Togane, Japan
December 31
I'm teaching English in foreign countries as a way to see the world. I lived in Germany for three years and have been in Japan since August of 2011.


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MAY 11, 2011 6:26AM

Obama—Not Torture—Deserves Credit for Bin Laden’s Death

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I know I’m rather late posting this, but I went to Rome a couple of weeks ago and my head remained there long after my body returned.  Even now I’m still not in much of a political mood but this story is too big not to comment on.


When I write about President Obama in my blog it’s usually to criticize him, but one thing he clearly deserves credit for is authorizing the operation that finally brought Osama Bin Laden—murderer of thousands of innocent men, women, and children—to justice.  It was Obama’s national security policies that allowed us to piece together the information which led to Bin Laden’s location, it was Obama’s foreign policy that made capturing Bin Laden a top priority, and it was Barack Obama himself who ultimately made the decision to perform a surgical strike on the compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding rather than blow the whole place to smithereens.

It’s for this last part that I offer President Obama complete and un-tempered praise.  The politically safer move would have been to send drones in to blow the whole place up, as doing so would have prevented any risk of harm to American soldiers.  Had the ground operation gone wrong, Republicans would have wasted no time in spinning it as Obama’s own personal Bay of Pigs.  But the president took the risk, and not only did we get confirmation of Bin Laden’s death as a result—something we could never have gotten with an air-strike—but we also spared the lives of all of the women and children Bin Laden had living at the compound with him.  This is how the “war on terror” should have been fought all along—by going after the individuals guilty of terrorism and only those individuals.  I am firmly in favor of any approach that enhances our national security without killing children.

The correctness of Obama’s actions in this case was in fact so abundantly clear that at first Republicans didn’t know what to do with it.  It’s been their modus operandi for the last two years to simply criticize Obama for every single thing he does no matter what: blame him for not fixing the economy even though your party is obstructing all his efforts to do so, blame him for the health-care mandate even though it was originally your proposal, blame him for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even though your president started them, and on and on.  How could they possibly spin this to make Obama look bad?

It wasn’t long before some Republicans discovered a neat way around it.  Since they couldn’t blame Obama for doing something they were all in favor of (although some actually did start to argue that perhaps killing Bin Laden was the wrong move), they decided instead to simply put most of the credit elsewhere—namely with the Bush administration, and specifically with regards to torture.

Now giving Bush credit for capturing Bin Laden seems, on the surface, rather laughable.  This is the guy who famously said in a press briefing that he was “truly not that concerned” about Bin Laden and that he honestly didn’t “spend much time on him”.  Bush argued that Bin Laden was just “one person”, and the war on terror was much bigger than that.  It’s exactly this vision that’s brought America to the disastrous point we’re at now.  Rather than go after the individuals responsible for 9/11, Bush played right into the terrorists’ hands by spreading our retaliation across the Middle East in the form of two massive ground wars that have not only drained our economy to the point of bankruptcy (as Bin Laden himself explained was his exact objective), but destroyed our international reputation for at least a generation.

And part of what destroyed our international reputation is the use of torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques” as the Bush apologists like to call it.  Regardless of what euphemisms they used, things like water-boarding are banned by the Geneva conventions and have been prosecuted as war crimes in the past.  People outside the American bubble, not subject to Fox News and talk-radio propaganda, clearly see it for what it is and those already predisposed to hate the United States were provided with more than enough justification for their hatred.  It’s not only been testified to by many actual intelligence officials such as Matthew Alexander, but it’s just plain common sense that the use of torture has created far more terrorists than it’s eliminated.

And yet many right-wingers are still so hell-bent on justifying their support for torture that they now trumpet the claim that Bin Laden would not have been captured had it not been for the use of torture.  They make this claim not after examining the evidence but before they know anything about it—then grasping at whatever straws they can to justify their claims such as the testimony of former CIA head Jose Rodriguez in TIME magazine that some of the information gained by water-boarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed ultimately led to Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  The White House rejects this claim and points out that it took years and many various pieces of information to find Bin Laden.  You don’t have to trust the White House to recognize that logic—if torturing KSM in 2003 really led us directly to Bin Laden, why wasn’t he caught until 2011?

Not only that, but we know that KSM was water-boarded 183 times, and multiples sources report that he continuously gave out false or misleading information time after time.  He apparently knew of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden but even after being subjected to the water-board one hundred and eighty-three times, he didn’t give him up.

