Unless you’ve been living in some cave in Afghanistan for the past 10 years (harharhar) you’ve no doubt heard the news that on Sunday night Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted fugitive(tm) was caught and killed by US forces secretly working in Pakistan. Without a doubt it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in the sleepy hamlet of Abbotabad, about an hour north of Islamabad, and it’s more than likely that the place will now go back to the obscurity and quiet charm that used to make it the ideal location for a world supervillain seeking to escape the attention of the world police.
Now some people will say that they’ll always remember what they were doing when they heard that news, and I do as well. I was sitting in front of my computer doing something or other, which is terribly indistinct from what I regularly do for up to 14 hours a day TBH so for me that’s not much of a marker. And of course being in Canada I found the news to be of relatively little interest as we had a national election scheduled the first day (which turned out to be pretty fucking disappointing). So I didn’t really get into the whole “bin Laden dead” thing until Monday night after having ascertained that my country was indeed going down faster than a $5 whore, largely out of hope that the news would cheer me up a bit.
Now those of you who have known me for a while will know that I was living in Hoboken, NJ on September 11th 2001, and that’s a short skip across the Hudson river to Manhattan. You may probably know that the office I worked at in that time was located in the Pavonia section of Jersey City and had a great view of the WTC. We were pretty much as close as you could get on the Jersey side. I wasn’t at the office when the planes hit the towers, however; I’ve never been an early morning guy and I was probably heading for my bus when the second plane hit the south tower. To top it off, if I’d been more aggressive with my personal contacts while looking for a job in the previous year I could have stood a fair chance of being employed *in* the WTC north tower (a former boss’s former boss worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, fortunately he was out on business on that day).
So when I heard that Navy SEALs had killed the man I felt… oddly indifferent. Truth be told, the Osama bin Laden whose death Americans were shown celebrating on TV, the bogeyman from Saudi Arabia, had already ceased existing quite some time ago. Be honest, when was the last time people talked about the guy as being terribly important? His very survival was a subject of much speculation since 2001, and for many (including myself) the guy was almost as good as dead for some time. In fact I rather cynically thought that if the Americans had waited even just a couple more years to kill the guy they’d have to start reminding their people of who the guy was. There was a time at which he seemed very keen on getting a message out, but as time went on these messages became more infrequent and seemed to undergo somewhat of a regression technologically speaking, going from videos to audio tapes. The message itself seemed to step further and further away from that of a guy who could tell 20 of his followers to get into planes and crash those planes into buildings full of people, too. I think his last one started talking about the environment. Which is pretty ballsy for a guy whose most famous attributed act was so dependent on the aviation industry. However I digress, I certainly won’t be growing wistful of any “good old days” when the guy was at his peak preaching terror war against America. It’s certainly not something that one may seriously doubt he had done, though, and no amount of mellowing out in his old age can change that.
As this week went on, I must say that I grew increasingly annoyed at the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the guy deserved it, but frankly I can’t stand the way the Obama administration is handling the whole thing. I’ve never seen such sloppy work from a team that one must hope is made up of the best of the best. It’s practically like they’re encouraging people to cast doubts on the story and come up with conspiracy theories.
Frankly anyone with a moderately healthy sense of skepticism would be a bit troubled. First there was the story of what happened to bin Laden’s body after he was killed — it was taken to the USS Carl Vinson, washed, given Islamic burial rites and then buried at sea. So, there’s no body. You can kind of understand why they did it, but that all seems a bit… convenient.
Then on Tuesday came revelations that did indeed directly contravene parts of the story that we all had been given on Sunday. The first was that bin Laden died in a firefight against the SEALs — well, actually he did, but that firefight was pretty one-sided because as it turns out the guy wasn’t armed in the first place. The latest word out is that the SEALs feared that he would reach for a weapon. We also found out that the woman killed in the firefight was not in fact used by bin Laden as a human shield — when that seemed to be a “fact” strongly established enough for John Brennan, the chief US counter-terrorism advisor, to affirm “living in this million-dollar-plus compound, in an area that is far away from the front, hiding behind a woman: it really speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.” Well, it goes some way to cast aspersions on what we hear from Mr. Brennan, who himself seemed to have heard only what he wanted to hear.
But then there is video of the raid and surely photos were taken of bin Laden’s body after his death?.. and making those public would in an instant erase any possible doubt that may have arisen from the White House’s previous mishandling of the situation. Well, in a 60 Minutes interview taped today Obama has made clear his decision not to release those photos.
So we have no body, a narrative which is known to have been “enhanced” in at least two substantial ways already, and now we’ve been told that there is absolute, incontrovertible truth but it’s not going to be shown to the public.
You’ve got to be kidding. What the fuck is going on at the White House? This is absolutely bizarre. Already people are trying to fill the void by combining images of other people who’ve been shot in the head with live photos of bin Laden using Photoshop. The one I’ve seen was a pretty obvious edit which anyone could spot easily, but I’m sure more forgeries will come forward if the real pictures aren’t released. And if Obama is going to stand by his opinion that the lack of official pictures will prevent “trophy pictures” from appearing, well that’s just silly. I’m sure Fark or some other site will make a photoshop contest out of it, if they haven’t done so already. You’ll get loads of “trophy pictures” out of that… and they’ll probably be thought to be real by many people, just like the old “Bert is evil” Osama pic.
Hopefully the President will come to his senses soon. At some point he’s got to put up some solid evidence of what went on, something to redeem a narrative which has been tarnished by the people on his staff who delivered it, because otherwise the GOP will soon start casting doubts that this raid killed the guy who’s said to have been killed. Frankly this reluctance to provide that solid evidence is all too reminescent of the sort of the stonewalling which I remember from Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. And I never felt that I could trust what Bush was saying for so much as a second. I hope that President Obama is someone credible, but at this point I’m getting too old to take it on faith.
I want to believe, but I’ve been burnt too often to do so.