My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death - Noam Chomsky

My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death - Noam Chomsky

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

There’s more to say about [Cuban airline bomber Orlando] Bosch, who just died peacefully in Florida, including reference to the “Bush doctrine” that societies that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly. No one seemed to notice that Bush was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and murder of its criminal president.

Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.

www.chomsky.info

Comments

Goti123
May 8 2011 19:02

Really? The crimes of Bush "vastly exceed" those of Osama bin Laden? That's not "uncontroversial" at all, if Osama bin Laden was indeed behind 9/11, then... did Bush intentionally kill 3000 innocent civilians?

radicalgraffiti
May 8 2011 19:43

no, it was far more than that.

Tojiah
May 8 2011 19:57

The collateral damage of Al Qaeda's strike against Western Imperialism was around 3000 people. The collateral damage of the US's quest for alleged vengeance but in practice the control of natural resources numbers in the tens of thousands and prolonged military occupation.

ryuit
May 8 2011 20:43

The most reliable estimates of the death toll in Iraq put the figure at somewhere in the region of half a million. If you are putting the blame for the deaths of those on 9/11 at the door of bin Laden because he 'ordered it' then surely you have to do the same with regards to Bush and Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan as well, in which case the statement isn't controversial at all. However, due to the destruction of the invaded countries- refugees, shattered infrastructure, onset of civil war etc. the crimes of Bush, in my opinion, outweigh those of bin Laden even if not a single individual had been killed in either invasion.

Harrison
May 8 2011 20:51

the intent was the same, but Bush had the resources of one of the worlds most powerful state apparatuses at his disposal, so of course his crimes vastly exceed Osama's

Comrade Motopu
May 8 2011 21:22

For the number of excess deaths attributable to the US invasion of Iraq find the two Lancet surveys online and the Opinion Research Business survey. They estimate the excess death toll at 654,965 (between 392,979–942,636 as of 2007) and 1,033,000 respectively as of 2008.

There are all sorts of challenges to the methodology, but also many reputable institutions back the methodology. For the Lancet, their methods are standard for estimating other vital stats in poor countries (a definition I know could be unpacked and applied to "rich" countries too), and the US government (always trustworthy) has also used these methods for example in estimating deaths in the Kosovo conflict. They are scientific, with a margin of error, for whatever that's worth.

The bottom line for me is that these studies are the ones that made the best effort to gather data and analyze it, extrapolating the most likely totals. Something like Iraq Body Count is useful, but limited to deaths that were covered in news reports, needing more than one to corroborate. This led to a very low estimate. I remember conservatives and other pro-war folks ripping into Iraq Body Count, but when the Lancet came out, all of a sudden they cited it as gospel, because the estimates were so much lower!

And of course it's not the numbers of deaths that in the end make the actions reprehensible. But they do matter.

ColdWarBaby
May 9 2011 01:27

War is the greatest source of "profit" for the capitalist machine. Perpetual war, however fictitious its ostensible cause and contrived its inhuman execution, is disaster capitalism at its finest.

The brief history of american interventionism produces a body count on hundreds of millions. The intervention is virtually always in the service of capitalist globalisation; to protect the "free market" wherever it has managed to insinuate itself.

The goal is simple; a global, totalitarian, plutocratic oligarchy.

Sean68
May 9 2011 09:40

To try and simplify the equation of complexity of Bush and the American Military-industrial complex with OBL/Al Qaida into a simple 'equal' term makes Chomsky come over as a loon to most people. It is a lazy and unhelpful approach to demystifying the crisis. Whatever the stupidity of the Bush administration in unleashing the disaster in Iraq, lets be a bit more forensic in how the majority of deaths took place after the invasion. A brutal, sectarian civil war was unleashed. Everytime the occupying powers attempted to rebuild the infastructure they were bombed and shot at. If you are happy to be shoe-horned into a murky alliance with every anti-semite and religious fanatic then sketching out the situation in very broad brush strokes will be enough, I suppose.

