Osama bin Laden: How will history judge him - Hero or Villain?

Osama bin Laden (OBL) is dead. America celebrated the killing of her most wanted man on Sunday, May 2nd, 2011. The U.S. government has been on his trail for almost 13 years since his alleged involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. After 9/11 with a $25million bounty put on his head - dead or alive -- he simply became the target of the largest manhunt ever taken in the history of mankind.

The last time the U.S. came that close to killing OBL was in the summer of 2007 when Bush administration learned that he would be meeting the Taliban leaders and foot soldiers in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. The military set into motion one of the largest strike missions of its kind, with long-range bombers, attack helicopters, artillery and commandos all ready to pummel the rugged mountain valley. In one of its latest reports, the New York Times says that jut just as the half dozen B-2 Stealth bombers were halfway on the 3,000-mile flight to their target, commanders ordered them to return to their secret base in the Indian Ocean, because of doubts about the intelligence on OBL. Seemingly, it was Bush's last chance at redeeming his administration's dismal failure to capture or kill OBL after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when he was cornered in the same Tora Bora region. 

This time, upon learning about OBL's hideout at a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Obama authorized an assassination attempt that was ultimately carried out by members of the U.S. Navy Seals. Initial reports from the Obama administration suggested that bin Laden was armed and shooting at U.S. personnel, and that he had possibly used a woman as a human shield when he was killed. All those claims are subsequently revised and the White House conceded that OBL was unarmed and that he did not use anyone as a human shield when he was shot by Navy Seals. 

Many keen observers of the OBL episode have questioned the legality of the killing. Others have called the so-called raid a "cold-blooded" murder arguing that bin Laden did not resist arrest. Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero went the farthest, becoming the first European leader to say openly that he would have preferred bin Laden stand trial. Last Wednesday Zapatero told Spanish Parliament, "Any democrat would have preferred to see him stand trial." The German newspaper Der Spiegel questioned, "Is this what justice looks like?" Which law governs the execution of OBL? After all, the American law requires trials before the death penalty. Could this decision to kill OBL be political?

Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent human rights lawyer in Britain who is currently defending the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was scathing in an interview on the BBC. Obama's assertion that justice was done was "a total misuse of language," Mr. Robertson said. "This is the justice of the Red Queen: sentence first, trial later." Professor Nick Grief, an international lawyer at Kent University said that the attack had the appearance of an "extrajudicial killing without due process of the law".

Human rights groups, lawyers and academics have suggested, among other things, that this could violate an Executive Order that forbids the U.S. government and its employees from engaging in 'political assassination'.
In the face of these accusations, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the raid on bin Laden's compound was lawful "as an act of national self-defense." "He was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th," Holder said. "It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field."

Critics have questioned how bin Laden could constitute a threat to the lives of the Navy Seals if he was unarmed. Had OBL been shooting at U.S. personnel, he would easily have met the legal standard of a legitimate combat target. Some experts say that the Obama administration has justified the operation legally by citing the Authorization to Use Military Force Act of Sept. 18, 2001, which allows the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against persons who authorized, planned or committed the 9/11 attacks, as well as international law derived from treaties and customary laws of war. But as the human rights lawyers would say the authorization to kill a suspect is a law of the jungle and can't define the modus operandi of a government that portrays itself as the poster boy of rule of law. 

Pakistanis are upset that the U.S. raid has violated their territorial sovereignty. More troubling is the inaptitude of their intelligence and military forces for not only missing the hideout of OBL in Abbotabad, located just a few blocks from its Kakul Military Academy - Pakistan's Sandhurst, but also for allowing their sky to remain so vulnerable to outside intruders. What if their mortal foe - the Indian Air Force -- strikes Pakistan's national security sites, entering the country the same way the American Navy Seals did? 

Islamabad needs to conduct a thorough examination of its security failures, let alone its partnership with the U.S.A., which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of its unarmed citizens since the days of General Musharraf when he bowed down to Bush's cowboy bullies. Since the days of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the country has been exploited by successive U.S. governments to further American interests in the territory at a terrible cost to her own sovereignty. She has lost more soldiers fighting in the tribal areas than America lost in 9/11. Her raids, bought by American billions and dictated by the Pentagon and the CIA, within the tribal areas have not only violated all the pledges with the tribal chiefs during the 1947 Partition but have also sown the seeds of dismemberment of the country. As noted recently by Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, "Pakistan rulers have sold its citizens' blood to the United States and its allies in exchange for dollars." (The Express Tribune, April 24, 2011)

Without a unifying leadership at the center that is ready to mend its relationship with the tribes, and find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan problem between all warring parties, including the Taliban, the country risks becoming a failed state. Consistent with Mr. Khan's demand, Pakistan must now demand a complete stoppage of all drone attacks inside its territory. In the aftermath of OBL's assassination, any reluctance from the U.S. government to honor such a demand can be counterproductive to its long-term strategic objectives, let alone short-term objectives like the withdrawal of troops from the region.

