In the wee hours of 2 May 2011 (or late 1 May in the U.S.), the world was shaken by the news that the U.S. had finally made good on its promise to rid the world of Public Enemy #1. President Obama proudly announced to the world that he had previously given the order to pursue the high value target of Usamah bin Laden into Pakistani territory. The President recalled the “worst attack on the American people in our history” on 11 September 2001. He dramatically declared that “The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory”. In fact, months of painstaking intelligence work led the U.S. to track down Al Qaeda’s elusive leader in the unassuming city of Abottabad, at not that great a distance from Islamabad, the capital of the Land of the Pure. Back in the fall of 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when George W. Bush had declared his unending war on terror, some voices, such as that of Tariq Ali, pointed out the folly of the Bush plan. Instead, these reasonable people argued that the best way to counter a terrorist threat is by means of good old fashioned police work and intelligence gathering. Still, following the end of the Cold War and high on the surplus of the Clinton years, America did not listen to reason and subsequently dragged the world into a war with no end in sight. Still, the amorphous enemy was given a tangible shape in the form of the Saudi financier of the eighties’ Jihad against the Soviets-turned-sponsor of a global war-on-the-West in the 21st century, Usamah bin Laden, looking quaintly-Japanese in print spelled as Osama and abbreviated as OBL. Subsequently, what the BBC following ABC had termed Terror, Inc. became Al Qaeda, and the West led by the U.S. had a new enemy. Bush then made the appropriate noises: “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him” (13 September 2001); followed four days later by “I want justice . . .There’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive”. As Clinton’s actions had already pointed the way in 1998, Usamah bin Laden, or OBL, was hiding in the mountains of the Hindu Kush within the borders of Afghanistan, the battlefield that had determined the outcome of the Cold War in the view of Zbigniew Brzezinski. And as a result, the invasion of Afghanistan, apparently pre-planned during a four-day meeting under the heading “brainstorming on Afghanistan” held in July, went ahead to public acclaim and universal approval. The world-at-large was outraged by the wanton killing of innocents in New York, Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania and supported the U.S. in an unprecedented show of solidarity and good-will. Moreover, as Afghanistan was ruled by the “the perfidious Taliban — oppressors of women and growers of beards”, other nations willingly joined the American forces in their quest for justice, retribution, and good-old-fashioned revenge. The invaders joined the Afghan Northern Alliance and quickly defeated the Taliban, capturing Kabul on 13 November and pushing south into Kandahar – homeland of the Taliban and their Pashtu constituency. Three days prior to the fall of Kabul, , in the words of two tribal leaders present at the event, Public Enemy #1 Usamah bin Laden apparently told a crowd in Jalalabad that the “Americans had a plan to invade, but if we are united and believe in Allah, we’ll teach them a lesson, the same one we taught the Russians”. In spite of his boisterous words, resistance was futile and OBL had to run away and apparently ended up hiding in the Tora Bora mountains. The invaders’ progress had been momentous, and nothing seemed able to stop them. But suddenly, in the Tora Bora mountains, the U.S.-led invasion seemed to falter and the high value target was allowed to get away . . .Usamah bin Laden escaped and nobody was able to track him down. In spite of his earlier assurances, President Bush suddenly changed tone and told the public the following: “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority . . . I am truly not that concerned about him” (13 March 2002). What had happened? How did, in the space of but a few months, Public Enemy #1 suddenly become an irrelevant person?
Hindsight, as documented by Bob Woodward, tells us now that the Bush Administration had other fish to fry. The newly-appointed Enemy #1 moved to the backburner and his place was taken up by another enemy, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Baath party regime. In the Washington Post, Woodward and Dan Balz state that, following the 9/11 attacks, Bush “said, ‘Terrorism against our nation will not stand’. It was an echo of ‘This will not stand’, the words his father, President George H.W. Bush, had used a few days after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990” (27 January 2002). In his Plan of Attack (2004), Woodward argues that President Bush, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks and the war cabinet started their meetings on the invasion of Iraq in late December 2001. Throughout the year 2002, intensive war planning created its own momentum towards invasion and occupation. In the run up to and during the execution of Operation Desert Storm (1990-91), Bush, Sr. had vilified the Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, effectively turning the Middle East dictator into a new Hitler. Bush, Jr. eagerly took up his father’s legacy and started planning the invasion of Iraq while Bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains. Rather than pursuing Bin Laden, exacting retribution and seeing that justice was served, Bush, Jr., as expressed by the ever-perceptive Naomi Klein, dedicated himself to “[p]illaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia”.
