Osama Dead or Alive?
Not long after 9/11, then President George W. Bush announced to the world, with Texan bravado, that we would get Osama bin Laden “dead or alive”. But that was not to be, at least not for a long time, as bin Laden made a second lucky escape due to an undermanned attack on his mountain redoubt at Tora-Bora. (Previously, President Clinton had already missed him by one hour with a missile attack on al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan.) This time, it finally seems that, as one clever sign paraded in front of the Whitehouse late May 1st proclaimed, “Osama bin gotten”.
Well for sure – or at least in a way. But I can’t help wonder if the claim of CIA chief Leon Panetta that the object was to kill bin Laden outright (later denied by John Brennan, another administration spokesman) was a wise one, particularly if our real aim is bring a halt to terrorism in this world and not to prolong it.
True, bin Laden is said to have vowed that he’d never be taken alive. But did we really need to so openly comply with his wishes to go down in the Islamic fundamentalist version of history as a “martyr”? Would it not have been much better to have dragged him, kicking and screaming, before an international court as a war criminal to be charged and sentenced for crimes against humanity?
I say this not because I don’t think he deserved to die, but simply because knowing what we do about human nature, and particularly the nature of Middle Eastern culture. There, revenge is trumped only by honor, but most often the first is co-opted in the service of the latter. Already Al Qaeda is vowing revenge, and at least some of those who will die will have died as a result of our having seemed to demand quick revenge more than patient justice. Did we sufficiently reflect on how much any semblance to having gunned down bin Laden on the spot without having given him a chance to surrender himself first will appeal to those wannabe Osamas eager to become jihadist heroes or even “martyrs” in his footsteps?
The fact that pains were taken to give bin Laden a quick burial at sea afterwards shows that the US Department of Defense was intent on making sure that there would be no final resting place that might serve as a focal place for hero worship or pilgrimage. Let’s hope that more evidence of exactly what took place in that fortified compound on May 1st will soon emerge to make it even clearer to the world that bin Laden died as a result of his own choice, not Americans buying into the vicious cycle of unending revenge and violence.
One more thing also has to be answered: how much did the Pakistani authorities know and when? The official denials of their current administration, and the admission of “embarrassment” by their ISI intelligence service are simply too implausible to be taken at face value. But these denials are understandable in the face of the angry mood of Pakistani public opinion, so I think we can expect the U.S. Government (which claims that the Pakistanis were not notified as to what was going to happen on May 1st) to play along with this little political game of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
Nevertheless, I find it ironic that bin Laden’s death may actually accomplish what he claimed to be one of his major objectives all along – that is, to drive America and its armed forces out of the Middle East. If so, it may not have been accomplished exactly on his terms, but the polls indicate that most Americans feel that the sooner we get out of that part of the world where we don’t belong, the better off America will be.
R W Kropf 5/3/11 Osama Dead or Alive.doc 11-05-03.html