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Bin Laden and Yousef: Dead and Alive

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Ramzi Yousefby Jacob G. Hornberger

The operation in Pakistan that ended in bin Laden’s death brings to mind the case of Ramzi Yousef. He was one of the terrorists who committed the bombing of the World Trade Center some 8 years before the 9/11 attacks on the WTC.

Yousef’s 1993 attack on the WTC was handled differently from that of the 2001 attack. After Yousef escaped from the United States and went into hiding in Pakistan, the U.S. government did not attack or bomb Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any other country.

The decision not to bomb Pakistan or Afghanistan had monumental consequences. Most important, the lives of countless people who had nothing to do with the 1993 WTC attack were spared, which meant no boiling anger and rage leading to terrorist retaliation against the United States that would have arisen from such military operations.

Instead, U.S. officials decided to simply wait Yousef out, counting on intelligence and police work to ultimately apprehend him. It took time, but two years after the WTC bombing Yousef was arrested at a guest house in Islamabad, not far from the Pakistani city in which U.S. troops killed bin Laden.

Yousef’s capture, however, was not achieved by the military. It was done by Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service.

Notwithstanding the role of the U.S. military in the raid on bin Laden’s compound, the operation was no different, in principle, from the one that resulted in Yousef’s arrest. Both were police operations, even though the bin Laden operation involved the use of military troops rather than police. The fact that troops are engaged in what is essentially a police operation does not convert the operation into a military one.

Consider the fact that in many Third World countries, the military serves as the police or engages in police operations. That doesn’t convert the police operation into a military one.

For example, during the past several years the Mexican military has been heavily involved in the drug war. But simply because the military is arresting or killing drug lords doesn’t mean that such operations are military operations. It’s simply a case of the military serving in a police capacity and perhaps using more force than the police.

What if the U.S. military were summoned to patrol the southern border against the entry of undocumented workers? That would be a case of the military serving in a law-enforcement capacity, not a military operation.

The military mindset is totally different from the police mindset. The military man is trained to think in terms of killing while the policeman is trained to think in terms of arrest.

Thus, it is not surprising that military officials were unwilling to risk the lives of any of their Navy Seals in an attempt to arrest bin Laden and return him to the United States for trial. In their minds, such a risk wasn’t worth it. The soldier’s mindset is on killing, not arresting.

The policeman’s mindset is totally different. When a suspected criminal is holed up in a building, the cop’s mindset is focused on how he’s going to arrest the person, not kill him. While the cops sometimes do kill a person who resists arrest, nonetheless the primary focus is on apprehending, not killing.

Yousef was extradited to the United States, where he was indicted, prosecuted, and convicted in U.S. federal district court. Why federal court rather than a military tribunal? Because in 1993, just as in 2001 and today, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was a federal criminal offense under the U.S. Code. Yousef is now serving a life prison term in a federal penitentiary.

Of course, President Bush’s response to the 9/11 attack on the WTC was totally different from the response that U.S. officials took after the 1993 WTC attack. The invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which killed, maimed, or exiled millions of people, most of whom had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Both countries were destroyed. The anger and rage produced by the invasions and occupations have ensured an endless stream of terrorist threats — threats that are cited as the reason why civil liberties cannot be restored to the American people despite the killing of bin Laden.

The killing of Osama bin Laden is expected to produce one significant change in direction for the U.S. government: According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors are expected to appear in U.S. District Court this week to seek a dismissal of the federal criminal indictment for terrorism that has been pending against bin Laden for several years. That’s not surprising. As I stated previously, terrorism is a federal crime under the U.S. Code and bin Laden’s death makes the criminal charges against him moot.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation


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