After bin Laden, a reflection
By Lydia Howell
After hearing that Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden is dead, I felt relief and hope -- hope like light coming through the crack in a locked door, hope that we can finally end the longest war in United States’ history.
The post-Sept. 11 attack on Afghanistan -- a country that never attacked us -- was sold with two supposed goals: get bin Laden and defeat Al-Qaeda. The CIA says that now there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
Isn’t having 1,000 U.S. soldiers for each one of these terrorists ridiculous? Continuing George W. Bush’s drone attacks -- which have tripled under the current administration -- has mostly killed civilians.
However, President Obama must be commended for not just bombing bin Laden’s hideout. The seriousness of his announcement of the Special Operations, SWAT-team-like action contrasted sharply with the cheering crowds outside the White House and in New York.
Obama’s silent laying of a wreath at Ground Zero on May 5 is the sober response that’s right for this moment. If not for the on-screen captions “Osama bin Laden is dead,” Sunday’s revelers could easily have been mistaken for sports fans celebrating a championship.
This event raises critical questions. Almost immediately some media pundits and politicians began crediting torture for gaining the intelligence that located bin Laden. That is factually wrong. In fact, torture of Guantanamo detainees and “high-value targets” only led prisoners to make things up in order to stop the abuses. A near-death experience like waterboarding will do that.
For those who still agree with Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that the United States has engaged only in “enhanced interrogation” that amounts to “fraternity hazing,” consider these facts: the U.S. Army’s Field Manual (as well as the Geneva Convention) forbids the stress positions, exposure to cold and other tactics that have been used. There should be no debate about what waterboarding is: invented by the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago, it is undeniably torture.
International law and U.S. law -- including the 8th Amendment to our Constitution -- forbid torture of prisoners for any reason. There are no exceptions, in spite of what you may have learned from the TV show "24" or executive branch legal apologists.
Now is the time for Americans to re-set our moral compass and demand an end to and accountability for torture of prisoners in the “war on terrorism” -- at Guantanamo or at the remaining “black sites” in allied countries. Imprisoning people for long periods without charges, trial or conviction of any crime is a standard action used by colonial powers and military dictatorships to terrorize civilian populations. So is torture.
Unlike the Vietnam War years, the U.S. doesn’t do body counts, so the only casualties we see are the American soldiers’ faces at the end of evening newscasts. However, an estimated one million Iraqis and more 100,000 Afghans have been killed since the U.S. invasions. Countless more have been wounded and disabled and millions have been made into refugees.
Now is the time to end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing all the troops home and sending the private contractors/mercenaries back to wherever they came from.
Twenty-first century war must be recognized as terrorism. Instead of individual suicide bombers, the mightiest military on Earth uses the most sophisticated weaponry -- including unmanned drones, depleted uranium shells and cluster bombs -- on people’s schools, hospitals and homes. As the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack approaches, we must see that there are many more victims than the 3,000 who died that day.
With Osama Bin Laden dead, will Americans have the courage to finally look into the mirror of U.S. state-sponsored terrorism and become active, engaged citizens who demand “no more killings in our name?”
Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She is producer/host of “Catalyst: politics and culture” on KFAI Radio http://www.kfai.org