A more useful attempt to critique the post 9/11 situation can be found here:

http://www.platypus1917.org/2009/02/03/nothing-left-to-say-a-critique-of-the-guardian%E2%80%99s-coverage-of-the-2008-mumbai-attacks/

radicalgraffiti
May 9 2011 10:57

even taking the lowest estimate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War#Iraqi_civilian_casualties

The Iraq Body Count wrote:
The IBC project released a report detailing the deaths it recorded between March 2003 and March 2005[72] in which it recorded 24,865 civilian deaths. The report says the U.S. and its allies were responsible for the largest share (37%) of the 24,865 deaths. The remaining deaths were attributed to anti-occupations forces (9%), crime (36%) and unknown agents (11%). It also lists the primary sources used by the media — mortuaries, medics, Iraqi officials, eyewitnesses, police, relatives, U.S.-coalition, journalists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), friends/associates and other.

that is significatnly more than 3000 and just up till 2005, but this is not adiquat, as that "A brutal, sectarian civil war" was the direct and predictable result of the actions of the american government, and so they are resposible for any deaths as a result. as well as all deaths resulting from lack of access to infrestructure which they distroyed.

Goti123
May 9 2011 21:00

@Tojiah
Collateral damage is unintentional, are you suggesting Al Qaida accidentally flew planes into the WTC but actually wanted to hit a military complex?

@those who throw around Iraq

Most accurate casualties number indicate 100,000 (wikileaks and Iraqi body count project are generally recognized the best estimates, whilst the institute that claimed 1,000,000 has been discredited).

Did Bush order to intentionally kill 3,000 or more (e.g. 100,000) Iraqi civilians? If so, his crimes exceed those of Osama. But it's highly unlikely that he did. If we assume 50% of the Iraqi casualties was American collateral damage (50,000) Bush still did not order the killing of 50,000 innocent people. I'm not saying he's innocent, but I doubt his crimes "vastly exceed" those of Osama bin Laden.

Joseph Kay
May 9 2011 21:10
goti123 wrote:
the institute that claimed 1,000,000 has been discredited

The Lancet? confused

Django
May 9 2011 21:26
Sean68 wrote:
To try and simplify the equation of complexity of Bush and the American Military-industrial complex with OBL/Al Qaida into a simple 'equal' term makes Chomsky come over as a loon to most people. It is a lazy and unhelpful approach to demystifying the crisis.

Chomsky's point is that if we are going to accept the findings of the Nuremberg tribunal as being just and sound, then Bush is unambiguously responsible for the deaths that followed in Iraq. That's not Chomsky's reasoning, it's that of the Western powers after World War 2. Loons maybe, but i doubt "most people" would reject the conclusions of Nuremberg.

And Chomsky doesn't argue that they're "equal", he argues that the scale of death and destruction unleashed by "Bush and the American Military-industrual complex" in the last decade vastly exceeds that projected by Al-Qaeda. Which is simply a recognition of reality.

Sean68 wrote:
Everytime the occupying powers attempted to rebuild the infastructure they were bombed and shot at. If you are happy to be shoe-horned into a murky alliance with every anti-semite and religious fanatic then sketching out the situation in very broad brush strokes will be enough, I suppose.

As opposed to being shoe-horned into an alliance with an occupying power being bombed and shot at by those ungrateful natives?

(See the conclusion of the article you linked to)

Goti123 wrote:
Most accurate casualties number indicate 100,000 (wikileaks and Iraqi body count project are generally recognized the best estimates, whilst the institute that claimed 1,000,000 has been discredited).

Do you mean the study published in the Lancet, which is one of only two peer-reviewed studies into mortality in Iraq, the other being the Iraq Family Health Survey? Are you saying that the Lancet, which remains one of the world's most well-respected health journals has been discredited?

Unsurprisingly, Iraq Body Count is often recognised as underestimating the number of deaths based as it is on reported deaths.

Tojiah
May 9 2011 21:49
Goti123 wrote:
@Tojiah
Collateral damage is unintentional, are you suggesting Al Qaida accidentally flew planes into the WTC but actually wanted to hit a military complex?

No, on the contrary, I'm suggesting that those who engage in large-scale military excursions into dense civilian populations can expect there to be many, many civilian casualties, so that there is no reasonable sense in which these are unintentional.

