Top Ten Myths about Bin Laden’s Death

New details of the operation against Usama Bin Laden have emerged. Here are the myths that people keep bombarding me with and which are now known to be untrue.

1. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held that Bin Laden had long been dead. Not true. Musharraf said in 2002 that he thought Bin Laden might have died. But then he learned through CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (captured spring 2003) that Bin Laden was still alive. Musharraf thereafter accepted that the al-Qaeda leader was still around and never again said that he was dead.

2. Former President George W. Bush ‘spent much of his presidency looking for Bin Laden.’ In fact, Bush said in 2002 of Bin Laden “I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”* He said 6 months after 9/11, “I really just don’t spend that much time on Bin Laden.” He told Fred Barnes in 2006 that Bin Laden was “not a priority.” In 2006, he closed down the CIA Bin Laden desk.

3. The intelligence that allowed the identification of Bin Laden’s courier, which led the CIA to the safe house in Abbottabad, was gained through waterboarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It was not. The information was elicited during conversations with the detainees. Torture often produces resistance and disinformation, as with Sheikh al-Libi’s allegations that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda in chemical weapons.

4. Bin Laden died with a gun in his hands. He did not, though he may have been going for one.

5. Bin Laden grabbed a wife as a human shield. He did not, though it may have looked like it to one of the SEALs, since she put herself between him and them.

6. The Pakistani press speculated that Bin Laden’s bodyguards shot him to keep him from falling into American hands. They did not. The guards were on the first floor, were armed, and resisted the SEALs, who shot them to death along with a woman who was caught in the crossfire.

7. Bin Laden was executed by US forces. He was not. His wife lunged at the SEALS and was shot in the leg. Then Bin Laden made threatening moves (looked as if he was going for a weapon?), and he was shot. [Having the authority to kill is not the same as being ordered to assassinate. There would certainly have been fears the house was booby-trapped or that Bin Laden had a gun somewhere on his person, so his refusal to freeze when so ordered was a serious potential threat.]

8. Bin Laden was assassinated. He was not. First of all, he was the leader of a para-statal organization that had declared war on the United States. If the US could have stormed Hitler’s bunker and taken him out, it would not have been an assassination, any more than being able to take out an enemy general on the battlefield would be. Second, the SEALs fired only when he made a threatening move, which is a form of self-defense. There is every reason to believe that the US would have preferred to take Bin Laden alive, since they could have then interrogated him about ongoing terrorism plans.

9. Muslims have been silent about the killing of Bin Laden. Not true. There has been widespread Muslim condemnation of Bin Laden and expressions of relief that he is gone from the scene.

10. That Bin Laden was found in Abbottabad proves that the Pakistani military was harboring him. This is possible but not proved by this mere fact. Murtaza Haider, himself from northwestern Pakistan, notes in the Scientific American:

‘ It’s standard in Pakistan to build these humongous compounds, where living quarters are covered by green space and that green space is then gated and there’s a boundary wall, which is usually substantially high with barbed wire on top of it. It’s not something out of the ordinary.

This is a very tribal culture where people—men, especially—believe that women should not be seen by strangers. In addition, a large number of tribal Pashtuns living in the area became wealthy by the drug trade and could afford to build these compounds—this whole area is a major trade route for opium. Another reason to build those compounds is security. A lot of wealthy Pashtuns have disputes with their cousins over land that they have inherited. Because of these inheritance disputes, a lot of people end up hurting or killing their own cousins over their land. So it’s common to build these compounds to ward off attacks from your relatives who may be after your land as well.

If it is true that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, I’m not at all surprised because that is a place where a lot of these radicalized clerics came from. What does surprise me was his proximity to the Pakistani military academy, which is the West Point of Pakistan, where all the commissioned officers get trained. It is surprising that he was bold enough to find refuge so close to the military training college. There are a lot of people who are trying to create intimations that the military was perhaps involved. You know, if the military were involved they wouldn’t have kept him there; they would have kept him 100 miles away from that place. It’s possible that the military was looking for bin Laden everywhere, and that’s the last place they would have bothered to look.’

*This quote was given inexactly in an earlier version of this post, which also lacked the other similar citations.

Posted in al-Qaeda | 120 Responses | Print |

120 Responses

  1. This is very helpful, thank you.
    However, 8 is wrong: the USA explicitly stated that this was a “kill operation” and capturing him alive was not part of the plan. Reuters, al Jazeera and others have reported this.

    • What is more important, the life of a terrorist like bin laden, or the lives of a group of Americans who are risking everything to bring him to justice? I for one think that any hint of resistance should have been met with a killing blow, because the risks of delaying to shoot were far too great.

      • Also keep in mind that bin Laden could have been wearing a suicide vest.

        • Johnnylakis: “Also keep in mind that bin Laden could have been wearing a suicide vest.”

          I’m sure that there are people in this world who wear a suicide vest at all times, but they are rare.

