May 3, 2011
The latest story on Bin Laden's killing (which justifies a fresh thread)
This New York Times update, headlined "White House Corrects Bin Laden Narrative," provides the latest report on the latest story of what happened the night we drove Bin Laden down. (Apologies, of course, to The Band for this phrasing (or to Joan Baez and The Muppets).) Here are the basics:
White House officials on Tuesday sought to correct the official account of the raid in Pakistan that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying that the Qaeda leader was not armed and that his wife was not killed.
The new Defense Department narrative released by the White House, and read at a White House news briefing on Tuesday, said that one of Bin Laden’s wives was shot in the leg as she charged members of the commando team on the third floor of the compound.
“In the room with Bin Laden, a woman -- Bin Laden’s wife -- rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” the brief statement said. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, read the narrative in an attempt to correct statements by administration officials who had suggested that Bin Laden was armed during the raid.
Under questioning, Mr. Carney said that the White House stood by its claim on Monday that Bin Laden had resisted capture, but said that “resistance does not require a firearm.” Mr. Carney said that the new narrative was the result of “fresh” information. “I want to make clear that this is, again, information that is fresh and, you know, we will continue to gather and provide to you details as we get them and we’re able to release them,” Mr. Carney said. “The resistance was throughout, as I said.”
Prior post (with lots and lots of comments):
May 3, 2011 at 05:11 PM | Permalink
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I'll respond to Bill's query on the other thread. I don't really care what some abolitionists argue. That they can engage in self-righteous posturing is of little concern to me. It just doesn't seem that strong an argument to point to a bin Laden, Hitler or other reviled creature and then say, see you can't be absolutist on this issue. It seems obvious to me that we don't need to resort to our own weak arguments to counter the mental pygmies who bleat nonsense like "Why do we kill people to show killing is wrong?" To me, it's perfectly legitimate to be against the death penalty generally, but to make an exception for necessities of state like bin Laden or situations like war crimes. It's certainly a defensible position to take that the death penalty needs to be off the table for ordinary murderers but that people like bin Laden "need killing."
Posted by: federalist | May 3, 2011 9:22:55 PM
"To me, it's perfectly legitimate to be against the death penalty generally, but to make an exception for necessities of state like bin Laden or situations like war crimes."
If they'd make an exception for war crimes -- or for anything -- I'd look on it differently. But I just don't get refusing even to consider an exception, ever, no matter what. And I think that is a significant weakness in the abolitionist position.
I think you and I just differ on this aspect of the question.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 3, 2011 9:54:45 PM
Review of legality of killing in armed conflict.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 4, 2011 3:34:58 AM
I looked at the piece you linked and saw that this was its first paragraph: "The targeting of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was consistent with the U.N. charter and U.S. law and not an illegal assassination as some critics have argued, two national security law experts affirmed."
Question for you. Do you know which "critics" have argued that it was an "illegal assassination" and where that argument appears?
I have no doubt the argument has been made and will be made more loudly in the future. You can almost hear Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink starting in with it already. If this had been done in the prior administration, there would already be grumbling that it was the USA as "rogue cowboy" invading the "sovereign space of an Islamic country" to just "push its way around." No Congressional approval either. Etcetera.
Because the Left has a stake in President Obama's approval rating, and because it would be really bad PR to criticize this very popular operation right now, in the immediate afterglow of its success, those inclined toward this sort of legalism-based critique are being pretty quiet for the moment. But the moment will pass. So if you could give me a lead here, I'd appreciate it.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 7:20:04 AM
Bill, I don’t know where you get the idea that there would be “grumbling” from Democrats if OBL had been killed on the Republican watch. At times like this, the vast majority of Americans of either party are usually in broad agreement. Didn’t George H. W. Bush have something like an 80 percent approval rating in the afterglow of the first Gulf War?
Obviously, there are fringe elements of both parties who will never be happy, but they are just that: a fringe, not worth talking about. Anyhow, where did the myth arise that Democrats are congenitally limp-wristed? As I recall, the two major wars of the 20th century were won with Democrats in the White House.
Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 4, 2011 9:39:06 AM
Much like cops who have to use force in exigent circumstances there is a world of difference between a surgical strike to kill the leader of an armed group in combat and locking a guy in a cage under sentence of death for months or years and then killing him. Where the means exist to not take human life, such as incarceration, exist a free, democratic, and civilized society explores and takes those opportunities. Indeed, placing a value on individual human life and individual human potential is what separates us from the barbarians and despots who wish to destroy us.
