Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Bin Ladens Death Means

Osama Bin Laden is dead. His slaying is now the subject of intense politicisation. No matter what happens some people will take whatever they want from the whole episode. Obama supporters will see the Bin Laden killing as vindication of the anti Iraq War line that Afghanistan was always the right war and that pursuing Al Qaeda and Bin Laden in central Asia was the right way to go. These people will argue reasonably enough that the pursuit of the fundamentalists responsible for 9/11 and the termination of Bin Laden might have happened many years ago if the US had not been distracted in their confrontation with the secular dictator in Baghdad. On the other hand, Obamas opponents are arguing that Bin laden would not have been sent to meet his 72 virgins if it hadn't been for the Bush era enhanced interrogation techniques. A fair point although several media outlets are reporting that the information about the courier was obtained from a conventional interrogation. I'm sure the public do not know the truth on this yet but it won't stop conservatives and liberals claiming they know the exact moment the couriers name was first given up. I must say though that I am skeptical of Peter Kings claims, particularly after reading the George Bush memoirs that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave up the name of the courier while being water boarded. I'm not sure if it's even an important point because water boarding was rarely used under George Bush. My view is that such techniques should generally be banned because they are unreliable and morally wrong but that the President under extreme situations should have the authority to personally give the go ahead. The reason torture is wrong is because people will end up doing it, not to get information but because they hate the enemy and they want them to suffer. War is an orgy of hate and inflicting revenge on the enemy is an ugly but natural desire that soldiers have and that should be prevented by law in any civilised nation. But in the rare and extreme situation (like something from an episode of 24), I think people should get real and acknowledge that on the Presidents authorisation, enhanced interrogation should be permitted where saving lives and not getting pleasure from kicking someone you hate in the groin is the clear objective.

In the wake of the sensational news that Osama Bin Laden is brown bread (a Dublin saying) people have in my view largely failed to look at what it means for the Muslim World given that in recent months, two dictators have been overthrown, another refused to go and is now at war with NATO and several others are looking very shaky. So I ask, has Islamic fundamentalism failed? I ask this because the Jihadists have been taken completely by surprise by the Arab revolutions. This is particularly clear in Egypt where they Muslim Brotherhood have been very slow to capitalise on the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who was their implacable enemy for three decades. The masses are rising up, and although it is early days there is little indication they are doing so to embrace the fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The Facebook and Twitter generation of the Middle East have been assembling online and engaging in dialogue with each other in an open and unprecedented manner. They have taken this new momentum to the streets and are sending their despots packing. I believe as George W Bush does, that people anywhere in the world if given the opportunity will seize the chance to live in a free society. Now I am not naive. I do not expect to see democratic governance flourish across the region. Political Islam is still excessively conservative and incompatible with the democratic way as we know it. But one thing is clear, they day of the mad Middle Eastern dictator that rules for decades is coming to an end. And with the passing of Bin Laden into the history books the Islamist alternative is beginning to look like a non runner. The west, the free world and President Obama have an unbelievable opportunity to promote democracy in the Middle East and in so doing, to change the direction of this century, from one that has in its first decade been full of war and international tension to one of peaceful cooperation and human development.


Robert J. Avrech said...


Brown Bread.

I will confess right now that this is going to show up in my next screenplay.

It's just sooo authentically Irish.

No one will have any idea what it means, but they will know it's real and that goes a long way in a script about counterterrorism.

Ted Leddy said...


Thanks and it's always good to have you on Gubu World.

I'm glad you liked that bit of Irish slang. I hope your next screenplay is a major hit so I can brag about contributing to the script by introducing you to the phrase "brown bread".

No doubt you are enjoying working on a script about counterterrorism. I hope I get to see it some day. Other than "The Devil's Arithmetic" I have not seen nor read any of your work. And I don't think I won today's "guess the future star" quiz so I won't be reading "The Hebrew Kid" in the near future. By the way I was intrigued by the pictures. I would like another chance at winning that book. Perhaps a round 2 next week?

GW said...

