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  May 3, 2011

Bin Laden Euphoria and Wild West Justice

Eric Margolis: Bringing bin Laden to justice would have meant a trial, not an assassination
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Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated foreign affairs columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Dawn, Daily News Pakistan, Sun Malaysia, Mainichi Tokyo, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Globe and Mail and the American Conservative. His internet column reaches global readers on a daily basis. He is the author of two best selling books, War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan And Asia, and nominated for the Governor General's prestigious award for American Raj: Resolving The Conflict Between The West And The Muslim World. As a war correspondent Margolis has covered conflicts in Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Lebanon, Turkist Kurdistan, Peru, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was among the first journalist to ever interview Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi and was the first to be allowed access to KGB headquarters in Lubyanka.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. As most of the world knows by now, President Obama has told us that Osama bin Laden was killed sometime yesterday early morning outside of Islamabad. Now joining us to talk about the significance of this and about the reaction of the American media to all of this is Eric Margolis. Eric is the author of the book Top of the World. He's also author of the book--and I'm holding it up here--is American Raj: Liberation or Domination. Thanks for joining us again, Eric.


JAY: So what do you make, first of all, of the reaction of the American media, of the whole culture, to the killing of bin Laden?

MARGOLIS: Well, bin Laden has been so demonized and blown up out of proportion as an archbogeyman that there's an understandable amount of euphoria and self-congratulation and sort of lynch mob atmosphere. It's sort of Wild West justice. You know, the Wicked Witch of the West is dead. But--and the cheering will go on, certainly, but I think some more thoughtful people will start asking themselves: does it make any difference to America's conflict with much of the Muslim world? And that answer is: certainly not. I was disappointed to hear President Obama say that Osama bin Laden had been brought to justice. I was brought up as an American to believe that justice was handed out by the courts after fair trials. And going in and knocking someone off is more worthy, as I said, of the Wild West or Tony Soprano, dumping their body in the water.

JAY: There's not even been a trial in abstentia. They could have at least done that.

MARGOLIS: You know, the United States, after 9/11, vowed to issue a white paper, official government paper, detailing bin Laden's crimes, and it never came forth. And Taliban offered to arrest bin Laden if the US would provide evidence for extradition, and this was never done.

JAY: Well, it was never made public. The Pakistani authorities do acknowledge the Americans gave them such a document, but as far as I know, it's never been seen by anyone other than that, so we're not sure what really was handed over.

MARGOLIS: It's unfortunate, Paul, because it would have been much better, in my view, if he had been captured alive and brought to face trial, particularly so at the Hague and the International Court, a war crimes trial, International Court of Justice, to stand trial for his crimes so we could understand the story, we learn [incompr.] 9/11, whether bin Laden was actually behind it, whether al-Qaeda was behind it, if there was such a thing as al-Qaeda. The questions go on and on. But we will not get any of them answered now. Dead men tell no tales.

JAY: Now, just before we get into a little bit of 9/11 issues and bin Laden, I personally have been finding the response of the American media and culture obscene. I don't know any other word to use for it--to--. Whatever bin Laden was, first of all, he killed less people than certainly the previous American administration killed. And even if one takes and believes all the assumptions about bin Laden, it doesn't justify, I would think, such glorifying of the killing of anybody. And then, as you say, all the questions that have been left unanswered go begging. But, first of all, talk a little bit more. What do you make of the response of people celebrating in the streets, and Bloomberg with a press conference, and it's as if they just won a major war, and as you say, probably nothing very significant's been gained? And perhaps they just create a martyr. They actually be--there may be more [incompr.] lost here than gained.

