Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
As people here no doubt know I am quite opinionated and rather definite in my views, perhaps to a fault some might say. In this piece though I must admit that I have mixed feelings as to what is right and what is wrong, in the issue I write about. The recent thread on this blog: Trophy Terrorist: Obama Suggests Romney Would Not Have Ordered the Killing of Osama Bin Laden: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/04/30/obama-suggests-romney-would-not-have-killed-osama/ engendered a lively debate on the propriety of summarily executing a purported mass murderer. In my mind as I viewed the back and forth of the thread, including my own comments, I began to think of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway for killing 77 people, the fact that he was using his trial for publicity to advance his racist cause in Norway and that at worst he was facing only twenty-one years, though it “might” be extended for life.
Had Osama Bin Laden been captured and stood trial it would have created a worldwide sensation. It would have had to have been televised, since the clamor for an “open” trial would have been deafening and I would have added my small voice to the clamor. The necessity of fairness to the defense would have followed the same dictum, since a publicly perceived unfairness would result in a U.S. public relations disaster, for obvious reasons. Therefore, this trial could have been used as a stage for stirring up the “terrorist” pot and perhaps as a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. My question is: faced with such potentially explosive results from a trial, is the government justified in simply killing to preclude a greater evil? To be honest I’m not completely certain where the equities of these situations lie as I’ll explain.
Let us first look at a bit of history whose horror and ending we all know: In late 1923 Adolph Hitler initiated the “Beer Hall Putsch” an attempt at coup d’etat that resulted in the death of four police officers. He was arrested for treason a month later. His trial in February 1924 was a German press sensation and provided him a perfect forum for spreading his hateful views. Convicted, by his own admission, he was released in December 2004 by order of the Bavarian Supreme Court, over the prosecutor’s objections. The affair made Hitler into a national celebrity and gave legitimacy to his NDSAP (soon to be NAZI) party, which garnered 6% of the vote in the May 1924 elections. In prison Hitler completed the first volume of “Mein Kampf”, only adding to his mystique. Would history have been different if Hitler was truly punished for being the man behind for murders and treason? Did Hitler’s trial and subsequent release set him on the path of destruction of millions, himself and the German people, serve the cause of justice? To familiarize yourself with the facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Hitler
In the Norwegian case of Mr. Breivik, we have a believer in racial purity and Fascism. He readily admits to the murder of seventy-seven people, mostly teens and believes he was justified in doing so. He purports to be a “writer”. The parallels with Hitler are so close as to convince me that Breivik is trying to emulate Da Feuhrer in word and deed.
“At the end of the indictment, he told the court: “I acknowledge the acts, but not criminal guilt – I claim I was doing it in self-defence.”
Breivik has already confessed to the attacks on 22 July. In the car bombing outside government buildings in Oslo, eight people were killed and 209 wounded.
He killed 67 people and wounded 33 – most of them teenagers – in his shooting spree at the youth camp on Utoeya. A further two people died by falling or drowning.
At a court hearing in February, Breivik said his killing spree was “a preventative attack against state traitors”, who were guilty of “ethnic cleansing” because they supported a multicultural society. His lawyer has said his only regret is that “he did not go further”.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17724535
The similarities of intent and action are strikingly familiar, however, Breivik far surpassed Hitler’s initial act. What effect will Breivik have on the future of Norway? Is any state in Europe, or indeed the entire world immune from racial/religious xenophobia? I think the sad truth of human history, in many more instances than I have space to cite, is that hatred for the other is a common rallying point for many human beings and a common tactic used by sociopaths on their road to power.
So now we come to the case of Osama Bin Laden, purportedly the person responsible for the mass murder of 9/11 and the head of the purportedly “most dangerous” terrorist organization in the world. I have to admit that there are questions as to whether Bin Laden was the 9/11 mastermind he was purported to be. There are suspicions that 9/11 was an inside job, that it was the work of Saudi intelligence, that Israel was behind it and/or that some other entity did it, but it was pinned on Bin Laden. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_for_the_September_11_attacks and http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article13664.htm
When I originally started to do this piece I was of a mind to believe that the evidence of Bin Laden’s guilt, or at least his self-servingly taking credit for it, was overwhelming. This belief held despite the fact that I can also believe from other readings that 9/11 was the result of the fulfillment of the PNAC’s plan of needing a large scale American tragedy, to implement their plan of re-making America an Empire in the mold of Rome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century My thoughts and feelings about 9/11 are both confused and skeptical, have been since it occurred and in its horrid aftermath. Nevertheless, I continued to view Bin Laden as a bad guy and still do now. Yet should he have been killed, as he was, or should he have brought to trial?