    • It could not have been a kill operation, because US forces will always accept surrender. What was stated was that it was assumed Bin Laden would not surrender and so would be shot

      • No, actually, in practice, American soldiers will not always accept surrender. See Viet Nam. See Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • You are mistaken. He is saying that it was a legal killing of the leader of a para-statal organization which declared war on the United States. Assassinations are illegal. This is entirely legal under Article 42 and Article 57 of the UN Charter. The target was engaged in directing terrorist operations against the US. It was legal for the US to KILL him deliberately.

      • Well, even in those circumstances, they would have been required to accept his surrender if they could safely do so.

        But he doesn’t seem to have tried to surrender.

      • For years pundits have argued that you can’t have a war on “terror” because terror is a tactic, not a country. Now, this execution is being justified because it’s supposedly taking place during a “war.” That’s no more sound than defending Guantanamo as a holding place for war prisoners. Since bin Laden was never tried and convicted, it remains to be seen–and there is nothing but circumstantial evidence, if that–that he was engaged in directing terrorist operations against the US. What he claims and what he did may be two different things, especially as we know the loose organizational structure of al’Qaeda. That’s exactly why capture and trial was necessary. However, what bin Laden would have said during a trial and who he would have accused of torture, killing, etc., would be too much for this government to allow to become public. Hence, this extra-judicial execution. Juan Cole is incorrect about this being a legal act–and the coming weeks will see much more discussion. What Mr. Cole and other cheerleaders aren’t thinking about is the precedent this sets–there is no stopping Obama or any other president from having their hit list and sending assassination teams throughout the world.

        • Donna, irregardless of what “pundits have argued,” the traditional definition of war being only state vs. state has never been completely true. In any practical sense, when thousands of people begin shooting at each other, it’s a war. Bin Laden’s guilt was not in any reasonable doubt, and the possibility of live capture WAS there, even if no one really expected it.

          Your accusation of what bin Laden might have said in court is pure hyperbole, unless you care to back it up? Chances are, any finger pointing he did would be as meaningless as Saddam’s was.

          A precedent for some world-wide wild killing spree by Obama’s death squads? That’s a poorly constructed Slippery Slope fallacy that reflects some very selective thinking on your part. When you have a few more “examples” to show us, we’ll consider the possibility that one of our foreign policy linchpins is being undermined, but not until.

          Just so you know, I think the war in Iraq is bogus, and GITMO is a national shame. I voted for Obama, and I stand by him on this without conflicting with my Wellstonian (the late Senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone) outlook…

      • Wrong again. Legally, only states can declare war, and only on other states. Most normal countries use their police forces and legal extraditions to take care of terrorists. Spain, where I live has a terrorist problem with the Basque ETA organisation who have killed hundreds of Spanish and others over the years. If we were all to use the same methods as the Americans, that would mean the Spanish Special Forces conducting targeted assassinations into France, Mexico or Venezuela. If we were to apply the same criteria as the US it would mean bombing Bilbao or Toulouse or Mexico. It would give a green light to Cuban special forces to enter the US to take out Posada Carriles who blew up a Cuban airliner with over 70 people on board. It is anarchy.

        Apart from anything else Cole is dead wrong here. The myth is that Bin Laden would ever have been taken alive. This was a hit squad sent to ‘terminate’ him.
        link to

        Even the Nazi hierarchy were tried in a court of law, and they murdered 6 million innocent civilians not 3,000. So we can all see for ourselves just how low the moral compass has fallen in the US, a nation that claims to be morally and ethically supefrior to the rest of us! That’s a very sick joke.

        One just has to see who has won the battle for hearts and minds. Most people on the planet now hate the US and all it stands for, and for good reason. The most violent nation ever to exist with the most violent psycopath population of all time, with the most violent TV, film and digital game industry in the world in a country where the poor are left to exist by living outside the law or die because they don’t have health insurance. All th

        In fact it’s hghly instructive seeing how the American people generally use highly acrobatic linguistic and moral contorsions to justify the unjustifiable – the taking of another human life.

        But then they’ve been in that business since the country’s inception. Let’s not forget the holocaust of the Native American Indians – in fact how could we forget when the code word for the Bin Laden operation was ‘Geronimo’ showing the world that this “is basically the continuation of the wars against indigenous people”, as Native American activist and writer, Winona LaDuke put it: “The reality is that the military is full of native nomenclature,” says LaDuke. “You’ve got Black Hawk helicopters, Apache Longbow helicopters. You’ve got Tomahawk missiles. The term used when you leave a military base in a foreign country is to go ‘off the reservation, into Indian Country.’ So what is that messaging that is passed on? It is basically the continuation of the wars against indigenous people.”

        Let’s also not forget the million dead civilans in Iraq, the UN cover given b y the US to that other murderous rogue nation, Israel, it’s continuous support for dictators while preaching democracy, etc., etc., etc.

