Osama Bin Laden and the ‘war on terror’

Photo by MCpl Robert Bottrill, Canadian Forces
Searching a compound in Afghanistan

By Jane West

The ‘war on terror’ launched after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre has included so far the invasion of Iraq without the support of the UN on an illegal mission of ‘regime change’, the torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the incarceration of hundreds without trial in Guantanamo Bay, the invasion of Afghanistan, the deaths of at least three times the number of US military personnel than the total dead on 9/11 and many times that number in civilian deaths.

The main target of this ‘war on terror’ was Osama Bin Laden, who George W Bush declared would be captured ‘dead or alive’. With the same Wild West imagery, Operation Geronimo – the native American chief also hunted down by earlier US head-hunters – succeeded in its mission and the unarmed leader of Al Qaeda was announced dead from a bullet in the head and buried at sea on 1st May.

But as Hillary Clinton was quick to announce, this does not mark an end to the ‘war on terror’ – “…the fight continues and we will never waiver.”

As Salma Yaqoob, leader of the Respect Party, has most clearly explained in her blog responding to the death of Bin Laden, there is no reason to mourn him, but the US actions in the 10 years of the war on terror mean that many more acolytes of his politics of despair and violence have been created:

‘Osama bin Laden was an evil man. He directed and encouraged the killing of thousands of innocent people from many faiths and backgrounds. He claimed to defend Muslims, but his actions simply brought devastation and misery to countless Muslims across the world. His death should not be mourned.

‘The movement he created, Al-Qaeda, is marginalised and despised the world over. The wave of rebellion sweeping the Arab world owed nothing to a man who led his followers into a dead-end of nihilistic destruction and religious bigotry. For the millions struggling for freedom from dictatorship and foreign oppression, bin Laden offered nothing.

‘But, by his deeds, bin Laden aimed to drive a wedge between the Muslim and non-Muslim world. He set out to provoke a bloody reaction, and Bush and Blair played right into his hands. Bin Laden would have perversely seen this as a victory of sorts.

‘Instead of responding to the events of 9/11 as an act of criminality, focusing all resources on pursuing the culprits, Bush and Blair invaded two countries, destabilised many more, and provoked an ugly tide of anti-Muslim racism. All of this gave succour to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was really engaged in a war against Islam.

‘The consequence has been to destabilise the world to a degree that bin Laden could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. How many more bin Ladens have been created by this disastrous ‘war on terror’?’

Some serious questions are posed by the killing of Bin Laden. Most particularly, it is yet to be explained why the US clearly decided that he would not be taken alive. This is difficult to understand, because as the head of the world’s most effective terrorist network, the information that he had must have been invaluable to the struggle against it.

Given the Americans themselves say he was unarmed when he was shot, and his only defence seems to have been the attempt by his wife to throw herself into the line of fire, there does not appear to be a prima facie reason why he couldn’t have been taken alive.

In fact in the days after the killing, Bin Laden’s 12-year old daughter, who was present during the events, has alleged that her father was shot in cold blood when already in the custody of the Navy Seals conducting the operation.

Was this because the US was more concerned about damaging information he might reveal than they were about the possible intelligence he could provide about the Al Qaeda network?

Perhaps he could have revealed more than they would wish known regarding the US arming of extremist groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s? Or possibly more recent intelligence showing how and why he had been able to remain hidden ‘in plain sight’ for so long, and why the action was taken against him now.

Tariq Ali, in his 2nd May blog for the London Review of Books, ‘Who told them where he was?’, suggests that Pakistani intelligence was aware of his location for some time and asks who passed this information to the US and why; the other question to be asked is when?

Whatever the answers, the ‘war on terror’ continues: in Iraq where 50,000 US troops are still stationed, in Afghanistan where 100,000 US troops are in action, sanctions on Iran, military incursions and drone attacks in Pakistan, and in the unpleasant US meddling in the affairs of the Middle East to prop up the Saudi, Bahraini and similar dictatorships, and prevent a peaceful settlement for Palestine – the raging injustice which drives and feeds the currents advocating terrorism in the region.