One of the nauseating aspects of being American is what occurs when the military or a sporting team in some form or other registers a triumph. The killing of Osama bin Laden represents this phenomenon perfectly. Though the president did not gloat when he made his late night announcement on Sunday, he left no doubt that “justice had been done,” and that the “world would be a safer place” without this monster. The clear implication, from him and from his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, was that there had been a “fierce firefight” in the course of which the evil terrorist had been slain. Brennan also asserted that Osama had used his wives as human shields (see, he’s just a coward; actual words: “I think it really just speaks to how false his narrative has been over the years.”), a claim the administration later backed away from. Only later still did we discover the details, and they are not pretty.
First we learned that far from the evidence being made public—the body in question, or even photos of the dead leader—it was gone: the corpse had been disposed of at sea (what, Osama the sailor?) and there would be no photos either. Osama bin Laden had been shot in the eye and apparently his dead head was not suitable for primetime viewing—the children, you know. Then we were told that fiercely opposing the notoriously-efficient 25-man death squad of Navy Seals were only two (2) men besides Osama—his courier and the courier’s brother, with one or both families—and one or two women or wives, in addition to Osama’s children. So the “courage and bravery of these men who risked their lives” was not so conspicuous after all. They had not assaulted an enemy encampment bristling with murderous guards, but a domestic scene of about 7 or 8 people. Their usual night raids in Afghanistan and Iraq probably posed far more dangers for this assassination squad on a nightly basis than this, their most conspicuous mission.
Now we learn from White House press secretary Jay Carney, in response to questions from reporters, that the great emblem of global evil was NOT ARMED. He had no weapon with which to defend himself, but of course the press secretary was quick to add that a woman had attacked the brave Navy Seals, who shot her in the leg. Then Osama’s wife apparently threatened them, or made threatening gestures, and they then shot Osama bin Laden in the head—through the eye. Others, like Brennan, have said bin Laden resisted, though how is not clear. No matter: Navy Seals armed to the teeth and coated in body armor apparently feared for their lives and quite reasonably had to shoot him. (We will no doubt hear the inside story from one of them, after the narrative has been duly ghost-written to best display their heroism).
None of this makes sense, except in this way. Though the Attorney General (Tuesday News Hour) insisted that the instructions were to take bin Laden into custody, or if necessary, to kill him, the clear implication of all we’ve learned so far indicates that the kill order was primary. These guys were sent to kill Osama bin Laden, and there was little or no chance that he would be brought back to the United States alive to stand trial. And so, what the President crowed was “justice” and what pundits in every forum have continued to proclaim as “justice” was really a targeted assassination. The evil bin Laden received justice by assassination, American justice in this case consisting of a bullet in the head, and a dump in the ocean.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t strike me as justice to cheer about. What it reminds us of is the kind of “justice” the Israelis have perfected: targeted assassination. They decide that some Palestinian is a “terrorist” who deserves to die, and then send in a team or a rocket to act as judge, jury, and executioner, collateral damage be damned. We seem to have learned well from them; for justice in the bin Laden case was streamlined to the killing of someone you prefer not to bring to trial for fear that a courtroom is far less efficient and far more uncertain. And when we reflect that even Saddam Hussein, that prior emblem of evil (isn’t is marvelous how the mantle of ultimate evil can be shifted from one postered head to another, and back, without so much as a by your leave?), was captured and brought to trial, we have to wonder why Osama was not shot in the leg or the arm or simply overpowered (he had no weapon!) rather than being shot in the eye (one wonders about the caliber of the weapon that shot that eye, but with the rapid-fire cannons these guys carry, the resulting wound was no doubt ample).
The logical answer is that, like many other American operations designed to rally us round the flag, this was a revenge killing. Americans, as after Pearl Harbor when revenge took the form of nuclear destruction, have been thirsting for revenge, but were diverted to Saddam and Iraq right after 9/11. What remained, though, after flattening both, was that emotional need to “get” the bastard who allegedly masterminded 9/11. When the opportunity presented itself, the current president, like all politicians with an eye to poll numbers, took the cue from his Israeli partners: assassinate the bastard. The rubes will cheer and shout “USA USA,” which indeed they did. And the pundits will pontificate about “justice” being done, and the people will be satisfied with being, once again, NUMBER ONE. As if killing people in cold blood is equivalent to some Olympic sport. All that’s lacking is a tradition that used to prevail among tribal societies, where you not only dance over the killing of your enemy, but eat his significant organs. Perhaps soon, that great atavism will return among us as well. Meantime we can content ourselves with a “courageous” brain explosion via a bullet to the eye (is there symbolism here? i.e., that evil eye can no longer fix us in its sights), and the feeding of the corpse to our ravenous surrogates, the fishes.