Dead or Alive Redux

Just a little mini-post today while I’m working on the next post for National Short Story Month.

I’m still reflecting on the death of Osama bin Laden. Really, I have no choice. Almost two weeks into the aftermath, it is still often the lead topic on a news cast.

After an initial, albeit reluctant, show of support for the President’s authorization of the mission and its parameters, the extreme right and extreme left have twisted themselves around on this until they somewhat agree. The right is in high dudgeon because they feel W didn’t get enough credit. Excuse me, but how can a person who has been out of office for more than two years get any credit for instructing the CIA to recommence its search for bin Laden and then authorizing a mission that requires the go-ahead from a sitting President? Oh, it was the enhanced interrogation techniques which W, who’d never fought in a war and who perhaps had the barest minimum of SERE training in his air guard days, insisted we use? Wrong again. As interrogation professionals (if there is such a term, and if there is, god help us) iterated then and now, putting someone in extreme pain or in fear of his or her life only gains you “white noise,” bogus intelligence given only to make the threat go away. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, whom the right asserted, incorrectly, was the source of the tip that let us to the compound in Abbotabad, was waterboarded 183 times and never gave up the courier’s name. It was another detainee in a CIA rendition center who gave it up after his interrogator “made friends” with him. My eroded respect for Sen. John McCain (R.-AZ) is somewhat rebuilt after his recent Post op-ed and his Senate speech setting the record straight about the use of torture and also for the fact he calls it what it is–torture, not the harmless-sounding euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

And, excuse me, we near-drowned someone 183 times in a three-month period, just about twice a day. Let’s not forget that. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is a despicable person, yes. He videotaped himself beheading reporter Daniel Pearl, but we should not have lowered ourselves to his level.

On the left, we have Michael Moore, whom I adore, and Rosie O’Donnell, whom I can’t abide because she doesn’t bother to get her facts straight, questioning the legally of hunting and killing bin Laden. “Double-tapped an old man in his pajamas” is about how Moore referred to it. First of all, bin Laden was a few years younger than I, and I’m not old. He was in his mid-50’s, not old and apparently not as infirm as we were led to believe. He was of an age where he still could have mounted resistance with any of the weaponry found nearby. Yes, he was in his nightgown-like sleeping attire, but when a Seal says, “Don’t move,” and you do, you accept the consequences. As I said in an earlier post, bin Laden would have shown that Seal no mercy had the roles been reversed, and the Seal’s death would not have been quick as bin Laden’s was. Again, as I said before, it would have been preferable to take bin Laden into custody and provide him the unique kind of American justice which has no equal in the world, and I’m not talking about a midnight raid with high-tech stealth and silenced guns. Though a trial would have offered its own problems, it was a desirable outcome, but we train our Special Forces quite well to make on-the-spot decisions and changes in tactics. Because I’ve never been trained that way and my research only gives me a theoretical perspective, I’m going to give the Special Forces the benefit of the doubt and accept they made the right call under the circumstances. And the President did, too.

I wish this incident would pass into history, already. It’s over and done with. We can’t, nor should we, change anything; however, as altruistic human beings we need to accept that bin Laden’s family can mourn the loss of their brother, uncle, father, husband, a death he brought to his own door, unlike the thousands of deaths he ordered then sat back and relished.

Dead or Alive

A friend of mine wrote a short story a few weeks after September 11, 2001. In the story, Osama bin Laden is about to go on trial–a civilian trial, by the way, since the whole military tribunal mess hadn’t yet occurred–but his attorney argues successfully that bin Laden can’t get a fair trial in America. The fictional judge reluctantly agrees and releases bin Laden into the streets of New York City then sits in his chambers and listens to the people exact their revenge.

An insightful and thoughtful story, but one that was fiction. The reality we know now is that had we captured bin Laden alive, we would have remitted him somewhere and eventually tried him before a secret military tribunal. There is no doubt what the outcome of that trial would have been. In the meantime, however, no American would have been safe anywhere in the world. An exaggeration? Remember when the United States admitted the exiled Shah of Iran for cancer treatment? Employees of our embassy in Tehran became pawns in that clash of wills for more than a year. Remember, too, the failed hostage rescue attempt that left U.S. aircraft in a hostile country to provide intelligence to the Iranians on who inside their country had helped the U.S. More than anything else, the failed Operation Eagle Claw assured Jimmy Carter wouldn’t get re-elected.

The reality is, as much as I believe in justice and rule of law, neither of those mattered to Osama bin Laden. We were the “other,” the non-believers, unworthy in his eyes. He gave no quarter, and, I suspect, he would have wanted none. Though I would have preferred we had afforded him that, he died as he lived, and he can no longer be the monster under the bed, the boogeyman in the closet, that Republicans have held up as an excuse for suborning our Constitution in the near decade since September 11, 2001. In some aspects, this was the only way to take the burden of his actions off America’s back. They have weighed us down far too long.

We will find the closure temporary and fleeting, but some closure is better than living with the mythos of bin Laden indefinitely. It is disturbing, though, that while they had the White House, the Republicans invoked bin Laden’s name to justify all sorts of sordid acts; yet, they were the ones who stopped the operation in Tora Bora that would have captured him in 2001. There were tastier fish to fry in Iraq. The President who initially explained his feelings about bin Laden by alluding to Old West Wanted: Dead or Alive posters, soon moved on and didn’t think too much about the man who approved a “martyr operation” that cost the lives of 3,000+ Americans on a bright, beautiful September day.

In the year of the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, we have a President thought by some to be unseasoned, too soft on terrorism, too equivocating. Despite that, he asked for options, received three, and picked the most risky. It’s failure would have been his own Operation Eagle Claw, and he could have kissed any hope of re-election goodbye. But the execution was nearly flawless, and I think that for a nanosecond as bin Laden looked on the Navy Seal who put two bullets in him, he knew an American had put him to death, as he had put Americans to death. There is satisfaction in that coming full circle. There is closure in that.

As the daughter of a re-conn soldier from World War II and the cousin of one of the first Green Berets, I acknowledge our Special Forces as some of the best military in the world. I doubt any other special forces could have accomplished what Seal Team 6 did. Behind them they had good intelligence, obtained in an “old-fashioned” manner by time-honored tradecraft, not the torture so gleefully discussed in the previous Administration. And though we didn’t know about it until after the fact, they carried the hopes of the American people with them. Now, we can finally say, to some extent, and not be laughed at, Mission Accomplished.

And yet, I do not rejoice in Osama bin Laden’s death. Am I glad he’s gone? Yes. By not rejoicing, I’m one-up on him because he undoubtedly rejoiced in any American’s death at the hands of an Afghan or Iraqi or any other member of the religion he subverted for his own ends. I’m not so naive to think his death is the end of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is a concept, not something tangible we can destroy irrevocably. We have, however, diminished its importance and standing. Coupled with the Arab Spring, we are moving toward reducing al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden, to a footnote in history.

Let’s not forget, however, who created Osama bin Laden. In the 1980’s, so deep in our Cold War paranoia, we moved heaven and earth to deal a defeat to the Soviet Union. We armed an insurgency, used their religion to unite and motivate them, to make them zealots, encouraged young Arab men from other countries to go to Afghanistan to fight the godless Soviets. We promoted jihad. We created our own mercenary army of religious fanatics, and Osama bin Laden was among the ranks. So, why were we surprised when our creation turned against us?