Joseph Kay
May 9 2011 22:22

fwiw, legally it's a matter of oblique intent as opposed to the direct intent of killing civilians on 9-11. if it was a murder trial, the courts wouldn't distinguish the two; intent is intent. [/bourgeois lawyer mode]

petey
May 9 2011 22:37

iraq body count gives around 110,000. the lancet as a publication surely has not been discredited but i'm allergic to extrapolations and find ibc's number quite shocking enough.

but chomsky is still talking about international law and national sovereignty and "nothing has been proved since" etc.

Quote:
Did Bush order to intentionally kill 3,000 or more (e.g. 100,000) Iraqi civilians? If so, his crimes exceed those of Osama. But it's highly unlikely that he did. If we assume 50% of the Iraqi casualties was American collateral damage (50,000) Bush still did not order the killing of 50,000 innocent people. I'm not saying he's innocent, but I doubt his crimes "vastly exceed" those of Osama bin Laden.

i'm not sure i follow. binladen didn't order the death of 3000 civilians, he greenlit the flight of a plane into the wtc, and the chips fell where they did. likewise the bush administration (and others would have done the same) greenlit an invasion of a densely populated area and the chips fell where they did (see tojiah above). it may be sickening that al-qaeda defined anyone who got in the way as a legitimate target, but there was plenty of the same talk here in the states when we were in the thick of the invasion (with the parties switched) often delivered with a satisfied smirk.

michaelprice24
May 9 2011 23:33
Quote:
For the number of excess deaths attributable to the US invasion of Iraq find the two Lancet surveys online and the Opinion Research Business survey. They estimate the excess death toll at 654,965 (between 392,979–942,636 as of 2007) and 1,033,000 respectively as of 2008.

First, the ORB survey is an estimate clumsily drawn from an opinion poll, and has been refuted in a peer-reviewed paper. See here: http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/beyond/exaggerated-orb/

And it wasn't for "the number of excess deaths" in the first place. It was supposedly for violent deaths or "murders".

Second, the Lancet:

Quote:
There are all sorts of challenges to the methodology, but also many reputable institutions back the methodology.

No reputable institutions back the ORB poll. And, at this point I doubt there are any that still back the Lancet survey. The Lancet journal did in 2006, and the Hopkins University, where the authors came from, did at the time, but that was about it, and Hopkins has since censured the lead author for five years for basically lying about collecting names in the survey. Their report on this then said they didn't evaluate the broader methods or statistics. Not exactly much backing there. Moreover, reputable institutions like AAPOR have also censured the lead author for failing to disclose basic information about the methods, and were backed in this action by the ASA. So who are the "many reputable institutions"?

Quote:
For the Lancet, their methods are standard for estimating other vital stats in poor countries (a definition I know could be unpacked and applied to "rich" countries too), and the US government (always trustworthy) has also used these methods for example in estimating deaths in the Kosovo conflict. They are scientific, with a margin of error, for whatever that's worth.

Again, not really. If by "their methods" you mean something super broad and vague like "random sampling", I guess you're right that this is a fairly standard research method, but the devil is in the details. There can be good surveys and crap surveys that might fall under such a broad brush category. The specific sampling method used in the 2006 Lancet study was an experimental "main street" approach, which has never been validated as a reliable sampling approach and is not standard and has been criticized as biased (i.e., not really random) in peer-reviewed papers:
http://www.prio.no/Research-and-Publications/Journal-of-Peace-Research/Article-of-the-year/Article-of-the-Year-2008/

Also, the US government did not use any such method for estimating deaths in Kosovo. If you think they did, cite the study (hint, you won't find one). There has been a sample survey of deaths in Kosovo, but it wasn't done by the US government, and it didn't really use the same method as the Lancet one, unless you're again speaking in the most general sense.

Quote:
Something like Iraq Body Count is useful, but limited to deaths that were covered in news reports, needing more than one to corroborate. This led to a very low estimate.

This is wrong too. IBC is not only news reports. Their methodology states that their data is, "derived from a comprehensive survey of commercial media and NGO-based reports, along with official records that have been released into the public sphere. Reports range from specific, incident based accounts to figures from hospitals, morgues, and other documentary data-gathering agencies."

