Moving the goalposts

“The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. – Francis Crick, Nobel Laureate

Without a doubt Osama Bin Laden was among the world’s most dangerous men. Much of the world cheered his death seeing it not only as justice served but also as the beginning of the end for faith-fueled terrorism.

In the words of columnist Teddy Boy Locsin, “Obama has crushed the head of the snake with a rock. A snake is not a lizard whose severed tail will regenerate. But even a lizard’s head will not grow back, let alone a snake’s. Osama bin Laden was the lifeblood (the money), the brains, the soul, the spirit, the animus, and the hands-on executioner of the Islamic jihad—and he is dead…The conflict will intensify in the Middle East, divisions will be sharper, but the terms of engagement clearer: it will be between right and wrong with nothing in between, like those enemies of mankind, al Qaeda.”

Yes and no, Teddy Boy. Yes the head of the snake was crushed, no the terms of engagement are not clearer. The US moved the goalposts and with that the terms of engagement are changed.

There are established rules among members of the UN. One of them forbids states from entering the territory of another sovereign state to conduct a “capture or kill” operation without the permission of the state concerned. Obama ignored that rule. He authorized the action against Bin Laden without informing Pakistan.

Sure, countless states have engaged in similar behavior countless times. Assassinations and kidnappings were the gold standard during the Cold War. But those activities were always kept under wraps, vehemently denied even in the face of proof. Black ops were never to be admitted, at least not until the uproar had died down and the outraged made susceptible, hence more malleable, to official rationalization.

Now it is okay to crow about such operations. The goalposts have been moved. What used to be hidden underground is now aboveground. Black ops have been legitimized because the prey was beautifully demonized. Blacks ops are now a source of pride. The UN will have to add a colatilla to its rule on relations between sovereign states: “exceptions to this rule at the sole discretion of the offending party.”

Obama moved the goalposts on torture as well. Once condemned by the US as a crime against humanity when it was being inflicted on its citizens and friends, torture is now packaged as a necessary and wonderfully effective tool for extracting information from suspects. Water-boarding, US officialdom claims, led to the killing of Bin Laden so torture is now a virtue and torturers heroes and saints.

The UN will have to redefine torture to exclude “enhanced interrogation techniques”. I suggest a new category called “justifiable torture”; justifiable because the ends make it so.

Bin Laden is now fish food. And that’s great. But let’s not allow euphoria to get the better of us because distracted we will end up as fodder for states that consider themselves above the law, states that believe the phrase “by any and all means necessary” is an exemplary code to live by.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • J_ag8

    The nation state is hardly a 300 year invention of social convention.

    Pakistan and Afghanistan are still mainly disparate areas cobbled together by the former colonial powers. The border areas between the two so called nation states are outside the rule of both the so called states.

    In that grey area the ultra nationalist Muslim insurgent hid . Instead if firing missiles on the compound they wanted to make sure they had boots on the ground to confront their arch enemy.

    During the Vietnam war it was Laos and Cambodia that bore the brunt of extra judicial combat.

    In today’s world the combatants are non-state actors since states do not have jurisdictions over the areas these guys operate in.

    In the ARRM both the U.S. and Philippine government armed and supported the Ampatuan clan against the Muslim nationalist insurgency.

    Just like Usama was the beneficiary of CIA training and logistics during the Afgan-Soviet conflict. How does one apply international law and norms over areas where state power are completely absent?

    From whom does one get a search warrant to break and enter?

    Whether one likes it or not the United states is the primary provider of global public goods mostly for its own national interest. It provides the world military protection and its own currency for most of international trade.

    So what goal posts are being moved?

    • manuelbuencamino

      1. acceptance of torture as a means of getting information.

      2. acceptance of the policy of “hot pursuit.”

      The goalposts that were moved were not so much in that these things were not being done before rather that they are now acceptable. If I may use a rather crude analogy, during the time of our grandparents holding hands was a big thing. Today that’s nothing. So in the same way that society’s mores have moved from extreme prudence to what conservatives would now call permissive behavior our views on violation of sovereignty and torture have moved from absolutely not to hey maybe it’s okay under certain circumstances. That worries me although I am glad Bin Laden is gone. To use an overused cliche, maybe we threw out the baby with the bathwater. But I hope I’m wrong. I hope the world regains its values. Otherwise we will have no peace.

  • GabbyD

    i was curious about torture’s role… its not as clear as you say:

    they claim, NO.

    • manuelbuencamino

      That it is even being debated proves my point. The US used to stand four-square against torture, at least that was its public posture. Now there is a rethinking and it revolves not around the morality of it but whether or not it is an effective tool.