Posted by: dude face | May 4, 2011 10:33:09 AM
"Bill, I don’t know where you get the idea that there would be 'grumbling' from Democrats if OBL had been killed on the Republican watch."
I don't believe I said it would come from "Democrats." It will come from Code Pink and MoveOn.org, among others. There is, nonetheless, a segment of the Democratic party that is very skeptical of the projection of American military power anywhere in the world.
"At times like this, the vast majority of Americans of either party are usually in broad agreement. Didn’t George H. W. Bush have something like an 80 percent approval rating in the afterglow of the first Gulf War?"
It was higher than that -- closer to 90%. http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/pastnews.php/2008/09/24/p29028.
"Obviously, there are fringe elements of both parties who will never be happy, but they are just that: a fringe, not worth talking about."
There are those who want Rumsfeld and Cheney put on trial for war crimes. In my view, that is a for sure a fringe, but it's a fringe with a specific message (that America is a racist, imperialist, bullying hegemon) and a megaphone.
If I recall correctly, MoveOn.org took out an ad in the New York Times referring to Gen. Petraeus as Gen. "Betrayus." They sit in the comfort and safety our military creates, then brand its leaders as traitors. This is the kind of thinking I have in mind.
"Anyhow, where did the myth arise that Democrats are congenitally limp-wristed?"
From Jimmy Carter.
"As I recall, the two major wars of the 20th century were won with Democrats in the White House."
That is absolutely right, and I used to spend some of my time defending FDR and HST from charges that the use of the atomic bomb showed them (and the United States) to be a bunch of bloodlusting savages, to coin a phrase.
Since Vietnam, however, the Demcratic Party of Roosevelt and Truman has changed quite a bit. With the exception of Ron Paul, I never heard of a Republican protesting the Gulf War with "No Blood for Oil" or "Bush Lied, Children Died," but I heard it a lot from the Democrats. There is only one party out there with a Dennis Kucinich/Al Sharpton wing.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 10:35:18 AM
Bill: Hamas and other usual suspects condemn.
Ken Roth of Human Rights watch has done an American style legal analysis and condemns.
What he condemns is the absence of procedure. Procedure is lawyer jobs, so is self dealing a little and in bad faith.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 4, 2011 10:48:32 AM
I understand that the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner has sent the Administration a request for information about why bin Laden wasn't taken alive. There is a part of me that would like to see the President appoint Dick Cheney and John Bolton temporary special ambassadors to the United Nations for the purpose of delivering the Administration's response, which I think would have the appropriate substance and tone.
Posted by: guest | May 4, 2011 10:51:14 AM
I knew it wouldn't take long. I love the suggestion to appoint Cheney and Bolton.
First they had to keep Gitmo open, then they had to go to a military tribunal for KSM, now they have to justify a cross-border incursion into Pakistan in order to kill Osama. I'll bet they're reading old Bush speeches to find out how to defend themselves. It must be driving them wild.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 11:03:00 AM
"Anyhow, where did the myth arise that Democrats are congenitally limp-wristed?"
From Jimmy Carter.
But that would be like saying all Republicans are dishonest because Richard Nixon was dishonest. Yes, Jimmy Carter was a highly ineffectual president. But he wasn’t the typical Democrat, any more than Nixon was the typical Republican.
There is only one party out there with a Dennis Kucinich/Al Sharpton wing.
But there are lunatics on the right wing who are just as wacky as Kucinich and Sharpton on the left. For some reason, although I am sure you’re aware of them, you seldom mention right-wing extremists.
Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 4, 2011 11:59:47 AM
I'll respond to federalist: I agree that your last two sentences are legitimate, defensible positions. And that it is unnecessary to counter someone who argues against the death penalty in all circumstances with the argument posed in your last two sentences. That counter is a waste of time.
I think the argument that imposing the death penalty in any circumstance, is wrong, is defensible and legitimate.
And I'll respond to Bill. You don't get refusing even to consider an exception, ever, no matter what. You also think that makes the "abolitionist" position weaker. Some people refuse to consider imposition of the death penalty, no matter what, because they know and they believe, that killing someone inflicts unnecessary pain on the surviving relatives. Some people also refuse to consider imposition of the death penalty, no matter what, because they can see humanity in all people, and think humanity is something worth saving. Some people refuse to consider imposition of the death penalty, no matter what, because they see no benefit to the surviving relatives or the population that cannot be obtained with a very long prison sentence or some other form of incapacitation. Some people refuse to consider imposition of the death penalty, no matter what, because they do not believe that it can be fairly administered in this country, or anywhere, for various reasons.
