May 052011

Bin Laden’s death at the hands of SEAL Team Six on Sunday has sent shockwaves around the world. The mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who stayed out of reach of American forces for nearly a decade, given up as missing before President Bush was out of office, was found and slain in his plush Pakistani compound by America’s finest. In life bin Laden was a constant reminder of the limitations of American power, his survival daily proof that the Great Satan could be humbled and best. His death, and when it came, may be the last stand of the violent movement he personified. His defeat is not only vindication for an American public hungry for some kind of justice for the World Trade Center but one of the final nails in the coffin of the ideology of violent struggle he championed throughout his life.

The most obvious impact of bin Laden’s death is on the future of Al Qaeda. While global in nature the beating heart of the organization was bin Laden himself.  He was the big money behind the group with a multi-million dollar fortune and fundraising operations the world over Known for being highly charismatic bin Laden was crucial for keeping the factions in Al Qaeda working together. It is very telling that new recruits to the organization did not swear their allegiance to the cause but to the man himself. Following the success of the September 11th attacks his star power, and by extension his organization’s, skyrocketed. Bin Laden was able to cultivate the mystique of a holy warrior striking righteous blows against the mighty Americans and living to tell the tale. His continued survival built up the myth of bin Laden with each day he remained alive and free a constant reminder of his victories over the Americans. His star power certainly didn’t hurt his ability to draw recruits to the organization. Killing bin Laden didn’t just destroy the man, it destroyed the myth he had built up. Just as Robert E. Lee’s image of invincibility in the North was wrecked following his defeat at Gettysburg bin Laden’s death destroys the idea that any terrorist can remain beyond the reach of the United States.

His death could also spell doom for Al Qaeda. Over the past decade American forces under Presidents Bush and Obama have tracked down Al Qaeda leaders and key commanders capturing the ones they could take alive and killing those they couldn’t. The constant attrition on the mid and upper levels of the organization, while having no obvious impact, could not have been healthy for the terrorists. Any organization, regardless of purpose, needs more than just its brilliant founders to lead the way. They need to build a deep bench of talent who can step up when the first generation falls or steps aside. The constant whittling away at this second string has left bin Laden’s followers with a much smaller reserve of talent.  Following his death the most likely candidate to take control is his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri who is certainly no bin Laden.  With no clear successor Al Qaeda will be scrambling to piece together some kind of working leadership at a time when it can least afford it. The seizure of hard drives and other vital pieces of intelligence during the raid on his compound puts the security of information for Al Qaeda up in the air. As likely as it is that Al Qaeda operatives are preparing for retaliatory strikes against the US it would not be far-fetched to assume at least a few are sleeping with one eye open wondering if and when the US will come for them.

On a grander scale bin Laden’s death couldn’t have come at a better time. Jihadi terrorism gained much of its allure from the repressive nature of the governments of the Arab World. The long-term survival of stability of these governments, along with the naked brutality used against peaceful resistance, sent a message to would-be reformers that change can only come through violent action. Leaders took advantage of this impression channeling the rage of their restive people against Israel and the West further encouraging angry radicals to join the jihad abroad instead of causing problems at home. Tahrir Square loudly and soundly refuted this status quo. With the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt non-violent political opposition had gained its first real successes in Arab history. As long as violence was perceived as the only option for bringing about real political reforms peaceful resistance would always be seen as a pipe dream. Victory in Cairo legitimized the methods of the Egyptian activists inspiring similar revolts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain with even autocratic Saudi Arabia and theocratic Iran feeling the rumblings of discontent. When compared to the relatively dismal track record of jihadi groups which to date have yet to overthrow a single government, drive the US out of any Middle Eastern country, destroy Israel, or bring about any meaningful change the runaway successes in Tunisia and Egypt are likely much more appealing thanks to having worked as advertised. Every government brought down by the mostly peaceful Arab Spring is another nail in the coffin of jihadi terrorism.

Bin Laden’s death is, like the man himself, much bigger than the elimination of one notorious terrorist. Without him Al Qaeda has lost a valuable source of funding, recruitment, and the invincible reputation that came with his continued survival. His death coming during the height of the Arab Spring is a powerful contrast to the wave of peaceful democratic revolution sweeping across the Middle East showing the people of the Middle East there is another, better option than taking up the cause of holy war.  This is not to say a bright future is certain.  The revolts are still being fought out in the streets of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya.  Al Qaeda may be on its way out but they could always find new leadership and recover.  The Taliban, in spite of losing a useful ally in bin Laden, continues to fight on in Afghanistan.

