Feb 21, 2024

What I Learned From Reading Osama Bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America"

By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org
What I Learned From Reading Osama Bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America"
The letter published in the Guardian in 2002 has resurfaced in the context of Israel's war against Hamas, given that many in the West did not know that America's war crimes in the Middle East and support for Israel's occupation of Palestine was the prime excuse for the 9/11 attacks.

Ironically, I didn’t even know about the letter until The Guardian removed it from their website last November after it started getting attention from semi-viral TikTok posts.12

That mini-controversy aside, what did I learn from reading it? It reminded me, once again, how every villain has an internal logic that casts themselves as moral and just, no matter how cartoonish we might cast their motives. Spoiler alert: they don't "hate us for our freedoms."

So how did Bin Laden justify the killing of American civilians?

He used a line of reasoning that is now becoming eerily common among Western political misleaders today. According to Bin Laden, because we live in a democracy and freely elected presidents who are guilty of war crimes, Americans are complicit in their crimes and thus fair targets for retribution.

This logic is the logic of terrorism and should rightly be rejected. No one deserves to die because they voted in an election.

Besides the false moral justification, this is also a false theory because Americans do not have a real democracy. Our choices are rigged and always involve two pro-war choices. Not everyone supports America's wars or even voted for those who wage those wars, and millions of Americans actively protest the crimes of their government, to no avail usually because we are ruled by criminals aided by a complicit corporate media (but I digress).

Tragically, Bin Laden is not alone in using the facade of elections to justify war crimes. Today, those who support Israel's war on Hamas justify the killing of 28,000 Palestinians because they say Gazans voted for Hamas in 2006, making them complicit and thus fair game for attack. It's the "you reap what you sow" line of argument. One commenter on Films For Action's Facebook page told us "If Hamas wins elections based on terrorism then Gaza deserves what it gets."

Many hard-right Israel supporters say the quiet part out loud and claim there are no innocent people in Gaza at all (even, apparently, the children, which is almost half the population). This is even coming from Israel's president:

"It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said at a press conference in October. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.” - Isaac Herzog (2023)

"The residents of Gaza are not innocent.  They elected Hamas… they chose this freely and must live with the consequences”. - Gilad Sharon (2012), son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Here’s a video of more examples of politicians and media figures claiming non-innocence.

Again, besides being morally bankrupt and in violation of international standards against the war crime of collective punishment, this is a false theory because less than 50% voted for Hamas and most of the people in Gaza today weren't old enough to vote then.

If Americans can't rise up and oust their criminal presidents from power or sway them to do the right thing - even in a so-called democracy, even with millions protesting - how can we expect the people of Gaza to, when Hamas is known for their brutal repression of dissent? 

To Be Pro-War is to Embrace Extremism

Those who support Israel’s war and war in general tend to think of themselves as moral and rational realists, whose violence is always more civilized, just, and humane than the enemy’s, but this mental armor masks the inherent extremism of their position.

We can see past the veil when they applaud the bombing campaign on Gaza, which has killed over 13,000 unmistakably innocent children. Their mental armor? They say Gazans are human shields, and Hamas must be defeated even at the cost of vast civilian and child casualties. “Hamas is evil,” you see. That’s what makes the slaughter of children okay in their eyes.

Pro-war supporters often hide this Faustian bargain by claiming they care about minimizing civilian casualties. President Biden recently called Israel’s actions (read: slaughter of Palestinians) “over the top.” Nonetheless, by supporting the war at all, by refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire, they are supporting the war as is, and this means supporting military tactics that lead to a 74-94% civilian death rate. 

One Simple Point Exposes the Hypocrisy of War

We know, without question, that they would not support this bombing campaign if Hamas was hiding inside Israel. They absolutely would not support the killing of 28,000 Israeli civilians and the bombing of their own country, and this right here reveals the violent nationalism (and yes, obfuscated terrorism) inherent in pro-war logic. Israeli lives simply matter far more than Palestinian lives. Such high civilian casualties would never be excused if the victims were Israeli or American. 

Collective Punishment Is Always Wrong

Supporters of Hamas, likewise may believe Israeli civilians or Jews are not innocent and are thus fair targets for attack. They may site implicit support for the occupation and the election of pro-occupation leaders, as well as the fact that all Israeli civilians over the age of 18 are forced to serve in the army and many are armed.

Such logic must be opposed as well. Millions of Jewish people around the world are against the occupation and Israel's war and do not support Netanyahu’s extremist party. Numerous Israeli citizens and Jewish-American citizens are protesting the war as we speak, and many opposed to Israel's occupation died during the Oct 7th attack, such is the tragic logic of totalizing narratives, which cast entire groups as the enemy.

While occupied Palestinians do have a right to armed resistance under international law, unarmed citizens should never be targeted, and war crimes were undoubtedly committed on 10/7 by Hamas and other militant factions involved that day, while war crimes have been committed virtually every day since then by Israel.

So let's be clear: To support Hamas or Israel's government right now is to support the logic of collective punishment, which is a war crime under international law. If we can agree that collective punishment is wrong, this much should not be contested.

Some have called 10/7 “Israel’s 9/11,” and from reports of unreleased footage screened to journalists, I can’t disagree. But what is truly appalling to me, if we are now ready to lift the veil of pro-war nationalism from our eyes, is that the government of Israel has now committed nine 9/11s on the people of Palestine in response and pro-war supporters cheer for this (in the name of defeating their enemy, as always). They do not see the horror behind hoping "Israel finishes the job" as we often see at pro-war rallies. They do not see the criminal hypocrisy and complicity of Western leaders who profess unquestionable support for Israel - even after the ICJ found accusations of genocide credible.

One Common Thread Among Extremists

George Bush, Netanyahu, Osama Bin Laden, Joe Biden, Putin, Trump, and pro-war supporters are alike in that they all invoke one justification or another for civilian casualties in the name of the greater good. They often mask their extremism behind calm, sanitized euphemisms and humanitarian language, but their willingness to accept vast amounts of human suffering and death among civilian men, women, and children in the name of a political aim is terrorism, at the end of the day.


Tim Hjersted is a co-founder of Films For Action. All of his articles are released under Creative Commons to freely republish.

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