Conservatives act as though the only reason anyone could possibly be opposed to the use of torture is if we’re pacifists, hippies, or terrorist-sympathizers.  As though our only objection to torture is that it’s painful for the terrorists and inflicting pain is wrong.  Personally, I don’t have any qualms whatsoever about men who murder children getting tortured, and in fact I wouldn’t mind if we used actual forms of torture and cut off their fingers one by one.

The reason I’m opposed to torture is that it doesn’t work and that it’s counter-productive.  It sends our intelligence officials off on wild-goose-chases, and when the fact that we torture people leaks out it damages our international reputation and provokes more violence against us.  This is so obvious that it hurts, yet the media still treats this like it’s an actual debate and the war-criminals in the Bush administration have a legitimate point of view.

I understand why people like the idea of terrorists getting tortured, but because they don’t want to believe their support is rooted in pure vindictiveness they desperately cling to the claim that torture works—which simply isn’t true and won’t be true no matter how often they insist that it is.

It’s a shame that so many are so blinded by ideology and identity politics that they are incapable of giving credit to political enemies or accepting blame for those on their side.  I am not a fan of Barack Obama by any stretch of the imagination but for succeeding where his predecessor failed in the effort to catch Bin Laden—and by preventing the deaths of innocent civilians in the process—he deserves as much praise as I can give him.

Those who refuse to acknowledge that Barack Obama could possibly ever do anything right under any circumstances and instead cling to the belief that torture was the reason we got Bin Laden are living lives of cognitive dissonance where facts don’t matter and beliefs are simply a matter of what feels good to them.

It’s our responsibility to not let these people control the debate, or the next conservative president won’t hesitate to use torture as well.  It would have been best if we’d prosecuted the Bush administration war criminals as soon as we’d had the chance, but since that will never happen the best we can do is try to ensure that it never happens again, and that means making judgments based on what the facts tell us is true, rather than merely what we’d like to be true.

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I agree with you for the most part however I do have some reservations. The fact that the torture didn’t lead to the finding of Osama is not one of those. I have no doubt that torture is totally counterproductive and it does more to incite more hatred without giving reliable information.

My concern is about the basic focus of the “War on Terror” which I consider badly misguided. We’re supposed to be defending democracy around the world; or so they claim. If this is true they should pursue a course of action that advances this goal in the most effective way possible. In order to have a sincere democracy the public needs to have an opportunity to participate in the decision making process and they have to have access to the information and education they need to do this.

Therefore there is no doubt in my mind that the most effective way to defend democracy involves making this information and education available to the public both at home and abroad.

Instead of doing this we are constantly fighting one enemy after another and depriving the public of the information and in many cases the education they need to advance democracy.

To put it bluntly the entire justification for constant war is based on lies.
A: Torture works....sometimes. The problem is that you are never sure of the quality of the information, so you have to torture a lot of people and compare their statements to determine what's true and what's not.

B. The tables have turned. I usually support Obama. You usually oppose him, but in the case I believe that Obama ordered an extralegal act.

OBL was never arraigned, never tried, and never convicted of anything anywhere other that the court of public opinion. He was never even indicted for 9/11. Read the actual indictments. He's mentioned as the leader of al-Qaeda, but he isn't actually a declared co-conspirator.

The only person who convicted OBL was George Bush, who declared him guilty in 2001...which was also an extralegal event.

If Obama had wanted OBL taken alive, he would have been taken alive. We're talking about the best fighting men in the world here. They would have been perfectly capable of taking down a middle aged man of indifferent health without killing him

OBL was assassinated ....and that is the right word....because he would never have been convicted in an American court....and that's because there was no admissible physical evidence, no documentary evidence, or even any circumstantial evidence....just vague accusations by "intelligence organizations" and other members of al-Qaeda, all of which qualifies as hearsay and therefore not admissible in an American court.

So, the question for me is, why would anyone celebrate this event?
Excellent and concise.
Thanks for this post./R

The right-wing is trying to burnish its sadist bona fides by crediting torture and of course diminish the Prez and the same time. they've always got to "out man" and "out tough" Dems on everything to maintain their "street cred" among sociopaths.