The 9/11 attacks provided the “new Pearl Harbor”, that had been suggested as a necessary pre-condition for reaffirming U.S global dominance by the PNAC, and helped bolster the Military-Industrial Complex, in the process making some individual very rich while killing others in the hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands. One could argue that ‘Usamah bin Laden and Al Qaeda’ had delivered the preamble to the full-blown text of the NeoCon takeover of the U.S. Even though, on an intellectual plane, Junior was but a lightweight, his administration operated on a purely ideological basis that took scant account of real world events and public opinion, other than providing the justification needed to implement otherwise unpopular policies and military actions. The Bush Administration’s ideological concerns had strong ties to commercial success however. While Bin Laden was slowly making his way to Abbottabad, the Bush team launched a concerted campaign to convince the U.S. and world public about “Iraq’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda and its alleged weapons of mass destruction”, to justify military intervention in Iraq and withdrawal from Afghanistan. A year later, on 20 March 2003, Bush, Jr. ordered his troops to invade Iraq in a fury of “Shock & Awe”. The war was quickly won and Iraq was duly occupied by U.S. and allied forces. A year after the invasion, Naomi Klein went to Iraq to witness the “construction boom [supposedly rebuilding the sanction-affected and war-torn nation], but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and Humvees”. She continues matter-of-factly: “Then I saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district I thought that I was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything – not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULA: HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia”. The Bush Administration was thus not interested in capturing Bin Laden nor was it concerned with reviving the Iraqi people and economy. The Bush agenda was much more brazen than that. Again quoting Klein, abandoning Afghanistan and invading Iraq was beneficial to such American companies like “the Halliburtons and Bechtels, as well as the venture capitalists who flocked to Iraq in the path cleared by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and laser-guided bombs. The honey that drew them was not just no-bid contracts and Iraq’s famed oil wealth but the myriad investment opportunities offered by a country that had just been cracked wide open after decades of being sealed off, first by the nationalist economic policies of Saddam Hussein, then by asphyxiating United Nations sanctions”. Moreover, there is also the fact that Iraq has the largest proven stocks of oil in its underground, plentiful and easily extractable. Access to resources is after all what drives most if not all conflicts: “American bestselling author and academic Michael T. Klare coined the term “resource wars” in 2001, indicating that in his opinion most wars of the future, like many of those of the past and present, will be caused by conflicts over access to natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas and water”. But in the end, this manifestation of NeoCon greed let to a numbers of unwanted consequences. The Bush-declared War-on-Terror turned into a quagmire that contributed to the loss of prestige on the part of the U.S. While the amounts of money spent reached staggering heights and the ostensible culprit remained out of reach. In the aftermath of the fall of the Twin Towers, Bush introduced the Patriot Act, curtailing the freedom of U.S. citizens and turning every global individual into a potential terrorist suspect liable to become the subject of “extraordinary rendition” to be tortured by proxy.
