As we pick up the pieces, here’s a sense of life inside Casa Osama.
If you’re a guy, you’d have been doing his dirty work—tending the goats.
If you’re a woman, you’d be lucky to be one of his four allotted wives giving
him his oat extract aphrodisiac. Yum.
You’d also know that bin Laden was interested in what MIT professor Noam Chomsky
had to say about the war in Iraq. Perhaps bin Laden would be reading Chomsky
while coloring that long beard, or playing old videos of his Al-Jazeera messages
(it’s the complete set of terrorism’s greatest hits, including never before seen
Osama bloopers). And then there’s that beard again. How many times did he think
to shave the thing as he messily devoured his watermelon (seeded or seedless,
sliced or unsliced, we do not know). It was one of his favorite foods.
All of it’s true, extracted from the home videos and computer files taken in the
Navy Seal raid of bin Laden’s low-tech hideout in Abbottabad.
It’s the fruits of forty minutes of bloodshed, a cache that’s even better than
if bin Laden’s thumb drives were Wiki-leaked.
What’s revealed is the life of an aging terrorist, already in a concrete
“prison” of his own making with no escape tunnel.
As I read a New York Times story on the subject, it sounded like an extension
of the paper’s penance for its role in the Wen Ho Lee story. You’ll recall the
Times broke the story about the former Los Alamos nuclear scientist accused of
espionage. Only it was based on a single government source. Turns out there was
no espionage. And later the Times did a huge mea culpa saying it should have
“humanized” the story more to give a more rounded version of the truth.
If we are in the humanization part of the story surrounding the killing of Osama
bin Laden, it could be more helpful in piecing together the truth instead of
seeing everything through the politically correct “Osama is the devil of the
What emerges with the new details is a picture of a bored bin Laden as a
semi-retired king of terrorism, now a stay at home dad, lulled by the
ordinariness of life without sizzle or mayhem. Living in self-confinement, but
yearning for action, it defined bin Laden’s misery.
I have no doubts he would have been a man worth taking alive.
But to our government, killing him, disposing of the body at sea, and
withholding any evidence of his actual death just seemed so much neater.
The problem comes when inquiring minds insist on the verifiable truth. For all
we know, without any evidence, bin Laden could be in the federal witness
protection program running a 7-11 in a Salt Lake suburb. (Oh no, you say. He’d
kill himself before doing that. But if you’re a bored terrorist coloring your
beard, used to being somebody, how bad is Salt Lake? Orrin Hatch could be your
A week after the death of bin Laden and nothing seems settled or neat.
Did you expect anything different?
When you chop off the head of a big fish, the slippery thing keeps wriggling. It
doesn’t just stop cold. And so the slippery story keeps changing. (It might have
been a nice touch to continue believing that the coward bin Laden used a woman
as a human shield. Pumps up the hate. But it was just a fiction.)
And with each new detail or revision, there’s only more questions.
Could we have had something more than Navy Seal justice?
That word “justice” seems a bit overused these days.
Many of the 9/11 victims’ relatives seem happy that the terrorist is gone and
use the term “justice” broadly. Being in sympathy with the victims, it’s easy
to just say what’s done is done and move on to that war substitute known as the
Stanley Cup Finals.
Even President Obama was quick to use the term.
“Justice was done,” the president told CBS. “And I think anyone who would
question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve
what he got needs to have their head examined.”
Strong words for the campaign trail. But the president misses the point.
Everyone wants bin Laden and all he represents gone from the face of the earth.
But this is America, and even a bin Laden deserves a chance to explain himself
and his actions.
A trial would have given us all a chance to get so much more out of bin Laden
than old videotapes taken in a raid. Instead he exits via the express lane, and
it’s not really as satisfying as we might have thought.
Just think, the trial would have been bigger than O.J.’s.
I wonder what bin Laden would say about Chomsky’s latest musing on the mission
to kill him (as circulated on the web by Reader Supported News). Chomsky calls
the mission an assassination that “violates elementary norms of international
“In societies that profess some respect for the law, suspects are apprehended
and brought to a fair trial,” writes Chomsky, who points out there was nothing
definitive linking bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks besides the terrorists’ own
boasting. “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.’ “
Can you hear bin Laden cheering from the grave when Chomsky describes this
scenario: “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
Chomsky wonders if the fictional Iraqi commandos would be justified going after
Bush “for his responsibility for 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.”
Chomsky’s views may be a tad extreme for many Americans. But maybe not. On a
murky landscape where truth is fluid and the U.S. counters terrorism with a
little terrorism of its own, the country is left soul-searching for the meaning
So when Obama says he doesn’t want to release a bloodied picture of bin Laden
because “we are better than that,” it’s reasonable to ask, “How much better?”