Check out my post "From Birth Certificate to Death Certificate: Obama Delivers" when you get the chance.
Let's also remember that PART of what also made the operation to kill Bin Laden possible is from the efforts of the Bush administration. This doesn't give Bush or Obama credit for such a thing because PART of what it took was simply time to gather the intelligence and time to be able to put the pieces together. To think that some of the pieces that allowed the Obama team to put all of this together did not come from the Bush timeframe is just idiotic. And had this information been available to Bush, to think he would not have also sent in the strike team to accomplish this same mission is just as idiotic. Obama did not have to start from scratch on all of this, and he had the luxury of having Iraq handled so that he could divert much more of the military to this part of the war. Do you think our taking out German in WWII would have been slightly easier if we didn't have a Pacific front? All of this doesn't take away from all the great props that should go to the Obama team, but let's also not be foolish about the Bush team contributions; and I hope we would understand this the same way had the sequence been reversed. There is so much that went into this, so much of which we probably have and never will have any knowledge and understanding of, but anyone who thinks this is all "look at what Obama did" and "look at what Bush didn't do" truly has no grasp of how complex and how deep and developed these processes all are.
and yes, it's such a good thing that we don't torture anymore "wink, wink". After all, the administration has come out and said this and we certainly don't have any history whatsoever of every admistration that has ever been in power saying one thing publicly while doing something different, especially something like this where it would have to be kept a secret. We probably don't have any illegal wiretaping going on either "wink, wink". Sure, maybe it doesn't happen as often and it's handled by smaller, more select groups, in more refined ways...but no, this can't be the case at all...come on, a President of either party saying one thing and doing another...this doesn't REALLY happen, does it? Even then, if some instance of it comes out, perhaps we'll build a fence around it to give plausible deniability...does that ever happen? I'm glad that what we truly have now is the most transparent and open and moral and completely by the book administration ever!! Instead of just realizing the fact that ALL of them are corrupt and trick us all into some "us" against "them" argument. You people have really got to get your heads out of the sand!
Thank you for writing the first level-headed logical thing I've read by a critic of Obama's. It is refreshing to read something that makes clear sense instead of filled with illogic and rage because of party denomination or simple hate for the President. Whether you are or are not a supporter or fan of Mr Obama is really beside the point on this one. It was clean, real, intelligent... and so is your article. Thank you.
Halliburton, GE et al. wouldnta made any big dough if they'd taken him out in the beginning ... thats why W said it didn't matter. And by the way, the Russians had more to do with the fall of Hitler and paid a MUCH higher price than we did.
Of course President Obama and his team deserve ALL the credit. But try explaining that to a Republican-dominated "Mainstream" media. Negroes aren;y supposed to be so smart soresolute and so brave (and I am using the word "Negro" deliberately. That's what they think of people like Obama -- and me.)
Those posting in here who are so keen on torture should take a lokk/listen to this scene from "Mara/Sade"
It may make news and impress the folks in the bleachers, but it was a no brainer from Obama's standpoint, he played it well, and won--knowing full well if he didn't the "fey" would find more reasons to attack him.

I think he's accomplished a lot more by the sweat of his brow and taking even bigger risks. This was small change that bought a big bannana.

Perhaps, more impressive is that he refused to put Bin Laden's head on a pike, so nobody can ask: are we any better than them?
I must agree with some of the previous posters who stated that President Bush made it possible for President Obama to kill bin Laden. They're right.

If President Bush had captured or killed bin Laden, it would have been impossible for President Obama to do so.

Iraq was particularly critical in this effort. If President Bush had not diverted his resources from Afghanistan in a timely fashion and buried them in a country that had ZERO to do with 9/11, he probably would have eliminated Obama eight or nine years ago.

Don't worry about the GOP efforts. I doubt, this time, that anyone's listening.
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sorry to pop the balloon, and to gore the sacred cow, but the real perpetrators of 911 are AT LARGE
Thanks for the comments. There were some great points added, particularly by Zacherydtaylor that the public needs to be far more educated and involved in our foreign policy (I'd say the same goes for domestic policy), and Noah Tawls that [perhaps] one of the reasons Bush didn't go after Bin Laden right from the beginning was that keeping him alive also kept alive the original justification for the War on Terror.

