When Mass Murder is Political

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.

85 thoughts on “When Mass Murder is Political”

  1. bettykath, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Corbett appears to be a conspiracy theorist, and I do not take single source opinion as fact unless it is incontrovertible. If Sibel Edmunds had proof, where is it? Hearsay is not proof. Frankly, if the claims you cite were true, there is a virtual 100% certainty they would have been leaked long before now. Somebody would have given it to Wikileaks, if nothing else.

  2. Can the military really move the number of troops and equipmentthat were used in the initial invasion of Afghanistan in one month? Or does this suggest that everything was ready for the invasion that was going to happen as soon as there was an excuse?

  3. re: Osama bin Laden

    FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has admitted that in her time at the FBI she saw proof that the US had maintained a “very intimate relationship” with Bin Laden all the way though the 1990s up to September 11th.

    The Guardian reported that Osama had travelled to the American Hospital in Dubai for kidney dialysis treatment in June 2001. While there, he was visited by the local CIA station chief. When the CIA official later boasted about having met Osama Bin Laden, he was promptly recalled to Washington. [He was on the most wanted list at this time.]

    In a July 2005 article in the Guardian, Robin Cook, the former speaker of the House of Commons, asserted that the name Al Qaeda itself actually referred to the database containing CIA assets from the Afghan mujahedeen struggle.

    Even Osama’s alleged responsibility for the 9/11 events has been repeatedly called into question.

    In the weeks after the attack, the Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over if the US provided proof that he was connected to 9/11. Bush turned the offer down. After the invasion of Afghanistan began in October, the Taliban again tried to hand him over, this time dropping the request for proof of Bin Laden’s guilt. Bush again refused.

    After video of what the Pentagon alleged was Osama Bin Laden confessing to the 9/11 attacks emerged in December 2001, a German national news program conducted its own investigation into the tape. According to its own, independent translators, every single point in the video that the Pentagon alleges indicate Osama’s foreknowledge or complicity in the 9/11 attack has been mistranslated, and the video does not in fact provide any proof of confession.

    Famously, FBI spokesman Rex Tomb told investigative journalist Ed Haas that the FBI did not include 9/11 on Bin Laden’s “most wanted” profile because there was no hard evidence connecting him to the crime.

    Additional sources are available.

  4. I agree with you, Brooklin. The point at which we no longer uphold by our actions those values which we supposedly espouse, is the point at which we sink to the level of the opposition.

  5. Again, if fair play is not important to a society, that society will no longer value it and it will fall into disuse. That is happening here and now as evidenced by our use of drones, by the elimination of the right to challenge being imprisoned, by our acquiescence to Presidential authority to kill citizens without judicial review, but we still have a memory of it, and of a time it was enshrined in a system of law, and while that memory but not the underpinning desire for the ideal lasts, we will be furiously writing reasons for why it is an impossible unworkable ideal.

  6. In response to “Dredd”:

    Robert L. Parker 1, May 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Transparency shines a light on darkness. Osama bin Laden having a “platform” would only demean his approach–especially in light of the Arab Spring’s non-violent strategies. Even if there would’ve been some exposing of historical connections between the US and bin Laden (Afghanistan 1980′s), that truth needs to come to the surface for us all to learn and grow from–even if it provides temporary growing pains. Fear of a supposed “platform” for terrorism equates to a lack of confidence in one’s own peaceful philosophy. Have confidence that truth and light trumps fear and darkness.
    One of the great dilemmas of ideology is that one woman’s “light” is another woman’s “darkness.”

    War and conflict is always “light v darkness“.

    But those words, like a “coffee cup” that can hold many different liquids, lose their meaning at some point, as the context moves from a local venue into a global venue.
    “local venue into a global venue”–all the more important for transparency.

    I believe you’ve misinterpreted my use of “light and darkness.” My choice of “light” was used for transparency–not as a description of ideology or peacefulness as opposed to terror.

    There is no “cap” that can bottle up what OBL’s ideology was, so if he were to hypothetically been given a platform to speak in his own defense, I doubt any new revelations would challenge what he had been espousing for years. Even if he did, it is besides the point.

    We cannot put toothpaste back in the tube once released; what’s been propagated by all sides is already in the court of public opinion. The “light” of transparency provides the most important platform–that being a platform for a fair and open trial.

    The same can be side to highlight the justice served post WWII, and not a cover-up and miscarriage of justice.

  7. Entire books have been written on the extraordinary self control required after WWII not to simply send death squads out to assassinate Nazi war criminals in the fastest most expeditious way possible. We could have then sat around and written elaborate doctoral excuses for why it was impossible to bring the war criminals to trial.

    And soon after, as now, we would have been writing elaborate doctoral excuses for why there are no more trials, particularly for the elite.

  8. Robert L. Parker 1, May 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Transparency shines a light on darkness. Osama bin Laden having a “platform” would only demean his approach–especially in light of the Arab Spring’s non-violent strategies. Even if there would’ve been some exposing of historical connections between the US and bin Laden (Afghanistan 1980′s), that truth needs to come to the surface for us all to learn and grow from–even if it provides temporary growing pains. Fear of a supposed “platform” for terrorism equates to a lack of confidence in one’s own peaceful philosophy. Have confidence that truth and light trumps fear and darkness.
    One of the great dilemmas of ideology is that one woman’s “light” is another woman’s “darkness.”

