I Know What You’re Thinking: “Noam Chomsky’s Still Alive?”

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 7, 2011

Well, yes. And he has some things to say about the killing of Osama bin Laden that ought to surprise no one familiar with his oeuvre:

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

We are not told what “elementary norms of international law” are violated by the decision to kill a terrorist, so Chomsky’s observation is worthless. I could write that elementary norms of international law were violated by Chomsky’s decision to write the blog post that he wrote, but absent a citation to a relevant provision of international law, my observation would not mean anything to anyone. Note the doubt alluded to by Chomsky that bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible for 9/11, a doubt for which there is no evidence save some fragmentary report by Chomsky of what Robert Mueller may or may not have said in April, 2002 (there is no link of any kind to any transcript detailing what Mueller may have said), and note his apparent willingness to extend to the Taliban far more trust and good faith than he is (ever) willing to extend to the government of the United States. To say that these are lunatic positions to take is to insult lunatics, but leave it to Chomsky to try to lend credence to 9/11 Truthers, and to posit that one ought to be more generous to the Taliban than one is to the U.S. government. Reflexive contrarianism demands no less.

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

An unbelievably lame effort to dismiss the overwhelming evidence of al Qaeda’s efforts to plan and execute the terrorist attacks of 9/11, not to mention the value of bin Laden’s confession:

There is, of course, far more evidence that bin Laden and al Qaeda were involved in 9/11 than there is that Chomsky won the Boston Marathon. I do wonder how any of his fans can continue to be willing to be associated with a Truther crank.

There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

In fact, there has been a great deal of discussion in the news regarding Pakistan’s anger over having its sovereignty violated. It is true that the Pakistanis are displeased with the United States military coming into their country to take out bin Laden, but (a) the United States has every right to defend itself; and (b) if the Pakistanis approved, Chomsky would be no more likely to give his approbation to the operation. Indeed, chances are that if the Pakistanis approved, Chomsky would write about how they have become the dupes and puppets of the United States government.

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region

I have to think that Chomsky would celebrate if George W. Bush were assassinated by Iraqis. Putting that issue aside, and moving on, I have been trained to think that when a writer begins a sentence with a word like “uncontroversially,” he/she is, in fact, planning to put forth a very controversial position, and simply wants to paper over any opposition that might arise against it; thus Chomsky’s effort to pass off the absurd suggestion that George W. Bush’s “crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s” as a run-of-the-mill observation. It should be noted that this kind of thing is Chomsky’s stock in trade; he likes to shock by claiming that American Presidents are even worse than terrorists like bin Laden, and he now basically says that President Obama is a criminal too; an entirely expected development. These kinds of statements are about the only way that Chomsky can attract attention from anyone, which explains why he is so willing to make them. But of course, the schtick is getting kind of old.

I suppose that I could write more on Chomsky’s blog post, but it kind of peters out. Much like whatever relevance Chomsky has these days, come to think of it. Noam Chomsky is still alive. But given the increasingly tired and predictable nature of his public act, who cares anymore?

  • Eaglesmith

    I am not familiar with Chomsky’s work or reputation. Most of the backlash I have read, to his comments, seems to consist of a visceral reaction to other things he has said or written in the past. Perhaps that is justified, I don’t know. What I do know is this: IF it is true that the strike team sent to Bin Laden’s residence could easily have extracted him alive with no more risk to themselves than killing him, and IF it is true that he was unarmed when shot, then it is inexcusable to have killed him. The American Way used to be that a criminal, no matter how despicable his crimes, is charged and made to stand trial, and if convicted is punished in accordance with the law. If we have truly abandoned these core principles of civilized behaviour, then Bin Laden may be dead, but he has surely defeated us.

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      I shall try to overcome my sense of grief regarding the possibility that Osama bin Laden defeated the United States by dying at the hands of Navy SEALs.

    • T. K. Tortch

      The American Way used to be that a criminal, no matter how despicable
      his crimes, is charged and made to stand trial, and if convicted is
      punished in accordance with the law.

      The “American Way” never has treated someone like Bin Laden as a common
      criminal; nor has ever aspired to do so. He was a foreign national (or
      at least, he started out as a Saudi) who never availed himself of this
      Nation’s laws, never pretended to respect this Nation’s laws, and, most
      importantly, was never subject to this Nation’s due process laws as a
      citizen. He, as self-declared leader of a religious terror cult,
      declared war on the United States, aiming for its destruction, and
      proceeded to prosecute that war to the maximum extent of his abilities.

      The United States has had few prominent enemies, such as Bin Laden, so
      utterly undeserving of any sort of legal process. At best you could
      argue that we were obliged to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan, as he
      was found there. Otherwise this Nation owed Bin Laden only the legal
      process we deigned to grant him.

      The “American Way” never has treated someone like Bin Laden as a common
      criminal; nor has ever aspired to do so. He was a foreign national (or
      at least, he started out as a Saudi) who never availed himself of this
      Nation’s laws, never pretended to respect this Nation’s laws, and, most
      importantly, was never subject to this Nation’s due process laws as a
      citizen. He, as self-declared leader of a religious terror cult,
      declared war on the United States, aiming for its destruction, and
      proceeded to prosecute that war to the maximum extent of his abilities.

      The United States has had few prominent enemies, such as Bin Laden, so
      utterly undeserving of any sort of legal process. At best you could
      argue that we were obliged to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan, as he
      was found there. Otherwise this Nation owed Bin Laden only the legal
      process we deigned to grant him.

