On the death (again) of Osama bin Laden

| May 4, 2011 | 40 Replies

Those who are uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance or so-called conspiracy theories might be better off skipping this post. Those who seek to understand the machinations of our government however, are encouraged to read on.  There is much historical revisionism in this area, and I want to ensure that some of this information doesn’t disappear down the memory hole in all the celebration over bin Laden’s death.

Obama administration awaits updates on Bin Laden. Image via Wikipedia (commons)

Firstly, let me clearly state that I disapprove of the manner of this killing. Extrajudicial assassinations are anathema to a society that claims to live by the rule of law. Numerous voices are loudly praising this decision to kill bin Laden rather than capture him, supposedly to save the fragile American public from the rigors of a trial. They claim that a trial would have been “too controversial”, as if that had anything to do with the law or its application. Either we believe that laws matter or we don’t. Either we believe that there is justice available under our system of laws, or we do not. In this case, it’s clear that we do not trust our own system of justice to arrive at the “right” conclusion. Implicitly, this suggests that we are hoping for a kangaroo court, already convinced of the guilt of the accused based upon the mere say-so of our government. When the president can order someone to be killed, with no oversight or evidence presented, we no longer a democratic system of checks and balances. We have an emperor, a tyrant holding the power of life and death in his hands.  I argued much the same in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last year.

Hillary Clinton warned Pakistan in May, 2010 that we expected much more co-operation from the Pakistani government in attempting to locate bin Laden. Presenting three alternatives, Clinton said “we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.”  Subtle, but please note that in the Secretary’s sentence, killing is distinct from “bringing to justice”, as it should be.

Secondly, at least one administration officials showed remarkably prescience. Attorney General Eric Holder bluntly stated last year that bin Laden would be killed, not brought to justice.  “Let’s deal with reality,” Holder said. Bin Laden “will never appear in an American courtroom.”  Pressed for more information, Holder continued, “The possibility of catching him alive is infinitesimal. He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people so he can’t be captured by us.”

And so Osama bin Laden has been killed. Allegedly. Again. Why do I say again? Because this is not the first, second, third, or even fourth time such a claim has been made.

Journalist Simon Reeve wrote in 1999 that a joint U.S.-Saudi operation nearly succeeded in poisoning bin Laden.  The attack was “only partially successful, causing acute kidney failure”.

Beginning in 2000, news reports began to surface that bin Laden was gravely ill with kidney problems, requiring dialysis.  The South Asia Analysis Group of India reported in February 2001 that “Bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of the Inter-Services Intelligence, (ISI) if not of Gen.Pervez Musharraf himself.”

From July 4-14th of 2001, bin Laden was reportedly seeking lifesaving treatment for renal failure in a hospital in Dubai.  During this time, he allegedly meets with at least one CIA agent, as well as Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was then the head of Saudi Intelligence. The Saudis were reportedly hoping to broker negotiations between the U.S. and bin Laden, but the meeting was a failure.  Although the CIA denies this, all the news agencies carrying the story (Reuters, Le Figaro [Paris], and Radio France International) stand by their reporting. (source)

Dan Rather with CBS News reported that bin Laden had been undergoing dialysis on the day before 9/11, under the care and protection of the Pakistani government.

Following the attacks of September 11th, bin Laden denied involvement on September 12th, 13th, 17th (twice),  28th and on December 26th, 2001.  The denial on the 28th is notable in its vehemence:

I have already said that I am not involved in the September 11 attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other human beings as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of battle. It is the United States which is perpetrating every sort of maltreatment on women, children and common people of other faiths, particularly the followers of Islam.

Whoever committed the act of September 11 are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, common American people have been killed. …

A video of uncertain origin surfaced on October 8th 2001, in which bin Laden voices support for those who attacked America, although he does not admit to being one of them.  Regardless, Bush was already convinced it was Bin Laden and concluded that Bin Laden “virtually took responsibility”.  Still, the repeated denials don’t exactly evoke the image of a terrorist mastermind bragging of his biggest success to date.

In any case, rumors of his death began to appear soon after 9/11.  A Chinese news source reported that Bin Laden and Mullah Omar had been shot in the back by underlings in October, 2001.  The rumors would continue intermittently from then on.

