War enemies, not criminals

Bookmark and Share Ideas & Liberty | James Paterson
The Drum 12th May, 2011

It didn't take long for the hand wringing to begin. Within hours of President Obama's announcement that the United States had eliminated the world's most wanted man, the usual suspects began to line up to carp about process, cast aspersions on the US government, embrace conspiracy theories and muse about the morality of eliminating a terrorist leader.

They took to Twitter, Crikey, and - dare I say it - ABC's The Drum to laud their moral superiority.

In doing so, they lined up alongside some of the most distasteful regimes, organisations and individuals in the world.

Take, for instance, "ethicist", Leslie Cannold.

Cannold conveyed her displeasure at the spontaneous acts of celebration seen in front of the White House and beside Ground Zero in New York, suggesting it was little different to the "repellent" celebrations in the Arab street following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

She wasn't alone. Fairfax journalist Sarah-Jane Collins tweeted that she thought celebrating Osama's death "diminished all of us."

Blogger and barrister Jeremy Sear agreed, saying in a presumably sarcastic tweet, "That mob outside the White House in no way resembles mobs in the Middle East celebrating the deaths of their hated figures."

Actor Rhys Muldoon complained that "This dancing around" Osama's corpse wasn't "the best advert for democracy."

The professional Israel-hater Antony Lowenstein, said on The Drum that the celebrations were evidence of America's "infantile and violence-obsessed culture."

On the same site, Lehan Ramsey expressed her disapproval at those who thought Osama's death was "something to dance in the streets about."

Lawyer Kellie Tranter, also on The Drum, said she couldn't "Pick the difference" between American celebrations and those that occurred on the West Bank following 9/11.

Kellie, please allow me to assist.

Those who celebrated the terrorist attacks against America on 9/11 were cheering the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, who, for the crime of simply turning up to work that day, were never to return to their families again.

This week, Americans celebrated the death of a terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of wholly innocent Americans, Iraqis, Afghanis, Christians and Muslims. They celebrated the arrival of long-delayed justice to a man who appeared in grainy videos taunting the families of his victims. They celebrated the demise of a man who believed that Americans, simply because of their place of birth, deserved to die.

And let's not forget, he believed this well before America invaded Iraq or waged war on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

To equate the expression of relief at the death of one mass murderer and the celebration of the killing of scores of innocent civilians, as Cannold and others did, is an extraordinary feat of moral relativism.

And it doesn't end there. Cannold also suggested that in placing a bounty of US$25 million on Osama bin Laden's head, the US Government had in effect offered an "inducement to extra-judicial killing."

Overland editor Jeff Sparrow agreed, lamenting Osama's "extrajudicial killing by a black ops team", in an article for The Drum, and suggesting a civilian jury trial would have been more appropriate.

Former Equal Opportunity Commissioner Moira Rayner expressed the same sentiment, labelling the US operation an act of "murder."

Crikey's lead article the day after Osama's death, appeared to suggest that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, "two life-long opponents of the death penalty", were somehow inconsistent in praising the "extra-judicial killing of an unarmed man."

Yet only last week, Crikey's own Bernard Keane was writing that the United States' failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden was evidence of their "breathtaking incompetence."

These detractors were joined in their concerns by the worst elements of the international community, such as the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Condemning the "assassination" of Osama bin Laden by the US, they noted that they were "in favour of trials." The Council on Foreign Relations has documented the group's links with terrorism.

Hamas too was outraged at the successful American mission against bin Laden, describing him as a "holy warrior." Antony Lowenstein has previously called for "immediate engagement with Hamas" as part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Clearly, these critics fail to see our conflict with Al Qaeda and its associates for what it is: a war. They cringe at the thought of treating Osama and his ilk as an enemy combatant - where their dreams of "due process" would not apply - and instead simply think of them as criminals that deserve a jury trial and the presumption of innocence. Osama bin Laden is no more entitled to a court-appointed lawyer than the Taliban fighters who engage Australian, NATO and US troops in gunfights in Afghanistan and die in the process. While the modern battlefield may not fit their academic preconception of soldiers in uniforms, that doesn't mean that we aren't at war.

Bob Ellis, who probably would have been well advised to cease writing for public consumption years ago, wrote a piece for The Drum laced with conspiracy theories that harked back to JFK's assassination.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mahmdo Habib is on a unity ticket with Ellis, telling Sky News that he didn't believe Osama was dead. He also said there was "no evidence he was a terrorist."

Their concerns are also shared by the Iranian regime, who have serious doubts about whether or not Osama is really dead.

Others, like journalist Robert Fisk, a staunch opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leapt into the debate to assure us that Osama's death was "pretty irrelevant."

Not so, according to Greens leader Bob Brown, who said Osama's killing "strengthens" his view that Australian troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Given Brown and the Greens supported withdrawing troops from Afghanistan last week, last month and last year, one could be forgiven for being cynical at their claim that this event is somehow a game changer that requires a new policy from the Australian Government. Perhaps - just perhaps - this was instead a case of Brown and the Greens attempting to find justification for their beliefs in a recent event, and even piggyback off its associated media coverage.

In an eerie coincidence, Iran - also not know for their support for the liberation of Afghanistan - agreed with the view of Senator Brown and the Australian Greens, also seeing this as a great time for coalition troops to withdraw from the Middle East (as did the Muslim Brotherhood).

What these critics appear to share in common is an abiding anti-Americanism. In their eyes, America can do little right, and its every move should be treated with suspicion. Perhaps it explains their willingness to embrace the maddest conspiracy theories, and their ability to on the one hand believe America is incompetent for failing to capture or kill bin Laden, and immoral for doing so and being pleased about it.

The world is a better place without Osama bin Laden, thanks to America. Many can't help but find fault in President Obama's actions, but I for one am grateful.