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Obama—Not Torture—Deserves Credit for Bin Laden’s Death

I know I’m rather late posting this, but I went to Rome a couple of weeks ago and my head remained there long after my body returned. Even now I’m still not in much of a political mood but this story is too big not to comment on.


When I write about President Obama in my blog it’s usually to criticize him, but one thing he clearly deserves credit for is authorizing the operation that finally brought Osama Bin Laden—murderer of thousands of innocent men, women, and children—to justice. It was Obama’s national security policies that allowed us to piece together the information which led to Bin Laden’s location, it was Obama’s foreign policy that made capturing Bin Laden a top priority, and it was Barack Obama himself who ultimately made the decision to perform a surgical strike on the compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding rather than blow the whole place to smithereens.

It’s for this last part that I offer President Obama complete and un-tempered praise. The politically safer move would have been to send drones in to blow the whole place up, as doing so would have prevented any risk of harm to American soldiers. Had the ground operation gone wrong, Republicans would have wasted no time in spinning it as Obama’s own personal Bay of Pigs. But the president took the risk, and not only did we get confirmation of Bin Laden’s death as a result—something we could never have gotten with an air-strike—but we also spared the lives of all of the women and children Bin Laden had living at the compound with him. This is how the “war on terror” should have been fought all along—by going after the individuals guilty of terrorism and only those individuals. I am firmly in favor of any approach that enhances our national security without killing children.

The correctness of Obama’s actions in this case was in fact so abundantly clear that at first Republicans didn’t know what to do with it. It’s been their modus operandi for the last two years to simply criticize Obama for every single thing he does no matter what: blame him for not fixing the economy even though your party is obstructing all his efforts to do so, blame him for the health-care mandate even though it was originally your proposal, blame him for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even though your president started them, and on and on. How could they possibly spin this to make Obama look bad?

It wasn’t long before some Republicans discovered a neat way around it. Since they couldn’t blame Obama for doing something they were all in favor of (although some actually did start to argue that perhaps killing Bin Laden was the wrong move), they decided instead to simply put most of the credit elsewhere—namely with the Bush administration, and specifically with regards to torture.

Now giving Bush credit for capturing Bin Laden seems, on the surface, rather laughable. This is the guy who famously said in a press briefing that he was “truly not that concerned” about Bin Laden and that he honestly didn’t “spend much time on him”. Bush argued that Bin Laden was just “one person”, and the war on terror was much bigger than that. It’s exactly this vision that’s brought America to the disastrous point we’re at now. Rather than go after the individuals responsible for 9/11, Bush played right into the terrorists’ hands by spreading our retaliation across the Middle East in the form of two massive ground wars that have not only drained our economy to the point of bankruptcy (as Bin Laden himself explained was his exact objective), but destroyed our international reputation for at least a generation.

And part of what destroyed our international reputation is the use of torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques” as the Bush apologists like to call it. Regardless of what euphemisms they used, things like water-boarding are banned by the Geneva conventions and have been prosecuted as war crimes in the past. People outside the American bubble, not subject to Fox News and talk-radio propaganda, clearly see it for what it is and those already predisposed to hate the United States were provided with more than enough justification for their hatred. It’s not only been testified to by many actual intelligence officials such as Matthew Alexander, but it’s just plain common sense that the use of torture has created far more terrorists than it’s eliminated.

And yet many right-wingers are still so hell-bent on justifying their support for torture that they now trumpet the claim that Bin Laden would not have been captured had it not been for the use of torture. They make this claim not after examining the evidence but before they know anything about it—then grasping at whatever straws they can to justify their claims such as the testimony of former CIA head Jose Rodriguez in TIME magazine that some of the information gained by water-boarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed ultimately led to Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The White House rejects this claim and points out that it took years and many various pieces of information to find Bin Laden. You don’t have to trust the White House to recognize that logic—if torturing KSM in 2003 really led us directly to Bin Laden, why wasn’t he caught until 2011?

Not only that, but we know that KSM was water-boarded 183 times, and multiples sources report that he continuously gave out false or misleading information time after time. He apparently knew of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden but even after being subjected to the water-board one hundred and eighty-three times, he didn’t give him up.

Conservatives act as though the only reason anyone could possibly be opposed to the use of torture is if we’re pacifists, hippies, or terrorist-sympathizers. As though our only objection to torture is that it’s painful for the terrorists and inflicting pain is wrong. Personally, I don’t have any qualms whatsoever about men who murder children getting tortured, and in fact I wouldn’t mind if we used actual forms of torture and cut off their fingers one by one.

The reason I’m opposed to torture is that it doesn’t work and that it’s counter-productive. It sends our intelligence officials off on wild-goose-chases, and when the fact that we torture people leaks out it damages our international reputation and provokes more violence against us. This is so obvious that it hurts, yet the media still treats this like it’s an actual debate and the war-criminals in the Bush administration have a legitimate point of view.

I understand why people like the idea of terrorists getting tortured, but because they don’t want to believe their support is rooted in pure vindictiveness they desperately cling to the claim that torture works—which simply isn’t true and won’t be true no matter how often they insist that it is.

It’s a shame that so many are so blinded by ideology and identity politics that they are incapable of giving credit to political enemies or accepting blame for those on their side. I am not a fan of Barack Obama by any stretch of the imagination but for succeeding where his predecessor failed in the effort to catch Bin Laden—and by preventing the deaths of innocent civilians in the process—he deserves as much praise as I can give him.

Those who refuse to acknowledge that Barack Obama could possibly ever do anything right under any circumstances and instead cling to the belief that torture was the reason we got Bin Laden are living lives of cognitive dissonance where facts don’t matter and beliefs are simply a matter of what feels good to them.

It’s our responsibility to not let these people control the debate, or the next conservative president won’t hesitate to use torture as well. It would have been best if we’d prosecuted the Bush administration war criminals as soon as we’d had the chance, but since that will never happen the best we can do is try to ensure that it never happens again, and that means making judgments based on what the facts tell us is true, rather than merely what we’d like to be true.

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