Sage Merlin makes a very valid point about the legality of the action, and under any other circumstance I'd be just as wary of the precedent of assassinating a human being without a trial (I've even criticized Obama in the past for this policy) but in OBL's case we have a person who openly admits to plotting acts of terrorism and who has taken credit for them in the past. I would rather he have been captured and tried than killed, but there isn't a shred of doubt in my mind that he had blood on his hands and there was some justice in his death.

Citizen Justice says it's logical to assume that the Bush administration deserves some credit for Bin Laden's capture because this information was pieced together over many years and a good deal of it was no doubt obtained during Bush's presidency. Kosh had a great comeback, but I'll also just point out that the people working for the intelligence agencies are mostly the same people who were there under Bush and it's obviously THEY who deserve the credit for the intelligence gathering (as well as some of the blame for the illegal and counter-productive way in which some of it was obtained). He asserts that given the same intelligence regarding Bin Laden's whereabouts, Bush would have authorized the same mission, but this is merely an assumption he makes. The assumption I make is that Bush would have done the politically safe things and bombed the place to rubble, killing all the women and children inside and making it impossible for us to identify the body.

And let's not forget that it was politically useful to Bush for Bin Laden to remain at large, so he might not have done it at all. It should at least be perfectly clear that for Bush, invading Iraq was a higher priority than catching Bin Laden.

Guerilla Jester implies that Obama is continuing Bush's policies of torture. That MAY be the case--he IS continuing a lot of Bush's egregious policies such as illegal wiretapping and extraordinary rendition--but I seriously doubt it because (according to the books I've read) even BUSH came to his senses regarding torture's effectiveness and he put a stop to it in 2004 over the objections of Dick Cheney.

vzn says the real perpetrators of 9/11 are still out there, and he might be correct as well. I've never been one to just dismiss the idea that the U.S. government had a hand in 9/11 (it certainly seemed to suit their aims perfectly) but I've yet to come across any convincing evidence to this theory and it's not for lack of looking.

But whether or not OBL himself was the mastermind behind 9/11, we all know that he preached a political philosophy that justified mass murder and that he used his money to fund acts of mass murder around the world. Catching him was the right thing to do, and President Obama (assuming he didn't specifically order assassination rather than capture) went about it in exactly the right way.
Well since the Bush team already was on a 2nd term; I highly doubt they were keeping Bin Laden alive because of some political benefit. I'm sure that having that notch on the belt of getting Bin Laden is the one thing missing that Bush wanted. There simply is no way he wouldn't have authorized the mission; there was zero political risk when you can't be elected again. And since he authorized tons of missions with all kinds of Special Operations forces, I have no doubt that he would use this method so that he too would have a body to confirm the death with. This is the ONE mission that both sides realized having the body afterward would be an essential part of the success. Look at how much "second guessing" on whether he's really dead is out there think it wouldn't be hundreds of times worse for just saying we got him in a bombing?

You can disagree all you want on whether or not we should have been in Iraq, but that choice was made and it did involve splitting resources. We do have precedent of presidents of both parties committing troops and resources to removing mass murderers. I can only imagine what the left would say if an attack did come from an Iraq that we just let be. What they would say as thousands and thousands more of its citizens were gassed and killed. The WMD turned out to not be true, but that doesn't take away the fact that going into Iraq was still a very, very good thing for the people of Iraq and the world. All of you who oppose are the ones who get to carry the blame for the over 400,000 dead while you scream about 4,000 volunteers who supported the cause. Remember to be just as outspoken for any action we took in Bosnia, and any current and future action we take in Libya, and be sure to be the first to speak up against a President of either party who might take action in the future for these same reasons. You after all are one who supports this type of killing, or at least condemn action taken by us to stop it. You go in and fight for human rights wherever that fight is needed. So should now and in the past be taking much greater action in more part of Africa...absolutely. The fact that we only take such action when there are other personal/political reasons behind them is appalling...for ALL Presidents, not just the ones who fall on the "other" political side. You either have standards or you don't. Those of you who live in the world of everything or practically everything Bush did was bad, but don't apply the same hate and discorn, especially to the same level of outrage to Obama should be ashamed of yourselves, and vice versa. Your America today is not fundamentally different under the policies of either one. When's the last time you say the rallies outside recruiting stations to bring home the troops...what, you don't apply your standards when it's a Democrat in the White House?

