Previously on CSI: Osama
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 world” lens.
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 senator.)
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 law.”
“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 the Atlantic.”
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 of justice.
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?”