And here is an article discussing a particular non-media source they've used: http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/qa/aclu-ibc/

And "needing more than one to corroborate" is also wrong. See here:
http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/reference/announcements/3/

Quote:
Do you mean the study published in the Lancet, which is one of only two peer-reviewed studies into mortality in Iraq, the other being the Iraq Family Health Survey? Are you saying that the Lancet, which remains one of the world's most well-respected health journals has been discredited?

The Iraq Family Health Survey is yet another peer-reviewed paper that rejects (discredits) the Lancet survey, saying it "considerably overestimated the number of violent deaths", concluding that it was most likely about four times too high. And the issue is not whether a journal has been discredited, but whether the claims of a particular paper have been discredited. Journals publish lots of papers, some good, some bad. The Lancet journal, for example, recently had to retract a bogus paper about the MMR vaccine after like a 10 year battle with critics. That doesn't reflect very well on the journal, but it is that paper which has been discredited, not the journal. The Lancet Iraq paper is basically another case where they just published a bunk paper. Here's yet another peer-reviewed article rejecting it:
http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/section?content=a921401057&fulltext=713240928

So yeah, if you actually look closely at the facts, rather than getting blinded by seemingly authoritative sounding names like "The Lancet", it has been pretty well discredited.

michaelprice24
May 9 2011 23:50
Quote:
No, on the contrary, I'm suggesting that those who engage in large-scale military excursions into dense civilian populations can expect there to be many, many civilian casualties, so that there is no reasonable sense in which these are unintentional.

Have to agree with Tojiah on this one. So-called "collateral damage" is not really unintentional most of the time. It often just means that the main objective was not to cause civilian casualties but these are a predictable outcome usually deemed an acceptable side cost of accomplishing that objective. I recall in the early days of the Iraq war there were reports about operations that were predicted to cause 30 or more civilian casualties needed special approval from Donald Rumsfeld. When such an operation is approved and those 30 casualties happen, as predicted, the term "unintentional" seems rather out of place. Likewise, with what Tojiah said above. You drop huge bombs into populated areas, you know in advance that this is going to cause civilian casualties. So this use of "unintentional" apparently has a special meaning that you know darn well it's going to happen, and you choose to make it happen, but while giving the order to make it happen you also wish it wouldn't happen. So making it unintentional seems to involve making a wish.

Quote:
fwiw, legally it's a matter of oblique intent as opposed to the direct intent of killing civilians on 9-11. if it was a murder trial, the courts wouldn't distinguish the two; intent is intent. [/bourgeois lawyer mode]

It seems that at most we'd be talking about the distinction between murder and manslaughter. When it comes to stuff like comparing victims of US wars with victims of terrorist attacks, some people think this is the most important distinction in the world, and get very upset when others don't.

Alexander Roxwell
May 10 2011 00:39

As usual Chomsky view is unobstructed by dogmatic or sectarian blinders and he calls them not only as he sees them but as they quite simply and actually are.

George Bush was the equivilant of a Godfather of the Mafia who, without malice or any feelings at all could and did murder millions of "non stakeholders" that might get in the way of the designs of the Empire. If there were indeed a "Hell" and a God who decided justly who went there and who did not George Bush would rank amoung the top candidates for eternity there.

Osama bin Laden was driven insane by the fact that his culture and his people are nothing but subhuman cannon fodder for the Empire and yet the people in his "family" are little beyond prostitutes for the Empire. He has embraced an idiot pile of superstitious nonsense as his "explanation" for what he honestly feels and thus strikes back wildly, blindly, at random people who live in the neighborhood of his real enemies and who he is deluded enough to honestly believe share in their crimes. If there was a merciful God he might actually take pity on this derranged lunatic and let him into heaven after a good long time in purgatory.

George Bush has killed millions without malice for money.

Osama bin Laden has killed thousands with great malice and hatred.

If George Bush's crimes make him 10 feet tall - Osama bin Laden's crimes make him 3 inches tall.

Hoorah for Noam Chomsky !