Obama was measured and deliberate in his 60 Minutes interview tonight, showing us how he leads and how he works through and with what he called his ‘team’ several times. After the cowboy style of his predecessor, it is a welcome relief. But amid this masterful performance reflecting a sober mind and an astute managerial consciousness, there was a single and highly significant flash of disdain: ‘Anyone who thinks bin Laden didn’t get what he deserved should have his head examined’, Obama said.
I wonder if our president would apply those words to the Israeli judges who sat through the trial of Adolph Eichmann [above] in Jerusalem back in the 1960s. They were hardly of the opinion that Eichmann deserved to remain among the living, and in fact they eventually condemned him to death by hanging. But for some reason that Obama seems incapable or unwilling to contemplate, they thought it was important to put the logistical mastermind of Auschwitz on trial in a court of law, to hear the evidence and to offer him the chance to speak. Eichmann directly contributed to the deaths of perhaps 2 million Jews, so the Jerusalem judges were not exactly lacking in provocation. But they did not choose to throw him down a well.
Granted, maybe capture wasn’t possible in this case. Maybe bin Laden reached for a weapon and had to be shot. Maybe the complications of bringing out a prisoner were simply too great. But why is the question not even raised?
Once upon a time long, long ago, we believed that even the most heinous criminals should be put through a judicial process and not simply assassinated, and Obama, in another life a professor of constitutional law, could not even muster a moment of begrudging respect for that view. While critics like Glenn Greenwald have noted that the bin Laden issue is a highly emotional one and give people he disagrees with a certain latitude to be inconsistent, Obama spat at those who dare to ask the question.
I haven’t read the full transcript, but apparently Steve Kroft, the interviewer, never even thought of it. We learned nothing about whether the plan was always to ‘take out’ bin Laden or if there had been an option to capture him—highly doubtful in any case since the U.S. government can’t even put the lesser detainees on trial a decade after their capture and insists instead on holding them indefinitely at Guantánamo.
Kroft later flubbed another topic, asking if Obama had ever before ‘ordered someone killed’. Obama dodged that by talking about sending people to war or authorizing drone missile attacks whereas the question should have been, ‘Have you ever authorized assassinations of specific individuals?’ But we already know that the answer is yes.
This points us down a slippery slope. Nothing will prevent other political actors around the world from taking a leaf from our book and resorting to assassination if they think it suits their goals. It will make for an interesting debate at the UN Security Council someday when the ‘taking out’ of bin Laden will offer ample precedent and justification.
Meanwhile, what genius in the Langley CIA headquarters decided to code-name bin Laden ‘Geronimo’? It is mind-boggling that, 40 years after the Wounded Knee stand-off and the awakening of national consciousness about colonial mistreatment of the native peoples of North America, we still dare to act like dumb hicks in Conestoga wagons lost in a Hollywood B movie fantasy. Someone should be fired for slandering an entire group of citizens by this flippant association of the Apache chief with the country’s worst enemy. Would they have dared to code-name bin Laden ‘Jefferson Davis’?