Or, The Tortured Justifications and Legalities Involved in Invading Afghanistan

Have all of Bush’s decisions been terrible or does it just seem that way? That is not a rhetorical question.

Can anyone cite with a straight face a single major decision by the man involving the public, either before or during his presidency, which has not ultimately been found to have either been made for questionable reasons or so poorly executed it failed to achieve its stated goal? In fact, can anyone think of anything that hasn’t turned into an unmitigated disaster in its results, at least for others who must suffer the consequences?

I am not talking about his decisions to finally give up his possible addictions to drugs and alcohol or marry his current wife or use his influence to keep his kids out of jail. Those are purely private matters and, as such, the decisions basically only affect him and his family. Nor am I talking about the large losses to the shareholders of the companies he was given to run before getting into politics. Those too are private since no one forced the shareholders to keep the stock after they learned what an inexperienced person was running the show. No, I am talking about those decisions made which significantly affect either the public treasury, human lives, the national security or societal morale. Have there been any of those of which the entire country can be proud and agree were good for at least the greater majority?

There has been extensive revisiting lately of some of the President’s more blatantly obvious screw ups ranging from his disastrous choice of “Brownie” as head of FEMA to the apparently falsified reasons for invading Iraq. But, what about some of his decisions which continue to be taken for granted as fully justified? Take for example Afghanistan. Many applaud Bush’s decision to invade that nation. After all, they assert, Bin Laden, the architect for the fall of the twin towers, was hiding out there. Surely we had to get him by whatever means was necessary and unilateral invasion was the only available choice. Right?

Questionable! Even if it is freely granted that the Taliban group running the country at the time was a collection of arrogant, nationalistic, tyrannical, occasionally brutal, religious fundamentalists who were not put in office by the people through a democratic vote, was any of that enough by itself to merit the blunt application of military force? Some observers contend the same traits easily could be said of current US administration, let alone those who ultimately replaced the Taliban.

We can even acknowledge that the Taliban leadership probably hated our guts and openly rejoiced at the 9/11 massacre. How though is that different from a number of other countries out there happily doing the same thing? At what point does animosity short of physical attack genuinely justify invasion? Remember, whatever rule is adopted allows other countries to do the same to us. If we can peremptorily launch an assault on a mere suspicion, doesn’t that make us fair game for similar treatment by those countries like Iran or Syria who Bush has openly threatened? Moreover, wasn’t Saddam’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait something we condemned? On what grounds was one invasion acceptable and the other not?

“Yeah, but Afghanistan was harboring Bin Laden,” is the cry Bush’s supporters trumpet. True, but other countries have been equally “guilty” of harboring criminals who have killed our citizens. Many still do. Does it automatically follow that when anyone dislikes us or protects our enemies, they must be active terrorists themselves? Unfortunately, to date, there does not seem to be any more conclusive evidence that the Taliban helped plan the 9/11attack than that Saddam did.

“Yeah, but we now know Bin Laden at least was definitely behind 9/11. So, we had to get him by any means necessary” or so go the theory currently espoused as the reason Bush was legally justified in invading what was a sovereign country. If that is true, is any country permitted to invade another because of a single individual believed to be hiding there?

Here is where it gets interesting. The Taliban initially said no to turning over Bin Laden. They, quite rightly under both US and international law by the way, stated the US does not have a right to demand surrender of occupants of any other country unless an extradition treaty exists between them. Can you imagine the reaction of the US if the situation had been reversed? Suppose Afghanistan had demanded, say, Salman Rushdie, who wrote a book which infuriated Muslims, be handed over to them? Actually, we do not have to imagine. Bush, despite his protestations about all terrorists must be stopped, apparently is still refusing to turn over Cuban expatriate Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela to be tried for allegedly putting a bomb on a plane. Guess they are only qualified to be treated as “terrorists” when the acts are committed against us alone.

At one point though, the Taliban government changed its mind and offered to deliver Bin Laden to US authorities if Bush would merely produce some credible evidence that Bin Laden actually was the instigator of 9/11. Has everyone forgotten, at that moment in time, it was not as clear from the publically available hard evidence as it is today that Bin Laden was directly responsible? It was merely highly suspected. He had not yet “confessed” in his infamous videotapes that were later circulated.

Granted, the Taliban offer to give up Bin Laden may have been made in desperation only under the looming threat of invasion. Nevertheless, US news reports issued prior to the invasion seemed to confirm the offer was actually made. In essence, the Taliban were only asking for the very same thing that any US Court would have mandated before Bin Laden could have been jailed in this country prior to the passage of the so-called Patriot Act and our abandonment of the Geneva Conventions. In other words, all Bush was asked to do in order to get his hands on Bin Laden was provide what attorneys in US courts call “probable cause,” something Bush would have had to do in any case.

Perhaps Bush did not want the Taliban to deliver Bin Laden. Think about that. If Bush had Bin Laden in hand, the President would have been forced to treat him as a criminal in our judicial system. In any event, Bush’s response was to say “Absolutely not.” It was almost put in terms of no penny ante fiefdom was going to tell the powerful United States of America what to do. Bush immediately repeated his demand that the Taliban deliver Bin Laden immediately without conditions or be attacked. Within almost hours, the bombing began. A wide variety of people including women and children who most likely had nothing to do with 9/11 died as a direct result. While many readers will not care since they were only Afghans, they should care about the subsequent US soldiers deaths, not to mention our seeming to be stuck in an unending military occupation draining our ability to respond to other potential threats like North Korea which not only hates us, but actually has WMDs.

Would the Taliban have actually delivered Bin Laden if Bush had given the necessary probable cause evidence, the same sort of truly minimal level of evidence needed for our police to search a home or car or put a lowly shoplifter on trial? Good question. We’ll never know because Bush flatly refused. BUT, if the offer had been genuine, we would have Bin Laden in jail today instead of still having him loose years later able to incite thousands more suicide bombers. In addition, we would have saved billions, not counting all those lives.

Would the nasty Taliban still been in control of Afghanistan if they had handed over our nemesis? Yes assuming Bush did not find some other excuse to eliminate them legally. At the same time, what was Bush’s stated sole justification to the American public for invading? Was it to capture a criminal or simply destroy another nation which didn’t like us? If the former, then why couldn’t a few extra days have been taken to see if the Taliban meant what they said?

Besides, if the Taliban had refused to deliver Bin Laden after the requested probable cause was finally produced, then we would have much superior grounds to convince the UN or perhaps some Middle Eastern countries to join us as was done in the first Gulf War. We would not have ended up almost unilaterally attacking another country in clear violation of the same laws we want other countries to obey. Better yet, we at least would have not trashed our Bill of Rights and criminal procedure laws and all we used to stand for in the process. We might even have had grounds at that point for a genuine Declaration of War passed by Congress as required by the Constitution rather than the dangerously anemic “preapproval” document which Congress cowardly gave Bush in which war was supposed to be the absolute last resort rather than the first. What a terrible precedent to set.

So, did the supposedly righteous decision by Bush to invade turn out to be right in the long run? It is not as if all his machinations and application of overwhelming force actually caught Bin Laden. He is still out there mocking us. We look like the Keystone Kops. As for the Taliban, we seem to have replaced them with a collection of war lords, criminals and drug dealers. Heroin poppy production is way up.

Are you still absolutely certain that particular decision of Bush was a good one, the only one possible, one in which the justification, the execution and the result all turned out as promised by Bush? If you believe that, then either you must be living in the White House or you do not believe in the rule of law laid down by our Founding Fathers.

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