While the Bush Administration was busy plundering Iraq, the war in Afghanistan continued largely unnoticed and severely underreported. But, opposed to George W., his eventual successor appeared to care a lot more about the land in the Hindu Kus: “[a]lready in 2007, then-candidate Obama unequivocally stated that when president his ‘first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan’. At the time, Obama also hinted at the threat posed by an al-Qaeda presence in the so-called Af-Pak theatre”. But Adam Curtis’ documentary The Power of Nightmares (2004) convincingly argues that the U.S. authorities fabricated a terrorist organisation named Al Qaeda based on the testimony of a former associate of Bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl. The 1998 U.S. Africa embassy bombings had made Bill Clinton aware of Bin Laden, which led to the unsuccessful air strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. Subsequently, in order to prosecute Bin Laden in absentia, U.S. prosecutors had to prove he was the head of a criminal organisation responsible for the bombings – Al Qaeda, the global terror network bent on destroying the West and its way of life. The Bush Administration wholeheartedly appropriated the idea of a Muslim extremist terror network to launch its global war efforts. In hindsight, the veracity of claims relating to Al Qaeda as a SPECTRE-like network appears to be a shaky proposition. As I wrote in Today’s Zaman at the end of January: “the independent journalist Pepe Escobar declared that ‘Osama bin Laden may be dead or not. Al-Qaeda remains a catch-all ghost entity’. In other words, his contention is that the name al-Qaeda is used by the US to suggest the presence of a threat that is then employed to justify military intervention. The flipside of that stance is now that terrorists and like-minded individuals opposing US dominance and interventionism equally cite the name al-Qaeda to gain credibility, notoriety and media exposure”. This assertion cannot but lead to the question, “does al-Qaeda, as a worldwide terrorist network aiming to deceive, disrupt and destroy the Free World, really exist?, which seems to have been answered satisfactorily by Adam Curtis and his The Power of Nightmares.
But the U.S. and ISAF forces are in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban and providing support for Hamid Karzai and his government. In spite of this reality on the ground, President Obama continues the Bush legacy and keeps reiterating his alliterative mantra, which was also repeated in the Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review (December 2010) to justify the continued occupations of Afghanistan: the “core goal of the US strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al-Qaeda in the region and to prevent its return to either country”. But even U.S. experts admit that Al Qaeda poses but a minor threat in Afghanistan proper. In December 2009, a senior US intelligence official told ABC News that there were only about 100 al-Qaeda members left in that country, while six months later, CIA Director Leon Panetta went a step further, telling ABC News: “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan”. And as it turns out now, Al Qaeda’s legendary leader wasn’t even there. Instead he was hiding in plain sight, in the city of Abbotabad. Even the just-quoted Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review confidently talks of the “Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of al-Qaeda,” thereby offering justification for the US drone attacks in Pakistani territory. But the Pakistani army has for the past several years been fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who, in response, have unleashed a campaign of terror throughout the whole country. While just now, more “than 80 paramilitary soldiers were killed when at least one suicide bomber blew himself up Friday morning [, 13 May] at a military training center in northwest Pakistan, a commander of the Frontier Constabulary said. The bombing was the first major terrorist attack since the American raid in Abbottabad on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden”, as reported by Jane Perlez in the New York Times.
Given that Al Qaeda appears to be a U.S.-engineered figment of the imagination, that has now taken the shape of numerous independent terrorist cells inflicting harm in such varied geographic locations as Yemen and North Africa, the matter of the actual guilt that should be attributed to the recently killed Usamah bin Laden (OBL) crops up. Again quoting my January op-ed, “On Sept. 28, 2001, Bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Ummat: ‘I have already said that I am not involved in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle. … Whoever committed the acts of Sept. 11 are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, common American people have been killed’. Was bin Laden merely trying to deflect attention and building an alibi against a possible US attack? As for the famous video confession so conveniently stumbled upon in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in November 2001, theologian-turned-Sept. 11 debunker Professor David Ray Griffin maintains that ‘Osama bin Laden experts have called this later video a fake, and for good reasons. Many of the physical features of the man in this video are different from those of bin Laden (as seen in undoubtedly authentic videos)’. The fact that the FBI last year used an image of the Spanish lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares to create an up-to-date picture of an aging bin Laden proves that US institutions do indeed dabble in creating fakes and make-believes. The incredible story of the digitally enhanced image of bin Laden using Llamazares’ hair and facial wrinkles was broken by The Associated Press”. Now that Bin Laden has been killed in cold blood, his testimony in a court of law will never become available. Why was an unarmed man crawling out of bed shot in the head??? U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder nevertheless declared somewhat disingenuously: “If the possibility had existed, if there was the possibility of a feasible surrender, that would have occurred . . . But their protection, that is the protection of the force that went into that compound, was I think uppermost in our minds”. After all, dead men tell no tales . . . and monsters need to be killed.