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Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death

May 6, 2011

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We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

By **Noam Chomsky**

chomsky300.jpgIt’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

There’s more to say about [Cuban airline bomber Orlando] Bosch, who just died peacefully in Florida, including reference to the “Bush doctrine” that societies that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly. No one seemed to notice that Bush was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and murder of its criminal president.

Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.

Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky

The conversation continues here.

________________________________________________________________________

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook.

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25 comments for Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death

  1. Comment by M on January 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Is Chomsky’s main point defense of Pakistan’s (or any country’s) national sovereignty or a condemnation of the U.S.? All Chomsky has said for the past 50 years is: Die, Die, America! That is not an intelligent person’s comment. That is a mad (and now senile) man’s rant!

  2. Comment by Dave Russell on April 4, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Ironically, Noam Chomsky is a very bright fellow, but when you read his comment that George Bush’s “crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s,” one has to reconsider exactly how intelligent he really is on various subjects. Really Noam? I mean, really? Bush is a greater crimianl than Bin Laden? Really? Nobody I know regards Bush as a saint, yet to regard him a greater criminal than Bin Laden? Really? Here’s a suggestion Noam………………stick to what you really know…..Linguistics. You’re ability to discriminate crucial moral differences is skewed and corrupt. BTW, how can Chomasky actually be a “Libertarian Socialist?” It seems that one would cancel out the other insoafar as it can be restated another way.

    Libertarian Socialist = Free Individual Collectivist.

    I cannot conceive of a Libertarian who would embrace the very ideology that would ultimately stifle a great deal of that Libertarian’s freedom.

  3. Comment by Gandalf on April 27, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I do believe that Bush is a bigger criminal than Osama due to the millions of Iraqis civilians killed in the guise of WMD elimination.By bodycount, Bush did more damage to the world and without UN consent too.

  4. Comment by Heksefatter on May 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I fail to see how it is unintelligent to deem Bush worse than bin Laden. The death toll in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million. There are 4-5 million refugees. In the worst-hit Iraqi city, Fallujah, a significant percentage of children are born with severe birth defects, due to the use of depleted uraniam. American and British newspapers have, later corrobated by Wikileaks, confirmed the existence of Iraqi death squads organized by US military advisors.

    Bush beats bin Laden in terms of how many innocents he has butchered. Men like Bush and bin Laden er scum.

  5. Comment by ajnn on June 4, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    1. the ‘depleted uranium’ claim of [Heksefatter]is nonsense.

    it misrepresents what the stuff actually is. you get MUCH more radiation from the batteries in your i-pod. it is DELETED in that the radiation is the stuff that is depleted leaving the metal very dense and heavy and very good for piercing bullet-proof vests and similar armor. it is also good greater accuracy in mid-distance shooting.

    2. the claim that ‘no un imprimatot makes the war illegal’ is not accurate. that is not an accurate explication of international law.

    it does not make it illegal, but it may put the burden of proof of legality on the aggressor. that can be reasonably argued in 2012.

    please note; Saddam Hussein AVERAGED 100,000 killings a year for his last 20 years in office. under ‘right to defend’ and humanitarian law generally, the us had (if nothing else) a moral obligation to depose the truly indefensible Hussein regime.

  6. Comment by mike on July 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    The attack on Bin Laden was an assassination?
    How profound. I would have been disgusted with the U.S. government if it had been anything less.
    That’s what happens to someone who kills innocent women and children. Now Osama is with the fishes.

  7. Comment by Adam on July 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Naom,Chomsky…..he is a rare intellect.an intellectual dynamo of our time.his conscious drives him to write about injustices..I wish the leaders of the west will be a quarter intellect as this great MIT proffessor.

  8. Comment by Gary Lieberman on August 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    I don’t understand. Of course Bin Laden is less bad than Bush.
    Bin Laden’s 9/11 killing resulted in what … 3000 deaths including the terrorists?
    Bush killed over 100,000 to 500,000 or some ridiculous # of civilians.
    Wtf? can people not do math?

  9. Comment by PolitiCat on August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    AJNN, what you and many others who disagree with Chomsky are missing is the relativism of his statements, encapsulated in his mantra of applying the same standards to yourself as you do others..

    In that perpsective, for all govt’s who kill as such, the US would be obligated to assist. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The record shows that the US was pals with Hussein up until he disobeyed orders. We were friends with this fiend up through his gassing of the Kurds and many other atrocities.

    So, why aren’t we attacking Saudi Arabia (huge terrorist exporter)? Why did we support Suharta, Central American dictators and others? As long as a country allows the US to propagate its business, we don’t really care what they do.

  10. Comment by Erwin Alber on August 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    It is commonly understood that Osama bin Laden died some years ago and that his recent “assassination was just a publicity stunt.

  11. Comment by KeLo on August 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Dave Russell: Apparently you’ve not used the internet or Youtube. Chomsky spells it out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wriQGI5NGOM

  12. Comment by 2012 supplies on August 30, 2012 at 12:37 am

    Simply want to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness on your publish is just great and that i could suppose you are an expert in this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with coming near near post. Thanks 1,000,000 and please continue the rewarding work.

