I think there is a continuing misunderstanding about this. There is a disctinction to be made between what we say among ourselves about an issue and what we do about it in the real world. I am confident that Mandi is not out organizing rallies in defense of OBL's rights, and neither is anyone else on this list. Neither is any other left group that I am aware of. And rightly so. We can write some articles about it, as soon have done, but no one on the left is really going to make a big deal out it. They are going to fight over issues that matter more. That is what in fact is happening. This is all I have said from the beginning: Pick your battles. And in actual fact, this is exactly what everyone on this list is doing.

We must learn to make a better distinction between what goes on in our heads and what we choose to do in the real world; given our limited resources, the latter must be chosen very carefully.

That's really all I intend to say on the subject from here on out. What am I suggesting is in fact what is really happening.


On Wed, May 18, 2011 at 5:50 AM, Mandi Smallhorne <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

“Raw power and with it the ability to do good or evil trumps all”

That is what the rest of the world sees. The impression is that the USA thinks that it’s acceptable to do whatever it wishes anywhere else in the world, on its terms, without regard for the sovereignty of nations or the opinion, beliefs and principles held by others.

MB says, “I think there is plenty of evidence that Bin Laden is responsible for the murder of thousands, thus I give the killing of him a lower priority.” I think in so saying he expresses a belief which is probably held by many USA and global north citizens. And it’s understandable, but I believe it’s wrong. If you do not follow your principles strictly, with the very worst of people, you create precedent which can ultimately be used against the innocent, or the less-innocent. Who decides what person is sufficiently evil to kill without legal process? What makes them so evil – their killing of other people, or their ideology, or the fact that they stand against the USA, or….? What are the parameters used to decide who is evil enough to kill extra-judicially, and who is not?

If the USA was not so powerful in military terms, the world would rise in outrage against the unfairness of it. (Heavens, there are enough people round the world who make quite sober cases for George W Bush to be had up as a war criminal – as a killer of many thousands through his commands, just as Bin Laden was – but how would the USA react if a bunch of SEAL-equivalents parachuted into your country and shot dead Bush?)

If you have such power, it is even more incumbent on you to exercise it with absolute fairness, evenness and justice – or you risk exactly what is happening around the world right now. You see an uncomfortable ‘counter-narrative’ this writer speaks of emerging in the British press – do you have any idea how much greater the resentment is elsewhere? What does that lay up for future interactions between the USA and the rest of the world?




From: Science for the People Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Balter
Sent: 17 May 2011 07:21 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: But Was It Murder?


[[This is contributed to our ongoing discussion of these issues, and Mandi's post from yesterday. If you don't agree with it, please address the issues raised, don't attack me personally for posting it.]]


But Was It Murder?


Posted on May13,2011

By Bill Blum

Osama bin Laden is dead and the verdict is in. As Weekend Update host Seth Meyers quipped on Saturday Night Live in the shows first broadcast after the terrorists death, Somewhere, high above us, there are 72 bummed-out virgins. It didnt matter to America, Meyers continued, whether bin Laden was armed or resisted or was holding a bunny. Were totally cool with it.

The day after Meyers joke-fest, President Barack Obamadeclared on 60 Minutesthat justice was done and that anyone who questioned that truth needed to have his head examined.

Since then a number of polls have shown that the American people, by margins of up to 90 percent, support not just the fact but the manner of bin Ladens killing. The presidents popularity has rebounded to levels not seen since the early days of 2009. The country, by some indicators, feels renewed and vindicated.

But amid all the wisecracking, backslapping and official self-congratulations, a different and uneasy counter-narrative has emerged, bestexpressed by Gary Younge, a columnist writing in Britains Guardian newspaper: This was not justice; it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head, you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.

As much as we all might wish that the counter-narrative, with all of its uncomfortable implications, would fade away, its not likely to, given this countrys obsession with legal process. In the United States, as the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, everyone is personally interested in enforcing the law. So it was in 1835 when de Tocqueville penned his classic study Democracy in America; so it is today as the nation continues to celebrate the May 1 death of the worlds terrorist mastermind.

And so it is incumbent upon us to ask even in this highly charged period of unbridled emotions: Whos right on the law, those who praise the killing of bin Laden as just and legal or those who condemn the killing as an illegal act and even an act of murder?

The answer, unfortunately, is that there is no easy answerat least not yet. The legality of the killing depends not only on the facts as they unfolded at bin Ladens compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, but also on what body of law, domestic or international, is used to analyze the facts.

In congressional testimony in the days after the killing, Attorney General Eric Holder pronounced the act lawful under any legal standard. The killing of a man who was himself responsible for mass murder was warranted, according to Holder, and no apologies are needed.