MARGOLIS: Well, bin Laden has been in retirement for the last eight years. He hasn't been doing anything. He hasn't been hooked up with the teeny organization al-Qaeda, which is no more than probably 100 men, maybe less. He hasn't been doing anything. So killing him didn't achieve anything except a huge political boost for President Obama, who may win reelection in 2012 because of this. He certainly pulled out the carpet from under the Republicans, who were going to make a big issue of national security. Watching all the flag-waving and jingoism going on in the States, I felt it embarrassing and way beneath the dignity or the nature of the United States to do this. But I understand, as I said, that people are so wound up by the media, they see this as a giant video game or a sports game. It's great hang 'em high. We saw the same thing with Saddam Hussein. We're seeing the same thing in Libya with Gaddafi. We've developed a Tony Soprano culture where you go and take 'em out, knock 'em off, waste him, use all these euphemisms to kill, assassinate world leaders that we don't like. But God help any of these leaders if they try and do the same thing to us.

JAY: Right. Now, let's talk a little bit about the things that are not being asked around all of this euphoria, as you describe it. The whole issue of wanting the truth about 9/11 has been reduced to the issue of you either accept the official version or you are a conspiracy theorist. The thing is, the official version is there is a conspiracy. The only real debate is who [is] in on it. The 9/11 Commission decided there was a conspiracy between bin Laden and a bunch of other people who conspired to fly planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and who knows where else. So even the official version, there's a conspiracy. But there are so many unanswered questions. Now, I'm personally not going to [incompr.] ask you if you want to venture an opinion. I don't know what to say about any of the engineering issues and all the rest about the buildings. Other than that, there seems to be a lot of rather serious people who have raised real questions about it. But I can't make anything of it myself. But on the other hand, there are certain outstanding questions that have never gone answered. For example, three Qataris, apparently, three people from Qatar, were found having just left a hotel room the day before 9/11, leaving passports and all kinds of paraphernalia that led the cleaning crew to think they were in on something. That wasn't even reported on, apparently, in the 9/11 Commission, certainly hasn't been followed up, and there's many of other questions. What do you make of all this?

MARGOLIS: You can write volumes about all the gaps and the questions regarding 9/11. I don't see any conclusive evidence that it was a plot by the government. But, on the other hand, about a third of Americans, by polls that were taken, believe that they're not getting the truth or that the American government was somehow behind it. Hope it's not true. And certainly abroad, most of the rest of the world believes that 9/11 was a plot of some kind. There was certainly a conspiracy and a plot to cover it up and to dismiss anybody who questioned it as a lunatic or a madman. I've had columns censored from leading publications 'cause I dared raise the issue of 9/11 or even referred to it. So it's become very taboo in the United States. [incompr.] more important point, al-Qaeda was vastly exaggerated by the North American media. It was blown hugely out of proportion, demonized. It became a genuine bogeyman. I was there at the very beginning in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda never had more than 300 men. It was located--it was--then it was driven into Pakistan. Today, Leon Panetta, the CIA chief, says it is no more than 50 men, 50 members in Afghanistan. All these Qaeda people, all they're doing is trying to stay alive. And al-Qaeda, you have to remember, was not an anti-Western organization when it was founded; it was an anticommunist organization. Osama bin Laden was waging war against the Afghan communists, who ironically are now America's allies in Afghanistan. So this is a much more complicated story. We've never had any proof.

JAY: And, of course, I guess most people know this, but bin Laden himself was more or less invited to Afghanistan by the CIA. And if people want to see, watch an interview I did with Brzezinski, you know, this was the grand chessboard plan, to try to install extreme Wahabbism in Afghanistan. At any rate, let's go to what just happened yesterday (for people watching tomorrow, it'll be two days before). I find this whole thing rather strange. He's living in a mansion down the road from a major Pakistani military base, in a big mansion surrounded by barbed wire, and we're supposed to think the Pakistan intelligence agencies didn't know about this.

MARGOLIS: Well, that's what they say. General Hamid Gul, its former director, who I know quite well and in whose word I have quite a fair amount of confidence, denies that ISI intelligence knew about it. I find it really incredible. Bin Laden was surrounded by three regiments of Pakistani troops. It wasn't really a mansion as we would think of it, but it was a big, walled compound. My own view is that Pakistan had agreed to let bin Laden retire to Pakistan, provided he didn't commit any mayhem outside, because it was keeping him on the shelf for possible use in Afghanistan, where he's still considered a war hero by the Pashtuns, and a very revered figure, and as another leader of the anticommunist forces there. But if and when the Americans withdrew and Pakistan reasserted its historic and traditional interests in Afghanistan, bin Laden might prove very useful to Pakistan's interests. That's my view. Whatever the case, Pakistan is now in deep doo-doo. They're really in the doghouse with the Americans. And WikiLeaks just came out a week ago where the US State Department is calling Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, a terrorist organization.