In December 2001, Fox News reported that bin Laden had died from an “untreated lung complication.”

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told CNN in January 2002 that he thought bin Laden was most likely already dead:

“I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a … kidney patient,” Gen. Pervez Musharraf said on Friday in an interview with CNN.

Musharraf said Pakistan knew bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan. “One was specifically for his own personal use,” he said.

“I don’t know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak. … I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan.”

Then in July 2002, FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson agreed with Musharraf’s assessment, although he admitted he has no evidence to support it.

By October 2002, even Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai indicated he believed Bin Laden to be dead. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead. But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere,” said Karzai.

The next several years saw a spate of bin Laden videos, although some or all of these were alleged to be fakes.  Interestingly, the Washington Post reported last year that the CIA planned to make fake bin Laden videos in 2003.  The videos would purport to show bin Laden and his band of merry terrorists sitting around a campfire swilling liquor and discussing their sexual conquests of little boys.  The videos never went anywhere, although there are conflicting claims as to whether the idea was killed outright or taken over by military Psy-Ops.

Then, in a play that works well enough to have its own name, an October Surprise!  Four days before the 2004 U.S. presidential election between Bush and Kerry, a new bin Laden videotape surfaced.  MSNBC reported at the time:

In no previous authenticated message — audio or video — had bin Laden explicitly stated that he ordered the 2001 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people.

But in the new tape, he claims full responsibility. “We decided to destroy towers in America so they may taste what we have tasted,” he says, clearly referring to the World Trade Center.

Journalist Ron Suskind will later report that the CIA has concluded “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.”   The pundits agreed:

  • Walter Cronkite: “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.”
  • Roger Simon (U.S. News and World Report): “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.”
  • Andrea Mitchell (MSNBC): “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.”

And, as October Surprises are wont to do, the tape helped Bush secure re-election.  The Bush campaign jumped to a six-point lead over Kerry in the polling following the videotape’s release.  Incidentally, news of bin Laden’s death has caused a spike in President Obama’s flagging approval ratings and re-election odds.

By 2005, the rumors of bin Laden’s death would begin to swirl anew.  U.S. and British search teams would comb the rubble of the earthquake-stricken Pakistani city of Balakot looking for bin Laden’s body.  The search was based on satellite imagery which purported to show a somewhat-thinner bin Laden, which U.S. officials chalked up to a worsening of his kidney condition, perhaps brought by the failure of portable dialysis machines due to heavy U.S. drone strikes in the area.

Also in 2005, Australian terrorism expert Clive Williams claims to have seen evidence that bin Laden died in April of 2004 of massive organ failure.

In 2006, Congressman Curt Weldon said he had an Iranian source that claimed bin Laden had died in exile in Iran.  The Washington Post would report later that year that bin Laden’s trail had gone “stone cold”, and that some intelligence operatives had taken to calling him “Elvis”.  In September of 2006, French newspaper L’Est Republicain reported that bin Laden had died of typhoid on August 23rd of that year.

By 2007, U.S. officials were indicating that they had no solid leads on bin Laden’s whereabouts since 2002. “We’re not any closer,” said one anonymous official.  In late 2007 though, CIA officials were again indicating that bin Laden was seriously ill with long-term kidney disease.  In a jab at the large number of suspected previous deaths, the Time headline reads “Is Osama bin Laden dying…again?” One anonymous CIA official claimed, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.”

In 2009, Angelo Codevilla, a professor of International Relations at Boston University, publishes an article jocularly entitled “Osama bin Elvis” which leads with the sentence “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama bin Laden.”  The article goes on to point out the flaws in the various bin Laden videotapes that had emerged over the years, including that the left-handed Bin Laden occasionally writes with the wrong hand in some videos.

In 2009,  U.S. Defense Secretary (and former CIA chief) Robert Gates claimed that it had “been years” since they had received any good intelligence on bin Laden.  He also declined to confirm reports that a detainee in Pakistan had provided clues to bin Laden’s location.  Later that year, another CIA official would tell Time magazine that “He’s dead, of course. No wonder there’s no intelligence on him.”

Osama Bin Laden. Image from the FBI's most-wanted flyer.