That confusion leads me back to where I began. We see in the case of Hitler that his trial ultimately became his triumph. Only the future will tell us if Breivik’s trial and the maximum sentence he faces, will elevate him to the fame and power he obviously craves, or a martyrdom that will also ultimately serve his cause. The question than devolves to what does a country do when political radicals attempt to use its own laws against it by turning a judicial system into a platform for publicity and recruitment? Also what does a country do when outside forces can pose it a security threat of broad magnitude?
One position on that question has seemed to be a tenet of American foreign policy for many years, stemming from World War II and the “Cold War”. History, however, shows that this strain of thinking goes much further back, perhaps to “The Shores of Tripoli”. That position is that America leadership should act unilaterally to stem any threat to the country, even if the threat is only to the business of a large corporation, such as United Fruit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Fruit_Company . From that thinking assassination and fomenting revolutions in foreign countries is acceptable and preferred. A Bin Laden trial would be fraught with danger in its aftermath and its preclusion would therefore be justifiable. We must remember that after 9/11 and it shocking affect on all of us, outright murder and/or torture of terrorists became an open topic of discussion, with our mass media leading the clamor and bestowing respectability on acts that used to require “plausible deniability”.
This way of thinking had led to a bi-partisan consensus during the “Cold War” and now remains as a belief of the majority of “serious” foreign policy/military experts, from all ends of the political spectrum. President Obama no doubt believes in this foreign policy/military dicta. That belief is no doubt reinforced by all the “experts” that surround him, with a possible few exceptions. To the “experts” the world of “24”, Jack Bauer and nuclear bombs exploding in Los Angeles are all too real. Truthfully though, when you see someone like Breivik, who can blame leaders for not wanting to take the risk of having so many killed on their watch? This thinking too, is arguably common wisdom accepted by a large majority of the American people, conditioned to its “truth” for many, many years. Whether we approve, or not, there are viable points to be made in favor of this strategic belief and one must exercise caution in demonizing those who honestly hold them.
My own belief is that the “pre-emptive” strike theory of dealing with situations like this diminishes legitimate government’s separation from those who would use terror to de-legitimize it. The aftermath of 9/11 has shown that whoever pulled it off succeeded in drawing America closer to becoming a “police state” and in many places (Arizona per chance?) we are emulating the decried USSR practice of limiting the mobility of its citizens. To allow our government to behave extra-legally will only diminish our own freedoms and blur the line between what is political protest and what is terrorism/revolution. I must stand inevitably then with the side of the issue that demands on lawful government action in the face of purported threat. While staking out this position I have to admit that I was an avid watcher of “24” and fan of Jack Bauer, in a fictional way given the internal logic of the series the “extra-legality” made sense. We don’t live in the internal “reality” of a TV show, no matter how surreal human life is and so I must stand by my beliefs ultimately, without the absolute certainty of their correctness.
I can never know though what it is like to be a President, with all those “experts” around you making each situation into a crisis that must be dealt with immediately, without time to really examine all possibilities. JFK faced that in “The Bay of Pigs” and the “Cuban Missile Crisis” and in both instances, to his everlasting credit, rejected the views of his “experts”. JFK also wound up murdered under circumstances that are even suspicious today. In President Obama’s case he was surrounded by “experts”, assuring him with their “intelligence information” that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 and they had located him. I’ve no doubt the orders given to Seal Team 6 were to capture him “if possible” but that maintaining their own safety was a priority. I the sense of “plausible deniability” one could question how the team leaders interpreted that order. Had Bi Laden been captured and put on trial, what forum would have been used? What are the “national security” considerations that such a trial would have raised? How would the “experts” interpret the threat engendered by the trial?
When we compare President Obama to JFK, we must understand that JFK was a man who had been through active combat and was well aware that many times military experts are wrong. He was the son of a father who had very skeptical views of government experts and he was truly his father’s son in that respect. Barack Obama had no military service and served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is not only spoon fed self serving intelligence, but is also made to feel a part of deeply held secrets. I doubt he was, or is as skeptical of his “experts as was JFK. Then too, although a myth, Democrats are perceived as being chary of using America’s power and in a political sense are attacked for it constantly. Sadly, too often Democratic Presidents feel they have to go overboard to prove their “patriotism”, as defined by the jingoism of the Republican “Chicken-hawks”.
There are many sides to this issue and while I have my beliefs to which I’ll adhere, they are beliefs that I can’t state with the total authority of certainty. Where do you stand?
The following links were also used in putting this together and you might find them of interest:
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.