post (1 May) toured the gutted residence, the only thing remotely military in evidence was “a pile of Play Station games…, including Modern Warfare 2.” That this was a blatant attempt to “decapitate” the Libyan leadership is underscored by subsequent NATO air strikes against a parliamentary building and “the sprawling compound housing members of Colonel Gaddafi’s family” (London Evening Standard, 10 May).
It is because the U.S. is trying to claim the moral high ground in a “war” against “terrorism” that it ham-handedly tried to cover up the fact that its special forces were dispatched to murder Osama bin Laden. The initial account by a “senior administration official” claimed he “resisted the assault force” and was killed in the middle of an intense gun battle. This was then spun by White House “counterterrorism” chief John Brennan into a story of bin Laden supposedly using his wife, who was then killed, as a “human shield.” The idea was to portray him as a coward who hid behind women. But on May 3, the putz of a White House spokesman Jay Carey told reporters he had a new “narrative” to feed to them, admitting that Bin Laden was not armed, did not hide behind a woman and that the woman in question was not killed. The next day it came out that there was no “firefight” at all in the building where he resided. Bin Laden was shot twice, in the head and the chest, to make sure he was dead. The three other men in the building, one of them a son, were similarly executed.
The bottom line is that the last thing the U.S. wanted is to have Osama bin Laden alive in its possession. Islamists everywhere would have demonstrated for him to be freed. And Washington sure as hell didn’t want him in front of a court (as some liberals wished) – not even in a rigged show trial like they staged for Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic – where he could regale the world media about how he and the CIA and the Pakistani ISI worked hand-in-glove in their covert war against the Soviet “infidels” in Afghanistan during the 1980s. (Obituaries in the bourgeois press also skated gingerly around that chapter.) While piously claiming that they were ready for “all contingencies, including capture,” and had a legal team on call, top administration officials “acknowledged that the mission always was weighted toward killing” (New York Times, 10 May). Other U.S. “national security officials” were a good deal franker when they bluntly told Reuters (7 May), “This was a kill mission.” The only real question was whether the U.S. would assault the building or just bomb it, like NATO did in its failed attempt to kill Qaddafi.
The media was filled with stories lauding the Navy SEAL Team 6 who executed bin Laden as the “best of the best.” This killer elite of U.S. special forces is portrayed as something out of a Tom Clancy spy novel. Described as “sort of like Murder, Incorporated” by a retired Special Forces officer quoted by Jeremy Scahill in his blog at The Nation (2 May), SEAL Team 6 is used for “black ops” which, if discovered, “never happened.” An assault group of the “storied” SEAL Team 6 took part in the 1983 U.S. invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, where it gunned down radio station workers but failed to hold the station. In Vietnam, a Navy SEAL death squad headed by Lt. Robert Kerrey – later a U.S. Senator, presidential hopeful and head of The New School university – became notorious years later for the massacre it carried out in the village of Thanh Phong. In the current U.S. war in Afghanistan, Navy Seals and Army Delta force operatives are part of Task Force 373, a secretive hit squad that goes around the country targeting individuals on a “kill or capture” list known as the JPEL. U.S. cables released by Wikileaks last year revealed that this force has also “killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path,” as the London Guardian (25 July 2010) reported.
Now we are treated to a seemingly endless stream of ridiculous war propaganda aimed at making bin Laden look weak and his U.S. killers compassionate. It was breathlessly revealed that he used a remote to channel surf TV (what a couch potato!), that he dyed his hair black to hide his age (how vain!), that he “had herbal ‘Viagra’ [Avena syrup] in his medicine cabinet” (“Droop Dead,” Daily News, 9 May). Then there was the story of how U.S. forces supposedly “follow[ed] Islamic tradition of burial within 24 hours” by washing bin Laden’s dead body, wrapping it in a white sheet and placing it “inside a weighted bag,” whereupon it was “eased into the sea” (New York Times, 3 May). What crap! The U.S. disposed of the evidence just as Russian mobsters stuffed their victim’s remains into a bag and dumped them in the Hackensack River some years ago, or the death squads of the (U.S.-allied) Argentine junta used to toss their captives out of helicopters into the Atlantic Ocean (the only difference being that sometimes the Argentine military pushed the leftists out alive if they had survived the torture).
The spin doctors at the White House aren’t overly concerned that the successive stories they spun were hardly believable – they figure the tabloids will print just about any garbage they put out, and virtually the entire spectrum of U.S. (bourgeois) politics, including most liberals, would cheer killing bin Laden, while the few party-poopers would soon shut up out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic. They got that right. Obama could then go to Ground Zero (the World Trade Center) where he could have a “victory lap” that only the most right-wing teabaggers would begrudge him. His numbers would shoot up in the opinion polls, although whether that lasts through the 2012 elections is hard to predict: at least he would be relatively protected on the “wimp factor” front. The debate about whether torture (a/k/a “enhanced interrogation methods”) contributed to the successful “kill,” and Obama’s refusal to release photos of bin Laden to display as a hunting trophy, would be used to portray the Democratic president and assassin-in-chief as “tough but moderate.”