I think there are other reasons. These are the ones I can think of right now. I hope this helps you understand, Bill. I don't expect it to change your mind, and that is not the aim anyway.
Posted by: = | May 4, 2011 12:14:44 PM
Just my take on this...
From a purely legal/constitutional perspective, we killed in cold blood an unarmed man due to an illegal border incursion as a result of intelligence largely gained through through torture and unconstitutional wiretaps. (And if you have any doubt that this was an assassination, why was unarmed bin Laden shot twice in the eye? That's the textbook kill shot, and I find it hard to believe that bin Laden could effectively "resist" a Navy SEAL without a weapon.)
I don't think this means our conduct was wrong. I think what this means is that sometimes we sacrifice our moral principles because of the realities of the geopolitical world. I'm willing to accept that sometimes, rare times, we do evil things because it is in our interest. Does this make the United States evil sometimes? Sure. But when it comes to statecraft and politics, I believe moral relativism is the only intelligible choice.
The alternatives are hypocritical. One is to simply deny reality, as John Yoo and Jay Bybee did with the torture memo. That's an intellectually dishonest and factually wrong way of trying to get around an illegal act.
The other alternative is an absolute moral prohibition against things like assassination and torture. But if you take that view, you have to also willingly accept the consequence of that position--that sometimes, innocent civilians will be killed in terrorist attacks that could have been prevented. Moral propriety isn't free--it comes at a significant cost.
I prefer to talk about the bin Laden assassination frankly. We violated domestic and international law to do it, but it was something that had to be done. That does not diminish my respect and kudos to President Obama, the intelligence community, and our men and women in uniform who pulled it off. They made a hard choice, and I'm glad that they were willing to do so so that some of our citizens won't have to needlessly die.
Posted by: Res ipsa | May 4, 2011 12:21:18 PM
It is true that Carter's ineffectual character was atypical of Democrats. But his severe skepticism about the use of American military power was very much emblematic of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party of which he was a part. This skepticism remains today; Republicans favor involvement in Afghanistan more than Democrats, and are more likely to back the President on that question.
The problem with Nixon was not ideology. The problem was that he was an unprincipled, dishonest man.
The reason I seldom mention right-wing extremists is that they have no influence with the Administration or DOJ, nor in the formation of federal criminal law (which is the part that most interests me). That sort of law is created by Congress, which right now is split, and which in any event is virtually by definition in the hands of the center, not either extreme.
As you might have noticed, I am a Goldwater conservative: Low debt, small government, forget the nanny/welfare state, project American power abroad (including killing Osama because it serves American interests, and for which I have given unqualified support to the President). On social stuff, I don't care all that much. People should take responsibility for their own lives and behavior, and marry whomever they wish. It's not my business and not the state's business.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 12:41:09 PM
Bill, it’s a pity that the Goldwater branch of the Republican Party is all but dead. There is much in Goldwater I could have supported. But today, in most states, and certainly at the national level, a Republican candidate with those views would be unelectable.
Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 4, 2011 12:49:03 PM
"Question for you. Do you know which "critics" have argued that it was an "illegal assassination" and where that argument appears?
Of course you hear it from the entertainers at Fox News like Shep Smith and Andrew Napolitano.
Posted by: JH | May 4, 2011 12:51:51 PM
Res ipsa --
Your post is the introduction to a course in Moral Philosophy, and there is much to be said about it. The only thing I'll say for now is this: To me, you can't be doing something wrong when you're doing, as you put it, "something that had to be done."
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 12:54:01 PM
Res ipsa --
Another unvarnished look at what's going on is presented in my entry today on Crime and Consequences, in which I quote a posting from Powerline. It is available here: http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/05/that-was-then-this-is-now.html.
I repeat that I support 100% President Obama's decision to kill this terrorist hoodlum. But I don't want to be blind about the backstaging.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 3:20:08 PM
Like Res ipsa, you have posted the introduction to a long debate. Let me respond very briefly by quoting Andrew Klavan in the City Journal (the City being New York):
Justice is a moral necessity of the human heart. We cannot live without it....This is a harsh truth because justice is a harsh good. It is not gentle like mercy. It is not stagnant like equality. It is not a soft, shapeless word to be slapped on bumper stickers or chanted during rallies in order to inflame one's own sense of virtue. Justice is an exact description of a specific social interaction: the awarding to men and women of the outcome they deserve. This does not exist in nature, not in this life. It's something we do, something we give and often, too often, when evil has been committed, it has to be delivered at the end of a gun. There is sometimes simply no other way.