Interestingly, although bin Laden was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list, he was not on that list for 9/11.  The FBI flyer warns: “Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people.”  For a more complete discussion of the evidence (or lack thereof) tying bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks, see here.  Suffice it to say, the FBI says there is no “hard evidence” of bin Laden’s involvement.

So what is the picture that we are left with?  bin Laden has apparently died more times than I can keep track of.  In no case, including the current one, is there a shred of public evidence to support the conclusion that he is dead.  All assertions from the U.S. government to the contrary, we still have not seen any convincing evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and he refused to accept responsibility for those attacks for years.  Apparently, this man who was so weakened by chronic kidney problems that he was assumed dead several times (and required regular dialysis), has been on the run from the U.S. military and intelligence services for over a decade, including spending time in some of the most forbidding and remote areas of Af-Pak.  Then, in a finale worthy of Hollywood, the daring shoot-out: a team of Navy SEALs attacks his evil terrorist-mastermind fortress/lair.  The dastardly criminal grabs a poor defenseless woman for a human-shield, and takes aim at U.S. forces.  The good guys put two bullets in his face, and it’s Miller-Time!  Well, that story is changing already, but never mind about the details. He’ll probably put out a new videotape in time for the 2012 elections, if history is any guide.  And I’m not the only one who has considered the Hollywood angle: CIA director Leon Panetta said that watching the raid was “like watching a Harrison Ford movie”, and helpfully suggested that perhaps Al Pacino would make an ideal Panetta in the inevitable movie version.

Actually, it’s interesting that Panetta chose a Harrison Ford movie as the template.  Harrison Ford has acted in a number of movies as Jack Ryan, a character from Tom Clancy novels based on a real person, Dr. Steve Pieczenik. Dr. Pieczenik has impressive credentials.  Quoting from his bio:

Dr. Pieczenik trained in Psychiatry at Harvard and has both an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and a Ph.D. in International Relations from M.I.T. He was the first psychiatrist ever to receive a PhD. focusing on international relations. He served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and/or Senior Policy Planner under Secretaries Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, George Schultz and James Baker.

And quoting from his Wikipedia page:

Dr. Pieczenik created first hostage survival courses in the US government and became famous for developing the strategy and tactics for rescuing hostages around the world. … He developed the basic tenets for pscyhological warfare, counter terrorism, strategy and tactics for transcultural negotiations for the US State Department, military and intelligence communities and other agencies of the US Government. …Dr. Pieczenik continues to consult to the Department of Defense.

Dr. Pieczenik has been on the record since early 2002 that Osama bin Laden is dead.  Dr. Pieczenik appeared on the conspiracy-oriented  Alex Jones show in 2002:

Pieczenik told the Alex Jones Show that Bin Laden had already been “dead for months,” and that the government was waiting for the most politically expedient time to roll out his corpse. Pieczenik would be in a position to know, having personally met Bin Laden and worked with him during the proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan back in the early 80′s.

Pieczenik said that Osama Bin Laden died in 2001, “Not because special forces had killed him, but because as a physician I had known that the CIA physicians had treated him and it was on the intelligence roster that he had marfan syndrome,” adding that the US government knew Bin Laden was dead before they invaded Afghanistan.

Marfan syndrome is a degenerative genetic disease for which there is no permanent cure. The illness severely shortens the life span of the sufferer.

“He died of marfan syndrome, Bush junior knew about it, the intelligence community knew about it,” said Pieczenik, noting how CIA physicians had visited Bin Laden in July 2001 at the American Hospital in Dubai.

“He was already very sick from marfan syndrome and he was already dying, so nobody had to kill him,” added Pieczenik, stating that Bin Laden died shortly after 9/11 in his Tora Bora cave complex.

Lastly, let’s please dispose with the farce that we spirited bin Laden’s corpse to the Arabian Sea and dropped it overboard out of an abundance of respect for Islamic law or tradition.  If that were the case, we would have done the same for his son, 2 brothers, and a guard, who were also killed in the raid and whose bodies were left lying in the courtyard.  I understand that there were exigent circumstances, war is hell, and all of that– but then one shouldn’t invent justifications for it after the fact.