JAY: Now, maybe that's part of why they cooperated here. Who knows? But the other piece of this story, which almost never gets talked about, is the role of the Saudis in all of this. I mean, it got talked about at the time, but it's disappeared into the United States of Amnesia. Not only do we know from the LA Times that there was a report to one of the congressional investigation committees that actually named names of members of the Saudi royal family that had been directly connected in financing members of the 9/11 crew, but it wasn't that much later, a couple of years after 9/11, where the king of Saudi Arabia virtually threatens Tony Blair that if you continue your investigation into the bribery scandal over the arms sale from England to Saudi Arabia, I can't guarantee you we won't be able to stop more terrorist attacks [sic], which practically says they can turn a tap on and turn a tap off. What do you make of the Saudi role in all of this?

MARGOLIS: Well, that's very true with the Saudis. They're at the center of all of this. And what really scared Tony Blair was the thought that the Saudis might stop buying British arms--and right after the Brits started investigating billions of dollars of British kickbacks to the Saudi royal family. We have to remember, one thing that's disappeared down the memory hole is that Saudi Arabia was waging a proxy war against Iran in that part of the world--in South Asia, in Pakistan, Afghanistan--during those years, and the Saudis were doing it by financing and arming all kinds of fundamentalist extremists like Osama bin Laden, Wahhabi groups. And they were designed to fight Iranian missionaries who were going out there spreading revolutionary Iranian Islamic theology. So this was a side battle, but the unintended result of this was that all these extremist groups were funded by Saudi Arabia to go and make mayhem wherever you want, just stay away from Saudi Arabia. But they ran completely out of control.

JAY: Yeah. And the other part of this is that US policies had no problem working with various forms of what you could say are dictatorships, even fascist kind of political forces, which I personally--what I would consider these bin Laden types, an extreme kind of nationalism that takes draconian types of policies. So it's not like I have any sympathy for bin Laden, but I don't think one can have, can see al-Qaeda, bin Laden, as any more of a product of what was US policy in the region. They wouldn't have had much standing if there hadn't been US hegemony in the region to start with. Do you think that's a fair assessment?

MARGOLIS: I think the US has certainly been in bed with many unsavory people--"our SOBs", as they used to be known in Washington, one of the most notorious case being the Lebanese fascist Phalange Party. That's par for the course. And as long as bin Laden was useful to the American side or the Western side, they were very happy to use him. I'm not saying he ever worked for CIA. I really--I see no evidence of that. But certainly the Saudis provided him with a lot of money, and as a result he became one of the major heroes of the war against the Soviets.

JAY: Well, thanks very much for joining us, Eric. And one thing I would like to say on air, 'cause I'm not sure I've said it, or if I have, I'll say it again, which is that I think this is a good enough time to say again, there should be an independent commission into what happened on 9/11, who bin Laden was, what al-Qaeda was. All of this is just being taken for granted, and the official version, at the very least, is clearly riddled with holes. I'm throwing you a softball here 'cause I think I know you agree with this. But [do] you agree that there should be such a commission, Eric?

MARGOLIS: Absolutely. We should have an international tribunal based out of the Hague that investigates all of this. And, you know, North Americans deserve the truth, and the rest of the world does too, because the US has been waging wars on mistaken or false stories for a decade now. We need some facts.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Eric.

MARGOLIS: You're welcome, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don't forget there's donate button over here, because if you don't do this, we can't do that--do it the other way. I actually mixed up my final tag line. Can you believe that? I'm just going to keep going: 'cause if you don't do that, we can't do this. Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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