        • To: The Daily Sketch~ You obviously do not approve of America, but understand that we do not need your approval. Fact is that here we still have the right to speak our differences and if we are so hostile toward this nation, we have the liberty to move. Were you in America, you would have that same right…. Do yourself, and the rest of us, the favor and why don’t you just butt out??? Likewise, you are quick to criticize the nation of Israel: this is a nation that has been surrounded by hostile forces and attacked repeatedly since its inception, yet always prevailing. You, the armchair soldier, have apparent
          ly never been in battle, so until you have been, why don’t you research the total picture? Granted, there have been errors in judgement in this nation (America’s) history, but this has been true of every culture, every nation since the beginning of time. Men are falliable, and we ALL make mistakes. But this country was founded on many a noble principle and the base of this was truth. Men sacrificed their all to establish the values they believed in and fought for those values to be realized for the masses. Perfect? No, still fundament-ally right. You brought up NAZI Germany and the millions slaughtered by that regime… Yes, I agree that it is appalling to take the life of another, and when one or several are training or enticing many to that end, teaching them hatred for others, packing bombs on their own children in the hope that they will infiltrate unsuspecting crowds to blow them into eternity…What gall! Had your family been in those masses, you may take a very different stance here…. Thousands died on September 11, and those who were killed had done nothing to provoke this battle. America grieved this while those who had declared that war were celebrating and rejoicing. Bin Laden knew he had overstepped that boundary when Americans were attacked on our own turf, and he gloried in that, celebrating the taunting of a nation. There is a place for justice, and this was that place. You speak of valuing life… as do we when we determine, as a nation, to say this is far enough! When an assault is unprovoked and comes to our home to attack our own, then the perpetrator chooses to go into hiding, be assured that JUSTICE will seek you out and IF that means going into your home to find you, we determine to bring justice to your door…. War is ugly…. Can we not agree on that?

    • from what i saw on the news, they had also trained and were indeed prepared to take bin laden alive. if it was me, it woulda been shoot now ask questions never, but the seals did have the preparations necessary to take him alive. And donna, youre fuckin retarded, anyone who releases a video claiming responsibility for the attacks on the world trade center, then, none the less is found and killed in a house LOADED with intel on planned terrorist attacks, theirs a chance of A) Hes guilty B) Hes guilty and C) All of the above. Bubble in C on the scantron folks. In the US judicial system, the video claiming responsibility is as good as a signed confession, therefore, hes guilty. And as long as youre not on that hit list, why do you give a fuck who the president orders to kill?

      • To Bob who claims Donna’s “retarded”: Donna’s is the most relevant and well-reasoned post in this debate. If you would rather “shoot now ask questions never,” then I’m glad you have no place in deciding ‘justice’.

        Even if he voluntarily confessed, we can agree that from Al-Qaeda’s perspective it was deemed to be beneficial to them, or else they would not have confessed to it. Therefore, if another culprit was not forthcoming, they may have confessed anyway since the whoever actual perpetrator would is becomes irrelevant. I’m not saying Al-Qaeda didn’t do it; I believe it’s most likely that they did, but that’s what trials of justice are for: they’re to decide formally who is guilty of what.

        I am not sure whether or not the SEALs went in with the intent to kill Bin Laden since I’ve not read any of the reports myself, but if it was their intention to kill him, then the mission was indeed an assassination, and I agree with Donna that such a case would definately declare a dangerous precedent.

        Under the UN’s rules, which are binding to the US, wars can only be declared between states, not organisations. Although Al-Qaeda are militarised, they are still one more criminal organisation. If the US went in with the explicit intent to kill, then that is disregarding these people’s human rights – criminals, no matter how bad, still have the right to a fair trial. The US should not be able to conveniently brush justice under the rug whenever it suits them politically.

        • After re-reading my post above, I wanted to clarify a mistake I made: I wrote, “Therefore, if another culprit was not forthcoming, they may have confessed anyway since the whoever actual perpetrator would is becomes irrelevant,”

          when I meant: “Therefore, if another culprit was not forthcoming, they may have confessed anyway since whoever the actual perpetrator was would be irrelevant.”

      • > And as long as youre not on that hit list, why do you give a fuck who the president orders to kill?

        hmmm, I’m sure the millions of dead jews, gypsies, comunists, unionists and any other minority they could get away with that were killed by the nazi’s would agree with that sentiment …. and all those nazi’s wish a lot more people had your attitude

        the flipside to ‘no man is above the law’ is that no man is beneath the laws purview either so that all men are equal before the law

  2. I’m unconvinced about point 2. From my understanding of Bush’s personality (& the effect of bin Laden’s capture on his supporters), he would have made this a high priority. Only because bin Laden remained elusive would Bush have pretended that it wasn’t that important. I don’t believe one should just take Bush’s word for this.

    Also, various other points must rely on the comments from the Special Forces team. Given the US military’s previous spinning of stories (eg see Pat Tillman), to state the various points so categorically seems optimistic.

    • Bush’s entire agenda, stated at his very first Cabinet meeting per Paul O’Neill, was war on Iraq. Between his devotion to neo-conservative hegemonic goals and his Dominionist Christian desire to eradicate “Babylon”, that was his mission. Bin Laden was a reason to give for that action, but in fact, the very alarming orders in 2001 that caused our troops to stand down at Tora Bora give witness to the very possible lack of concern over capturing bin Laden at that time since his role was to provide the justification for Iraq. No one can watch the several dismissals of bin Laden’s important as uttered by Bush without understanding how little justice for the victims of 9/11 mattered to that president.

  3. “His wife lunged at the SEALS and was shot in the leg. Then Bin Laden made threatening moves (looked as if he was going for a weapon?), and he was shot.”

    So after NOT having shot a woman who was actually attacking them, an old man on dialysis who in his previous alleged videos was nearly incapable of movement “threatened” a team of heavily armed SEALS trained in martial arts and wearing body armor, and so they “had to shoot” an intelligence asset of incalculable value fatally instead of shooting him non-fatally.

    Really? Then they should be court martialed for incredible stupidity.

    Of course, you’ll censor this post since intellectual honesty is not your bag.

      • I don’t “censor.” Comments here are letters to the editor, as explained in the ‘Comments’ page if you’d bother to read it (which you should if you are going to participate here).

        One thing I’ve learned as a writer over the years is that it doesn’t really pay to insult the integrity of the editor.

    • “an old man on dialysis”

      Bin laden was not on dialysis, this is a myth.
      Also there is no evidence that he was physically incapable of operating any weapons or bombs.

      • I’m curious whatever happened with respect to Bin Laden’s widely reported kidney ailment. The three choices are that he was on dialysis, he got a transplant, or he wasn’t really that sick. It seems like that would tell us something about how much of a footprint he left in Pakistan–I assume it would be much harder to keep a low profile if you were under the kind of medical care required for a dialysis patient. (Presumably, he’d have had his own machine there, but this still requires technicians and supplies and spare parts, right?) By contrast, if he got a transplant, that would also say something about his level of support and assistance. (Was the courier bringing in cyclosporin along with the messages from Al Qaida each month?)

        Conspiracy theories are inevitable in this kind of case, but dumping the body at sea, seeing the story change soon after the initial reports, and especially the long history of psyops directed against the American people (see Pat Tillman) leave me skeptical that I’ve seen the full story. The usual pattern for this kind of event is that the initial story on the front page is very clean and heroic, and then revisions to the story come out slowly on page A-13, over the next several months.

    • Not censored. Perhaps you’re incorrect about a number of things? Dialysis? Please provide the source of your “evidence” for this statement?

  4. Juan, I think you points 7 and 8 are premature. Obama administration officials have given conflicting accounts. A national security official told Mark Hosenball of Reuters, “This was a kill operation”:

    link to

  5. Great post which helps to clear things up, another example as to why i read this blog.

  6. #8: Any comparison with Hitler is on its face hyperbolic, ridiculous, and plays into the worst of GWOT propaganda. A killer? Yes. Deserving of his just desserts? Sure. But let’s not pretend that Osama bin Laden killed even a fraction of the number of innocents killed by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush individually, much less Adolf Hitler. When even the intellectuals in our country deal in such politically correct fantasies what hope can we have for reason-based policy-making?

    • I think you missed the point: the comparison was not between the amount of destruction attributable to Hitler and bin Laden, but to their positions as top commanders of their respective war-making organizations, and thus legitimate targets.

      Prof. Cole isn’t drawing a moral comparison between the two, but a legal one.

      • Hitler was the leader of a nation with whom the US was engaged in a legal war–i.e., declared by Congress. Bin Laden was a criminal, not affiliated with any nation or any declared war. His crimes were yet to be determined in a court of law. The whole point is not whether bin Laden deserved to die, but whether a president of the US should have the sole power of judge, jury and executioner. Obama is already talking about this being a precedent–that means even more executive power. Very dangerous.

  7. I agree with most of this, but not #8. Especially the point about it being in the best interest of America that OBL be tried. America being the average citizen, yes but America the political entity, maybe not so much. CNN was talking Monday night about the govt. trying to avoid “conspiracy theories” but the at sea burial is one of a few points that could have been predicted to cause alternate theories.
    It’s true that Muslims should be buried as soon after their death as possible, but in a case where an autopsy is required, many scholars have said it is permissible to delay the burial. As for the “not wanting to create a shrine” arguement, poppycock!
    Sadly, the truth about OBL may never be known, but to trust sources in the US govt. for information is to accept doublespeak as truth.

  8. Sorry to burst your bubble about Bin Laden’s execution.

    “The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then– they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed,” CIA director Leon Panetta told NBC News.

    And from your God himself:

    “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

    Obama issued a decree sometime ago that anyone, anywhere in the world could be executed by the US without due process if the magic phrase ‘terrorist related” was used.

  9. Whether it is true or not, several high ranking officials, including the director of the CIA (L. Panetta), has said that part of the information gained from the courier was obtained through waterboarding and other types of intense interrogation. I really appreciate your column, but I wish we could all listen and be honest about what happened here. Donald Rumsfeld also stated two days ago that nothing was gained from waterboarding at Gitmo because no one was waterboarded at Gitmo. The waterboarding happened in Eastern European countries before Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two other high profile detainees were taken to Gitmo.

    • He said it involved people who had undergone intense interrogation. Right now some on the right are citing this as proof of GW Bush’s directives being successful but the pertinent information was obtained much later through easy interrogations. You can look at the Inspector General’s report on this and the details of those who were waterboarded.

      • The facts are that we don’t know. The person who initially gave them some information on this courier that led to two of Al Queda’s top leaders denying knowledge of the courier, is a guy the CIA gave authorization to use enhanced interrogation against. We’ll never know if the US could’ve gotten the intel without enhanced interrogation if it indeed was used. But right now, we can’t say for sure that it had nothing to do with any of the info attained. I’m not for enhanced interrogation, but I want honest debate. To me, with these stories changing every hour, it might’ve been wise for Mr. Cole to wait and do this at a later time. He’s basically saying after a few days he’s sure of these ten or so statements he provides being the facts and the Prez., his cabinet, the CIA and WH officials seem to continue to be trying to get their facts straight.

      • Just for the sake of avoiding euphemisms, that “intense interrogation” done by the US and our allies would properly be called “torture” if done by, say, the Syrians or Iranians or North Koreans or Chinese.

  10. Good stuff. These rumors need to be squelched. The last point, about Pakistani knowledge of OBL and protection of same is particularly worth keeping in mind.

    I’m not so certain we can be so certain about his final moments. The information is still coming in from a very confused situation. Any chance the helmet cam videos will be published? If his last moments were as you said, it might be considered politically undesirable to have him bravely defended by a shir-zan interpolating herself between the SEALS and their target or even (according to another version) lunging unarmed at the SEALs. Not exactly good propaganda for the West.

  11. Whilst all this is fine and may well be true, since you weren’t there, your opinions are no more valid than anyone elses.

    So immediately reframing information as “myths” is no more helpful than dreaming up the myths in the first place.

  12. Prof Cole – With all due respect, your point # 7 asserting that bin Laden was not executed by US forces seems dubious at best. According to reports, the orders were to kill him. He was unarmed and took a bullet in the head.

  13. Bin Laden was once a US asset. Virtually all we know about him since then has come to us via western intelligence and the corporate media.

    He was the face of the ‘clash of civilizations’, which replaced communism and narco-terrorism as the excuse for the security state to give itself unlimited powers and an unlimited budget.

    The security apparatchiks decreed that it would be too inconvenient for him to be taken alive. So in the blink of an eye his voice is silent and his physical remains disappeared. Their account of what happened in Abbottabad has already changed in the first 24 hours.

    The US establishment – Wall Street, the Pentagon, Big Oil, etc., – and its representatives – Bush, Obama, whomever – have such a poor record for truthfulness that it would be naïve to accept their account of this or any other event without verification.

    • Right, watson, and I assume that you are a member of the “Flat Earth Society” and believe the end of the world is coming in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar. It’s all a conspiracy, isn’t it? Oh, and don’t forget the attempted UN takeover of the U.S. with their black helicopters. Paranoia, Paranoia, Paranoia!

      • Watson hardly proposes a crackpot conspiracy theory, he merely points out the obvious. He certainly would be inconvenient to take prisoner….a potentially a big liability. Look at was done to try to free the RAF prisoners in Germany, before they were murdered by the W German State?
        I have no trouble at all believing a group of SEALS could storm the place. I also have no trouble at all that this is about “freedom” or such malarky. Its all about the forces that call the Empires shots, northing more.

      • William:
        Looks you still believe in the fabricated “Gulf of Tonkin” incident!

        Where are Saddam’s “WMD”? Are you still looking for them. Take Rumsfeld with you.

  14. Actually it was a good idea to cozy up close to the military school.
    It would be an area that the Pakistanis would not tolerate having US drones fly over all and it would be harder to set up and man a ground observation post to monitor the house and call the JDAM strike from a B2 at night. It was easy to supply from the well stocked markets serving the military elites without anyone noticing their expensive tastes. Maybde they were stealing a neighbors WiFi!

    In Vietnam one of the guys running the VC operations lived a few doors down from the American ambassador’s residence – since it was within the safe and secure bubble the US never considered the possibility.

