Enough already. The blood of Usama Bin Laden’s corpse had barely dried on the Abbottabad compound floor when the complaints about the raid began. By Sunday May 8, the whining had become a veritable Greek chorus.
First came the unseemly dispute between some veterans of the Bush administration and supporters of the White House over who deserves credit for the raid. Bush proponents argued that there would have been no mission without their reform and restructuring of the nation’s intelligence and homeland security capabilities. A senior Obama official claimed that President Bush had deliberately downgraded the importance of getting Bin Laden after the U.S. botched the attempt to catch him at Tora Bora and shifted vital intelligence and special forces assets to the war in Iraq, a catastrophic diversion, he called it, from the manhunt.
On his show Sunday, Fareed Zakaria blasted both sides of the debate, calling the argument “silly.” “Lots of people deserve credit,” he said, sensibly, a view echoed on his program by former Bush national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. She called the stunning raid “a victory across presidencies.” (Yes, that includes President Clinton, the first commander-in-chief to sense that Bin Laden was more than a nuisance – a militant Islamist creep mouthing off in remote, Islamist-friendly Sudan.)
Then came the even more ridiculous debate over whether Bin Laden had gotten a proper Muslim burial. Although Bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white shroud, prayed over in Arabic and English and dumped into the sea within 24 hours of his death – which is more consideration that the thousands of his Muslim and non-Muslim victims alike received -- Ahmed al-Tayeb, the sheikh of Al Azhar, Egypt’s preeminent authority on Islamic issues, called the burial “inappropriate.”
So, too did Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood whom the Bush administration had banned from America but to whom the Obama administration gave a visa to speak here.
Bin Laden’s death and burial were also attacked by the militant Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, newly triumphant from its “reconciliation” with the Palestinian Authority’s “Fateh” on the West Bank, a merger designed to strengthen the Palestinians’ hand against their true enemy, Israel.
Writing in the Evening Standard, Lee Smith gives this idiotic argument about Islamic burial the rhetorical burial it deserves. Examining what leading Islamic authorities have said about disposing of the dead since the birth of Islam, Smith, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, nonetheless concludes that the Obama administration “has more justice on its side here.” It’s a lengthy, complex discussion, which boils down to this: burial at sea is permissible if a person died at sea or would be difficult to bury on land. The latter was certainly true for Bin Laden, since even his family had disowned him and no country wanted to play host to what might well have become the dead “martyr’s” shrine. (Never mind that most fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, including the Wahabi sect that spawned Bin Laden, ban such shrines and bury even Saudi kings in unmarked graves).
The argument was followed by an equally unseemly dispute over whether torture (the euphemism is “enhanced interrogation techniques”) played a role in unearthing information that ultimately led to the Abbottabad compound.
Here, former CIA director Michael Hayden cut thru the hyperbole. The man who told George Bush about the existence of a courier who might lead the U.S. to Bin Laden adroitly dodged the specific issue of whether such techniques directly produced the information at the base of the intelligence pyramid that led years later to the raid. But on Zakaria’s program, Hayden confirmed that initial clues to Bin Laden whereabouts came from detainees who had been interrogated at the CIA’s infamous “black sites,” which he still declined to name or locate, and after – how long after he did not say – some of them had been subjected to such extreme measures. Yet no single bit of intelligence had been dispositive, he said. Rather, it was “one pebble” rather than “one brick” at a time. All of the intelligence community’s many capabilities – among them “humint,” or human intelligence, electronic signals, satellite feeds, wiretaps, etc etc. – had played a role.
A confession here is in order: For me, the issue of whether such measures work – I concede that they sometimes do -- is secondary to the moral aspects of the debate. As a rule, people who believe in civilized government and the rule of law should not engage in such barbaric activity. It’s antithetical to everything America stands for, shatters the nation’s moral high ground and therefore reduces our reputation and influence at home and abroad. In non-moral, marketing terms, it’s bad for the brand.
Finally, we ended the week with a debate over whether Bin Laden’s killing was legal. My usually wise friend, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, whose group has done excellent work in the complex, politically charged arena of domestic and international law, tweeted that Bin Laden’s murder was unjust because there had been “no trial” or “conviction.” Never mind that the man and his organization explicitly declared war on Americans back in 1998, or that it openly claimed credit for the death of thousands of victims throughout the world – most of them Muslim, incidentally –during his rampage of terror.
Roth’s tweet was more proof that our country has too many lawyers. Yes, Bin Laden was unarmed and may not have been given a chance to surrender. And yes, it is still unclear what kind of “resistance” he offered, as the White House called it in its competing descriptions of the raid and his death. No, he was probably not told to drop his weapon, raise his hands above his head and get down on the ground. He was not read Miranda rights.
But in the court of public opinion, this was a no-brainer. Every now and then, law courts and trials are not the only appropriate venues for justice. Bin Laden has gotten what for so long he has so richly deserved. End of discussion.
Amidst all the kvetching, one group may deserve some sympathy. Soon after Obama’s announcement, Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington-based Native rights group, denounced as “shocking” and “insulting” the military’s use of the Indian hero Geronimo as a code name for Bin Laden. She had a point, said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Indian Affairs panel, who called the Navy SEALs’ inadvertent comparison of the legendary Indian warrior to a terrorist “unfortunate.”
Compared to Bin Laden, Geronimo was a pussycat.
Judith Miller is a writer, Fox News contributor and Manhattan Institute scholar.