Events shaping the world offer the United States a golden opportunity to bring about an effective and lasting end to the threat of jihadi terrorism.  The operation to take out bin Laden showed us the United States has highly effective, precise tools for fighting terrorism.  Osama bin Laden was not brought down by an armored column but by a team of elite Navy SEALs.  Unlike bloody insurgency operations in Iraq or drone strikes in Pakistan the SEAL team was able to accomplish their mission without inflicting any civilian casualties.  Occupation of territory has similarly proven less than effective.  Attempting to suppress terrorist havens in Afghanistan mostly succeeded in pushing bin Laden into Pakistan and tying down large numbers of American soldiers.  The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, far from successfully winning hearts and minds, have led to substantial civilian and military casualties, massive debt, and mostly succeeded in upsetting the Arab world more.

Change abroad should go hand in hand with change at home.  In the past ten years we have seen steady encroachments on our civil liberties all in the name of security and the War on Terror.  Yet for all that effort what consistently brought down terrorist plots and high value targets was not earned through the groping hands of the TSA or warrantless wiretapping but through conventional intelligence methods.  Bin Laden’s demise is an excellent moment to show the world that we can do the right thing and our current flirtation with authoritarian mechanisms is a temporary aberration.  Most of all we must do this for the sake of our rights.  It is our duty to future generations that they do not inherit diminished rights because of a moment’s panic.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Sep 032010

This post has very little to do with Paganism, and for that I apologize. But it is about political issues that Pagans went on and on about in the past, but now I just don’t hear much about anymore.  How did these issues drop off the Pagan radar?

Patriot Act: When the Patriot Act was streamrolled through Congress, there were some voices of dissent. Those voices were told to STFU in a pretty harsh manner and the majority of Americans were happy to trade their rights for the illusion of safety.  Very similar to how we traded in our rights to win the War on Drugs.  Both have been stunning successes.  (That’s gallows humor, if you are wondering)

As time went on, more and more people spoke out about this Act, people on the Left and people on the Right. (More on the Left than on the Right)  This reached a crescendo during the 2008 Presidential election. Repealing the Patriot Act was one of the reasons cited for why people voted for Obama.

Has the Patriot Act been repealed? No. It’s been extended and defended by the Obama Administration as a needed tool. But now the Patriot Act suddenly doesn’t matter. Where are the impassioned blog posts by Pagans about how Obama is an evil bastard for supporting the Patriot Act? How he is a fascist looking to create a police state and this is proof?

But there isn’t just silence on this issue. Oh no.

Military Tribunals: Right this very minute there is a military tribunal going on at GitMo. This tribunal is for a prisoner who was captured as a child, after his father forced him to fight starting when he was 9 years old.   In 2008 military tribunals were the worst thing ever.  2010…eh, what’s the big deal if we use it on victimized and kidnapped children?

GitMo, Due Process, Secret Foreign Prisons, Rendition: In 2008 the very concept of a place like GitMo was seen as a stain on our country’s honor. It had to close and close NOW! Except, it hasn’t. Even from those most adamant that it had to immediately close and Bush could have closed it when ever he wanted, I now read about how we have to patient and I’m sure it’s a pretty hard thing to do and we can trust Obama to do the right thing.

Not only that, but we opened another (larger) prison to indefinitely hold enemy combatants without charges in Afghanistan.

More than 600 detainees are held at the US Bagram Theatre Internment Facility – known by campaigners as “the other Guantanamo”. Not only are there no plans to close it, but it is in the process of being expanded to hold 1,100 illegal enemy combatants; prisoners who cannot see lawyers, have no trials and never see any evidence there may be against them.

Crickets are chirping regarding this.  And you don’t suppose, since the Obama Administration has “reserved the right” to use rendition, that a bit of “rough questioning” is being used on prisoners in Afghanistan?  Torture, denial of due process,  and secret prisons where people just disappear forever no longer seem to be much of a concern in the Pagan community.  Why?  Is it because about 75% of Pagans voted for our current President?  And since he’s on your team you’re going to overlook this?

I got to tell you, if you were a fan of Bush’s security, civil liberties, and war policies you have nothing to complain about with Obama. He has either continued or one-upped every Bush policy and act. So I find the criticism of Obama from some on the Right who were for these policies hypocritical. However, if you were an opponent of Bush’s policies, if the mere thought of rendition and warrantless wiretaps sent you into a frothing rage, why can’t Left-leaning Pagans muster up even mild irritation with Obama?

(Like a bad infomertical) But wait!  There’s more! More assaults on your civil liberties that you may not have heard about:

Law Enforcement in the USA are using full body scanning technology (like what airports are starting to use) in roving trucks to be able to look inside your vehicle as they drive by.  “It’s no surprise that governments and vendors are very enthusiastic about [the vans],” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “But from a privacy perspective, it’s one of the most intrusive technologies conceivable.”

The police can also secretly place a tracking device on your car and they don’t need a warrant to do so.

There’s more, but I don’t want to depress myself.  But it would sure be great if more Pagans could get all fired up again like you were in past years.  You are still needed to fight the good fight.


Thanks to Michael (from the comments, below) for this.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.

The groups charge that authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military “kill lists” through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats.