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Date Published: 4/10/2012
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors


Murder in the Simulacrum: Bin Laden, Unbelievable Deaths and Depictions of Legal Exceptionality

Binoy Kampmark

Yes, the Cathars held the material world to be evil and bad, created by demons. At the same time, they put their faith in God, the holy and the possibility of perfection.
- Jean Baudrillard, Der Spiegel Interview, 2002.

The enemy is our own question embodied
And he will hound us, and we will hound him to the same end
- Theodor Däubler

A Time Magazine issue released immediately after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, shows the figure of the al Qaeda leader with a red cross marked on his face. Erasure, liquidation, a figure expunged. The magazine issue strikes a note of triumphalism -- the United States had finally gotten its man in the preferred state: dead. But this was no conventional death. Nothing regarding bin Laden's deaths (for he has died several times) has been 'conventional'. From the moment the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2011 and assimilated into the symbolic language of apocalyptic terrorism, the entire 'war' (itself necessarily a questionable state) became an image, be it through the terrorist response itself, or the reaction of the security state. The execution he was administered was not the equivalent of a head on a stake outside the Tower of London. Nor did it resemble the display of the Anabaptist Jan Bockelson's remains, exhibited in cages hung from St. Lambert's Church, Münster in 1536 as a reminder of what happens to those who challenge a powerful order. It was a digitalised public execution that was filmed, programmed, and streamed live to the White House. The only thing missing in the images of a stunned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and fellow grim faces in the situation room were the mandatory additions viewers bring to see a film: buckets of popcorn, super sized soft drinks. Pizza, however, was provided.

The very execution was engineered in circumstances of controlled deception. From the moment of its planning, the mission to kill bin Laden was concealed from both ally and foe alike. The Pakistani authorities may well have been kept in the dark till the penultimate assault on the military compound harbouring the leader. [1] Left reeling, the Foreign Ministry could only claim that the information American forces had obtained had come from their offices. "It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior and technological assets, [the] CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden." [2] That he had already been declared dead on numerous occasions prior to his killing on May 1 also showed on the one hand the irrelevance of the revelation, and on the other, the dangers to the credibility of the US security forces. What is proposed here is a detailed examination of that death, its meaning, its relevance, and its representation in the broader technological scape of modern war and its intersections with justice. How can the digitised murder of a designated terrorist be framed within the context of modern justice?

The exceptional death

Within a democratic context, or to be more exact, in a context where the rule of law is said to apply, doctrines of exceptionality have been carved out. [3] Legal purgatory is the site in history in which revisions, modifications and abridgments can be made to a subject's rights to reflect the nature of that emergency and the threat. This "state of exception" is a juridical-political category where illegality and legality blur before the justification of emergency. [4] The nature of such an approach is reflected by legalistic arguments put forth by advocates of torture who have effectively enhanced its use in a discursive manner precisely because expectations in terms of security can no longer be "mapped". [5] States can, in that sense, deal in the currency of torture, the erosion of the subject's will [6]. The global manhunt for an exceptional terrorist, extraordinary rendition or illegal interventions are based not, as theorists M. Hardt and A. Egri explain, "on a priori framework, moral or legal, but only a posteriori, based on its results." [7]

Bin Laden effectively became a constituted species of homo sacer, a figure who follows a trend in many societies where various offenders are privileged by labels of exceptionalism that allow for their eradication. For "here was an object called by this solemn adjective, homo sacer, which might be violated without any nefas [deadly crime]: a man whom anyone might slay with impunity." [8] Bin Laden, like his followers, were the exceptions that had to be targeted in a global war, all of them "like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning." There could be no waiting before "perils" as they drew closer. [9]

Students of the evolution of that term find that "sacer" was rendered exceptional from the idea of the sacred -- the sacrum -- beings or entities considered to be the property of a deity. The killing with impunity of a designated homo sacer was an atavistic throwback in which such a figure is considered an object of taboo, a being to be disposed of without legal penalty. Biologically, such a subject remains human, but legally, he exists as a non-person who can be struck down and killed. Such a being is "cursed and consecrated at the same moment." [10]

Return of legitimacy (or simulated justice)

The extra-judicial killing of bin Laden took place in what has been termed the simulacrum of justice. [11] US Attorney General Eric Holder explained to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the raid on bin Laden's compound was decidedly lawful, "as an act of national self-defense." The slain leader as "head of al Qaeda, an organisation that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th. It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field." The same views were expressed by Senator Lindsey Graham, prominent South Carolina Republican. The raid "was justified as an act of national self-defense" against "a lawful military target". [12]

Holder is being disingenuous, crediting bin Laden with legitimacy as a combatant previous denied him, adopting the language of justification after the fact in a manner echoing what Hardt and Negri have described as, "The reinforcement or reestablishment of the current global order is what retroactively legitimates the use of violence." [13] If he could be captured, well and good, though there would always be a menacing question mark as to whether this would ever be feasible. If he was killed, so be it. "It was a kill-or-capture mission," Holder explained. [14] The entire field of engagement, in Holder's language, is deemed a legitimate military zone of combat, though it has always been a qualified legitimacy -- one where military rules are circumscribed to allow for the killing of illegal combatants.

In the simulacrum, al Qaeda is paradoxically legitimised as a combat organisation with leaders as targets yet devalued before the law which has been de-activated in its operation. In a sinister fashion, the Justice Department, the Pentagon, and the White House, have become artists and poets of sorts, in the sense that Jean-Paul Sartre interpreted their role, the creators of "derealised" worlds that attempt to transcend the world as perceived. [15] Since the Bush Administration, it was made very clear that the organisation was not legal at all. It was deemed an absentee from the field of jurisprudence, a vanishing point where law retreats before the dictates of righteous, retaliatory force. The Geneva Convention of 1949, for instance, states that a prisoner "can be validly sentenced only if the sentence has been pronounced by the same courts according to the same procedure as in the case of members of the armed forces of the detaining power." This provision, in a decision of the US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia, was deemed inapplicable to members of the organisation. [16]

In effect, the United States was waging war against a phantom, a spectral entity that had to be named in order to be denuded of protections guaranteed under international law. The military order of November 13, 2001 made it clear that "it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts." [17] For the purposes of the law, in fact, al Qaeda remains hollow, a figment of the imagination, the occupant of a legal purgatory that legitimises all that is done against it. As then White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales explained in a memorandum to President Bush in January 2002, "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Aug. 12, 1949 U. S. T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S 135]." As Gonzales continues to explain, "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes such as wantonly killing civilians." [18]

The entire program of torture implemented by the United States during the Bush administration suggested the transcendent nature of US policy against international law. International law could be confronted with a parallel legal system, denying the operation and reach of conventions and shaping new systems in opposition to international norms. [19] Paradoxically, it has been pointed out that the creation of this parallel system has made the capture of alleged terrorists even more problematic precisely because "rigging the rules in favour of the hunters actually helps the hunted avoid capture." [20]

In such a parallel juridical system, measures undertaken against al Qaeda are lawful in their entirety, a decidedly perverse realisation once one realises that the organisation is by its nature diffuse, with its structure imbued with a media driven personality that has assumed the aura of black magic. In structural terms, the organisation tends to employ something resembling a matrix network, enabling it to adopt asymmetrical warfare or what has been called 4th generation warfare. [21] Membership of such groups supplemented by indirect sources of funding, make units and targets hard to pin point. [22]

To target the organisation, and its late leader, suggests a Disneyland of justice at work -- or, to be more exact, a Hollywood-styled justice with a cinematic essence. "Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the 'real country ... Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make-believe that the rest is real." [23] The compound where both bin Laden and a woman were purportedly slain, and the deception against the Pakistani security forces, suggest that the entire territory of American engagements in the 'war on terror' -- killer drones, search and destroy missions -- is law's Disneyland, a robotic simulated zone of warfare where technological simulation has annexed human agents. "The future of air power," declares The Economist with confidence, "is likely to be unmanned." [24] In other words, such devices will be entirely stage directed from control centres, furthering a process described by the French cultural theorist Paul Virilio as the elimination of the distinction between the human body and technology, the triumph of automation. [25]

Such devices are even set to become smaller, with the RQ-11B Raven made by AeroVironment of Monrovia in California effectively providing the users with a mobile set of binoculars. Like the eyes of a live war, the eyes of a war that is fought through the screen, the Raven continues the American legacy of bringing simulation to the field of combat. [26] "With drones, operators sitting in front of computer monitors in Virginia and Nevada can target enemies halfway around the world. When their shift is done, drone operators retire to their suburban homes." [27] Such operators are themselves cogs in an enormous entertainment complex that has transformed the US military machine, a video game industry that has militarised society in blurring civilian leisure time with military work time. The video game has in fact become a "pedagogical project of U.S. war practices". [28] In the use of such games "in our playtime, in our leisure time," as noted by Nina Huntemann, "we're engaging in fictional conflicts that are based on a terrorist threat and never asking questions." [29]

Even more strikingly, the drones are themselves representatives of legal exceptionality, operating against targets in countries against which the United States has not declared war. The United States is not at war with Pakistan, which is ostensibly one of Washington's key allies, but has struck targets in Pakistan since 2004 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). After the election of the Obama administration, the attacks were stepped up. Advisor on human rights to the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, has argued that the nature of such attacks is "not only a violation of Pakistan's territorial sovereignty, but it's also a plain extra-judicial killing." [30] Such express statements do not, however, conceal an implicit acceptance of such strikes by the Pakistani leadership.

In the Abbottabad compound, we were also witnessing a battlefield version of simulated justice. As criminologist Pat O'Malley points out, there are various new forms of "simulated" justice that are becoming popular. Justice is being monetized, and technologies governed by "risk-based" assessments. "I am policed, judged and sanctioned but no one has seen me, nor have I been 'sensed' in any human way. In key respects, I have not been there: my electronic trace has been there and that is what registers for the purposes of governance." [31] The governance of terrorism, for its control, has merely to be registered as a trace and no more. It becomes a digital imprint that has its apotheosis in a cinematic broadcast for those who wish to see the slaying of a stylised cartoon villain. No one really sees him other that those behind the cameras, the individuals who man the observation devices.

The literature on surveillance and its links to simulation began developing in the 1990s. In 1996, William Bogard was already describing the convergence of simulation and surveillance, where authorities would start to delve into the world of the image. [32] While the book itself is marred with various problematic aspects in terms of methodology, it notes the vital tendency in telematic society to produce hyperrealities without the public's awareness. [33]

Simulated justice takes various forms. Under the Obama administration, it has increased with the use of drone warfare and increasingly more remote forms of killing that exclude judicial forms of apprehension in favour of summary expediency. This is surveillance that culminates in termination, and it is surveillance that has been globalized, the 'war on terror' having no specific geographical location or demarcation in terms of engagement.

Western societies have assimilated the panopticon as the ideal surveillance model -- we are all under scrutiny, however culpable, however innocent. [34] The extensive use of CCTV surveillance cameras in Britain beginning in the 1990s, demonstrated the temptation for authorities to use intrusive and politicised means of surveillance in order to control the population and to justify the needs of a good society. [35] As D. Lyon observed in a study from 2001, "Everyday life is subject to monitoring, checking, scrutinizing. It is hard to find a place, or an activity, that is shielded or secure from some purposeful tracking, tagging, listening, watching, recording or verification device." [36] The killing of bin Laden is the penultimate moment when all of these elements come together -- tracked, tagged, listened to, watched recorded, and verified. It should hardly be surprising, given the use of the camera as a surveillance device, that the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar shuns it. To be filmed and photographed is to be verified.

The Death of Death

Bin Laden's presence has been that of a disseminated, viral media phenomenon, a being constituted and reconstituted through various strategies of representation. "Indeed, the effects of his audiovisual presence in the U.S. (and more broadly 'Western') media are directly tied to the structural absence of his body." [37] Substitute forms of his demise have taken the place of an object that would have, originally, possessed an aura of the original. [38] The scepticism of the death of such a figure as bin Laden is entirely understandable, precisely because global society, or rather Western society, has become sceptical of death itself. Bin Laden dies again as he has in numerous instances before, a spectral being with an infinite capacity for regeneration. He exists in order to be killed; he dies merely to survive.

Death, certainly in its Western social context, has become invisible, a world where it is no longer "tamed" in the sense meant by Philippe Ariès. [39] The medieval conception of death was ordered -- life was a staging point, a mere transition to the afterlife. (An argument might be made that many al Qaeda operatives follow this line of thinking.) The ceremonial process of death has been eliminated, replaced by bureaucratic measures and observances. It is highly medicalised and sanitised. "In the hospital, dying is removed from the moral and social fabric of the culture. It becomes redefined into a technical process that is professionally and bureaucratically controlled." [40] From the moment a person dies, to the moment of burial and cremation, the bureaucrat and manager intervenes, de-personalising the process. In a society where the aging process is reviled, death, in effect, ceases to exist. It becomes, unbelievable. This, added to the fact that we, as Arthur Koestler claims, do not ever believe that we will die, compounds the problem. Death, in short, has died.

How then, to kill bin Laden in a post-death world? How, indeed, to implant the realisation of his death upon spectator, viewer, and public? One must not merely kill the physical being but the representation of that being, to die in that representation. There are two forms where this can take place: the cinematic form of murder where the event is filmed, digitally streamed and compressed. The second is that of a killing confirmed and 'texted' in cyberspace itself.

Digital Murder and The Rock

In a sense the first format fitted perfectly in the way bin Laden has existed as a hyper-real being, being butchered before camera, 'live' as the Navy SEALs were filming the operation for the White House and the Pentagon. Al Qaeda's most spectacular operation -- the plane attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City in September 2011, was itself a 'live', streamed experience, and it became, by virtue of that spectacular saturation, the 'exceptional' event.

The SEAL unit that was supposedly engaged in the exercise of apprehending bin Laden was watched as if it were a film crew equipped with cameras and materials. "In operations like this, our source says, soldiers and pilots often carry helmet cameras, and screens in situation rooms can carry live images of all of them." [41] According to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, Obama had been playing golf, but returned for a round of macabre Sunday viewing. "Gathered in the White House Situation Room, members of the group held their breath and barely spoke as they waited to see whether a carefully crafted yet extremely risky plan would succeed". [42]

There is a striking parallel here, and something that would not have been lost on Jean Baudrillard. [43] In the 1996 film The Rock (dir. Michael Bay), an elite team of marines takes control of the once notorious prison facility off San Francisco. General Hummel intends to hold over 80 hostages who are on a tour of the island, while arming rockets with nerve agent designed to force the transfer of money through a slush fund for soldiers who died in unacknowledged special operations for the United States government. The threat to destroy San Francisco with the gas looms. A specialist team is sent in to apprehend (read eliminate) Hummel. The unit is attached with devices that enable the entire scene to be recorded. The cameras eventually go off -- the sudden loss of visibility immediately leads to a presumption that the mission has failed. [44] The unit has been ambushed and massacred -- there are only two survivors: the chemical specialist Goodspeed and Mason, a former SAS operative jailed without a prison record for almost three decades for possessing US state secrets.

The hostage takers eventually begin squabbling amongst themselves. Hummel only pretends to be a mercenary -- he never intended to liquidate a million people or kill the hostages. The authorities, in contrast, fully intended to kill all on the island, including the mercenaries and hostages, a situation that would have implicated them in the very murder that they were accusing Hummel of plotting. They also intended to destroy the pardon promised to Mason in assisting them in providing the blueprint of the Alcatraz prison complex. The spectators of digital justice are complicit in the very spectacle they seek to avoid: murder in real time.

There is also a curious twist between The Rock and the fate of bin Laden, a reversal of roles with similar principles in operation. The marines are killed, and an individual who did not legally exist -- in this case Mason -- a juridically erased subject -- becomes an indispensable instrument against 'terror'. The hostages were, in effect, saved with the assistance of a ghost, a being with no legal presence, and no identification records with the FBI. But the authenticated heroism, as recognised by the FBI, will go to Stanley Goodspeed, indispensable in disarming the rockets equipped with the nerve agent. The reason is elementary: so that justice will be done, Mason is reported as deceased to the FBI -- "vaporized" Goodspeed assures the Director of the FBI James Womack. Womack had every intention of keeping Mason a legally dead being, a true homo sacer of the establishment. But he is foiled.

Cyber deaths and social media

The second appropriate site of such a demise would seem to be cyberspace. In the absence of spiritual life, simulated communities underpinned by technological advances come to the fore. Social media satisfies a curiously religious urge in the secular world, where love, desire, and hate is digitalised. Bin Laden's death can be experienced effectively in the cyber community where he was arguably kept alive, the social media world, the media world, precisely because of his cinematic existence. It is rapid, intoxicating, connected, a congregation of typing fanatics who prefer to strike keys rather than converse, to formulate a dialogue in the absence of the body. Virtual communities exist then to promote virtual standards. They choose, through the machine process, to believe, to adapt to different identities, to assume new lives in cyberspace.

This is a dangerous world, one rife with charlatanism. Frauds thrive in cyberspace: the obese woman who presents herself as a delicate, eroticised slip, lithe and eager to please her caller; the hungry paedophile keen to represent himself as a friend of similar age; the young Syrian lesbian activist who turns out not to be a Syrian based in Damascus let alone lesbian, but merely a middle-aged American Edinburgh University student by the name of Tom MacMaster. [45] The only manifestation of the spirit world now is the very mechanism of representation marked by the Internet, from Facebook to Twitter.

Images of the dead bin Laden were always going to be regarded with a degree of suspicion -- the simulacrum, as it were, provides its own processes, its self-rationalising order. Just as his life is demonstrably a media phenomenon, so was bin Laden's death. To be killed then requires an understanding of dying in cyberspace. For one thing, bin Laden's death was 'tweeted' -- becoming a representation of social media, a demise texted into existence. "Social media optimisation company SocialFlow analysed 14.8 million Tweets sent in the hours after bin Laden's death and found, among other fascinating data, that the Tweet by Rumsfeld chief of staff Keith Urban that got the ball rolling was retweeted more than 80 times within one minute after it was sent, and that by the 3-minute mark, it has led to more than 300 reactions." [46]

In a practical sense, the US authorities were left with the dilemma of how to dispose of the body. To retain a body with such politically galvanic potential would be dangerous, immediately compelling authorities to dispose of it. But to discard it with such urgency and without ceremony might also be equally precarious, inflaming Muslim opinion. Islamic burial ritual requires the washing and draping of the body prior to burial. [47] On May 2, bin Laden's body was placed on a flat board and allowed to slide into the North Arabian Sea off the U.S.S Carl Vinson. The excuse given by the U.S. authorities was one of necessity. To have not buried him within 24 hours would have violated Islamic law. Nor were there countries willing to take the body for burial within that time. [48]

Leor Halevi of Vanderbilt University was consulted by Time Magazine on the appropriateness of the ritual. What Halevi observed was the sheer ordinariness of the burial, as ever, another statement of the absurd. Bin Laden, in short, was being normalised, his mythological propensities to live beyond the sea neutered by an ordinary burial ceremony observed by cautious authorities. Rites were offered "in strictest conformance", with the body being washed and place in a white sheet. [49] Nor did the rituals for those who died in battle have to strictly accord with conventional deaths. "The rituals for those who died in battle according to Halevi are different; they don't require the person to be buried in a shroud or someone to say a prayer." [50] The authorities were taking no chances.

The death of reputation

From a Western technological context, bin Laden's death has to be seen as something that supposes erasure, one that entails the destruction of his body and his mythology. In other words, it had to be total, with every vestige of a living legacy obliterated. "First we hunt you down. Then we blow a hole in your face. Then we dump your body in the sea where no one can find your grave. Then we destroy the last thing left of you: your reputation." [51] To be left in tatters, it is imperative that the image of warrior, of leader, be shredded. Humiliation is the foundation of the strategy, and it is only fitting that, having assumed various roles in the demonology of the West, he should now assume his final theatrical position as a dead man who died the cowardly death.

Obama's counter-terrorism coordinator Brennan insisted that the slain leader had "engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in." During the encounter, "there was a female who was in fact in the line of fire that reportedly was used ... to shield bin Laden." The implications here are that bin Laden is himself the thespian who not merely dies as an actor on a set, but is a fabrication of his very own heroism, an unbalanced figure who hides behind female human shields, who steps into and out of various roles typical of an actor's paradox that involve nature while being distant from it. [52] He is, in some ways, the man who lived the moment he played to the last in the true manner the Russian theatre theorist Konstantin Stanislavski intended acting to be. "Each time [the role] is recreated it must be lived afresh and incarnated afresh." [53] By the time the actor steps on the stage, a third, fused role has been created -- what is termed the artisto-rol.

The strategy of discrediting bin Laden was an open one. British Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the assault as being not merely against bin Laden's body. "The myth of bin Laden was one of a freedom fighter living in austerity, risking his life for the cause as he moved around the hills and mountainous caverns of the tribal areas. The reality of bin Laden was very different: a man who encouraged others to make the ultimate sacrifice while he himself hid in the comfort of a large expensive villa in Pakistan, experiencing none of the hardship he expected his supporters to endure." [54]

The directors of the execution were, however, not always clear about the account they were providing their consumers. Even in those moments of death, the manner of that representation was brought into question. Initially, the woman slain in the assault along with bin Laden was said to be his wife. Brennan subsequently corrected this account, and claimed that no human shield had been employed. [55] It subsequently turned out that bin Laden's wife had been injured but not killed in the fight.

Final deaths; simulacral justice

One cannot kill an organisation like al Qaeda, a strategy as ineffective and mounting a war against a franchise. To that end, bin Laden's life as a terrorist leader became personalised, a subject of the terror imaginary. The personalised subject gives the false impression that a tactic can become a person. "The Americans' war is focused on a visible object, which they would like to destroy. Yet the event of September 11th, in all of its symbolism, cannot be obliterated in this manner." [56]

The killing of bin Laden was undertaken in stages. First, he was deprived of a legal status, and rendered a homo sacer. In order words, he was legally dead before he was actually slain, a non-legal subject who would never seriously be taken before a court. During the years he was hunted, he underwent several transformations, dying a number of times in the context of media reports and disembodied representations, before being gunned down in Abbottabad. In being slain, his final death -- before digital cameras and in cyberspace -- took place. In his final artisto-rol, the al Qaeda leader did, indeed, die. The Obama administration, as the executing director, called the outcome just and necessary. It also deemed it necessary to erase the fallen leader's reputation.

In the final analysis, is it possible to affect justice within the simulacrum, where the subject that is placed under surveillance becomes muddled with various technologies that encourage scopophilia -- the love of the gaze? [57] The gaze levelled at the mission to kill bin Laden has various symbolic and cultural parallels. The beautiful Greek hunter Narcissus, as John Elsner points out, does not merely conflate the ideal with actual (what is imagined with the object itself), but also the nature of viewing -- "how much the beholder imposes on the autonomy of the viewed." One, in short, is colluding with the image of reflection, and blinded to that very fact. [58] The terrorist being shot without trial is, in truth, exposing the very moral bankruptcy of those initiating it. Again, in Baudrillard's terms, the war being undertaken by the US was being prosecuted "as if they are defending themselves against a wolf pack. But this doesn't work against viruses that have already been in us for a long time. There is no longer a front, no demarcation line, the enemy sits in the heat of the culture that fights it." [59] With bin Laden's killing, that virus has not merely infected the host, but possessed it.



[1] Kamran Yousaf, "Abbotabad Raid: Pakistan Upset about being kept in the Dark," The Express Tribune, May 4, 2011.

[2] Pakistani Foreign Office, "Death of Osama bin Ladin-Respect for Pakistan's Established Policy Parameters on Counter-Terrrorism," Press Release, PR. No. 152/2011, May 3, 2011, available at: (accessed on May 23, 2011).

[3] The rule of law is discussed by the constitutional lawyer A.V. Dicey involving governance by regular rules as against arbitrary wishes; equal accountability by all before the law; the protections afforded by the common law rather than a Bill of Rights: Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (London: Macmillan, 1889, first ed. 1885).

[4] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[5] See Matthew Hannah, "Torture and the Ticking Bomb: The War on Terrorism as a Geographical Imagination of Power/Knowledge," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96, no. 3 (Sep., 2006): 622-640.

[6] A good overview of the jurisprudence on this is Jeremy Waldron, "Torture and Positive: Jurisprudence and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House," Columbia Law Review 105, no. 6 (Oct., 2005): 1681-1750.

[7] M. Hardt and A. Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 30; noted in Hannah, "Torture and the Ticking Bomb," 635.