1. All three individuals involved in giving up the identity of the courier were subject to enhanced interrogation to convince them to cooperate. Most famously, in KSM's case, you will recall that, in his initial interrogation by traditional means, when asked about future terrorist plots, he replied that we would soon find out about them, and that in the meantime, he had nothing more to say until meeting with his court appointed lawyer. In each case in which enhanced interrogation was used, it was strictly to bring about a change in attitude. In all three cases, if I recall correctly, the information on the couriers came out in standard interrogation after the enhanced interrogation had made them cooperative.

Previous U.S. experience with interrogation, from WWII through Vietnam, was that 90% of captured individuals would respond to traditional interrogation techniques. Yet in dealing with al Qaeda, what we found was the stats turned on their head, with only 10% of detainees responding to traditional techniques.

As to the moral issue, you seem to be crediting only, or at least mostly, one side. What is more moral, preventing a detainee from feeling pressured and, in the case of waterboarding, extremely paniced, though in no danger of permanent debilitation or death, or the protection of innocent civilians whom the terrorists wish to slaughter. It is a gray area because there are two competing moral imperatives in direct competition. That said, only one of the two parties threatened with violence (our civilians versus the terrorist) is innocent, thus making it, for me, a simple choice.

As you note, any resort to enhanced interrogation needs to be undertaken solely in a sincere effort for informaiton and not as an opprotunity to punish extrajudicially. Thus the authority to use enhanced interrogation should never be with the interrogator, but it should be on a sliding scale of who, up the chain of command, can authorize each particular technique, with waterboarding, the most extreme of techniques, being in the sole discretion of the President.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Obama has completely gutted our intelligence gathering capability from interrogation of prisoners. Indeed, the U.S. has not undertaken the capture and interrogation of any major al Qaeda figures since Obama became President. It is a travesty that will haunt us far into the future, I fear.

Your analysis of the larger ramificaitons of bin Laden's death overlaid against the "Arab Spring" is, I think, 95% correct. I think the penultimate keystone to bringing about change will be revolution in Iran, which remains to date the bloodiest and most problem causing of all mid-east regimes. It is an open question if Hamas and Hezbollah would survive the fall Iran.

Ted Leddy said...


Thank you for the articulate comment.

That sounds right about how KSM broke. In Bush's memoirs "Decision Points" he covers this issue in detail. What I find strange though is his (Bush) insistence that only three people were ever waterboarded on his orders which in one way makes me wonder how vital it really could have been. On the other hand, if it meant total cooperation post waterboarding from senior Al Quaeda operatives I could see how invaluable it would be.

The events of this week would tend to suggest to me that American intelligence has not suffered from the abscence of CIA enhanced interrorgation. I believe that the reality is, Al Quaeda has been so smashed up, that organised plots from overseas aimed at hitting America are very unlikely to succeed. Any attempted attack is likely to come from a lone isoloted individual or cell in which case it's the surveilance aspect of intelligence that will prove most crucial. If the US were to capture Al Zahwahari and waterboard him, he might actually be telling the truth when he says he knows of know existing plot toward the US.

On the moral issue I think you pretty much nailed it. I actually think whether or not to launch a drone strike at a target where there are civilians in the area is far more dificult and morally complicated than whether to waterboard a known terrorist for information about an attack.

Paul said...

I suppose it was a tad OTT all the crowds cheering etc when the bin Lid was shut but so what? His death is a victory and a good thing for the west, some of the commentators crowing about it being summary justice etc (like that daft bitch Yasmin Alibhai Brown on Question Time)are off the wall. It's war and these things happen, off the top of my head I can think of broadly comparable cases seeing the UK being censured by the ECHR. But that was yesterday's war. Gary makes some great points as always, one concern though over waterboarding has to be the fact it will jeopardise a trial in a US Court. I mean what if the suspect held is a US Citizen with Constitutional rights? I believe Anwar al Awlaki actually has US citizenship.

Not being picky but 'Brown Bread' whilst in Irish usage actually originates from British rhyming slang in this case cockney rhyming slang. It's a linguistic crossover like the use of Northern Irish 'Youse' in Merseyside.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Paul

I had quite a few arguments with people over the past few days in which I defended the celebrations on the streets. It was not easy. I just think it's a bit of harmless American eccentricity.

