Already the story is starting to unravel, mutate, transmogrify. Government statements that were presented as gospel truths in every media outlet in the world, and which served as the basis for ten thousand earnest, serious commentaries, turn out, one day later, to have been false.
We had been told – by the president’s top “counterterrorism adviser,” John Brennan – that Osama had been “engaged in a firefight” when he was gunned down by American agents. This was not true; it turns out that he was unarmed when they shot him in the head. We were told that the base coward used his wife as a human shield while he pumped hot lead at America’s boys. This was not true. There were no human shields – although Osama’s wife was shot in the leg, while another woman, wife to a bin Laden aide, was shot and killed by the agents.
Of course, even these new officially released“facts” must be taken with a grain of salt, since they spring from the same impenetrable murk of the security apparat from whence the original story of the raid emerged. Will these new details change tomorrow?
(Meanwhile, actual reporters doing actual reporting independently uncovered another falsehood in the first story: the compound that was raided in Abbottabad was not a “million-dollar mansion,” but a rather ordinary house in a middle-class area, worth about $250,000.)
In any case, we are told by the Fightin’ Patriotic Progressives who now stand foursquare behind the apparat that we should not trouble our little heads over these “discrepancies.” Such things are to be expected in the “fog of war.” (But didn’t the president and his national security team – including John Brennan – actually watch the raid unfold on live video feed? Didn’t Brennan see what happened with his own eyes?)
Or if not fog, then the original misinformation can be put down to “subconscious” mythologizing, as Digby tells us. ("I think it was mythologizing for the sake of mythologizing, even if it was subconscious.") Our leaders wanted an old-fashioned cowboy shoot-out for the big climax of the bin Laden story, and so, somehow, the counterterrorism chief of the United States just, you know, subconsciously rearranged the facts to fit the myth. But as Digby sternly warns us: “Let's not get stupid. The fact that they embellished doesn't mean it didn't happen.” That’s true; but “the fact that they embellished” does mean that we would be, well, stupid to accept anything that belches forth from the Secret State at face value.
I don’t mean to pick on Digby; but the post linked above serves as an almost perfect example of the moral schizophrenia that has gripped the progressive movement since the advent of Obama. At one point, she rightly notes that no one would have been bothered if the Administration had admitted from the start that bin Laden was unarmed when they killed him. As she says, the assassination scenario was duly praised by such rock-ribbed liberal icons as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; and she notes, astutely, “I don't think there's any political downside, and in fact it probably makes them look more macho in the eyes of the people.”
(Indeed; all manner of liberals have been exulting in the new image of Obama the Heroic Hit Man. For example, Juan Cole and James Wolcott – both long-time scourges of the witless, brutal militarism of the Bush Regime – posted up a lolcat-style photo of a cool, grinning Obama in shades, emblazoned with the tagline, “Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate – I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.”)
Digby then goes on to offer up another telling – and damning – insight:
Besides, the question of whether the president could order an assassination was settled some time ago. They assert the right to keep prisoners in jail forever and kill American citizens, and nobody cares, so why in the world would there be any domestic blowback for ordering the death of the world's most wanted man?
Here is where the schizophrenia sets in. It is obvious, from this and other posts, that Digby is horrified and outraged at Obama’s open claim of this universal license to kill and imprison with impunity. That is, she fully recognizes that the United States government is led by a man who believes he can murder anyone he pleases, at any time, at his own arbitrary decision. She knows that he has used this power over and over, most extensively in Pakistan, where even by the most conservative estimates hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children – have been killed in Obama’s drone missile campaign.
She knows, in other words, that Obama has killed hundreds of innocent people. Hundreds of innocent people. Little children, women, old folks, young marrieds, fathers, mothers, teenagers – he has killed them in their own homes, in the streets of their villages, in their cars, at their weddings and funerals and birthday parties and family gatherings, raining down missiles, without warning, with no way to escape, no defense, killed them, the babies, the children, the old, the sick, ripped their bodies to shreds, buried them under rubble, tore off their heads, set them on fire to die in the purest agony. She knows this. She decries this. She believes it is wrong. Yet the general thrust of her widely read blog is that this man who does these things, who commits these horrors, who claims these murderous, tyrannous powers, should, at all costs, be retained in power so that he can carry on doing these things which sicken and horrify her.
But this is not simply a case of lesser evilism in a system where all the alternatives are grim – i.e., “Well, Göring is a monster but he’s probably marginally better than Hitler; let’s support a bloody coup to install him as Führer”. No; Digby and many other progressives whose writings show they are perfectly aware of the atrocities that Obama has committed and the evil policies he embraces – such as the unrestricted license to kill – still display an active affection and celebratory support for him. To them, even though he has killed these people and claimed these awful powers, he is still one cool guy.
Witness their delight at Obama’s comedy routine at the Correspondent’s Dinner last week, when he poked fun at the pathetic Donald Trump, garnering big yocks from the Beltway elite – even as NATO missiles were killing three young grandchildren of Moamar Gadafy: more child sacrifices offered up on the altar of our modern Molochs. They didn't even notice.
