Osama bin Laden’s death removes the single focal point that has dominated American foreign affairs – and much of American politics at home – for a decade. And certainly, the United States and the world can breathe a sigh of relief that a dreaded enemy no longer needs to be countered. But the removal of bin Laden also opens up some space for thinking – not just for perpetual reaction, which has been the singular characteristic of the American version of the “war on terror”.
It is time now, and going forward, to think about the impact bin Laden had on us and on our world, especially when it came to thinking about justice.
At the heart of the rhetoric justifying and explaining our policies has been the notion of justice. In the decade since 9/11, the word has been used to mean many things, including revenge, retaliation, punishment and even healing. So it was used by President Bush when he told the nation and the world, time and time again, that our purpose in waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Afghanistan was the bring the enemy to justice. And in Sunday night’s statement, President Obama labelled the killing of bin Laden as a moment of justice as healing.
What we need to remember, though, is that the effect of bin Laden’s reign of terror on the notion of justice was to pervert it. Under the rubric of fighting terror, the United States rolled back its hallowed notions of civil liberties, its embrace of modernity, and even its reliance on its own courts. We delved into medieval-style torture, we reneged on our courts as a viable option for trying terrorists, and we blindly took aim at a religion, rather than its disaffected hijackers.
It is not surprising – but needs to be noted – that bin Laden was killed in a gunfight. The order was to kill not capture, even in a face-to-face encounter, which this apparently was. We thus forfeited the right to parade his excesses to the world at large – including to the thousands of Muslims whose family members have been killed by al-Qaida attacks. We ran, knowingly, from the chance to hold him in custody, and to punish him by due process and make him account to the world for what he has done.
This, then, was the inevitable ending to the way the United States has chosen to conduct this war. Bin Laden was an enemy so dreaded and so feared that his killing by military execution was the only possible end for a country that had given up so much of itself in his name. This was not a criminal, it was judged, that our courts, even after ten years, could handle. This was not an enemy whose fate the United States wanted to debate with the world and in the world’s criminal courts. His killing put an end to innumerable conversations that would, arguably, have continued to confound nations and their citizens. In his death, as in his life, we followed his lead when it came to thinking about justice.
There is no denying that bin Laden’s death is the end of the menace of al-Qaida as we know it: that without his leadership, a diffuse network, frayed at the edges by a decade of effective counterterrorism and harried by military interventions, will likely fall further into disarray. But a word of warning may be in order. Many of the pundits and politicians today are warning us not to let our guard down, to beef up security, to remember to be ever-vigilant – even if the immediate menace in our sights has been vanquished.
Ismail Kosari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s Security and Foreign Policy Commission and a close affiliate of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, postulated that bin Laden was actually operated by Israel.
"He was just a puppet controlled by the Zionist regime in order to present a violent image of Islam after the September 11 attacks," he said, adding that the al-Qaeda leader’s assassination proves he had "an expiration date" forcing the US to kill him.
A possible landmark ruling in one of the mass-BitTorrent lawsuits in the U.S. may spell the end of the “pay-up-or-else-schemes” that have targeted over 100,000 Internet users in the last year. District Court Judge Harold Baker has denied a copyright holder the right to subpoena the ISPs of alleged copyright infringers, because an IP-address does not equal a person.
Among other things Judge Baker cited a recent child porn case where the U.S. authorities raided the wrong people, because the real offenders were piggybacking on their Wi-Fi connections. Using this example, the judge claims that several of the defendants in VPR’s case may have nothing to do with the alleged offense either.
Bin Laden, according to Gartenstein-Ross, had a strategy that we never bothered to understand, and thus that we never bothered to defend against. What he really wanted to do — and, more to the point, what he thought he could do — was bankrupt the United States of America. After all, he’d done the bankrupt-a-superpower thing before. And though it didn’t quite work out this time, it worked a lot better than most of us, in this exultant moment, are willing to admit.