I did see that particular "question time". It was very telling. On Irish TV there were some even cringier moments. On the issue of global terrorism and Islamic extremism, there are many many politicians and commentators that are utterly clueless.

This British comparison you referred to is I assume in Northern Ireland. This is tricky for me because I believe that targeted assassination of senior Al Quaeda operatives is legitimate where as assassination or shoot to kill policies by the British in northern Ireland was wrong. I suppose the main difference is that Al Quadea violence is far more indiscriminate, more destructive and more global than Irish Republican violence.

I don't think there is an issue about evidence obtained through waterboarding being inadmissible because none of those subjected to it have had or will have a civilian trial. I don't think al Awlaki will ever have to worry about being waterboarded. The Americans are too clever for that. My problem is the following. Many experts claim that torture is unreliable because those subjected to it will say anything to make it stop. This seems reasonable to me. How do we know that the Al Quaeda operatives who were waterboarded, and apparently sang like birdies, did not tell as many porkies as truths.

As for Brown bread. I'm still claiming it for the paddies. Rhyming slang does of course belong to the cockneys but I have a feeling that particular phrase originated in Dublin.

Anonymous said...

If you live by the sword and all that ... What of the tyrants who have launched terrorist attacks on Muslim civilians and lands? The Bush,Blairs, Olmerts, Nethanyahus etc are just as guilty of atrocities if not more.

Anonymous said...

I remember FOX news slamming Palestinians for apparently celebrating the Twin Tower collapse, as it happens it was yet another false report. But the hypocrisy is evident. The same was true of captured soldiers, the Bush government called it disgusting and then went on to do the same. This is why Muslims simply cannot and will not trust the kuffar.

GW said...

Ted - in the cases where waterboarding was used, my understanding is that the questions asked of the subjects during waterboarding were always questions to which the questioners already knew the answers. The purpose of waterboarding was not to elicit new information during waterboarding itself, but to break down the detainee and get him telling the truth, at which point the waterboarding stopped and real interrogation began, half seeking new information, half asking known information to make sure the detainee was still fully cooperating. I think the argument on whether that technique is effective is now over.

By the way, I know of no one, myself included, who would support the use of information obtained during or after waterboarding in a trial of the individual. It becomes a closer question whether such information can be used against someone else. In the most recent civilian trial of . . . can't remember his name, the guy tried for his part in the embassy bombings, critical evidence that arose out of the enhanced interrogation of another individual was thrown out by the court. As much as I dislike it, I think that was the right decision.

Ted Leddy said...

Thank You Mr Anonymous

"The Bush,Blairs, Olmerts, Nethanyahus etc are just as guilty of atrocities if not more". I strongly disagree. On how many occasions over the last ten years did the people you mention intentionally murder innocent civilians. The answer is Zero. Some people will do anything with statistics. For example, if Al Quaeda launch a series of cordinated suicide bombings against a Shia market place and kill 200 civillians, as happened regularly in Iraq, then those deaths, according to some, go down as innocents killed by George Bush because he invaded Iraq. No thanks, I prefer logic and reason.

As to your second point, the Americans chearing last week were celebrating the death of a mass murdering terorist. The tiny minority of Palestinians that celebrated 9/11 were rejoicing at the muder of 3000 innocent civilians.

Ted Leddy said...


Thanks for the clarification. I have a feeling this debate is going to become a crucial focal point in the 2012 election.

Anonymous said...

'On how many occasions over the last ten years did the people you mention intentionally murder innocent civilians.' I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children 'unintentionally' murdered by your heroes find solace in your reasoning...NOT! You may wish to excuse terrorism, I don't - I condemn all terrorists, it's a pity you don't.

'the Americans chearing last week were celebrating the death of a mass murdering terorist.'Com se com sa - 'innocence is such a difficult term to pin down. If individuals vote into power a government that wages war on Muslims, who is innocent? The Palestinian celebration was another shylock concoction, but that doesn't matter to you, eh?

Paul said...