As a postscript, if you are interested in the history of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, there is a highly informative lecture given by Peter Dale Scott to the “Issues in Foreign Policy After 9/11″ class at Berkeley.  The lecture is nearly two hours long, including a question and answer session, but the information is terribly interesting.

h/t for research assistance to Historycommons.org, an open-source history project which constructs timelines for significant events based on mainstream news accounts.

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is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

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  1. Part of what muddies this all up just a wee bit—and I don't know how much, except in the Court of Public Opinion, but I find it an interesting aspect to parse—is that Bin Ladin in a practical sense tried himself. His string of videos taking credit and advancing his program didn't leave much for a court to "prove" concerning his guilt or innocence. In that respect, you could make a fairly cogent argument that the trial was over a long time ago and this was just carrying out the sentence.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's an excerpt from a post by House on Fire. I think his question is a fair one, and where our "Peace President" can't even articulate why this country continues to have its military in Afghanistan, why shouldn't we be held accountable for all of the "collateral damage"?:

    "This is my take: Obama's a politician and a member of the elite. The whole bin Laden thing was conducted in such a way that if another nation had taken similar action on U.S. soil, a great many people in this country would be howling. But since "we" did it, it's okay with a lot of people (and NOT okay with a lot of people as well, I should add), and therefore Obama is the great architect and moral force behind this "necessary" murder.

    Now, don't fly off the rails and tell me that bin Laden was a terrorist and murderer. Even though he never went to trial, most of us accept this to be true. But how is Obama not a terrorist and murderer when children in Afghanistan, to name one instance, are being killed by our armed forces/government? Remember: Obama is the Commander in Chief."

    http://adrianzupp.blogspot.com/2011/05/obama-is-n

  3. Erika Price says:

    Erich has already linked a great deal of high-quality writing on this subject, but I'm going to give a further shout-out to two slate pieces that really touch on the ambiguities and inconsistencies of this story.

    The Obama administration is trying to have it both ways. They are trying at once to emphasize the risk of the mission (see here) and the evil of bin Laden while simultaneously painting him as an incompetent, doddering old man (see here. They are trying to seem prudent by not "spiking the ball" and releasing photos of bin Laden's corpse, yet they release numerous videos of his more pathetic moments. We are expected to believe that bin Laden was at once a menacing terror living in a dangerous compound, who needed to be executed on sight, and a washed-up, flubbing shut-in. If you accept that bin Laden was past his prime, it becomes very difficult to see him as an evil that only immediate bullets could eradicate.

    Now journalists at Slate are suggesting the raid had a purpose above and beyond taking out bin Laden: the true purpose of the raid may have been to collect intelligence. If this is true, the 'necessity' of shooting bin Laden on the spot becomes even shakier, even while the mission itself becomes a bit more understandable (to me anyway).

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I want to know what kind of "mastermind" Bin Laden was, when he could sit around for ten years, living in some comfort for at least part of this time (maybe most of it), yet hasn't come up with a worthy sequel for 9/11. There is a lot of information suggesting that the "genius" of Bin Laden was largely concocted by the U.S. to justify it's calamitous "war on terror." I am fairly convinced that Bin Laden was a reasonably resourceful guy who took advantage of American lapses. I also suspect that Bin Laden exposed America's airport security experts as somewhat inept, and that everything that has happened since has been personal. If only we had defined the problem as a relatively small number of clever people, of whom Osama Bin Laden was one, dedicated to harming the United States –if we had done that, we could be saving the $2 Billion that we are wasting in Afghanistan every week, given that we can't even articulate meaningful military objectives.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    "Harvard scholar Linda Bilmes and Nobel-Prize winning Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz now estimate that the two post-9/11 wars will end up costing taxpayers somewhere between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. That includes not only money already appropriated for the military campaigns ($1.3 trillion at last count), but also the immense cost of long-term health care for returning soldiers, and such things as interest payments on all the extra borrowed money and the increased volatility of oil prices since the invasion of Iraq."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/11/reassess

  5. Karl says:

    The only thing that makes sense is that Obama has himself been an operative for the CIA since his days at Occidental College.