In fact, the present administration has gone on a binge of assassinations. If Bush II was the “collateral damage” president, Obama has been the “targeted killings” president. The Columbia Journalism Review (May/June 2011) reports, in an article on “Covering Obama’s Secret War,” that the Democratic president has authorized 193 drone strikes in Pakistan since taking office, “more than four times the number of attacks that President George W. Bush authorized” in eight years. When Democratic candidates said “we can do better” than Republican Bush at imposing U.S. imperialist world domination, this is what they meant. In the 7 October 2008 “town meeting” debate, Obama declared: “if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out … we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden.” He even declared this to be “our biggest national security priority.” So as we have written before, liberals who voted for Obama, and opportunist leftists who sidled up to him, thinking he was a “peace candidate,” can’t say they weren’t forewarned.
The U.S. murder of Osama bin Laden should be a reminder that imperialism is not a foreign policy but a system: tactics and even strategy may vary, but the basics do not change. The U.S. goal is not to spread “democracy,” as Bush claimed, or to “stand up for our values abroad” and “make the world a safer place,” as Obama said in pronouncing bin Laden dead, nor all of the poppycock about justice and peace spouted by American presidents. It’s about making the world safer for exploitation by the giant corporations and dominant capitalist powers. The U.S. isn’t spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to go after a shadowy network of a few hundred Islamist fighters nicknamed Al Qaeda. Its “war on terror” is a war to terrorize the world into submission to Washington’s dictates – and to make clear to its imperialist allies and rivals who is top dog. And in this epoch of capitalist decline, of endless wars and economic crisis, it is a war directed against poor, oppressed and working people here. Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing Libya, executing bin Laden and destroying unions while rolling back the few remaining gains of the Civil Rights movement in the United States are all part of the same war.
Class-conscious workers and opponents of imperialism must seek to defeat this war by the oppressors against the oppressed, both abroad and “at home.”
As for “Al Qaeda” – a/k/a the World Islamic Front – the U.S. will move bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the top of its hit list, for the war must go on. U.S. rulers seem to have a peculiar notion that they can kill an ideological movement by killing a single leader, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But despite the ravings by right-wing ideologues on American hate radio, the U.S. government is not at war with Islamism. In fact, it designed constitutions for Iraq and Afghanistan that enshrine Islam as a state religion and sharia (Islamic religious code) as a source of civil law. Moreover, in Afghanistan Washington will now use the demise of bin Laden to step up its push for “reconciliation” with the Taliban (“U.S. Sees Chance to Accelerate Negotiations with Taliban,” Washington Post, 4 May). No one in Washington is demented enough to think the weak, corruption-riddled puppet government in Kabul can win the war. As we have noted: “The actual U.S. strategy is not to defeat the Taliban but to weaken it enough so that elements of the Islamists can be brought into a political deal” (“Defeat U.S. War on Afghanistan and Iraq,” The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009).
Since the onset of the anti-Soviet Cold War, U.S. rulers have sought to use religious reaction in the service of imperialist domination. In the 1980s the U.S. financed madrassas with Saudi Wahabist instructors in Pakistan where Afghan refugees were taught from Islamist textbooks prepared at the University of Nebraska (on a U.S. government contract). Taliban bomb-making manuals were derived from the ones prepared by the CIA for its Nicaraguan contra mercenaries. As for us, Trotskyist communists, we opposed the mujahedin who were funded, armed and trained by the U.S., and hailed the Soviet Army intervention to fight them in the ’80s. Today, we oppose the Islamist reactionaries when Washington is once again allying with them in Libya and seeking an alliance in Afghanistan. When Al Qaeda was set up in early 1989 as the Soviets were withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Trotskyists proposed to the Afghan government to form an international brigade to fight against the CIA’s holy warriors. When that offer was turned down, we raised $40,000 for the heroic defenders of Jalalabad, under siege by bin Laden’s forces.
The assassination of bin Laden is no aberration. “Targeted killing” is only the latest U.S. euphemism: under Richard Nixon it was called “termination with extreme prejudice.” Remember the fate of Patrice Lumumba, Ernesto Che Guevara, Orlando Letelier and many others – and Washington’s puppets who became liabilities, like Ngo Dinh Diem and Rafael Trujillo. If today Obama wants to hold off on publishing photos of the dead body, it is doubtless because gory photos will show bin Laden was executed at point-blank range, and because the U.S. commander in chief wants to keep a lid on the torture photos from Abu Ghraib, which he suppressed after earlier pledging to release them. The fact that the operation gave its target the code name “Geronimo,” angering many who honor the heroic Chiricahua Apache fighter, harks back to the days of U.S. expansion to the West and its genocide against the Native American population, when General Philip Sheridan sneered, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” So no tears for Osama bin Laden, but his undoubted crimes are far surpassed by those of the mass murderers who claim to have brought him to “justice.”
Meanwhile, as the head of the Pakistani armed forces (accused of harboring bin Laden) bitterly remarked, the U.S. will have material for “Hollywood movies for the next decade.” ■
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