  13. Comment by juan on September 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Him , Chomsky the best to make anything observation…

  14. Comment by g lachner on September 3, 2012 at 2:03 am

    1. OBL denied involvement in 9/11 saying v. Islam to kill innocents. Dheck his interview with Pakistani journalist a few weeks post 9/11 when it would have been of benefit to claim responsibility. 2. Bush/Cheney guilty of “aggressive war” the highest of war crimes. 3. Medidal journal Lancet claims their study proves over a million innocent lives in Iraq by Bush Cheney. 4. We forced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when both countries ie Hussein and Taliban were willing to negotiate. Now we move to Syria and Iran, after Libya. Who is the purveyer of death, you say? All of this is sick and now we are moving to our own countrymen. What will stop this sick fascination with death? Even 9/11 was a put up job. Dheck Bob Bowman’s statements on you tube, former head of “Star Wars” for info. Highly educated engineer and war vet confirms what your eyes tell you.

  15. Comment by Henri K. on September 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    “We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.”

    Hmm. I don’t really get this. Do Osama’s henchmen’s feelings somehow enter into this? Should we not kill terrorist leaders, because this might antagonise other terrorists?

    If we need to question the death of Osama bin Laden, I think we should be asking questions such as “How would the Nazis* have reacted if Allied commandos landed at the Fuhrerbunker, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Baltic Sea.” And questions like “Who gives a damn how the Nazis would have felt.”

    * Yeah yeah I know, Hitler card. Sue me.

  16. Comment by aren rak on September 12, 2012 at 3:06 am

    we r pawns in a game

  17. Comment by HuwOS on September 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    ““Who gives a damn how the Nazis would have felt.””

    Wow, talk about dull.
    The point is, that by the standards the US claims to have, the US is a terrorist state and it’s leaders past and present are war criminals, just like at least one of the people you mentioned.
    So it is on that basis, that you have to ask yourself, if you are happy to accept that other nations and peoples are entitled by your own rules to invade your lands and assassinate your leaders?
    Because the Bush administration and the current one have both provided all nations with the justification that they can use to do just that.

    .

  18. Comment by Erlend Lien on September 14, 2012 at 1:24 am

    “you get MUCH more radiation from the batteries in your i-pod”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/8234159/War-contamination-could-be-causing-deformities-in-Iraq.html

    …hm, I suppose they have a lot of iPods in Falluja, then.

  19. Comment by Tod on October 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    By this definition Abraham Lincoln is a War Criminal. The deaths caused by his war of aggression dwarf any numbers here. And yes, no matter the justification, Lincoln is the one who pressed for war. Do I personally think Abe is a war criminal? Of course not.

  20. Comment by Stan on November 4, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Reading these comments no one really hit on a point Noam made earlier in the article. President Obama lied, just like Bush did, to do something illegal in the eyes of International law. Why does every US president since Wilson (except for Jimmy Carter) always seem to be the same guy playing the same game on the World Stage?

  21. Comment by Michael on November 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Wow, talk about polarizing. I don’t know what the intent of this article is but if unless it is to divide and drive people deeper into their own perspective it succeeded. I am an American and looking to the future. I was as unhappy with Bush as the rest of the world and know that the US has participated in many unjust military actions (by hoodwinking citizens or poor decision making mostly). But this presentation here is just divisive. If you want to make sure the world hates each other keep writing stuff like this. Like it or not Americans are in the best position to demand change from America and alienating them across the world is not doing anyone any good.

  22. Comment by Lamashtar on November 20, 2012 at 2:48 am

    Ugh. This lacks any sort of real world proportion or sense of history. This man isn’t fit to serve jury duty, much less comment on foreign policy.

    I came here to see how trustworthy he was, since he was listed as one of the witnesses for the attacks on the Gaza Strip. Based on this article? He is not. He is the epitome of white guilt, twisting everything so that those he feels an affinity with take on more and more blame.

    I don’t trust the Israelis and I believe the Palestinians need some fairness, but Mr. Chomsky is the wrong person to be acting as a witness for them.

  23. Comment by Oskar on November 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Internet kills my faith in human being. Kills my faith in humankind and humanity. All you narrowminded conservatives, you dare to criticise progressive way of thinking because you are afraid to step out of your convenient conformity. I admire Noam Chomsky for his attempt to make people see and understand. You conservatives are blind, but you feel safe in the darkness of your negative attitude. You’re just following the leader – no questions asked. You’re comparing Bin Laden to W.Bush? How come? Bin Laden was just a virtual creation, as Al Qaeda, and 9/11 was nothing else as insider job, to legitimise introducing, so nicely advertised by Bush Senior, and feared by Alex Jones, so called: the new world order…
    Internet is an evidence that majority of people neither require nor deserve any kind of freedom. They just don’t want to be confronted to the reality. But their safety isn’t rock solid. The same mob that feels safe in the Wall Street regime reality will chase their own tails without the modern technology. It’s enough to turn off the power grid globally to make them extinct. Without internet, mobile network, communication, administration they are worth nothing. I don’t want to act as a prophet, but there is hope that present solar storm will take care of our decaying society and will wipe out our artficial world and let the natural sellection to do the rest… I agree with Zerzan – to save humankind we have to turn back to stone age.

  24. Comment by Pat Carew on September 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Noam Chomsky has analyzed correctly: unfortunately, many of our ‘leaders’ are in the power and pockets of war mongers who profit from arms sales, contractors’ jobs, natural resources of places they attack–even admiration of Americans who want to see their country ‘on top.’

    Linguistics provides a suitable discipline for true thinking, doncha think?

    pc

  25. Comment by Donald Sutton on July 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    It would behoove everyone to listen to this man. At 85, his wisdom is incomprehensible.

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