The New Yorker carries a fascinating report on the US Navy Seal operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May. With its characteristic thoroughness, the New Yorker describes the detailed preparation for the event, and reveals two points of particular note.
First, the general assumption at the time that there had been no real intention to arrest bin Laden is confirmed. An insider on the raid is quoted as saying:
“There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees”
The US servicemen were on a mission to kill him, rather than to bring him to trial. In a previous blog post, this was described as “a missed opportunity”.
Secondly, there is the disturbing comment by the soldier who fired the fatal shots. “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo,” he is reported to have said. I can understand the reference to country (and Geronimo was the code word for bin Laden having been found), but why drag God into this?
A continual argument within the western countries since 9/11 is whether what we are facing is a clash of civilisations, along the lines predicted by Samuel Huntingdon, or whether there is instead a clash between civilisation (singular) and a mass murderer who represents no-one but himself. It is an important debate and is one that is still not settled.
For example, when President Bush used the word “crusade” to describe the so-called War on Terror, his officials were quick to dismiss the remark as casual and unscripted and, notably, it was not pursued by the White House as an official policy. Indeed, the name of the military operation was changed from “Operation Infinite Justice” to “Operation Enduring Freedom” to emphasise this.
In that light, the remark by the American soldier is in itself something of a setback for the cause of civilisation (singular).