In May 2011, the US organized an operation that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and several others. This execution-style murder—contemporaneous media accounts that portrayed bin Laden as armed and fighting to the death were later discredited—was followed by the removal of the body and secret burial at sea.
The circumstances of this killing underscored the murky relationship between Al Qaeda and US imperialism. The Saudi millionaire was first recruited as a militant in the CIA-controlled mujahedeen war in Afghanistan against the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s. He later allied himself with the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with the open support of the Pakistani military and the tacit backing of Washington. He was found, not in the proverbial cave, but living in an expensive compound in a town only 40 miles from the headquarters of the Pakistani army, “the equivalent of a fugitive hiding next to a police station.”
Bin Laden’s death illuminated the crisis of American democracy. A Perspective column by David North pointed out that the Obama administration’s attempts to manufacture public enthusiasm over the killing had fallen flat. The liberal media responded to any expressions of doubt over the assassination with furious denunciations. “I want memory, and justice, and revenge,” Maureen Dowd shouted on the pages of the New York Times. “The really insane assumption behind some of the second guessing is that killing Osama somehow makes us like Osama, as if all killing is the same.”
Dowd has missed the irony of her remark. Assassination is, indeed, a very exceptional and illegal type of killing. Its practice by a state—and, in particular, the United States—has far-reaching political implications, since the act is recognized as the most extreme violation of democratic and legal norms. The involvement of the United States in political assassinations in the 1960s was part of a pattern of illegal actions that led to the wholesale criminality of the Nixon administration and its violations of democratic rights in the United States …
Unlimited violence, the repudiation of legality, and the suppression of democracy: this is the reactionary trajectory of contemporary American capitalism.