Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bin Laden 'Buried at Sea'. Skepticism Killed in Crossfire.

I was going to blog about the death of free speech in Britain, following the pre-emptive arrests of dozens of anti-government activists in advance of the Royal Wedding, but that will have to wait, because there has been another reported death since then which has totally captured the news agenda. Osama Bin Laden is reported to have been killed by US special forces in Afghanistan, on 30th April, 2011; a date which happens to be the supposed anniversary of Adolf Hitler's suicide, although I'm sure this is nothing but a curious coincidence.

Osama Bin Laden has been presented as the great bogeyman of the West, the prime suspect for the 9/11 terror attacks, the official main reason for the invasion of Afghanistan and the prosecution of that war for nearly 10 years, at the cost of countless, mostly innocent, lives. Bin Laden's media persona is a character strongly reminiscent of George Orwell's Goldstein, from 1984. Yet there has long been speculation that he may have died some time ago, given that he has been more elusive than Elvis for a number of years; his appearances confined to videos of increasingly dubious authenticity, or a few unreliable witness reports. Even the Daily Mail has taken seriously the possibility that Bin Laden may have died on 13th December, 2001, just 3 moths after 9/11. This belief comes originally from an item in the Egyptian newspaper, al-Wafd, on 26th December, 2001, which is sourced to a senior Taliban official and is, until now, the only credible report of Bin Laden's death. It was repeated by several Western media outlets, but quickly forgotten. The report is given credence by the fact that Bin Laden was a kidney dialysis patient who needed special medical equipment to keep him alive; equipment and expertise which is unlikely to have been available in the mountain caves of Tora Bora.

Osama Bin Laden (1957 - 20??). Photo: AP

Whilst searching for further information about these reports, I chanced upon a website which claims to document the evidence concerning Bin Laden's death. When I last checked at 22:43 on Sunday, this website was claiming that it was under a continuing massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack which began just moments before the official announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death by President Obama. Of course, this may be some kind of joke or deception, but I find it somewhat strange, if it is true. For now, I would treat that claim with the same skepticism with which I would like us all to treat official reports of Osama Bin Laden's death. The fact that the website is still up suggests that the DDOS attack was not very successful. Another reason to doubt the website's claims is that it also seems to advocate a number of causes such as climate change denial, for which there is very good contrary evidence. However, the evidence it presents concerning Bin Laden's death must be judged entirely on its own merits, which is something I invite readers to do for themselves: it does present numerous links to reputable independent news reports supporting the contention that Bin Laden may have been dead for many years. Those who prefer a more authoritative investigation of these claims might want to read Professor David Ray Griffin's book on the subject, 'Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive?'

The most curious feature of the official US report of Bin Laden's death is that his body was apparently buried at sea, within hours. US officials say this was in accordance with Islamic custom and to prevent his grave becoming a focus for anti-US sentiment. This excuse does not impress many Muslim scholars, nor does it impress me. Indeed, it is standard custom throughout the world, since time immemorial, to exhibit the bodies of your defeated enemies, or at least to exhibit incontrovertible evidence of their death. This is exactly what the US did with the body of Che Guevara in 1967 and those of Saddam Hussein's sons; there was no standing on custom out of respect for the traditions of the deceased, or concerns about martyrdom. The most crucial thing is to prove that your enemy is dead. If America were really concerned about not offending Muslims, perhaps they should not have invaded two Muslim countries and killed tens of thousands of innocent Muslims over the last 10 years.

Still, it seems very likely that US special forces did mount a raid on a 'compound' in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Saturday night. We have already been treated to some video footage of the supposed aftermath of that raid and I expect more will follow in due course. We may get a photograph of the deceased, but we know that such things are all too easily faked. It is possible that a man or several people were killed in that raid. It is even possible that the men who died were Taliban or even Al-Qaeda fighters (if the term 'Al-Qaeda' still has any useful meaning). What we cannot say with any confidence at all is that one of these men was Osama Bin Laden.

Hence I find it alarming that there has been so little skepticism in the mainstream media and even among self-proclaimed rational skeptics in the blogosphere, concerning the official statements from US military, government and intelligence sources. Instead, accusations of 'conspiracy theory' are routinely hurled across Twitter in the direction of anyone who dares raise so much as an eyebrow. Perhaps it is time we began to deconstruct the phrases 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist', exposing them for the cheap insults and avowedly unskeptical thought-bypass devices that they are. We may find that the idea that Osama Bin Laden was the criminal mastermind and head of a global terror network called Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and many others, is equally worthy of the label 'conspiracy theory'. Personally, I find that line somewhat self-defeating. I prefer to reject all accusations of 'conspiracy theory'; then we are left looking for actual palpable evidence of things. This is a concept which often proves far too hard for the mainstream media to grasp, sadly. We are therefore left with little more than fables, constructed from prejudice, suggestion and misdirection.

Sometimes these fables are exposed, just as the ridiculous claims of Donald Trump and the so-called 'birther movement' were exposed. Those claims had no credibility to begin with because they were based on no real evidence. Ironically, President Obama's victory over the 'birthers' will help to deflect skepticism over his own equally unsupported claims that the US has now killed its greatest enemy. It was really a victory over nothing, since it was always going to be easy for Obama to produce his birth certificate. I suspect it will be very much more difficult for him to produce truly believable evidence that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US forces this weekend, but I am willing to be convinced.

Nonetheless, there is real significance in the demise of the legend of Osama Bin Laden, and there is a real sense in which a bogeyman has been laid to rest. Bin Laden's assumed death paves the way for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was already set to begin in July this year. It gives President Obama an immediate popularity boost (in spite of bad economic news) and will allow him to claim some kind of victory, both in Afghanistan and the closely related phony 'War on Terror'. The truth is that the Afghan War has been a defeat for the US (and its allies) and it never had anything to do with homeland security or global terror. It was always a war about access to Caspian oil fields, as was ably demonstrated in The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, a book by the Berlin-based journalist, Lutz C. Kleveman.

RIP Osama Bin Laden (1957 - 20??). RIP The War on Terror? Until the CIA invent a new bogeyman to support the next foreign adventure, perhaps.