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Fog of Conspiracy Theories

Fog of Conspiracy Theories S Arun Mohan There are many things that Anand Teltumbde got right about the reaction to Osama bin Laden


It is beyond a shadow of doubt that

Fog of Conspiracy Theories

the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad was a “kill only” mission. If the ostensible reason was security of the S Arun Mohan personnel involved in the operation, the

here are many things that Anand Teltumbde got right about the reaction to Osama bin Laden’s killing, both in India and abroad in his analysis (“Imperial Justice and Indian Frenzy”, 4 June 2011). Unfortunately, those articulations were consumed by a regrettable digression the author himself made, seemingly to establish that the 9/11 attacks were a grand illusion forged by the United States military-industrial complex. Ill-conceived as the suggestion was – and this response is in no way a defence of 9/11 conspiracy theories – the manner in which it has been projected as the focal point of Teltumbde’s analysis is symptomatic of the neo-liberal’s reluctance to share responsibility for condoning a patently illegal act.

Mainstream opinion not only forgave this extrajudicial killing, but also revelled in the euphoria it generated. Too conscientiously the US people celebrated the murder of a deadly terrorist to appreciate the blatant flouting of established international norms in the process. Far too alluring had been the prospect of such “surgical strikes” to pause and consider the perils of unilateral aggression. Egged on by the media, people were calling for the heads of the outlawed, fascinated with the unmistakably imperial arrogance of the sheriff in town.

Far-fetched Claims

Conspiracy theories, as with those concerning 9/11, have often been conceived to promote an agenda. Teltumbde depicted the blood lust of the media and its audience after bin Laden’s departure with accuracy, but needlessly ventured beyond his brief to take recourse in conspiracies. It then becomes easier to discredit the piece in toto than absorb a few uncomfortable truths.

Why bin Laden was not brought before the law and why few people chose to contend the narrative of “justice” fashioned by President Barack Obama is hardly a mystery. The Abbottabad raid smacked of American high-handedness that went far beyond the violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Bin Laden’s killing was definitive proof that the US felt capable of avoiding the rigours of due process, and yet manage to sell its nobility to the world.

If Teltumbde tried too hard to exonerate bin Laden from the responsibility for the 11 September attacks, his observations of America’s difficulty in proving the same were not too far from the mark. Officials in the past decade have often held up “smoking gun” tapes that purport to show bin Laden vouching for his involvement in 9/11. These tapes do seem authentic, and circumstantial evidence certainly corroborates them. But within the confines of a courtroom, the proof and onus to establish such complicity goes beyond recordings obtained from secondary sources.

Successive US administrations have only been too familiar with this problem – it is for the same reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) “most wanted list”, to date, does not include the 9/11 attacks in the list of purported crimes held against bin Laden. While conspiracy theorists have used this factoid to weave fancy stories, it is sufficiently clear Washington considered these legal tribulations to be best circumvented, than confronted.

Teltumbde’s documentation of the shoddy US explanation for the Abbottabad raid is not incorrect either. That bin Laden was unarmed while he was shot from close distance by Navy Seals is now settled. But such revelation was only progressive, winding down from a series of contradictory “official” statements. If bin Laden “resisted the assault” according to initial accounts, he had “two firearms within reach” as understood later (Landler and Mazzetti 2011). Eventually, it turned out the dreaded terrorist was spotted in “the doorway of his room” while “retreating” (Miller 2011).

july 9, 2011

fact remains that a captured bin Laden would have proven to be a bigger headache than a dead one. The legal complications that may have arisen – not altogether dissimilar to the ones faced in closing down Guantanamo Bay – would probably have taken the sheen off his capture. Driven to desperation, and aided by insolence, the US showed callous disregard for accepted principles of domestic and international law.

Despite the tight corner that it was drawn into, the Obama administration still pulled off a public relations coup, thanks to the media’s readiness to cling on to any morsel of information that came its way. The official discourse of “justice” and “deserving punishment” was bought hook, line and sinker, right down to the chest-thumping announcement of probable future attacks. Teltumbde highlights this wholehearted acceptance of unapologetic aggression, romanticised by a frenetic Indian media to suit the local context.

Blind Swipe

In arriving at this conclusion, Teltumbde’s analysis takes a blind swipe at American imperialism through the fog of conspiracy theories. To deny Al Qaida’s involvement in perpetrating the attacks on American soil would be a grave insult to the memory of the thousands who perished on that day. Leaning on conspiracy theories to support such an argument does not bode well for the integrity of the analysis either. Greater responsibility lies with a journal of the standing and repute as EPW to ensure that analyses are based on cogent reasoning and not vague speculation.

S Arun Mohan ( is a lawyer.


Landler, Mark and Mark Mazzetti (2011): “Account Tells of One-Sided Battle in Bin Laden Raid”, The New York Times, 4 May.

Miller, Greg (2011): “CIA Spied on bin Laden from Safe House”, The Washington Post, 6 May.

vol xlvi no 28

Economic & Political Weekly

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