Ted, the comparison with Northern Ireland is an entirely fair and reasonable comment to make. Yes Al Qaeda make the Provo’s look like Fathers 4 Justice but that comparison could never have been made at the time as AQ did not yet exist.
The 'shoot to kill' was never an assassination policy or indeed even a policy. Looks for instance at Mark Urban’s excellent work 'Big Boys Rules'. The SAS shot about four 'players' (to use an army term) between 1976 - 78. Curiously they killed no one between 1978 - 1983 (a time that saw Warrenpoint of course. Then there was a major cull between 1983-1992, with many of the most hard-core terrorists removed. All were armed or believed to have access to munitions and willingness to use them. In essence an unofficial policy temporarily existed whereby armed terrorists were killed when encountered.
Was that right? No certainly not it would have been far better to use legalistic methods including harsher sentencing. It still strikes me as unfair that the murder of a Gard rightly invokes a mandatory life sentence in the South (correct me if I’m wrong). But such a sentence would never be passed in NI for killing a Police officer but that is changing the subject. Back on topic any self-confident western democracy ought not to get hung up over the death of a terrorist. But perhaps that's the thing many western democracies are no longer confident?

Paul said...

'The Palestinian celebration was another shylock concoction, but that doesn't matter to you, eh?

Anti-Semitic bullshit alert! Be surprised if the esteemed author of this blog allows that comment, do one.

thesystemworks said...

Anonymous: I was in Israel for two anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks, and was especially interested in checking out the reaction of the Arab community. I was shocked that in Arab neighborhoods and towns, including in eastern Jerusalem, photos of Saddam Hussein adorned many shops and homes, being portrayed as a kind of saint with an orb of light behind his head. Israeli police just walked by all this. Thats a free country for you, real freedom. I was informed of two private parties in Muslim homes by random strangers I chatted with in Jerusalem celebrating the anniversary of 9/11.

You are clearly fulfilling your obligations regarding 'Taqiyya'.

Ted Leddy said...


Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have not been killed, unintentionally or otherwise by western forces in recent years. You are making up numbers. But I do concede that as far as the victim is concerned, the intentions of their killer means little. However, by any standard of moral code, there is an enormous difference attached to intention. The intentional murder of innocents is a much worse crime than when people are accidentally killed in war. If the Arab world were ever to become less dictatorial then this would not be an issue as the west would be at peace with the Muslim world.

I am leaving your Jew hating shylock comment up as an illustration of the racist thought behind your reasoning, but further anti semetic comments will be deleted.

Ted Leddy said...


Interesting comments on the north. I will look out for "Big Boys Rules", the title of which speaks for itself. The troubles really were a dirty little war.

Its a debate for another day, one which I intend on doing shortly. It will suround congressman Peter King who has been leading congressional hearings into the radicalisation of Amerian Muslims. Did you know he was a passionate and unapolgetic supporter of the provisional IRA. Weird, but where better to start on a debate comparing Irish to Islamic terrorism.

Anonymous said...

'The intentional murder of innocents is a much worse crime than when people are accidentally killed in war.' So basically you can say the murders you committed were 'unintentional', and that makes you a better person? The West cannot absolve itself of its criminal activities using semantics Mr Leddy.

Good to see where your priorities lay Paul. Not a word about the false rumors (we'll dismiss systemworks anecdotal memoirs)or even the Jews attempt to set up one of their many 'Al Qaeda' franchises in Palestine. Or even perhaps the misuse of Irish passports - but no, your focus is on a term that perhaps encapsulates more than any other the sheer deceitful, devilish nature of some people. Nice one Paul!

thesystemworks said...

Anonymous: If you don't believe me, can you not yourself remember the large support Saddam Hussein had among the Palestinian community? The reason why so many Palestinians got kicked out of Kuwait and why the PLO was isolated by many Arab countries in the early 90's?

Paul said...

'Nice one Paul!'

Cheers mate now f$$k off back to your mein Kampf and 'Protocols of the elders of Zion' muppet.

You typify the anti-semitism of both the hard left and Islamists.

Ted Leddy said...

Anti Semetic comment removed.