The (Il)legality of Killing Osama, or 'Bin There, Gun that'

Again referring to the AUMF, Serwer asserts that “the Congress of the United States authorized the use of military force against bin Laden in full view of the public in 2001.” Serwer, who writes a great deal about human and civil rights, as well as criminal justice, disregards any sort of legal due process (one of the most important tenets of the Magna Carta, and subsequently U.S., humanitarian and international law) when it comes to assessing responsibility for the crimes committed on September 11, 2001. Due process doesn’t simply exist only for those people who aren’t considered “the world’s most wanted man” or the mastermind or spiritual leader behind the most horrific acts committed on American soil – it exists for everyone. That’s the whole point.

Shortly after 10:00am on the morning of September 11, 2001 (mere minutes after the South Tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed at approximately 9:59am), Katie Couric, broadcasting live on NBC reported that the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had claimed responsibility. She asked correspondant Andrea Mitchell, who was on the phone from Washington D.C., whether the State Department was taking the claim seriously. “Are they giving any credence to that or are they dismissing that?,” she inquired. “How do they feel about who might have been responsible for this?”

Amid images of a smoldering Pentagon, Mitchell replied, “I think it is far too early for them, even the best experts in the government, to figure this out. They have one instant reaction, as you know, and it could be wrong, but their immediate reaction in a case like this would be to look toward Osama bin Laden and the collateral groups connected to him, simply because he has proved with the embassy bombings in Africa that he is the one terror leader who is capable of this kind of highly coordinated attack.” She continued,

The bombings went off in Tanzania and in Kenya almost simultaneously. It was extraordinarily well coordinated. They proved their case to a jury effectively and have managed to develop a great deal of information from sources, from in fact turning some members of his network. So they believe he is the most likely person, but it’s far too early to say anything.

Mitchell’s suggestion and its subsequent repetition for the past decade have proven far more influential than any actual evidence in shaping both public opinion and government action. Tom Brokaw, who was also broadcasting on NBC that morning, set the stage for the Bush administration’s reclassification of terrorism as warfare. After the North Tower fell, Brokaw declared:

This is war. This is a declaration and an execution of an attack on the United States. Two of our most conspicuous symbols of the American system of capitalism; the Pentagon, which is of course the headquarters of the most mighty military in the world, was attacked today as well.

Still, the AUMF, which was passed a mere week after the attacks, in a period of intense confusion, shock, anger, mourning, and national trauma, does not identify anyone in particular with having carried out the attacks, yet authorizes the president to wage a military campaign on whomever he deems worthy of American vengeance. Serwer overlooks this and simply assumes it refers to bin Laden since that’s what the official narrative claims.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban leadership offered repeatedly “to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral Islamic country for trial, if there is proof of his crimes.” In response, George W. Bush replied, “We know he’s guilty. Turn him over.”

On October 1, 2001, just six days before the bombing of Afghanistan began, the Taliban repeated their offer. George Monbiot, reporting for The Guardian, reveals that the Taliban’s “representative in Pakistan told reporters: ‘We are ready for negotiations. It is up to the other side to agree or not. Only negotiation will solve our problems.’ Bush was asked about this offer at a press conference the following day. He replied: ‘There’s no negotiations. There’s no calendar. We’ll act on our time.'”

The U.S. government declining to provide any evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, stated that the Taliban offer was “inadequate” and instead “dispatched war planes and ships towards Afghanistan.”

On October 4, 2001, a British intelligence report, entitled “Responsibility for the terrorist atrocities in the United States,” claiming to provide evidence that “Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September 2001,” was released with the following disclaimer: “This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law.”

The following day, a BBC report, entitled “The investigation and the evidence,” concluded, “There is no direct evidence in the public domain linking Osama Bin Laden to the 11 September attacks…At best the evidence is circumstantial.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller, speaking to Commonwealth Club on March 29, 2002, described the United States’ assessment of the 9/11 attacks:

These attacks were not just an act of terror. They were an act of war. The most pressing issue for the FBI and for the nation was to find out who we were at war with, and more importantly, to make sure we were not attacked again.

The hijackers also left no paper trail. In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper – either here in the U.S. or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere – that mentioned any aspect of the September 11th plot.

Mueller also said of the ongoing FBI investigation into the attacks, “The investigation was enormously helpful in figuring out who and what to look for as we worked to prevent attacks. It allowed us to see where we as a nation needed to close gaps in our security. And it gave us clear and definitive proof that al Qaeda was behind the strikes.”

In an article entitled, “Mueller Outlines Origin, Funding of Sept. 11 Plot” and published in the Washington Post on June 6, 2002, veteran journalist Walter Pincus reported that Mueller’s FBI “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan” and quotes Mueller saying, “We think the masterminds of it were in Afghanistan, high in the al Qaeda leadership.”

The differences between claiming that the FBI had “clear and definitive proof” in March 2002 and using words like “believe” and “think” in June 2002 aside, the FBI never saw fit (at any time over the past decade) to update Osama bin Laden’s profile on its own Most Wanted List to include the 9/11 attacks. From before September 11, 2001 to early May 2011 (when the profile was removed from the FBI website), his profile stated:

Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.

Additionally, he stood accused of murder and conspiracy to commit murder of “U.S. Nationals Outside the United States,” with no mention of the murders he is said to have been responsible for in New York and Washington D.C.

By contrast, as Andrea Mitchell had noted on the morning of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government successfully indicted bin Laden via Grand Jury in New York on November 6, 1998, for the embassy bombings in Africa. No such indictment has ever been forthcoming with regard to the 9/11 attacks.

It should also be noted that, earlier this month, the FBI replaced Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted profile with that of his apparent al Qaeda successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, yet still neglects to mention anything having to do with 9/11 on his rap sheet, which looks nearly identical to bin Laden’s.