In the end, we all know part of what enabled Obama to get Bin Laden came from Bush. We just hate having to give credit to someone on the other side, especially THAT one. So we have to make comments to try to discount it further. Make decisions about what should have been done after the fact and after we have all the results and get to look back on the past to see what to do. You know what I would have done on Dec. 6, 1941? I would have moved all my ships out of Hawaii and that way they'd have been safe all along. I would have had all my anti-aircraft gunners get up every morning without fail, just in case something like what did happen, happened. If I had been in charge, Pearl Harbor would have NEVER happened! How smart you all are knowing exactly what to do on historical events!
Read a couple of behind-the-scenes books about the lead-up to the Iraq war and decide honestly whether you think it was a just war and a good thing for the world. Saddam deserved to die for what he did to his people but the fact is that the gassing of the Kurds happened LONG before we invaded and there was nothing to indicate he had any plans of doing it again. And the idea that he would have EVER launched an actual attack on the U.S. is absurd as all evidence indicates he'd dismantled his WMD program and he wasn't so insane as to declare open war on the world's greatest military power.

I didn't shed a single tear for him, but I don't agree that the Iraqi people are better off under U.S. occupation and I DO shed tears for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed (and continue to be killed) as a result of the Bush administration's recklessness. But I suspect you'll never agree.

You are correct that people shouldn't assign credit and blame based purely on whose side of the political aisle they're on--that's one of the main points of my article. But you also can't just choose your own facts. I care more about the truth than about "my side" being right, so when conservatives make legitimate arguments I'm happy to accept them. Your arguments are weak and unsupported by real evidence.

Finally, while I agree that many on the left are hypocritical for not standing up to a Democratic president even as he continues policies they strongly objected to under a Republican president (rendition, wiretapping, etc.) I completely disagree that being opposed to one foreign military campaign means you're a hypocrite if you're not therefore opposed to ALL of them. I and most of the liberals I read look at the facts and decide on a case-by-case basis whether the action was right, and the political party of the president is NOT one of the factors in making our determination.
It's a tough call on whether going into Iraq was a good or bad thing. It just depends on where you place your value. Should timing really matter when it comes to righting atrocities? FDR couldn't get into WWII until Pearl Harbor, but would action beforehand been any less just? Yet at that time, every bit of our intelligence reveal that there was zero credible threat of the Japanese launching such an attack. So what if we felt that something like Pearl Harbor was possible and that Japan was moving forward on making it happen and on that information we got into the conflict against the Japanese in WWII; are we justified? What if it turned out later on we found out that we were wrong about all of it? The point is you have to make decisions before you get to know the answers. It's very easy now to look back at Iraq and say, see no WMDs. Yet every country, not just ours, had intelligence that pointed toward this being possible, and while Iraq had nothing directly to do with 9-11, Germany also had nothing directly to do with Pearl Harbor. Yet, we all know that when it came to taking sides, Iraq fell squarely into OBL's corner.

You may not think the people of Iraq are better off under an American occupation, and it's such a cruel and controlling one at that with us doing everything we can to get them to take charge of every aspect of their country, but compare that situation to living under's not even close.

So now it's comparing how you feel about the value of human life over $ on how good we feel about the wars. As the debt has mounted in a time when we've run into many other financial difficulties, caused by both parties too, we care less and less about the value of human life in other countries. We'd rather have 400,000 more dead in Iraq and $3 trillion less in debt. We don't want to say it that way, but it's true.

I think it's easy to see that Obama gets by far the majority of the credit for bringing down OBL; but it's sad to see how many of each side cannot bring themselves to given even the slightest real credit to the contributions of the "other" side that also played a role. Especially when in reality, neither side is doing anything for you; they simply spend all their time making you think they are.
You framed your argument in defense of the Iraq war rather strongly this time, and while I still don't entirely accept your premise of analogizing Iraq with WWII (Hitler and Hirohito were indisputable threats, while based on what I've read the Bush administration deliberately exaggerated the threat from Iraq in order to invade for broader strategic purposes having nothing to do with protecting U.S. soil) the points you made are at least worth considering.

As for whether the people of Iraq are better off now than they would be if we hadn't gone in, I suppose that's an unanswerable question. But I look at the Arab Spring situation and it reinforces my belief that if people are suffering under an oppressive dictator, they are quite capable of rising up against him themselves. People have to win their own freedom--it's not our place to impose it on them.