      Once upon a time it was unthinkable for a right thinking person committed to democratic principles and respect for humans to even consider torture. Now those same people are studying the issue as if they were assessing a screwdriver.

      • GabbyD

        i think you think too highly of US media. its being debated because of the extreme partisan nature of politics. the truth (apparently) is that it didnt happen.

        • manuelbuencamino

          i am merely observing the discussions on US media.

        • UP nn grad

          ManuelB: You have a very incomplete picture and a partisan desire to reach a conclusion, which makes your conclusion weak. The sentence “The truth (apparently) is that it didn’t happen.” is your sentence alone — it is a stupid sentence.

          There is no argument that waterboarding happened during the Bush administration. It happened when there still was debate (in White House and among military) if waterboarding was “torture” or not. Later years of Bush-admin and current Obama administration — no waterboarding even if the US Supreme Court has not ruled on “legal”/”not legal”.

          White House and US intelligence says that the info about Osama-bin-laden’s courier name was NOT obtained via waterboarding.

          Also being published — the CIA could have found O-B-L sooner had Langley paid attention to the 19-year old wife and tracked her when she re-joined OBL via long trek from Yemen. Torture-not-required, just plain vanilla intelligent intelligence.

          • GabbyD

            actually, its MY sentence.

            why is it stupid. note that i’m not talking about whether waterboarding happened, but whether it helped find OBL.

          • UP nn grad

            gabbyD: for that mistake of mine, I lay the blame solely on ManuB. My past chatty-chats with ManuB and I, too, caught the bug —- “…who cares about the facts when you already know the truth????”.

            Now you are right… your sentence is not stupid. But exactly the same words had they been said by ManuB, the sentence would be stupid.

          • UP nn grad

            actually, it’s my mistake to have used GabbyD’s sentence as foil to point out ManuB is wrong when he writes that waterboarding resulted in the CIA finding OBL.

  • manuelbuencamino


    Not surprisingly you missed the point of the essay. It is not against America. It is against a new international relations regime where the violation of sovereignty and the practice of torture is now acceptable. Note that Pakistan’s sovereignty was violated in the course of a state sanctioned hit.

  • Bert

    As always, the strongest has the power, the capability, and the will to use them against an adversary, to move the goalpost with impunity to make a score when provoked to its limit of patience.

  • UP nn grad

    One of the worst things OBL caused is where being an oddball — looking different than the rest of the people in an airport, a train station… somewhere — results in worse than people just staring at you.

    Imagine an odd-looking Manuel Buencamino wearing a skirt. That’s accceptable. But an odd-looking Manuel Buencamino with the long gown worn by imams? That can result in Manuel Buencamino getting kicked out from an airplane because Manuel Buencamino looks odd and can be a threat to other citizens.

    • UP nn grad

      And Presi-Noynoy has moved the goalpost a little bit for Pilipinas soldiers, generals (and other government workers).
      Based on Executive Order (EO) No. 40, which the President signed on April 29, 2011 the lowest-paid regular government employee will get a salary of P8,287 starting June 1.

      A candidate soldier will get a monthly pay of P10,386. A soldier with the rank of private, or his counterpart in the police, fire department, or jail management bureau will get a salary of P13,492 a month.

      Meanwhile, a salary of P43,872 will go to a two-star general monthly, P47,150 to a vice admiral, P51,283 to a three-star general, and P57,500 to a full or four-star general.

      Karl Garcia will say —- Pilipinas has too many generals, not enough soldiers.

  • Bert

    “Obama has crushed the head of the snake with a rock. A snake is not a lizard whose severed tail will regenerate. But even a lizard’s head will not grow back, let alone a snake’s. Osama bin Laden was the lifeblood (the money), the brains, the soul, the spirit, the animus, and the hands-on executioner of the Islamic jihad—and he is dead…The conflict will intensify in the Middle East, divisions will be sharper, but the terms of engagement clearer: it will be between right and wrong with nothing in between, like those enemies of mankind, al Qaeda.”-Teddy Boy Locsin

    Heheh, the incoherence of an intelligent man.

    The head was crushed, and the head is dead. But the snake is still alive, and, LOOK…IT HAS ANOTHER HEAD! 🙂

  • GabbyD

    yup, there is definitely a trade-off here. OBL would never get captured/killed otherwise. and he’s a non-state actor basically; the UN isnt designed for states dealing with non-state actors.

    further, the assumption behind these state relations is that the 2 states help each other in a rational way. the state in question wasnt doing that.

    so, its either respect sovereignty, OR chase after these non-state actors without their permission.

    granted, this “choice” is only available to countries with the capability to do so, which is only a small number of states.

    • manuelbuencamino


      It does not matter if the target is a non-state actor. He was living in a sovereign state that was not at war with the US. What the US did violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, You don’t send your army, you don’t send an officially sanctioned hit-squad, into another state’s territory without asking for permission.

      “further, the assumption behind these state relations is that the 2 states help each other in a rational way. the state in question wasnt doing that.”

      Then you declare war and invade. You don’t invade and reaffirm friendship at the same time.

      • Jeg

        MB, the US has been launching rockets into Pakistan from the very first days of the Obama presidency (and throughout the Bush presidency, but he’s gone now, thank goodness) sometimes with civilian casualties. But Obama was such a ‘saint’ to his fans that most of the Philippine media turned a blind eye to these atrocities. Why are we surprised that the goalposts have moved?

        • manuelbuencamino


          That’s true. That goalpost moved a long time ago maybe even before the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos.

          This one, a capture or kill operation, an officially sanctioned hit without even a by your leave to the state concerned, moves the goalposts a little farther. Please reread my essay.

          Finally, do not look at the essay as a tirade against America. It is not. It is against the violation of sovereignty and the acceptance of torture as part of the game of nations.

          A qualitative change has occurred. States will no longer be ashamed of practicing torture.

          • Jeg

            This one… moves the goalposts a little farther.

            My point is it didnt move the goalpost a little further. The US is operating within the same goalposts they have been operating in for years. Your post makes the explicit point that the hit against Bin Laden was a further moving of the goalposts when in fact it was not. The Obama presidency is just a continuation of the Bush presidency with a better looking president.

          • Jeg

            Oh, by the way, he also ordered a hit on Qaddafy, resulting in the death of his youngest son and 3 grandsons.

            The goalposts are staying put and are as steady as a rock.

          • manuelbuencamino



          • manuelbuencamino

            But the hit on khadafi is under the cover of the UN intervention thing.

            And the acceptance of torture now excludes enhanced interrogation techniques.

            But if you think torture has always been widely accepted then okay. I don’t think it has the respect it has now.

          • Jeg

            Yap, UN sanctioned a no-fly zone. I suppose Qaddafy was staying in a low-flying mansion of some sort. 😀

            And even if it were UN sanctioned, does that make it right? Obama went against his country’s own constitution in launching the attacks against a foreign country without Congressional approval. (Now that Congressional approval would make it right. Their Congress is just as bad as ours.)

          • Jeg

            *Not* that Congressional approval would make it right, I meant.

        • manuelbuencamino


          You raise two separate issues. UN approval which governs international relations and US congressional approval which is purely a domestic matter.

          Then there is also the question of right or wrong. That is also separate from legality.

          Personally, I believe that torture is wrong under any circumstances.

          The intrusion into another country’s territory is something that can be justified under certain circumstances. In other words, exceptions can be argued.

          But to repeat, torture is beyond any justification. It is a crime against humanity.

          • Jeg

            I fully agree.

  • Cocoy

    David Remnick of the New Yorker wrote,

    “Bin Laden, as medieval ideologist and global terrorist, had a record of accomplishment that was as vast as it was hideous. He did more to slash the fabric of American life than anyone since the Second World War. His capacity to arouse the fevered imaginations of young fundamentalists led to the murder of thousands of men, women, and children—among them Muslim men, women, and children—in Aden, Mogadishu, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Washington, New York, Shanksville, Bali, Madrid, London, Baghdad, Kabul, and Marrakech. He provoked wars. He forced the rise of expensive structures of security and surveillance. He incited a national politics of paranoia and retribution. He did as much as the economic rise of China and India has done to undermine America’s short-lived post-Cold War status as a singular, self-confident, seemingly omnipotent superpower. Bin Laden signed his last will and testament on December 14, 2001, while hiding in the caves of Tora Bora, instructing his children not to work for Al Qaeda: “If it is good, then we have had our share; if it is bad, then it is enough.” Despite all efforts to capture or assassinate him, he survived for a decade, eventually finding greater comfort in a Pakistani hill station.”

    I see where you’re coming from MB. And to a degree I agree with you. We moved the goalpost. We move the goalpost so many times in the last decade. Once upon a time, people debated going to war in the US Congress, they rubber stamped it for Iraq. Once upon a time, the world sought the UN Security Council to resolve war, then Bush just marched his Army without international support.

    We now have searches, as norm for boarder patrol. Laptops can be legally seized at the US Border without a court order. Then there is Guantanamo, and the atrocities of War in Iraq.

    In the Philippines we have people searching us in the Mall, have guards sweeping under the car for bombs.

    We moved the goalpost.

    And yes, I agree with you the dangers of one country, especially as powerful as the US could just violate someone’s airspace.

    But they got that SOB.

    As a citizens of the world, I’m gladly turning a blind eye. OBL dead? Glad we moved that goalpost. In a sense, OBL did it himself by changing the rules of society so many times in the last decade… that this darker world that he founded got back at him that way. Karma’s a b!tch.

    You’re right MB. We must now move back behind the Goalpost. Back to a more “civilized,” world. Otherwise, OBL wins after all.

    • manuelbuencamino

      “You’re right MB. We must now move back behind the Goalpost. Back to a more “civilized,” world. Otherwise, OBL wins after all.”

      My point exactly. That’s why although I rejoice that Bin Laden is gone I am saddened by how it was done, specially because it was the US that did it.

    • manuelbuencamino


      One other thing: Torture has been justified. That’s even worse.

      The thing that bugs me about the whole operation is the violation of sovereignty and more importantly torture has been justified and the justification accepted by the public.

      But stripped of all rhetoric and emotions about Bin Laden, what has become the new moral standard? Expediency!

      • UP nn grad

        Dubya Bush has always said, and Obama, too, has said, that USA is willing to expend all costs to capture – kill if necessary — Osama Bin Laden.

        If Pilipinas does not want to be a victim of USA expediency, there is an action-item — kick out all Americans and their agents. The Al Qaeida number-two-man may be in Pilipinas. Pilipinas has to kick out any and all USA agents (this includes Pinoys-in-Pinas, Malaysians and Koreans who are USA agents) if it does not want to risk Pilipinas sovereignty getting violated by four helicopters swooping in for a raid.

        There actually is another action-item.

        • manuelbuencamino

          You know UPn, the US action in Pakistan opened the doors for all other countries to do the same. Like I said, the goalposts have been moved and the rules of the game have changed.

          • UP nn grad

            ManuB: Rules haven’t really changed. Pilipinas could have and Pilipinas still can. And if Pilipinas were to send a SWAT-team into Thailand to capture a terrorirst or multi-billionaire tax evader, you can bet Thailand would have then, and will do in the future…. do something dramatic in retaliation.

        • UP nn grad

          ManuelB: As you would note above, cocoy is one of those Pinoys-in-Pinas who find USA’s action to be acceptable.

          Maybe Pinoys-in-Pinas twenty years from now will be more outraged by USA (or Russia or China) unilaterally violating other countries’ sovereignty without prior United Nations approval. Higher-level education among Pinoys-in-Pinas would help, right? Presi-Noynoy can help build your Pilipinas of the future, you know that. Action?? build more schools in the provinces would be helpful, right?

          Building the schools also have short-term benefits, like creating construction jobs and teacher-jobs. Win-win! If only Pinoys would push Presi-Noynoy now about (higher revenue-to-GDP ratio for better) social justice programs …. maybe increasing taxes (like property tax, maybe???)

      • UP nn grad

        I do not know where ManuelB got the idea, but he is WRONG.

        It is wrong to say… it is wrong to say that torture has been justified.

        • manuelbuencamino

          Pull your head out of your ass. Watch the news, and you will see and hear those who support “enhanced interrogation techniques” argue that Bin Laden was caught because of those practices.

          • UP nn grad

            you do not pay attention to details when you are all zippity-doo-dah fired up, do you???? You do not pay attention to details when you want to push forward your propositions.

            Many arguing for the enhanced techniques are no different than you…. they speak like they are positively peksMan!!! swear on a stack of blogposts that “enhanced” was even used on the the person who revealed the courier’s name.

            And then this other detail. Had the CIA tracked the 19-year old wife, the CIA would have found OBL 4 years sooner.

            You may be bright but you ain’t that bright, manuB.

          • manuelbuencamino

            and then wash it before you go out of your room

          • UP nn grad

            I wonder when you get so enraged you start banning blogposters from ProPinoy cuz you can’t stand up to their blogposts. Malapit na ba, ManuelBuen?

            daang matuwid… censorship now., ManuB. The less the “other guys” questioning your purrr-posh-i-tions who post on ProPinoy, the more convinced you’ll be that you are convincing the madlang blogworld, heh heh heh.

          • UP nn grad

            and then wash it before….

            wrong garrr-marrrr, manuB.
            Fabilioh-hakinu. Presi-Noynoy could have told you … “… and then wash it before…” is wrong garr-mmm-aaRRR.

          • manuelbuencamino

            Your questions are very interesting UP at least I think they would be if you weren’t writing from inside your ass and messing them up with all that shit

          • UP nn grad

            hah hah hah hah. arsseeyy-arsseeeyyy vroom!!!

            You know you’ve lost this thread and you’ve lost your cool, manuB … zippity-doo-dah arssey-arsseeeyyy vrooom-vroom.

          • manuelbuencamino

            hahaha my beloved suppository friend