  • Lateral

    I’m shocked at the contempt for Mr Chomsky and the truth displayed by the writer of the above article, who is obviously unaware of the large holes in the official US government version of the 911 events.
    Noam Chomsky is 100% correct when he says there is no evidence to link bin Laden to the events of 911 – and I know this is counter-intuitive for Americans brought up on the official propaganda version. When you think about it – how would bin Laden have known the Twin Towers (and building 7) would have imploded like standard demolition jobs after burning for less than an hour? And how did Bush know so soon afterwards that Al-Qaeda was the sole culprit? A lot of New York firemen have gone on record saying that they heard explosives going off in the Towers away from the crash sites and especially below ground level….and there are NO photos available of the 757 that was alledgedly crashed into the Pentagon – now where did that plane go?Bin Laden was assassinated, pure and simple; to put him on trial would be far too dangerous for the Obama administration as it would mean the case would have to be proved without the fake confession videos.

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      I have no problem banning truthers. Life is too short to waste on ridiculous conspiracy theories. Bye.

      • T. K. Tortch

        Good on you. Of the many ways conspiracy theories are pernicious, the most irksome is that they cannot be disproved; all the proponent of the theory needs to do to defeat (in his own mind) the most recent in a series of debunkings is presume the existence of a conspiracy so vast and conspirators so clever that all the theories’ empirical failings can be accounted for. Conspiracy theorists are mystery cultists.

  • Ron Mullikin

    Chomsky a truther? I don’t think so. He’s been quite specific on this one… here is one instance http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=037_1176820340.

    Who is the bigger fool? Chomsky who gets a little bit legalistic about OBL’s guilt over 9/11 (I know, I know… due process, what a 19th bummer) or you who believed that hogwash about WMDs in Iraq and balsa wood drones threatening the heartland. You support two decade long trillion dollar wars and come out talking about your libertarian bonafides? I don’t get it.

    Ron

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      Chomsky a truther? I do think so. I read his blog post, and took the words he wrote seriously. As for who is the bigger fool, the answer is clear: Chomsky.

      • Ron Mullikin

        Please show me where Chomsky has said that the 9/11 bombings were done by anyone other than Islamic terrorists. His line of questioning would be pursued by any run-of-the-mill defense attorney had OBL been taken alive and, the horror!, tried in a civilian court. Was he in direct contact with any of the 9/11 bombers? Where is the evidence that he was materially involved with the bombings in Washington DC and New York. Oh, he “confessed” and was in the presence of the 9/11 bombers? That’s nice. I’ll show you a hundred false confessions done for any number of reasons from insanity to braggadocio. OBL had plenty of reasons to confess to the 9/11 bombers– the most prominent of which was that it would enormously increase his standing in the Arab world.

        I think you, like Hitchens, are reading things in Chomsky’s article that aren’t there. The irritating thing about Hitchens article is that he draws a false parallel between truthers and Chomsky, when Chomsky has been quite specific that responsibility for the 9/11 attacks was from Islamic radicals. Is that so controversial? You can how disingenuous Hitchens is in his article when he uses the phrase “It’s no criticism of Chomsky to say that his analysis is inconsistent
        with that of other individuals and factions who essentially think that
        9/11 was a hoax” to hedge his bets. He can’t call Chomsky a truther because, oh yeah, he hasn’t ever said that the attacks in New York and the Pentagon were done by anybody other than Islamists. But then really “[Chomsky's] form of 9/11 denial doesn’t trouble to conceal an unstated but
        self-evident premise, which is that the United States richly deserved
        the assault on its citizens and its civil society”. Oh so now being a U.S. foreign policy critic and saying that it might not have been a good idea to give stinger missiles to fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the 80s is being equivalent to being a truther? Is that so? I know alot of Republicans that are radical truthers if measured by Hitchen’s metric.

        • Pejman Yousefzadeh

          When Chomsky falsely writes that Washington “didn’t have evidence” to show that bin Laden was guilty of mass murder on 9/11, when he falsely writes that “[n]othing serious has been provided” in the aftermath of early investigations by the FBI, and when he compares bin Laden’s confession to Chomsky’s hypothetical claim that he won the Boston Marathon, this is Truther rhetoric. It at the very least intimates strongly that bin Laden/al Qaeda may not be responsible for 9/11, and that there is no proof to show otherwise. Given that Truthers are “loosely affiliated organizations and individuals who question the accepted account of the September 11, 2001 attacks,” the epithet “Truther” fits Chomsky to a T. He has not yet accused the United States government of being involved in the attacks, but he purports not to believe the voluminous evidence that bin Laden and al Qaeda were/are responsible for the 9/11 attacks. A defense attorney may try to cast doubt on the case as well, but Chomsky is not acting as a defense attorney, now is he? He is acting as a polemicist, and a dishonest one at that. As for the confession, Chomsky also has no proof that the confession was false. And neither do you.
          Hitchens points to all of the reports that prove that bin Laden and al Qaeda were behind the attacks–thus disputing Chomsky’s lie that “nothing serious has been provided” in the form of evidence. Chomsky’s efforts to glide over all of that evidence are pathetic, but they are also unmistakable. Not only is he trying to dispute the facts, he is doing so badly. There is no reason why he should not be called on for his sophistry. And there is no reason why you shouldn’t be called on it either; no one argues that critiquing American policy regarding arming the mujahedin in Afghanistan is equivalent to being a Truther, so one wonders why you claim that Hitchens is trying to argue it. I imagine you are making such a strawman argument just to muddy the waters in your effort to defend Chomsky. Too bad you are about as bad as he is at disputing the indisputable with an air of credibility.

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