Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during the war with Russia in 1989.
(photo: Sipa Press/Rex Features)
Of course he deserved it, that is not the question. The question is, what did we deserve?
The attacks of September 11th, 2001, came out of a clear blue sky, and out of the blue it seemed, came the news that the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, was dead. Killed -- President Barack Obama announced in a special late night address from the White House -- by a US Special Forces team.
Brushed aside by the jubilant young crowds who flocked to the White House that evening were any questions about the legality of the US sending an extra-judicial assassination team to foreign soil, in this case Pakistan, to carry out the killing. It is, however, in that disregard for international law in pursuit of the head of Osama bin Laden, that bin Laden's own legacy survives him.
America after bin Laden is sadly an America more in line with bin Laden's own ideological perspective. We are a more intolerant, more repressive and socially restrictive society than we ever had been before bin Laden. Many of the most draconian new social measures have come at the hands of those who postured themselves as bin Laden's most ardent foes, and "freedom's" staunchest defenders. If the object was to, "defeat bin Laden, not become him," clearly from a standpoint of social justice in America, we have failed.
The issues are stark and substantive. Political surveillance and repression in the US are at levels not seen since the darkest days of Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunts and J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO.
We are now an America that rationalizes and debates the merits of torture. From the talk shows to the floor of congress -- that, which for one hundred and fifty years has been unspeakable conduct for an American government, now has openly shameless defenders. Among them, a prominent law professor from Berkeley, and a sitting judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Both apparently enjoying unassailable careers. Both legal advisors to George W. Bush who crafted legal opinions justifying -- if renaming -- what the world calls torture.
Perhaps bin Laden was rendered lifeless by SEAL Team 6, but he is very much alive in the way we live our lives today in this land that's known as freedom.
The government is now allowed to tap your phone without a warrant. Repeat: The government is now allowed to tap your phone without a warrant. In fact, Congress said so twice. First in a knee-jerk piece of legislation that bin Laden must have had a good laugh over, called the USA PATRIOT Act, and then, in case you didn't hear it the first time, in the FISA Amendments Act, which expressly validated warrantless wiretapping, and retroactively indemnified the telecommunications companies from lawsuits for having done it at the behest of the Bush administration.
Osama bin Laden, the gift that keeps on giving.
Surveillance of anti-war groups, no problem, blame it on bin Laden. Free speech zones, cameras, cameras everywhere, warfare and military glorification restored after decades of post-Vietnam distain, citizen's rights to privacy all but canceled, separation of church and state open to interpretation. The list goes on and on. Worst of all, education vilified, and ignorance encouraged.
It's Osama's America now.
Maybe the attacks of September 11th and the news of bin Laden's death came out of the blue, but Osama bin Laden certainly did not. The offspring of a wealthy Saudi bin Laden family heavily connected to the Saudi royal family, western interests and particularly US oil interests, Osama was educated in England at Oxford, trained and armed by US operatives to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviets after the CIA baited them into the so-called Afghan trap. Robert Scheer lays it all out brilliantly in his essay titled "A Monster of Our Own Creation."
The Osama bin Laden that we have come to dread was indeed a monster of our own creation, but more precisely a tool of the same capitalist, colonialist complex that benefits from the fear he and they thrive on.
In 1968, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young in their song, "Chicago," asked a question: In a land that's known as freedom, how can such a thing be fair?