The letter published in the Guardian in 2002 has since been removed following a surge in traffic from TikTok. The letter 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.
What did I learn from reading Osama Bin Laden's 2002 Letter to America? I learned how every villain, no matter how cartoonish we might cast their motives (they hate us for our freedoms), always has an internal logic that casts themselves as moral and just.
Bid Laden justified the killing of American civilians by throwing our false slogans about Americans having freedom back in our faces. According to Bin Laden, because we freely elected presidents who are guilty of war crimes (which is the sadly true part), 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, Bid 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 13,000+ 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. Just today, a 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, Isaac Herzog:
"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.”
"The residents of Gaza are not innocent. They elected Hamas… they chose this freely and must live with the consequences”. - Gilad Sharon (2012)
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?
Less die-hard pro-war supporters will claim they care about minimizing civilian casualties, and yet they nonetheless support military tactics that lead to a 74-94% civilian death rate.
We know pro-war supporters share the logic of Bin Laden because they condone the bombing campaign on Gaza, which has killed over 5000 unmistakably innocent children, but they excuse it by saying Gazans are human shields, and Hamas must be defeated even at the cost of civilian casualties.
We know pro-war supporters share this logic because, without question, we know they would not support this bombing campaign if Hamas was hiding inside Israel. They absolutely would not support the killing of 13,000+ 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.
Supporters of Hamas, like Bin Laden, likewise believe Israeli civilians are not innocent (due to implicit support for the occupation and the election of pro-occuation leaders) and are thus fair targets for attack. Such logic must be condemned no matter who promotes it. Millions of Jewish people around the world are against the occupation, Israel's war and do not support Netanyahu. Numerous Israeli citizens are protesting their government 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.
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. Even if an American, Palestinian or Israeli citizen helped elect a criminal political party, no citizen deserves to be targeted with violence or killed based on a vote in an election, which is usually rigged anyway. If we can agree that collective punishment is wrong, this much should not be contested.
What is truly appalling to me, if we are now ready to lift the veil of ideologically-induced delusion from our eyes, is that the government of Israel has now committed over four 9/11s on the people of Palestine and pro-war supporters cheer for this (in the name of defeating Hamas) and hope "Israel finishes the job" as we saw at one major pro-war rally.
This is true insanity. George Bush, Netanyahu, Osama Bin Laden, Joe Biden, Putin, Trump, and all pro-war supporters are alike in that they all invoke one justification or another for civilian casualties in the name of a greater good.
I absolutely reject this logic no matter who promotes it, but I will speak out against it even more so when it comes from the leaders in my own government or its allies.
Violence will never lead to peace. Only a political solution can accomplish that.
Tim Hjersted is a co-founder of Films For Action. All of his articles are released under Creative Commons to freely republish.