France is grappling with the damage to its reputation as the global capital of intellectualism after the nation’s minister of culture sheepishly confessed that she doesn’t read books. “Barbarism is here,” declared the writer Claude Askolovitch. “If one can be culture minister without reading, then we are mere technocrats and budgeters.”
At least there are still some among the French who care about their nation’s image.
Here in the United States, the face of barbarism appeared in the banal form of Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claimed on Fox News to have been the SEAL Team Six member who shot the fatal shots that killed Osama bin Laden.
O’Neil is very proud of himself. “Standing on two feet in front of me, with his hands on his wife’s shoulders behind her was the face that I’d seen thousands of times, UBL,” O’Neill told Fox. “Very quickly I recognized him and then it was just pop, pop pop.”
Military men, including some of O’Neill’s former comrades, criticized him for speaking publicly about a classified operation, going against SEAL tradition. Others questioned whether he really fired the fatal shots.
But no one went after him for being, you know — a first-degree murderer. (Since four other people were killed in the raid, it’s probably closer to the truth to say mass murderer.)
What happened to America? We used to have morals. We celebrated Rosa Parks. Assassins were scum.
As recently as the 1980s, a right-wing president, Reagan, signed an executive order banning political assassinations. Which is exactly what the bin Laden rubout was.
There was never any intention to try to capture bin Laden alive. To the contrary — an eyewitness, bin Laden’s daughter, says the al-Qaida leader was captured alive, then blown away, mafia-style. The man — in this crime, which is what it was, we have to call him the victim — was certainly unarmed. We’ll never know for sure, since no medical examiner got a peek at the victim’s body before it was dumped into the ocean.
The assassination of bin Laden diminished what little was left of America’s moral authority. Calling it “justice” was a mockery of law and due process. It also denied his victims their right to see the facts about his alleged — since he was never tried, we have to say alleged — crimes revealed in open court.
As Geoffrey Robertson wrote at the time: “The U.S. is celebrating summary execution, rationalized on the basis that this is one terrorist for whom trial would be unnecessary, difficult, and dangerous. It overlooks the downsides: that killing bin Laden has made him a martyr, more dangerous in that posthumous role than in hiding, and that both his legend and the conspiracy theories about 9/11 will live on undisputed by the evidence that would have been called to convict him at his trial.”
The operation was, without question, illegal. If the U.S. were a nation of equal justice under the law, everyone involved, from O’Neill to the president, would face murder charges.
I don’t care how you feel about bin Laden. Assassinating him was disgusting, might-makes-right bullshit.
If anyone in the media agrees with me, however, I can’t find them.
“If [O’Neill] killed bin Laden, then he deserves the recognition that comes with it. … I say, ‘Well done, O’Neill, tell it like it is and let them howl. They’ll criticize you no matter what. Hooyah,’ ” wrote an editorial writer in the otherwise charming town of Saint George, Utah. Time magazine called the shooting of an unarmed suspect (while invading a foreign country, by the way) an “action that warrants … acclaim.”
Don’t forget the hit film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which portrayed the bin Laden murder — as well as the torture that preceded it — as heroic.
What happened to us?
Top Nazis, responsible for a lot more deaths than 9/11, were put on trial at Nuremberg. Just two decades ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a state-sponsored assassin would garner praise for his role in a “wet op” (as long as he really did it).
Or that a president would brag about ordering it. (“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Biden crowed.)
Or that said president would enjoy a bump in his polls as a result (as opposed to a knock on the door from the FBI).
ISIS? Mere pikers.
Barbarism, c’est nous.
Cartoonist and writer Ted Rall is author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” © 2014 Ted Rall
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