Agreeing with Osama

Pablo Aguiar
ICIP expert
Pablo Aguiar

Pablo Aguiar

In these days of widespread indignation, having to write about the death of Osama Bin Laden is disappointing. However, most of the opinions I hear oblige me to do so. We are nearing the tenth anniversary of the fateful attack on the twin towers and the subsequent beginning of the "War on Terror". However, despite some important progress such as the ICC, very few gains have ultimately been made, and today advocating human rights and justice without any exceptions is a minority opinion and often considered the result of a kind of naive and outdated progressiveness.

Let's consider the facts. Osama Bin Laden was not a person for whom I had any particular liking. Neither his religious fanaticism, nor his use of violence, on a massive and indiscriminate basis and against civilian populations could be further from my convictions. But he enjoyed a certain degree of prestige among some people, especially because of their supposed anti-Americanism, but an analysis of the sympathies that the murderer generated is beyond the scope of this article. The fact of the matter is that in our media-based society, which needs heroes and to personify our enemies, we made Osama bin Laden into public enemy number one, the personification of international terrorism.

So on May 2, we were surprised to read that the U.S. army had killed the leader of Al Qaeda. Some details gradually came to light, but such was the level of confusion that for a few hours, we saw the emergence of a heavily doctored photo and the story given by some media that the U.S. soldiers had taken away Bin Laden's hens and cows in their helicopters.

Carrying out a military operation in another country's territory, without its knowledge, is in breach of several international treaties. It is important to note that it is not clear whether the operation was carried out without Pakistan's knowledge; that is only what the two countries have said, but WikiLeaks proved what we have long suspected: in international politics, statements and facts are often diametrically opposed.

It is by no means impossible for a military intervention against a suspected terrorist to lead to deaths. The truth is that very quickly (September 17, 2001) George Bush Jr. declared that Osama was a target wanted "Dead or Alive," as if he was a wild west character (a parody would probably not have done it any better). It is also revealing that the more we know about the operation, the more it seems that the main priority and objective was to kill Bin Laden. First they said he was armed, then he appeared to be, and then they explained that he was about to be. All in all, as Iker Jimenez would say,  "it raises some doubts that are at least disturbing ...." But having said that, despite being very serious, his death is not what most concerns me, but rather the consequences.

First, we should remember the words of the United Nations Secretary General, among others, who said he was "relieved that justice has been done," and while accepting the death of Bin Laden as an inevitable consequence of the military operation, what is clear is that what happened is very far removed from any of our modern conceptions of justice. Killing someone is never justice, but if we do it without a trial, it is even less so. That used to be a given, but various reactions have forced me to write a truism in response.

Second, there are those who while they recognise that it may not be the best alternative in ethical terms, have no doubts about the benefits of the action in terms of effectiveness. These include Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, and the president of the Spanish government, one of the quickest off the mark in congratulating Obama, who said in Parliament that "Practically the entire international community has decided that the death of the terrorist Bin Laden is positive news for security and the fight against international terrorism." Does anyone really believe that the GAL death squads, to give an example closer to home, had a positive impact on terrorism? Have we not learned the lesson that it expanded the social foundations on which it was built? When fighting terrorism, the only effective tool, and not even the ethical alternative, is the use of law; there are no shortcuts. And those who think otherwise should listen to the wise words of Gandhi: "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

In conclusion, I am convinced that Bin Laden would have completely agreed with approving an operation like the one that ended his life. If he had been leading an army and an intelligence service and had wanted to kill a terrorist, I have no doubt that he would have approved an action like this one. And he would have called it justice as well. That is something that should give some people pause for thought. There are some similarities that are frightening.