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Senator Levin on the Assassination of Osama bin Laden

May 3, 2011

Yesterday, Senator Carl Levin issued a brief statement on the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“The people of the world can feel relief and satisfaction that a monster has been brought to justice. Justice has a long memory and a long arm.

“I stand in awe and appreciation of the men and women of our military and our intelligence community, who have once again demonstrated their amazing courage and competence. Their heroism is a stark contrast to bin Laden, who while sending his underlings to die or huddle in mountain caves has been living in the comfort of a villa in Pakistan. Surely this will help puncture the myth of Osama bin Laden.

“This is a great victory in the fight against terrorism. But it is not the final victory.

“These events also bring back to us the pain of the terrible loss we suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, and of the sacrifices of the brave men and women who have been lost or wounded in the years since. It is their heroism, and not bin Laden’s hatred, that endures.”

The statement is revealing on many levels. First, Levin makes the claim that the “people of the world” feel relief that bin Laden is dead, even though the Senator never provides any evidence that the people of the world indeed feel this way. Some heads of state have made comments to that effect and some people in the US are rejoicing over the decision of the Obama administration to assassinate bin Laden, but there is hardly a sense that the people of the world feel relief.

In fact, many people around the world have reason to have a continued sense of fear, since the death of bin Laden will not end US military campaigns around the world. The people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and many other countries will not feel relief. The US military operations or US supported military repression in those countries will not end and will not even decrease in intensity because of the death of bin Laden, a point that Jeremy Scahill made yesterday in regards to Afghanistan & Pakistan while speaking on Democracy Now.

Secondly, Levin goes out of his way to make heroes out of the US military personnel who were involved in the operation that ended bin Laden’s life. Levin says that the men and women have demonstrated “amazing courage.” Interesting, so the most sophisticated army in the world, with the most deadly weaponry in the world demonstrates courage because they assassinated Osama bin Laden. How is this courageous? These men were just following orders.

Levin also said that the US military demonstrated amazing competence. If indeed, the US military did finally kill bin Laden, it took them almost 2 decades to do so, since bin Laden was on the hit list beginning with the Clinton administration. In fact, there are those who have worked in the US intelligence community who think that the US has had plenty of chances to kill or arrest bin Laden and have failed to do so over the past 20 years, a claim made by former intelligence officer Michael Scheuer in his book Imperial Hubris.

Thirdly, Levin states that the death of bin Laden is a victory in the “fight against terrorism,” but then says it is not the “final victory.” Again, Levin provides no evidence that the assassination of bin Laden is a victory in the US campaign against so-called terrorism. Indeed, the assassination of bin Laden will likely have no impact on actions of groups like al Qaeda or the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Fourth, Senator Levin uses the opportunity of the announcement of bin Laden’s death to talk about the terrorist attack against the US on 9/11/2001. This has been the case of much of the US media, where pundits make the point that those who lost family members in those attacks can now feel like justice has been served. What is problematic with such a position is that is assumes that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. There is no hard evidence that bin Laden gave the orders for 9/11 and if he is indeed dead we will never know since there will be no trial to determine such a conclusion.

Lastly, the statement by Levin and the current news blitz omits the history relationship between Osama bin Laden and the US. Bin Laden has been presented only as an enemy of the US, but news agencies, President Obama and Senator Levin omit the fact that in the 1980s bin Laden was part of the Mujahideen insurgent forces fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden, like many other Muslim extremists, was the recipient of US funding, weapons and training throughout the 1980s in that anti-Soviet campaign, a point that Bill Blum has documented well.

The US funding of bin Laden during the 1980s was also supported by Senator Levin and the majority of Congress who approved roughly $6 billion in weapons and other military aid to the Mujahideen. However, providing historical context is usually not of interest for the commercial media in the US, which means that Senator Levin will rarely be questioned on his foreign policy positions.

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