  15. Just a minor remark concerning point 8 (while awaiting official clarification on point 7: how exactly did he resist?).
    You say Bin Laden wasn’t assassinated, because “he was the leader of a para-statal organization that had declared war on the United States”.
    Does this mean that the soldiers of this para-statal organization have been treated as prisoners of war, in accordance with the Geneva convention, ironically one of the few international treaties signed and ratified by the US?
    Rhetorical question, of course. But one shouldn’t switch from “terrorist organization” to “war party” and vice-versa according to what suits one best.

    • Andreas, while Bin Laden had committed acts of war against the U.S. and others, he and his followers do not qualify for “Prisoner of War” status, as he, and they, do not meet the requirements of legal combatants under Article 3 of the Convention. They are “unlawful enemy combatants,” which is why we can try them in Military Tribunals.

      • The “unlawful enemy combatants” label has always seemed to me to be legal double-talk. I’ll maybe use the terms a little loosely, but the Geneva Conventions seem merely to distinguish between soldiers and civilians. (OK, I do know about the Navy, Air Force, and Marines.) Those prisoners in Gitmo are civilians.

        So maybe, legally, this was more like a SWAT team storming the residence of a known gang-boss. And if you want the legal cover for doing it in a foreign country, I’m sympathetic to classing these people as pirates.

  16. “7. Bin Laden was executed by US forces. He was not. His wife lunged at the SEALS and was shot in the leg. Then Bin Laden made threatening moves (looked as if he was going for a weapon?), and he was shot.”

    I’m sorry but you don’t know that nor can you prove it. You’re simply taking the word of of gov’t spokespeople who have repeatedly given false information.

    “8. Bin Laden was assassinated. He was not. First of all, he was the leader of a para-statal organization that had declared war on the United States. If the US could have stormed Hitler’s bunker and taken him out, it would not have been an assassination, any more than being able to take out an enemy general on the battlefield would be. Second, the SEALs fired only when he made a threatening move, which is a form of self-defense.”

    From Leon Panetta:

    “JIM LEHRER: And they had orders to fire. In other words, it was clear – it was fine with the United States government that they went in and shot this guy, right?

    LEON PANETTA: The authority here was to kill bin Laden. And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

    “The authority here was to kill bin Laden.” Do you seriously believe UBL would simply throw up his hands and surrender? No. So this was an assassination. He was unarmed. Whether it was justified or not is another question but this was a kill mission.

    After all the disinformation that the US gov’t has perpetrated, I’m not sure why you don’t look at all this with severe skepticism.

    • Having the authority to kill is not the same as being ordered to assassinate. You are misreading the text. There would certainly have been fears the house was booby-trapped or that Bin Laden had a gun somewhere on his person, so his refusal to freeze when so ordered was a serious potential threat.

      • or bin Laden could have placed an explosive device on himself as soon as he realized his position had been compromised. Wouldn’t been very unwise to take the risk he didn’t knowing what Al Queda operatives do.

  17. Thanks for the clarification! I heard nearly every single one of these “myths” yesterday, along with many other, even less probable ones at my favorite bar.

    But still, how can we know whether Osama had a gun or not, and is it relevant? If the elite forces really thought he was an valuable intelligence asset, one imagines that they could of aimed a little lower than his forehead.

  18. Thanks for the clarification! I heard nearly every single one of these “myths” yesterday, along with many other, even less probable ones at my favorite bar.

    But still, how can we know whether Osama had a gun or not, and is it relevant? If the elite forces really thought he was an valuable intelligence asset, one imagines that they could have aimed a little lower than his forehead.

  19. I think you’re perpetuating myths here too.

    We really don’t know much about the circumstances of the death yet. Pakistani security sources told Arabiya that his daughter has a different story. Not that anonymous Pakistani security sources are much to go on – I won’t even repeat the story. But I think it’s early to be pretending we have an authoritative, reliable version.

  20. i read that Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist( a man named Patek?) was arrested in this same town earlier this year, and that Indonesia authorities believe he was there to meet with Osama, and possibly to train for attacks. Do you know anything of this?

    • Just wanted to say thanks Lisa, for a nice read. It’s refreshing to read something from the internet that’s so reasonable and well thought. I hope the leadership of all involved will see this opportunity.

  21. As for this – “You know, if the military were involved they wouldn’t have kept him there; they would have kept him 100 miles away from that place.” , well one would think that Bin Laden would have done that as well. The argument’s logic neither supports nor conflicts with the military hiding him. If the military was hiding him then having him close by would make the job a bit easier when it comes to monitoring him and his visitors and such.

    Juan, aren’t the Pakistani people, military and government of many minds when it comes to Bin Laden? Is it not possible that a faction decided to keep Bin Laden under wraps for various reasons?

    As for the details of whether his wife was shielding him or if he was going for a gun, etc. – how the heck can anyone know for sure who wasn’t there? I personally think they would have been justified shooting him in his bed asleep.

  22. I am disappointed Prof. Cole. You’re making all sorts of unsubstantiated claims about Osama Bin Laden’s execution. The questions raised about the operation are legitimate and Obama and the Pentagon’s mouthpieces are as reliable as Al Qaeda’s propaganda. Until we see the videos or have some independent information we won’t know. Rather than defending what was looks like another illegal execution by the perpetrators of Abu Ghaib and Fallujah, you ought to demand that the circumstances of the killing be clarified. The comparison between Bin Laden and Hitler is almost naive in its irrelevance. You can do much better than this.

  23. Myth No. 3 is certainly not “known to be untrue.” There has been no definitive statement or evidence as to how the information on the courier was obtained. There is some speculation that it could have been obtained via enhanced interrogation techniques at a black site, such as Romania. It is possible that it was obtained during “conversations” with detainees, but the Administration, correctly, has not confirmed anything. The fact is there probably were several sources of information that, put together, led to the courier and the compound. That leads one to the possibility that some of the information was obtained via “conversations” and some vie enhanced interrogation.

    There is a Myth No. 11 that you did not mention. The operation that took out Bin Laden was not a joint U.S.-Pakistani enterprise. It was totally a unilateral U.S. effort. Intelligence gathered with the help of the Pakistanis over the years may have assisted, but the operation itself was a unilateral effort. To have brought any element of the Pakistani Government into it would have been to invite blowing the entire operation.

    • I disagree that there is a Myth # 11.

      For something to be a myth, there has to be somebody, somewhere who believes it.

      I don’t think that’s the case here.

  24. Professor:

    Regarding your points 4, 5 & 7–which offer trench-view details on Bin Laden’s death, you might wish to place nearby a large asterisk.

    First, (and famously) the White House has not yet settled on its own narrative. Probably nothing nefarious about this–since the real time transmission from the ground followed unfolding events (versus a constructed narrative), it’s hard to know what the audience heard or what they thought they heard. At worst, it’s Obama-administration message mismanagement–frankly, not unprecedented.

    Of course, the only guys who know were the ones present–and we may never hear from them.

    Too bad. Nothing should subtract from Obama’s terrific decision on the raid, but this post-event blundering (Gun? No gun? Wife-as-shield? No wife-as-shield?) only serves as a minor if self-inflicted distraction from an otherwise great event.

  25. Some of this is truly myth debunking (like that he used his wife as a sheild), but saying it definitively wasn’t an assassination is weird in point of that words use in ordinary language. And of course his location isn’t proof of Pakistan’s complicity in and of itself, but no one has argued that. Rather it’s a strong peice of evidence that coheres with other facts about Pakistan and its military.

  26. Leon Panetta: You know, Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information, and that was true here. We had a multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees, but we also had information from other sources as well. So it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.

    Williams: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?

    Panetta: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were — you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.

    Professor, ‘open to question’? Perhaps, although I note that Holder, too, didn’t push back when asked about EIT. Compare Panetta’s and Holder’s answers to former responses about the use or efficiency of EIT. What can be said with absolute certainty is that your unequivocal denial in number 3 of your list of 10 is wishful thinking on your part. The overwhelming majority of our intelligence officials simply are not making that claim. Period. I will not, nor should others, credit you over Panetta.

    As for claim #2 … Why such a singular lack of grace? I note that no less than Nancy Pelosi as well as the President have made calls of congratulations to Bush. Is it your contention that Bush called off the intelligence hounds in their search for Bin Laden?

    Read more: link to

  27. Folks that claim torture was the key factor in finding Bin Ladin miss a key point. Most radicals get radicalized AFTER they are tortured. Some young, man with idealistic goals about his society gets picked up by security foces. In jail he get tortured and eventually comes out way more radical with justification for use of violence in support of his views. In no time they get picked up by some group. It doesn’t matter what religion or race… you come from. Same thing has been happening in Asia, South America, Africa, Middle East…

    In old days only the folks that experienced jails first hand were the ones that most likely adopted the radical violent ideologies. The rest of the society accepted the denial of governments on torture and went their merry way. Now governments (and some citizens) openly admitting and encouraging use of torture. For a teenager to get radicalized he no longer even need to go to jail. Just the evening news is enough to define a Raison d’êtrer for the them.

    Be on the look out for the next tsunami of violence from people that have been exposed to the new violant message coming out of governments.

  28. It is beginning to emerge that the significance of the bin Laden (what word to use – termination?) is prima facie evidence that Barack Obama does what GWB could not or would not do. In one case it is to face up to the health care problem, which is essentially an economics growth problem and if you don’t believe me, read up on W. Edwards Deming and why the US could not duplicate the Japanese industrial advances. In other cases it is to restore diplomatic relations with the rest of the world, and the Tea Party nonsense that Obama is ruining the same makes about as much sense as a list of the accomplishments of Sarah Palin’s second term as governor.

    Obama has followed through on the mission to terminate the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on this country. Now, if only he will follow through on the more difficult job of removing American forces from places where they are neither want, needed, nor effective.