Oh, they often shake their heads sadly or waggle their fingers sternly at some action or policy of Obama’s. They often can’t understand why he does these things – cut taxes for the rich, bail out the bankers, torture Bradley Manning, form commissions to gut Social Security, escalate and prolong the Terror War, kill hundreds of people with drone missiles, etc., etc. But nothing douses their fundamental (fundamentalist?) fervor to keep him in power and to scorn those who oppose him. Nothing keeps them from seeing themselves as his true and faithful "base," still waiting for him to return to them, despite his many betrayals. (Subconscious betrayals, no doubt.)
And we can expect more encomiums to the president’s eloquence and heroism from these quarters on Thursday, when, with the good taste and tact so characteristic of our bipartisan ruling class, Obama goes to the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City to celebrate the shooting of an unarmed man in the head.
Yes, the president of the United States, accompanied by various Establishment worthies and doubtless a few dignified clerics, will stand at Ground Zero to glorify a killing that his own minions tell us will change nothing whatsoever: the wars will go on, “vigilance will be redoubled” (i.e., civil liberties will continue to be eroded, black ops will continue in the 70 countries or more where America is carrying out covert operations), the Secret State will keep growing, the universal license to kill and snatch and incarcerate and torture will remain in full force. So what exactly is being celebrated?
A cynic – or someone being skeptically “stupid” in the Digbyian sense – might say the occasion is more exploitation than celebration: exploiting the grief of the families of 9/11 survivors who will be trotted out to express their tearful gratitude to the president who has given them “closure” – and who will reap the poll bounce from this moment of “national unity,” just as his predecessor rode a similar exploitation of death to his own re-election.
Oh, but let us not be stupid. Let us acknowledge that the president kills innocent people and “asserts the right to keep prisoners in jail forever and kill American citizens” and puts out false information (subconsciously, of course! Always subconsciously!) about murky operations which we must take on faith like dutiful subjects in militarized state, not fully-fledged citizens in a republic – but let us still revel in his triumphs, delight in his eloquence, and work with all our strength to make sure he continues to invert, pervert and subvert every progressive value we hold dear.
That’s not “stupid” at all, is it?
UPDATE: Administration officials are now denying that Obama's national security team watched the execution of bin Laden on video feed, as was originally reported. Officials now say that the team was receiving "minute-by-minute updates" -- via unspecified technology -- and that, according to CIA honcho Leon Panetta, "there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on." That would be the 20 or 25 minutes when the actual killing took place, presumably.
It's hard to understand how this wild story about the team watched the whole thing unfold in real time. Just one of those crazy urban myths, I guess. Or perhaps it was because of this bit of "subconscious mythologizing" that was offered up by the president's own chief adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, just two days ago:
"We were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation from its commencement to its time on target to the extraction of the remains and to then the egress off of the target… we were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation. I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there, but it was – it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis."
I suppose really vague language like "we were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation" from the start to the kill to the "extraction of the remains" and the grand skeedaddle could be twisted by stupid conspiracy theorists into some kind of cockamamie notion that Barry and Hill and, er, John Brennan, had, well, monitored the operation in real time. But now we know better.
UPDATE 2: There will doubtless be more backtracking and backfilling and sidestepping and subconscious mythologizing in the days to come. For it turns out that the crack crew of American agents left a whole group of eyewitnesses to the operation behind -- including the 12-year-old daughter of bin Laden, who saw her father killed -- and was also wounded in the attack.
As the Guardian reports, at least 10 people were left behind after the raid -- presumably because the raiding party did not have room to cart them off after losing one of their helicopters before the kill. Pakistani officials found the survivors -- including bin Laden's wife and the wounded daughter -- when they arrived on the scene just after the American exit. All of the survivors had been handcuffed, Pakistani officials said. The Americans also left four dead bodies behind: three men and a woman, taking only bin Laden and his dead son. From the Guardian:
Local authorities arrived on the scene of the raid as American special forces were leaving. It is believed that the attackers originally planned to evacuate all those in the compound but the breakdown of a helicopter meant there was no space to take them.
Instead, only the bodies of Bin Laden and his son Hamza, who was in his early 20s, were taken to the aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea. Survivors were left with their hands fastened with plastic handcuffs, a second Pakistani official said, adding that initial communications with the survivors had been difficult as the Pakistani police and military arriving at the scene did not speak Arabic.
The survivors are now being held by the Pakistanis, who say they will return them to their home countries as soon as the respective governments ask for them. At the moment, they are not allowing American agents to interrogate them -- strenuously or otherwise. But no doubt as the survivors' stories begin to emerge -- and yes, they will have their own spin and agenda, just like Obama and his subconsciously mythologizing security apparatchiks -- we will see several more "corrections" of the "historical record" now being woven and re-woven in front of our eyes.