The demise of OBL has revived a national debate about torture that raged during the Bush years. The former president and many conservatives, including Cheney and Rumsfeld, argued for years that force was necessary to persuade al-Qaeda operatives to talk. Human rights advocates, and Mr. Obama as he campaigned for office, said the tactics were torture, betraying American principles for little or nothing of value. Now that OBL is dead, we are reminded by those who approve such criminal measures that had it not been for water-boarding and other similar torture techniques, which are illegal according to international laws, the U.S. could not have obtained information about the trusted courier of OBL, which eventually led to his assassination. Among these supporters is John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. Last Monday, soon after OBL's death was announced, he wrote in the National Review, a neo-conservative paper, "President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration."

But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying OBL's trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. According to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations, one detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment - including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was water-boarded 183 times - repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier's identity. 

Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said in an interview last Tuesday that coercive techniques "didn't provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information." 
In spite of such claims and counterclaims, it is conceivable that the USA will continue to employ such illegal techniques to extract information from her detainees. She will also continue to violate other countries' sovereignty and commit extrajudicial Mossad-style murderous campaigns. To her policy makers: the ends justify the means. She has forfeited her claim to higher moral ground. 

Now that OBL is dead we shall probably never know the real truth about his alleged involvement with embassy bombings and 9/11. As if it was by design, the Obama administration deprived us all of that opportunity to learn the whole truth. It even didn't see it fit to allow his burial on ground. What was it afraid of? We are thus left to one-sided propaganda or media campaign fed from the Obama administration. For what it's worth, we can either choose to accept or reject it.

How will history judge OBL? Or, more importantly, how will Muslim historians judge him? Will he be dumped as a terrorist in the dustbin of history whose nihilism brought so much carnage and destruction to the world, especially to the Muslim people by courtesy of the USA and her NATO allies? Or, will he be celebrated as a revolutionary who renounced wealth, recruited fellow Arab youths and fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, rebelled against a decadent regime that exiled him, and despised the prevalent order and the most dominant power of his time and its lackeys? Which narrative will they choose? 

Five years ago, when I wrote my piece "Understanding OBL through the lenses of the past," little did I realize that the article would be cited in the U.S. House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Committee on Foreign Affairs, 110th Congress, Second Session, July 31, 2008 for the fight against terrorism and proliferation: leveraging foreign aid to achieve U.S. policy goals. There, citing Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's bin Laden unit, I said that OBL's most important ally has been American foreign policy. I wrote, "As long as the West continues to prove him right through its illegal interventions in Muslim countries, its criminal blockading of the Muslim world through alliances, its vicious attack on the Prophet of Islam, ... and its double-standards in matters of democracy, freedom, equality and human rights, OBL's [broad] appeal would resonate loud and clear." His crowd becomes Osama - each clamoring: "I am Osama." 

In the aftermath of OBL's demise, will the foreign policy of the USA and her allies become even-handed that is not seen as hypocritical, hegemonic and neo-crusading in the vast Muslim world? Will these western leaders continue to protect and reward the war criminals in the neo-colonial settler enterprise called Israel for crimes against the indigenous Palestinians? Will they continue to side with the autocracies in the Muslim world? 

Contrary to hateful propaganda of their enemies, Muslims are a peaceful nation whose desires in matters of economic prosperity, personal security, justice, equality and freedom are no less genuine than their counterparts in the West. The Qur'an describes them as a "middle nation" that despises extremism. The current pro-democracy movements in the Arab world have once again reinforced that fact. Unless absolutely forced by necessity in an uneven war, they have not resorted to violence. 

Richard Rodriguez, one of the best essayists in America, once said, "A historical figure ascends to myth when his life matches some common pride or grievance or sorrow. Then history is subsumed into myth. Spartacus, Joaquin, Che, Gandhi, Osama... Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden already is mythic. The grievances of millions of people in the Middle East are joined to his name, and his name surely will outlast his death." (Ref: Villains or Heroes: Essay by Richard Rodriguez, PBS TV, January 14, 2003)
And Allah knows the best!


Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.

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Older Comments:
Dr Siddiqui's assertion in the writeup is totally correct and factual. America needs to realize that for them to enjoy the same peace and tranquility they so much desire in their land,they must ensure their actions and inaction ensue these in other lands.You can not cause sorrow and agony to other people and expect to enjoy peace at home.It is that simple.

While one may question the legality of not bringing Osama bin Laden(OBL) to trial, I doubt that history will judge him favorably. I can't think of a single person in recent history who has distorted and twisted the concept of Jihad in particular and Islamic teaching in general, damaged the image of Islam the world over than OBL. Yes, the US had a hand in his creation, but one can fight the just fight without going insane. He renounced wealth and fought the Soviets, but targeted innocent men, women and children for death, most of his victims have been Muslims. To try to raise him up to some level of virtue is a indeed an outrage.