With all the remembrance regarding it being 15 years after the events of 9/11 I am forced to recall my own thoughts on the demise of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of Seal Team Six… and our leaders huddled in the Situation Room watching it as it happened.
Like most Americans.. and dare I say human beings in general, I am readily influenced initially with emotionalism and the kneejerk response for retribution when I see a tragic event unfold that claims innocent lives. Of course threats against our country, both foreign and domestic, play on those feelings because I am as patriotic at the next guy. Much like past generations of Americans wanted retribution for the Alamo, the attack on Fort Sumter, the sinking of the USS Maine, Pearl Harbor… I felt the same way after 9/11. As the towers and the Pentagon were burning I was already thinking, “We gotta make someone pay for this.”, thusly ignoring my own natural caution for such thoughts knowing full well we, as a nation, better think this through before we react or we will feel this long after our vengeance has been satisfied or the passage of time tempers our collective spirit.
While we avoided the temptation of closing off ourselves to the outside world or instituting our own form of jihad against radical Muslimism around the world with our military, our fear did show when we circled our wagons under the guise of a new Homeland Security and the creation of new departments, like the TSA at our airports and railroad stations, fancy new urban command centers, and broadened communication between intelligence and emergency services. But looming in the background for years was the search for Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. I think the quest itself was so compelling that little thought had been given to what do we do when/if we find him. But whether the fear was promoted to the public by government, the media, or Wall Street (to sell security), we feared Bin Laden for sure. Likely far more than we needed to, if at all. But since he was the only Arab nasty left alive who had any responsibility for 9/11 it was certainly comforting to blame him alone and that we should get him… dead or alive.
Well, in all the time since 9/11 and to his death he’s not had a well off lifestyle by any means. With nearly everyone looking for him, evasion and trusting no one was part of his daily life. Just trying to avoid the cyber trails and electronic signatures alone in daily living in this age of technology had to have been a constant worry and likely forced him to live nearly like a caveman. He was not only looking over his shoulder but also looking up (satellites & drones). This guy was not having fun and reveling in his fame and fortune in the Muslim world. I can’t imagine many Muslims wanting to be near him given the possible threats of death from above. He must have been pretty lonely.
In all the years before the Seal Team assault in Pakistan I don’t recall any talk at all about what would happen when/if we managed to confront Bin Laden. Do we just blow him away or bring him into our justice system like all good Americans do? I am sure our government leaders gave it some thought but even strategically one would presume it would all boil down to the Seals on point to respond to any safety threat. If Bin Laden received some advance notice of an impending American attack he might be prepared with a bomb vest to take a few Americans with him, or in the least his own defensive weapons and meet Allah in a hail of blazing gunfire. So the Seals themselves would likely be entering into a very unknown situation from which to determine in seconds if Bin Laden were a physical threat to them or benign enough to cuff and bring back to the States for a trial.
Now.. like many Americans I view our justice system in two ways. The first is that it is the pride of our country, having been set forth by our Constitution, constantly reviewed by our Supreme Court, and is the envy of democracy. Its basis is our Bill of Rights, administered and adjudicated by impartial justices, with the precept that a person is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his/her peers whose purpose is to seek truth based upon the evidence presented in order to render a fair and just verdict. The other view is… well, if you can afford a good lawyer, or dream team of lawyers, you can get away with your crime completely or with a reduced sentence regardless of the truth or the evidence against you. In other words, our justice system looks good on paper but in actual practice it’s not perfect by any definition.
So, let’s return to what do we do if Bin Laden was captured alive. We could thump our democracy chests and proclaim Bin Laden will get a fair trial in America, thusly presenting to the world that our affinity for human rights triumphs (I avoided saying “trumps” for the obvious reason) over some dictatorial theocracy. On the other hand… and this is the more likely, if this does not fall into a military jurisdiction, Bin Laden would likely get some high profile criminal lawyer (or team) to pro bono his defense just for the fame and challenge of it all, which would result in a trial lasting years, hundreds of witnesses, huge expense for the government, changes of jury venue.. and the subsequent years of appeals following any sort of death conviction… and all this is just for the criminal case. Add to that the civil wrongful death cases to follow (with the Saudi’s likely to have to pony up the money given his connection to them).
Kinda makes one wonder if a bullet to the head (or face) isn’t the shortest distance to attain justice. Had he lived, Bin Laden’s trial likely would have been a mockery to his victims and not a pride of human rights democracy.
But all this retrospect means nothing because Bin Laden was killed in the assault. I am left wondering as I see the famous iconic photo of President Obama & friends sitting in that Situation Room what they are thinking. I’m sure there was a universal concern for the safety of the Seal Team members.. and for the concern of possible political ramifications should any one of them be captured or killed by Pakistanis. There’s the concern about the mission itself… can surprise be maintained? Will he still be there? Will all the equipment work properly (remembering the failed Iranian hostage rescue decades earlier)? Will any innocents be killed or wounded in this process? Will Bin Laden surrender or be killed while fighting back? There were likely a few more concerns I am not privy to. Perhaps the secretive elephant in the room were thoughts about, “Go for it, team! Kill that son-of-a-bitch!”.
Well, here’s the thing for me regarding the original announcement by the President that Bin Laden was dead and the subsequent release of the photo of the group in anxious anticipation. I felt no reason to celebrate; no reason to “hi-five” the world. I really felt no overwhelming pride in being an American at that singular moment (other than knowing our military was very kick-ass in that operation) because I had the visual of our country’s leaders sitting around waiting for some guy we’ve been afraid of as a nation for the better part of ten years, to die. If anyone ever believed that our government wanted to bring back Bin Laden to be brought to justice and tried in a court of law… they truly had the wrong expectations. No, those Seal Team members likely got no explicit orders to off the guy… but a wink and a nod is all that would be needed, knowing that Bin Laden himself would likely fight back in some fashion. These Seals know how to capture and kidnap quite well. But this was not the mission.
I think what bothers me most is that damn photo showing the leaders of my country looking scared like the mission would fail and Bin Laden yet again would scurry away. I refuse to give Bin Laden, or his memory, that much power over me. It took the most powerful nation on earth ten years to find him and in the end it was just a matter of killing him. Where’s the pride in all that? Personally I think the trail of responsibility for 9/11 leads to the Saudis, likely not the royals, but over there the extended family does run the government. It’s one thing just sitting around the campfire somewhere and dreaming up a scheme to strike America and something far else implementing that plan without the money, people, and coordination outside of Bin Laden.
Yeah, 9/11 changed our nation and the world. We’ve now feared Muslim extremist terrorism for 15 years… and Bin Laden’s death hasn’t changed a thing. Call it what it is.