For a plan that was executed so flawlessly on the ground, the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden has been handled appallingly badly by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
A week after U.S. Navy SEALs were sent into Pakistan to kill bin Laden, the story is still at the top of the news. The reason, in large part, is the continually changing story coming out of Washington.
The initial picture painted by Obama minutes after the killing has been redrawn and it’s clear the strike was a kill mission, not a bid to take bin Laden alive.
Following on former U.S. President George Bush’s infamous pronouncement that bin Laden as wanted “dead or alive,” the Americans erased 10 years of embarrassment by finally finding the world’s most wanted terrorist and taking him out. Despite new information about a plan to take him to Afghanistan and then transport him onto a U.S. battleship if taken alive, the Americans never had any intention of letting him walk out of his compound in Pakistan.
There was never going to be a Neurembourg-style trial for bin Laden. The U.S. could not afford to give him the publicity. As one U.S. official put it days later, it was better to have a dead martyr than a living leader.
And, given the reaction of the many Americans who took to the streets to express their joy at the death of the mastermind of the worst terrorist attack on the United States ever, it’s clear Obama and his officials did not have to embellish what happened during the mission. Talk of a “firefight” turned out to be one bin Laden follower firing at the start—he was killed immediately. The Americans now say the SEALs were not fired upon again. Bin Laden, they now say, was not armed and did not use a woman as a human shield, as originally stated.
Few, if any, in the Western World will mourn bin Laden, but his death does raise questions about the moral high ground the United States likes to take when dictating to the world how others should deal with their enemies. Justice, it seems, does not always require a court of law.
Thousands celebrated in the streets with chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, as if a winning goal had been scored by a national team. And, for a country still feeling the wounds of 9-11, 10 years later, it was.
Bin Laden had evaded the best equipped military and intelligence services in the world for a decade, a fact not lost on the American psyche.
But his death, as welcome as it was, will not to turn back the hands of time when it comes to security threats and the precautions we all now live with.
And it won’t bring back the thousands of people who died when the twin towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked and Flight 41 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.