San Francisco – The assassination of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in a unilateral raid into Pakistan is being trumpeted by President Obama and the media. Raucous celebrations of the killing occurred in many cities, and Obama’s poll numbers went up among right-wing Tea Party types.
At first, the administration claimed that bin Laden was killed in a gun battle while he cowardly tried to hide behind one of his wives. Probably because the forensic evidence that Pakistani authorities saw couldn’t support this version, the White House then admitted that there was no gun battle, that bin Laden was unarmed and didn’t use his wife as a shield. She, unarmed, was also shot, but not fatally.
The Special Forces then whisked the body away and dumped it into the ocean. The reason given for this was to prevent any burial site from becoming a “shrine”. Disposing of the body this way was an affront to Muslim religious tradition.
Arrest never intended
Reacting to the disquiet among most Pakistanis and Muslims throughout the world, the White House then claimed that the killing was not an assassination and that the Special Forces would have captured bin Laden alive to stand trial, if only they could have. This assertion is ridiculous on the face of it. The Special Forces are among the most elite and highly trained in the US armed forces. Their adversary was in a domestic compound, with a few guards who were summarily executed in a surprise raid of heavily armed men dropped by stealth helicopters.
The intention was never to arrest bin Laden to stand trial. The US could not politically afford an open trial, because that would expose how the US backed him and other counter-revolutionary forces during the US-backed war against the communist government and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He and Al Qaeda were in part creations of the US.
A few voices in the mass media have raised the idea that since bin Laden has been killed, the US should get out of Afghanistan. After all, the stated purpose of the US war against Afghanistan was to capture the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Of course, this was never the reason for attacking Afghanistan, but only the pretext. The subsequent war against Iraq didn’t have even this pretext. These wars, which have now widened to include Pakistan, aim to project US power in the oil-rich region and beyond into central Asia.
These wars are unpopular in the US. Obama quickly countered any idea of withdrawal from Afghanistan, using the assassination to argue for continuing the wars. Attempting to fan the flames of jingoism, Obama and both the Democratic and Republican parties lauded the assassination as proof of US power. The “job is not over”, Obama says, meaning the wars will continue.
Product of US aggression
In its war in the 1980s against the communist government and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US used proxy forces from the most backward rural areas under the domination of semi-feudal landlords. Religious fundamentalism was utilised to mobilise these forces against democratic reforms the government had attempted, such as more equal rights for women and land reform.
But the US also cynically played on Afghan nationalism to oppose the Soviet troops, who were seen as foreign occupiers by many Afghanis. After the defeat of the Soviets, sections of the mujahadeen, as the anti-communist forces were known, began to see the West as foreign oppressors too. Out of this came groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Bin Laden and Al Qaeda tapped into the resentment against Western, and especially US, imperialist oppression in the Arab countries and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda also opposed the US-backed regimes, including the Saudi monarchy. It demanded the expulsion of US military forces from Saudi Arabia and the region.
Washington was all too ready to bolster the anti-democratic and reactionary positions of the mujahadeen in their “holy war” against the Soviets, women’s rights, land reform and so forth. Now it points to those same reactionary positions as an argument for its wars of conquest – an empty argument, as is shown by the rightist forces it has installed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Washington can live with extreme rightist religious fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia. Its main reason for hating Al Qaeda is not its reactionary social and economic policies, but its anti-imperialism. In his recent speech on the Arab uprisings, Obama unwittingly gave the game away. He said that the uprisings showed the terrorist tactics of Al Qaeda to be eclipsed by the mass movements. This is true. But the Arab Awakening is directed against the imperialist-imposed or -backed dictatorships and monarchies. So, by Obama’s logic, Al Qaeda is motivated by the same goals as the Arab masses, but uses bad tactics (leaving aside that imperialism itself is opposed to the Arab rebellion, and is only adapting to it to try to control it).
Marxists are opposed to individual terrorism. Before the 1917 revolution, Russian Marxism developed in opposition to a strong terrorist movement that sought to overthrow tsarism by assassinations of hated officials and similar acts. The Russian Marxists, citing the bitter experience of the Russian revolutionary terrorists, denounced these tactics as harmful to the cause.
Such tactics, even when successful in their immediate objective, are immediately thwarted. Any assassinated official, even a tsar, can be replaced without much harm to the system. Moreover, such acts make it easy for the authorities to blame the revolutionists for violence, diverting attention from the violence perpetrated daily by the authorities.
Terrorist acts by a handful also foster the illusion that a group of heroes can win against oppression, with the masses of workers and peasants on the sidelines. The opposite is true. Only the masses can overthrow reactionary regimes or imperialist oppression. That truth is once again being demonstrated by the Arab masses, although their fight is far from won.
Bin Laden’s terrorist attacks were opposed by Marxists for these reasons, but not only these reasons. While some who died in those attacks were involved in imperialist operations, the great bulk of the thousands who were killed were ordinary people, including some without immigration papers. Most were workers. There were Muslims among them. Fire-fighters and other rescue workers died, and many have been sickened or died from the pollution caused by the collapse of the towers the government knowingly sent them into.
Terrorism that targets workers of the oppressor nation not only backfires against the struggle of the oppressed: witness how adroitly Washington used the fact that ordinary people died in the attack to justify its wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also criminal. The working people of the US are not the cause of imperialist oppression and wars, even if they are duped into supporting them. The US workers are the potential allies of the oppressed peoples of the world. Attacking them weakens the anti-imperialist struggle both abroad and in the US.
Bin Laden committed these crimes and murders. For this he should have been arrested and brought to open trial. Obama claims that his assassination brought him to justice, that “justice has been done”. No it hasn’t. Bin Laden wasn’t killed because of his real crimes, but for his anti-imperialism (however impotent). Silencing him prevents the whole truth about how bin Laden was nurtured by the US from being made public.
The US government is using the assassination of bin Laden to bolster its practice of extra-legal murders and justify them more openly. Washington increasingly asserts the right to kill anyone it sees as fighting against its imperialist interests. This includes not only or mainly those who engage in individual terrorism, but mass movements too. In imperialist-speak, “terrorists” are those who don’t knuckle under, and in the past have included Nelson Mandela and the South African ANC, the Irish Republicans, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Cuban government and Latin American guerrilla movements fighting military dictatorships. The list today is still long, and includes governments that stand up to the US as well as mass movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The PLO is scheduled to go back onto the list if it cements its new agreements with Hamas.
From every standpoint, the assassination of bin Laden was itself a crime.