Monday, May 09, 2011

Reflections on Osama

In and of itself, the announcement of the death of Osama is far less interesting than the media's reaction to it. The conspiracy set is convinced, not unreasonably, that the terrorist leader has probably been dead for years. It is likelier that the Obama administration, not exactly renowned for its competence, blithely assumed that everyone would be so jubilant over the demise of the figurehead that no one would be concerned about the missing body or the lack of photos.

One problem with constantly lying to the citizenry--say, over the spurious reasons for invading countries or the insistence that the economy is recovering--is that the citizenry begins to doubt every pronouncement of the government. This is a sound impulse, even when it is ultimately incorrect.

Returning to the matter of spin, this afternoon I listened to Hannity on my way home from work. Today, he was interviewing Peter King, a Republican Congressman from New York. King was explaining the importance of torturing terrorists, though he used the Orwellian term "enhanced interrogation techniques" in alluding to water-boarding. For, you see, we are being told that torture was used to extract the information which was then utilized to hunt down Bin Laden.

Now, no one denies that torture can be propitious. The problem--from a practical point of view, and setting aside the moral trepidation we should feel toward the procedure--is that there is no way to distinguish between good and bad information when it is extracted via torture. Certainly, we can attempt to verify the information, but we are told that water-boarding might be necessary for a "ticking time bomb" scenario, in which we will not have time to validate the truth contained in a confession. The choice is not between letting innocent people be blown to smithereens by a terrorist and extracting information via torture. If torture is used, the government may very well give the order to kill a group of innocents. This rather dims the supposed stark contrast between good guy Americans and the evil terrorists. But as blowing up civilians is routine for our military, the line is rather blurred already.

Had we not lapsed into using torture, it is true that Osama may never have been caught. Yet, being mortal, he would have died; his Maker would have judged him. In the almost ten years since Osama bin Laden wandered into the American consciousness, we have poured trillions of dollars into two losing, and, evidently unending, wars; we have seen thousands of our own soldiers return in coffins--though this pales in comparison to the larger number of dead they have left scattered behind them. We have not taken the eminently sensible approach of policing our border so as to provide a modicum of national security. Instead, we must be groped by brown shirts each time we wish to board a plane.

Osama bin Laden is almost certainly dead, but his spirit lives on. The fundamental transformation of our system of government is troubling, but less so than the fact that their is no political will to rollback the horrid changes. For the conservatives, the supposed defenders of limited constitutional government, are not demanding an end to our futile war on terror and the TSA's harassment of citizens. They are occupied with the far more important matter of ensuring that we do not cease to torture terrorists.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Osama bin Laden has won.

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