  6. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Karl:

    [citation needed]

  7. Karl says:

    Thought I sent these, but I guess I didn't. The trial was outside of the real established Judicial System, but worth a little attention if for no other reason than that it's starting to make sense out of all of the secrecy and conflicting messages about Obama's background and rise to his position. After all who in the world could officially ask the CIA what they have been up to?

    http://stevescomments.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/ob

    http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/spingola/100314

    http://www.thepostemail.com/2010/04/27/dr-manning

    http://americangrandjury.org/category/columbia-tr

  8. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Karl-

    I'm sympathetic to critiques of CIA operations and even of Obama, as you should be aware of by now. However- the links you provide are nonsense. I ignored the interviews with divinity doctor James David Manning, whose Wikipedia page notes his unfortunate racial theories:

    "It is common knowledge that African men, coming from the continent of Africa—especially for the first time—do diligently seek out white women to have sexual intercourse with. Generally the most noble of white society choose not to intercourse sexually with these men. So it's usually the trashier ones who make their determinations that they're going to have sex."

    Anyway, I ignored the interviews with Manning in favor of the "summaries of transcripts" from one of your links.

    Unfortunately, the easily-disproven parts of the summary detracts from the overall credibility. It's difficult to argue that Obama never attended Columbia university when we have an article he wrote for the student paper and people willing to testify to being his roommate during that time (source).

    The most interesting of the theories echo those put forward by investigative journalist Wayne Madsen (a much more credible source than Manning), such as Obama's 1983 employer Business International Corporation, which did admit to providing cover for CIA agents (source). See more of Madsen's theories here. There's also the matter of Obama's 1981 trip to Pakistan, although please be mindful of the disinformation here as well– travel to Pakistan was allowed in 1981, contrary to the claims of some.

  9. Karl says:

    Here is another link (http://www.infowars.com/bombshell-barack-obama-conclusively-outed-as-cia-creation/) with a bit now information about the CIA's role in Obama's entire family.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: Even if it were true that Barack Obama "is the product of the intelligence community," so what? What does this mean? What consequences follow from this "fact"?

      Much of this "evidence" is heavily spun and based on massive conjecture. And, once again, so what? What are you suggesting about what Obama would or would not do based upon whether he had some connection with the CIA? Are you suggesting that Obama is actually a high-tech cyborg created by a CIA mad scientist? Or that he's planning to convert us to Islam using CIA techniques? Or simply that he's going to turn against the American people when they are at their most vulnerable? Gad, Karl. How do I say this without seeming too insulting, but isn't it time that you turned your investigative skills to studying the Trilateral Commission, or that you start looking for little green men who landed in New Mexico?

      Again, Karl. So what, even if what you suggest is true? What would it mean for any of us that Obama or members of his family had some sort of CIA connection? It's a big organization with lots of principled people who have the best interests of Americans at heart AND lots of shadowy ruthless people. Lots and lots of flawed human beings working within a dysfunctional system. Tell me what kind of guy Obama learned to be thanks to his supposed CIA training?

      I don't need to rely on these paranoid speculations, because I can plainly see that Obama is, like most politicians, a gentle-speaking warmonger working hard to placate big corporations such as telecoms, banks, insurance companies and the military-industrial complex, while simultaneously protesting that he is a dedicated defender of America who is looking out for little people like you and me. I don't need rely on wild stories to find fault with Obama.*

      *And in case anyone misreads me, I believe that McCain/Palin would have been much, much worse for America.

  10. This falls into the same kind of conjectural territory as Clinton's Soviet connections based on his time in Russia while a student. But I never see much made of the fact that George Herbert Walker Bush actually ran the CIA before becoming president.

  11. Karl says:

    This isn't a republican or democratic issue, I know full well that G.H. Bush had open and clear ties to the CIA.

    It also wouldn't surprise me that the CIA would do what ever was needed to prevent both everyday Americans and our enemies from knowing just what the CIA is capable of fabricating or destroying, like any public record they chose.

    The question might be, has the CIA been doing the selecting of the Presidencey for Americans for many, many years. That is, if the CIA doesn't have clear influence over a candidate that they will not be elected, or marginalized if they do somehow get elected?

    It wouldn't make much difference to most Americans, but it might matter to "real historians" if the record were ever to be fully set straight.

    Its clear the record has not been set straight for many years since the assination of JFK.

  12. Karl says:

    Another link on Obama's Possible CIA ties.

    http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/8739669

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