Posted by: Bill Otis | May 4, 2011 5:10:27 PM
bill: "those inclined toward this sort of legalism-based critique are being pretty quiet for the moment"
me: you really ignore two factors - first, you are ignoring that there is a large segment of right wingers who regard everything that Obama does as invalid. Of course, for the most part, the right wingers have been focusing on conspiracy theories like Osama Bin Laden was already dead or that he's not really dead. Others have simply refused to give Obama any credit for the capture.
The second factor is that for hte most part, true left wingers regard OBama and the Democrats as merely the lesser of two evils - hence, people on the left are not going to reflectively defende Obama like people on the right reflexively defended Bush. However, you also ignore that people disagreed with Bush because he went after Iraq rather than going after Bin Laden.
Even the most pacifist of religious sects - while obviously opposing the death penalty - believe that criminals should be captured and prosecuted. There was never any serious opposition on the left to going after terrorist leaders. You're smart enough that you should be able to understand the difference between invading a country based on Nixonian levels of dishonesty (and only a completely brainwashed fool would deny at this point that the Bush Administration engaged in dishonest actions leading to the invasion of Iraq) and going after the people who attacked us repeatedly (USS Cole, Embassies, 9/11, World Trade Center bombing).
Now had Bin Laden been captured alive, I would not have supported executing him. While superficially, a terrorst and mass murderer like Bin Laden would appear to be the poster child for the death penalty, it actually shows how conterproductive the death penalty really is (the Mumia case is probably an even better example because its doubtful that anyone outside of Philadelphia would have ever heard of him - or anyone would take his claims of being innocent seriously had he not gotten the notoriety of being sentenced to death). Terrorists crave attention - to promote their cause and encourage other twisted souls looking for similar notoriety - and execution brings much attention. It would be much more effective to have Bin Laden sitting in prison somewhere, largely forgotten. While Bin Laden, like say Charles Manson, would be a recognizable symbol of evil no matter what that even rotting away in prison he'd still get some attention - but it would not come close to the attention that killing him has brought (and nowhere close that a death penalty trial and subsequent execution would have brought). I mean, Bill often brings up Timothy McVeigh, but had McVeigh gotten life in prison and was sitting around in prison, how many people would really care about him or even remember his name? And having the twisted souls who are seeking to kill you due to thinking that the government is going to take their guns away or because they don't like your religion - or don't like the fact that women in this country can wear what they want and work outside of the house - sit forgotten in prison will deprive them of the thing that they want the most - attention and publicity. While I don't recommend totally ignoring terrorists (we should be continuing trying to catch them before they kill people and preventing the root causes of terrorism), it would be nice if the media and government did not make icons out of the Bin LAdens and Timothy McVeighs of the world - and make no mistake, when our government kills someone (or in the case of Bin Laden declared him public enemy number 1), they do exactly that.
Posted by: virginia | May 4, 2011 6:27:59 PM
virginia, I'd say that Manson is far more of an icon than Tim McVeigh.
And as for Bush and Iraq, please show evidence of one lie . . . ., not a mistake, a lie.
Posted by: federalist | May 4, 2011 8:19:52 PM
Don't be silly, Bill. What passes for a justice system here is the embodiment of right-wing extremism.
It is precisely the wingers (and their disproportionate influence in primary elections) who've inspired all the artful framing, hysterical fear mongering, shameless pandering and get-tough law making that earned us the title, Incarceration Nation...and put us on a fast track toward a police state.
I see the Bin Laden shooting as a hot-pursuit, heat of passion, justifiable homicide thing. The death penalty is more of a calculating, cold-blood thing.
Posted by: John K | May 4, 2011 9:45:22 PM
My name is KHALED JAVED and I am a Bosom Friend of God!
God hath given me spiritual knowledge by His Own Discretion. I mean to say what God liketh and what is not. And He always guideth me about what is right and wrong. So which I would like to say is that Osam Bin Ladin was an extremely abhorrent figure nearby God.
Posted by: KHALED JAVED | May 5, 2011 3:33:40 AM
My name is KHALED JAVED and I am a Bosom Friend of God!
God hath given me spiritual knowledge by His Own Discretion. I mean to say what doth God like and what is not. And He always guideth me what is right and wrong. So which I would like to say is that Osam Bin Ladin was an extremely abhorrent figure nearby God. That’s all.
Posted by: KHALED JAVED | May 5, 2011 3:38:00 AM
This is very interesting. May or may not be true. You'll have to decide for yourselves. Just keep your eyes open and balance the whole thing.
Posted by: Logo | May 6, 2011 12:32:36 PM