But even if apologies are unnecessary, a more complete explanation is. To test the attorney generals view, lets start with a common domestic definition of murder. In the U.S., murder generally is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Murder, in turn, is divided into first and second degrees. The degrees and the corresponding penalties they carry turn largely on a perpetrators state of mind, with first degree reserved for killings that are premeditated and deliberate.

Domestic law recognizes that some killings, though intentional but carried out in the heat of passion, fall short of murder and rise only to the level of voluntary manslaughter. Equally important, the law recognizes that some killings, even when intentional, are lawful, such as those committed in self-defense or in the defense of others facing imminent deadly harm.

It doesnt take a legal scholar to narrow the debate over bin Ladens killing in a domestic framework. The first question is: What was the administrations intent? Was the mission to capture or kill Bin Laden or, as CIA DirectorLeon Panetta toldNBCs Brian Williams, simply to kill him? If the goal indeed was to kill bin Laden, then its hard to argue that the carefully planned and meticulously carried-out work of the Navy SEALs was done with anything less than premeditation and deliberation.

But thats only the start of the inquiry. The next query is whether the killing was justified as an act of self-defense. Its here that the proverbial fog of war enters, sparking a series of secondary questions. Was there a firefight at the compound, as the first reports suggested? If not, was bin Laden armed, or did he lunge for a weapon, as weve become accustomed to hearing after police shootings at home? Or was he, given his reputation and past deeds, to be regarded as a walking IED and thus capable of causing an explosion that might have killed the Navy SEALs even if he had seemed to surrender, as was suggested byan exchangebetween Sen. Lindsey Graham and Holder during a May 4 Senate hearing?

Were there ever to be a domestic trial, these questions and many others would be resolved by a judge or jury. And in resolving the issues, due deference would be accorded to the SEALs in recognition of the lightning-speed decision-making required of them at the compound. Hindsight, any good defense lawyer might argue, is always 20-20. Real time is another matter.

And in any event, defenders of the deed have reminded us, the killing of bin Laden was not a domestic law enforcement operation but an act of war clearly permissible under the norms of international law. In September 2001 President George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of all necessary and appropriate force against the perpetrators of 9/11. Obama was simply making good on that order. Besides, the case could never come before an American jury, so why bother to assess it even hypothetically according to the rigors of an American jury trial? Because the casecould, hypothetically at least, come before an American jury.

Since the invasion of Iraq there have been several military prosecutions of U.S. service personnel for unlawful killings abroad, even some perpetrated in the midst of battle. The most notable of these cases concerned the courts-martial of two Marines conducted from 2007 to 2009 at Californias Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. The Marines were accused of executing four unarmed would-be terrorists detained during the 2004 battle of Fallujah. Another Marine, discharged from the service before his court-martial could convene, was tried before a federal civilian jury in Riverside in 2008 under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a statute passed in 2000 and originally intended to oversee the conduct of military contractors such as the company once known as Blackwater but extended in the Riverside case to cover military members.

While the Riverside prosecution and the Fallujah cases resulted either in acquittals or plea bargains, each of the accused had been charged with deviating from the rules of engagement that in essence had obliged them to comply with what is often called the International Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Derived from both customary international law and treaties like the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the LOAC prescribes three overarching principles to govern killing in war:

1. Military necessity, limiting combat to the degree of force needed to achieve a legitimate objective.
2. The drawing of distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, the armed and the unarmed, those who resist and those who surrender.
3. Proportionality, prohibiting the use of excessive force.

Of course, there is little possibility that the Navy SEALs who eliminated bin Laden will ever be summoned to an American court to account for exactly what occurred at Abbottabad, whether under ordinary criminal law standards or those of the LOAC.

Norfor better or worseis it likely that the SEALs or members of the Obama administration will ever be summoned to offer an explanation before an international tribunal. There are many international courts across the globe today, but as a rule, sovereign nations submit to them only by consent. And in 2002 the Bush administration unsigned the initial U.S. pledge to accept the jurisdiction of the tribunal best suited to a bin Laden probethe International Criminal Court, which sits in The Hague under a mandate to investigate acts of war.

In the last analysis, then, unless and until all the relevant facts are known, we will be left with a set of unanswered questions about what happened and why. Or it may be that the search for answers will yield another, even more daunting realization: that despite this countrys devotion to law, when it comes to the most vital affairs of state, such as killing the worlds most heinous terrorist, were in a no mans land where law has no reach, morality is always subject to debate, and raw powerand with it the ability to do good or eviltrumps all.

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright 2011 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email: [log in to unmask]
Web: michaelbalter.com
NYU: journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/michael-balter/

Faced with the choice between changing ones mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

--John Kenneth Galbraith



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Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]
Web:    michaelbalter.com
NYU:    journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/michael-balter/

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith