In the lead up to his week-long European tour President Barack Obama has had to defend US imperialism’s assassination of an unarmed Osama Bin Laden once again. Immediately after the extrajudicial execution Obama, the former law professor, said in a special televised address that «Justice has been done»! A few days later his Attorney General, i. e., the head of the US government’s Department of Justice, said: «The operation in which Osama Bin Laden was killed was lawful». Eric Holder went on to say: «We do respect the rule of law, there are appropriate ways in which we conduct ourselves and expect our people to conduct themselves, and I think those Navy Seals conducted themselves in a way that’s consistent with American, [and] British values.»
If this was such a lawful and just act then why do they need to keep repeating this message so much? The truth is that the contrast between the rhetoric and pretentions of US imperialism and the abominable reality could not have been more stark. In the same week that America – a country that always assumes the moral high ground on such issues – carried out this assassination a Hungarian court was trying Sandor Kepiro, a 97-year-old former police captain in Novi Sad, for his role in the murder of 1200 Jewish, Serb and Roma civilians in 1942.
The Hungarians, who just a few years ago were being lectured by the imperialists about ‹democracy›, ‹justice› and ‹the rule of law› seem to be better upholders of bourgeois norms than the US which routinely carries out assassinations of al-Qaeda members (or even suspects). These extrajudicial executions are euphemistically called ‹drone attacks› with the many innocent women and children that are murdered labelled as ‹collateral damage›!
US imperialism’s ‹justice› in 1945
There are many who would say that the behaviour of US imperialism has always been like this. However, what happened on May 2 in Pakistan marks an important step in a degenerative process.
The justification that US imperialism uses for this extrajudicial execution is to list the large numbers of American deaths, including close to 3000 on September 11, which Bin Laden is thought to be responsible for. Yet we just have to look at American imperialism at the height of its power to see what a desperate subterfuge this excuse is.
In November 1945 a victorious US imperialism, sure of its economic and military might and positive about its prospects in the decades ahead, was one of the organisers of the Nuremberg Trials of over 20 top Nazi leaders, including Goering and Hess. These men were accused of responsibility for the murders of millions of people – many of them women and children or non-combatant men. Even so, they were assigned defence lawyers, allowed to make testimonies and were cross-examined in court and then sentenced. Similarly, leading Japanese military and political figures (although not Emperor Hirohito) were tried and sentenced in 1946.
Of course, we should have no illusions about the true nature of these military tribunals: they were the means through which the victorious imperialists condemned some acts of the defeated imperialists. They were not trials by workers› independent committees condemning all acts of war committed for the expansion of profit and exploitation of workers.
Yet today even this flawed and limited process is no longer observed. It is therefore crucial to ask: how was it possible to try the Nazi leaders in 1945 but not al-Qaeda’s leaders in 2011? And this is a question that all workers in the ‹Global War on Terror› coalition countries, especially American workers, must ask themselves.
The continuing decline of the US economy and the seemingly irrepressible growth of Chinese capitalism have had a profound effect on the ideology of America’s bourgeois class and its concept of justice. America still plays the role of the world’s policeman but without the ‹bad guys› of the Stalinist regimes and its waning economic strength, the ‹values› that it upholds have now been stripped of their ‹free world› veneer. It is much clearer for the masses to see America’s imperialist confrontations, interventions and invasions for what they really are.
Sordid historical links
Another reason why US imperialism did not want Bin Laden appearing in court was that more details of the sordid history of his links with the CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Pakistan’s ISI would come out. What is already known is that US association with Bin Laden goes back to at least 1986: «In 1986 he [Bin Laden] helped build the Khost tunnel complex, which the CIA was funding as a major arms depot, training facility and medical centre for the Mujaheddin, deep under the mountains close to the Pakistan border.» (Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, Pan Books, 2001, p 132). Rashid also quotes Bin Laden himself about this relationship: «I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region. … I set up my first camp where these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis.» (ibid.)
Although many details about the CIA’s involvement in the Afghan ‹jihad› have emerged Bin Laden’s court appearance would have exposed even more scandalous facts. America’s bourgeoisie has a strong incentive to keep such secret links covered up. That is why American politicians can publicly describe these people as ‹monsters› and so on while using them for advancing their domestic and foreign policy objectives.
That desire to keep the lid on such links was also why Saddam Hussein was executed rather quickly before any of his more major atrocities were presented in court. He therefore was condemned to death and hanged for the Dujail massacre that involved less than 150 murders, rather than bigger atrocities like the Halabja poison gas attack that killed around 5000 people.
It took almost two decades for it to emerge that US involvement in Afghanistan actually began in July 1979 – six months before the Soviet invasion. The full details of how the CIA nurtured mass murderers like Bin Laden will sooner or later see the light of day (probably after the bourgeois state’s archives have been seized by American workers).
Revolutionary Marxists and Islamic movements
What should the position of revolutionary Marxists be vis-à-vis the Islamists? Islamic movements, no matter how ‹moderate› or fundamentalist, no matter how ‹peaceful› or violent, are all based on a thoroughly reactionary and medieval ideology that is totally hostile to the working class and other oppressed and exploited layers in society.
The growth of these movements is, on the one hand, a consequence of the bankruptcy and betrayals of Stalinism and nationalist movements, and on the other hand, the consistent bankrolling and other support that imperialism and its local lackeys provide them. Although they are based on many legitimate grievances of the masses they pervert the aspirations of the poor and channel them into a dead-end that actually perpetuates imperialist domination.
The futility of the fundamentalist ideology, and particularly its jihadist variants, has already been grasped by wide sections of the masses in countries with majority Muslim populations in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. This was particularly clear in the uprisings in North Africa.
Among the Muslim minorities in the imperialist countries, particularly America and European powers involved in the ‹Global War on Terror›, there are still illusions about the true nature of this ideology and the movements it has spawned. These can only be broken when the working class movements in those countries fight resolutely against racism and Islamophobia ‹at home› and imperialist adventures abroad. Such a struggle will provide a sound basis for building working class unity – regardless of religion and race – against the common class enemy.
23 May 2011
We will be exploring other aspects of Bin Laden’s assassination, including the likely effects on negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, in a longer article.