[8] These words from W. Warde Fowler, "The Original Meaning of the Word Sacer," The Journal of Roman Studies 1 (1911): 57-61, 58.

[9] George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, 2002, 2-3, at (accessed on May 30, 2011).

[10] Fowler, "Original Meaning," 58.

[11] See Laura Pitter, "Guantánamo's simulacrum of justice," Guardian, Feb 21, 2011. Jean Baudrillard's preferred use is to describe it as simulation where "the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal": "The Procession of Simulacra."

[12] Quoted in Nedra Pickler, "Holder Concerned About Revenge For Death of Bin Laden," Washington Times, May 4, 2011.

[13] Hardt and Negri, Empire, 30.

[14] Pickler, "Holder Concerned About Revenge For Death of Bin Laden."

[15] This adaptation derived from Rhiannon Goldthorpe, Sartre, Literature and Theory (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 54; and for a discussion of the idea by Jean-Paul Sartre, see Saint Genát, comédien et martyr (Paris: Gallimard, 1952), 340-1.

[16] "Geneva Convention not for al-Qaeda, U.S. court says," CBC News, Jul 15, 2005. For a further discussion of the limits prisoners have to challenge their status as "enemy combatants" see the US Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004).

[17] Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (London: Granta, 2005), 79.

[18] Alberto R. Gonzales to President of the United States, Decision Re Application of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War to the Conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban 2 (Jan. 25, 2002), noted in Brian J. Foley, "Guantanamo and Beyond: Dangers of Rigging the Rules," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 97, no. 4 (Summer, 2007): 1009-1069, 1011.

[19] Foley, "Guantanamo and Beyond," 1011.

[20] For a discussion of the parallel system, see Foley, "Guantanamo and Beyond," 1011.

[21] R. H. Schultz and A. Vogt, "The Real Intelligence Failure of 9/11 and the case for a Doctrine of Striking First," in R.D. Howard and R.L. Sawyer, eds., Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment (Guilford, Conn: McGraw-Hill Dushkin, 2004), 405-428.

[22] D.B. Skillicorn, "Social Network Analysis via Matrix Decompositions: al Qaeda," Aug 2004, Queen's University, at 1, (accessed on Oct 12, 2011).

[23] Richard Ferrell, "Will, Kate & Osama: Jean Baudrillard on Royal Weddings & the Death of bin Laden," Numáro Cinq, May 4, 2011, (accessed on May 10, 2011).

[24] Technology Monitor, "Joining the drones club," The Economist, Aug 15, 2011.

[25] J. Armitage, "The Kosovo War War Did Take Place: An Interview with Paul Virilio," in J. Armitage, ed., Virilio Live: Selected Interviews (London, Sage, 2001).

[26] See Technology Monitor, "Joining the drones club."

[27] Editors, "Remote-control Warfare," The Christian Century, May 18, 2010, (accessed on May 22, 2011).

[28] David Leonard, "Unsettling the Military Entertainment Complex: Video Games and a Pedagogy of Peace," SIMILE: Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education 4, 4 (Nov, 2004): 1-8.

[29] M. Barron and N. Huntemann, Militarism and Video Games: An Interview with Nina Huntemann (Boston: Media Education Foundation, 2004), noted by Leonard, "Unsettling the Military Entertainment Complex," 1.

[30] Suzanna Koster, "Drone Wars: Pakistan Tacitly Allows Drones to Strike," Global Post, Oct 10, 2011.

[31] Pat O'Malley, "Simulated Justice: Risk, Money and Telemetric Policing," British Journal of Criminology 50, no. 5 (2010): 795-807, 795.

[32] William Bogard, The Simulation of Surveillance: Hypercontrol in Telematic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[33] See also William Bogard, "Welcome to the Society of Control" in Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, eds., The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

[34] For a discussion of the panopticon and surveillance systems, even prior to September 11, 2001, see Roy Boyne, "Post-Panopticism," Economy and Society 29, no. 2 (May, 2000): 285-307.