    War and conflict is always “light v darkness“.

    But those words, like a “coffee cup” that can hold many different liquids, lose their meaning at some point, as the context moves from a local venue into a global venue.

  9. What we call “thought” is actually either opinion or belief. This is well known to cognitive scientists.

  10. Regarding Osama bin Laden for the moment. This is addressed to those who keep referring to his death as “murder.” Take a look at the logistics of the situation. First of all, this was the single most wanted fugitive on earth. He was the titular head of a major terrorist organization whose avowed purpose was to wreck governments and economies. Now for the logistics. For those who call him a “sick old man” this guy was only 54 years old, 6’6″ tall and most likely armed. The Seal Team Six had only a few minutes to get in and out. They did not expect him to stick out his hands to be handcuffed, read his rights (he did not have any in Pakistan), and led away to trial. This was not the same as arresting a drug dealer or drunk in Podunk County. They did not have either the time or the inclination for civilized legal niceties in the middle of a firefight, in a foreign country, in middle of the night. They had just lost a helicopter, putting the whole operation at risk, and had to bring in another helicopter at the last second.

    To put it simply, if they had not killed him and their commander had lost American lives because some folks think he simply should have been arrested, that commander would have—and should have—been hauled before a Courts Martial. Do you want to get into a scramble under those conditions, with a man the size of an NBA basketball player who had no intention of being taken alive?

  11. The same questions were asked prior to the Nuremberg Trials. Ultimately, the answer is that if you don’t use the tools and standards of civilization in times of stress, particularly of great stress, then those tools and standards are proportionally no longer meaningful to you as a society and you will loose them.

  12. Transparency shines a light on darkness. Osama bin Laden having a “platform” would only demean his approach–especially in light of the Arab Spring’s non-violent strategies. Even if there would’ve been some exposing of historical connections between the US and bin Laden (Afghanistan 1980’s), that truth needs to come to the surface for us all to learn and grow from–even if it provides temporary growing pains. Fear of a supposed “platform” for terrorism equates to a lack of confidence in one’s own peaceful philosophy. Have confidence that truth and light trumps fear and darkness.

  13. We have to use our brains to think so as to come to conclusions.

    But “we” really do not understand well how the wonderfully complex human brain works.

    This leads to the oft heard saying: “the more we know the more we realize how little we know.”

    Even that notion has an area of academic inquiry and foment:

    A dialetheia is a sentence, A, such that both it and its negation, ¬A, are true (we shall talk of sentences throughout this entry; but one could run the definition in terms of propositions, statements, or whatever one takes as her favourite truth-bearer: this would make little difference in the context). Assuming the fairly uncontroversial view that falsity just is the truth of negation, it can equally be claimed that a dialetheia is a sentence which is both true and false.

    Dialetheism is the view that there are dialetheias. One can define a contradiction as a couple of sentences, one of which is the negation of the other, or as a conjunction of such sentences. Therefore, dialetheism amounts to the claim that there are true contradictions. As such, dialetheism opposes the so-called Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) (sometimes also called the Law of Contradiction). The Law can, and has been, expressed in various ways, but the simplest and most perspicuous for our purposes is probably the following: for any A, it is impossible for both A and ¬A to be true.

    (Dialetheism). In Nal’s post today, I cite some other foundational questions about our ability to “reason some things out.”

    In a bootleg version of Dialetheism, this bin Laden conversation, in the national sense, is both true and false. Nations, democracies are contradictions being played out in dynamic animation.

    The answer to Mike’s question and postulates, in this post, are true or false, depending on the influence groups, i.e group dynamics, have on us, more so than our individual cognition at the conscious level has on us.

    That is because ~98% of cognition is emotional and unconscious, according to Lakoff et alia.

  14. Some additional thoughts:

    Hitler and Anders Behring Breivik was/are citizens of the countries in which they were/are accused of killing fellow countrymen.

    Bin Laden was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, not the US. Of what crimes would he be accused? Murder? Who did he kill?

    The 3000+ people of the World Trade Towers? Clearly a crime committed by individuals but we (damn! it was done it my name) considered it the war act of a nation state and invaded Afghanistan. Since it was an act of war and not a criminal act, the evidence was swept away to China and elsewhere. Bin Laden denied having anything to do with it. Later tapes claiming otherwise were proven to be fake.

    Our weekly peace vigil is starting. I’m going to be late. Bye

  15. Mike S,

    This is interesting I spoke last week to somebody from Sweden and he had indicated that the maximum that he will most likely receive is 25 years period.

  16. It is a hard call. Democrats have been “McGoverned” and then “Cartered”. John Kerry, a Vietnam vet was swift boated and now democrats try to avoid those labels although perhaps too much. One thing for sure is that if you have one of those labels attached to you, you will lose.

  17. If we accept that it’s ok to assinate Bin Laden because he was the leader of people who killed other people (I don’t accept that Bin Laden had anything to do with the bombing of the three World Trade Center buildings) then we have to accept that it’s ok for someone to assinate our President. I find both thoughts repulsive.

    Bin Laden, if he had been captured, would have been shipped off to Guantanamo or some other military site where he would have been detained indefinately and probably tortured. The best he could have hoped for was a military tribunal that would have prevented the introduction of evidence showing US culpability in many of his activities.

    I don’t accept the premise of Bin Laden being put on trial in this country. It wouldn’t have happened.

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