A year has now passed since U. S. Navy SEALS killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. With the perspective of a little time, many facets of bin Laden's life and legacy merit reflection.
A year has now passed since U. S. Navy SEALS killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. With the perspective of a little time, many facets of bin Laden’s life and legacy merit reflection.
At the height of his influence, bin Laden played a pivotal role in the politics of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Before his emergence on the world stage, no one had ever united the global Muslim communities in the way he was able. He organized many spheres of revolutionary fervor in a lethal combination of ideology, organization, funding, military training and direct action. Former White House national security adviser and ABC consultant Richard Clarke described bin Laden as, “Far more than just a symbol; he was an administrator, intent on insuring that the nuts and bolts of terrorism were provided to widely dispersed and semi-autonomous franchises.”
What makes this “accomplishment” all the more notable is that bin Laden did these things without being a government official or representing any particular government in a formal sense (save for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan). Such is the “freedom” of a very wealthy, hyper-zealous demagogue. Like so many dubious figures in history, bin Laden was an acceptable nuisance so long as his interests (such as the repulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan) happened to align with our own. Unfortunately, megalomaniacal revolutionaries such as bin Laden often devolve into loose cannons pulled through a china shop by a mad bull.
By the time bin Laden’s end came, his influence and power were a shadow of their former selves. He had been effectively marginalized and reduced to reclusive refuge as a guest of our “allies” in Pakistan. As Clarke elaborated, “We can think of him in his last few years as a CEO of a multinational organization, trying to operate without the Internet or telephones, watching as members of his team of executives were picked off one after another. His organization, which had pioneered the use of the Internet and mobile communications to operate a terror network, now knew that if its leaders used that modern technology, it could result in death from the buzzing, flying killer robots from America.”
It is an irony that the man who pioneered co-optation of Western technologies by Third World terrorism, would be thusly deprived near his end. Nothing personifies this more than the image of him huddled in his compound in front of a tiny, antiquated television. In that moment, he looked more like the resident of a decrepit nursing home than the criminal mastermind of global apocalypse. Even so, a reduction in stature does not equate to a reduction in evil. Saddam Hussein’s “spider hole” and Hitler’s bunker hold similar symbolic potency: the villain cornered, compromised and emasculated.
If there is one media-centered saving grace from the raid that brought down bin Laden, it was facilitated by the Obama White House’s refusal to release photos of the deceased terrorist. Just last week, a federal judge refused to order the release of photos and video of the U.S. military operation that killed bin Laden (or his burial at sea).
The government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, requested the Defense Department and CIA release any photos or video footage of the May 1 operation that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The Defense Department said it found no pictures or videos sought by the group and the CIA said it found 52 such records but refused to release them. It cited exemptions to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act law for classified materials and other reasons.
It is enough to know he is dead. We don’t need the purulent titillation of seeing Louis XIV’s severed head pulled from the guillotine basket to feel safer. He is no more. That is all that matters.