[35] Pete Fussey, "Control and Community: The Spread of Surveillance in the Post-Industrial City," PSA, Feb 2011, (accessed on May 29, 2011). For a note on the dystopian and utopian themes in the literature on surveillance, see N. R. Fyfe, "Zero Tolerance, Maximum Surveillance? Deviance, Difference and Crime Control in the Late-Modern City," in L. Leeds, ed., The Emancipatory City? Paradoxes and Possibilities (London: Sage, 2004): 40-56. For a novel study on the limitations of the panopticon metaphor in contemporary surveillance studies see Marion Brivot and Yves Gendron, "Beyond Panopticism: On the Ramifications of Surveillance in a Contemporary Professional Setting," Accounting, Organizations and Society 36, no. 3 (Apr., 2011): 135-155.

[36] D. Lyon, Surveillance Society: Monitoring Every Day Life (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2001), 1.

[37] Jonathan Sterne, "Enemy Voice," Social Text 96 25, no. 3 (Fall, 2008): 79-100, 79.

[38] See Binoy Kampmark, "The Spectre of Bin Laden in the Age of Terrorism," CTheory 25, no. 3 (2002),

[39] Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death, trans. Helen Weaver (New York: Knopf, 1981).

[40] David Wendell Moller, "Fear and Denial of Death," from Life's End (Baywood Publishing, Inc., 2000).

[41] Henry Blodget, "President Obama Watched Live Video Of Bin Laden Raid As It Happened," Business Insider, May 2, 2011, (accessed on Jun 2, 2011).

[42] Erica Werner, "Osama Bin Laden Dead: Obama, National Security Team Watched Raid In Real Time," Huffington Post, May 2, 2011, (accessed on Jun 1, 2011).

[43] For a useful overview of Jean Baudrillard's Gnostic position, notably on terrorism see Jonathan Smith, "The Gnostic Baudrillard: A Philosophy of Terrorism Seeking Pure Appearance," International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 1, no. 2 (Jul, 2004), (accessed on June 21, 2011). For valuable criticism of Baudrillard, see Christopher Norris, Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992).

[44] For similarities of live situation rooms being depicted in cinema, see Patriot Games (dir. Phillip Noyce, 1992), where the President Jack Ryan, played by Harrison Ford, watches the covert operation in real time.

[45] Esther Addley, "Syrian Lesbian Blogger is Revealed Conclusively to be a Married man," The Guardian, Jun 13, 2011.

[46] Robert Quigley, "Visualizing the Spread of bin Laden Death News on Twitter," Geokosystem, May 8, 2011, (accessed on May 29, 2011).

[47] A.R. Gatrad, "Muslim Customs Surrounding Death, Bereavement, Postmortem Examinations, and Organ Transplants," British Medical Journal 309 (Aug 20, 1994): 521, and available at:

[48] Chris Lawrence, "'No Land Alternative' prompts bin Laden sea burial," CNN, May 2, 2011.

[49] Words noted in Chris Lawrence, "'No Land Alternative' prompts bin Laden sea burial," CNN, May 2, 2011.

[50] Christie Choi, "Did Bin Laden's Burial at Sea Follow Muslim Law," Time Magazine, May 5, 2011, (accessed on May 20, 2011).

[51] William Saletan, "The Myth of Bin Laden," Slate, May 4, 2011, the_myth_of_bin_laden.html (accessed on May 7, 2011).

[52] See the analysis in Denis Diderot, The Paradox of Acting, trans. Walter Herries Pollock (London: Chatto & Windus, 1883).

[53] Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares (London: Methuen, 1988, orig. 1936), 19.

[54] Statement available at Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Prime Minister: 'While Bin Laden is Gone, the Threat of Al Qaeda Remains'" May 3, 2011, (accessed on May 19, 2011).

[55] Reuters, "Bin Laden's Wife not killed in Raid, White House Says," May 2, 2011.

[56] Baudrillard interview with Der Spiegel, "This is the Fourth World War," No. 3, 2002, available at: (accessed on Jul 1, 2011).

[57] For the element of watching, see David Lyon, "9/11, Synopticon and Scopohilia: Watched and Being Watched," in Haggerty and Ericson, eds., The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility, 35-54.

[58] John Elsner, "Naturalism and the Erotics of the Gaze: Intimations of Narcissus," in Sexuality in Ancient Art: Near East, Greece, Egypt, and Italy, ed. N. B. Kampen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 247-61, 249.

[59] Baudrillard, Der Spiegel Interview.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University, Melbourne.

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