    If he can do this, then his slogan for re-election is simple: Obama walks where the others merely talk.

  29. “Bin Laden was executed by US forces. He was not. His wife lunged at the SEALS and was shot in the leg. Then Bin Laden made threatening moves (looked as if he was going for a weapon?), and he was shot.”

    Ah yes, dangerous wives and “threatening moves!” How many times have we heard that one from American police after knocking down a door and shooting an unarmed “suspect.” Are we to believe that two elite Navy Seals units couldn’t take an unarmed man alive because of a lunging wife?? And, of course, this you call a myth because…well, you really don’t know, do you? Nor do I. But it’s sure looking more and more like a typical American military/police operation, i.e., shoot to death on sight. Even Attorney General Holder now feels the need to justify the shooting on the grounds that Bin Laden didn’t offer to surrender. LOL. Were this a black man in his home in Mississippi, would your reaction be the same?

    On the face of it, a Bin Laden, alive and standing trial for his crimes, would have been major political trouble for the U.S. That’s something I’d have thought you’d be telling us, Juan.

    • The house could well have been booby-trapped, and rapid movement toward walls could be toward switches to set off bombs.

  30. I am perplexed with Juan stance.

    For what I’m reading in arab, european and latinamerican newspapers, every informed people outside USA knows:

    1. Osama was assasinated while unarmed.
    2. Obama administration is defending torture as a legitimate mean to capture and execute enemies. Leon Penetta has been very clear on it.
    3. Pakistani military finally betrayed Osama, their former protege.
    4.Dumping the body into the sea is hardly defendible and only rises a lot of suspicions.
    5. The scenes of americans celebrating the execution of Osama are not very christian.
    6. Osama was not the leader or mastermind of Al Qaeda, he was just its founder, and he was now an irrelevant figure in the post-arab-rebellions world.
    7. Ten years of endless wars and more than a million Middle Easterners killed in their own countries in order to kill a man. It’s hardly a victory or a success. It’s a shame.
    8. Now the excuses used to commit all those crimes in foreign soil have dissapeared, haven’t they? Are we packing and leaving Iraq and Afghanistan for good?

    • this is something i can completely agree with.. thanks, Elspeth..

    • I don’t know if this is needlessly prissy or not, but almost none of these statements are either true or false, but expressions of attitudes. #1 *contains* a fact (that OBL was killed unarmed); #2 contains a false allegation of fact; #3 contains a rather implausible allegation of fact (why now? why reveal one’s own behavior likely to displease those to whom you reveal it and upon whom one is dependent for almost two billion diollars a year?); #6 appears to be a factual claim but really means “was unimportant” which is too vague to even evaluate. All the other statements are pure expressions of feeling. You cannot “know” that someone is “not very Christian” even if it is an appropriate thing to say. When someone claims to “know” eight things and it turns out that they only “know” one thing (that OBL was killed unarmed) but mistakenly believe a couple more things and have strong feelings about the rest, and the topic is politics, what we have is not called “knowledge” about which one can be “informed.” It is called “propaganda.” This is a game two, indeed, all, can play. The truth is that what we “know” is that America Is Always Wrong(tm).

      • Poseidonian,

        Your post does sound prissy and doesn’t really add to the discussion at all. I can go into detail about why your reply is hardly appropriate in this whole discussion, because this discussion is about opinions and not merely about facts, facts are never certain in politics. So why try and bring this nitpicking to a discussion where none are truly right or wrong?

        I do believe that Americans as a nation are caught up in this sense that the world is full of terror. How many successful terrorist attacks have the U.S. suffered since 9/11 and how many where prevented by the anti terrorist laws instated by the patriot act? This whole chasing Osama deal has been a long quest for reprisal that was hardly worth the resources. Honestly billions spent just to kill one man (and you can argue about semantics all you like the fact remains he is dead.) who masterminded 9/11. This is rather a waste of resources and a show of force unnecessary by a nation who believes in justice and law and peace.

        One of the key markers one can identify nations who are on the brink of being a state where law is taken loosely is when they start to mix up their terminology and when the status of people inside this system become complicated or shrouded.

        I find it hard to justify that the term enemy combatant and unlawful enemy combatant are used. How can any combatant in any situation be considered unlawful, so you place these people under the claim that they don’t fall under the justice system but can be tried by military tribunals? I have a hard time taking this in and finding any real judicial claim worthy of note behind it other than to circumvent the geneva convention. The U.S. is not always wrong, the invasion of afghanistan was the right thing to do to operate against a nation that was suppressing it’s citizens. But the taliban are enemy combatants of a state they are at war with. This is clear cut, but you can not switch terminology of the people you put inside your justice system because they are using a terror tactic and do not hail from one nation. Timothy mcveigh was trialed as a civilian on the charge of terrorism, he got the death penalty as is legal in the state that he was tried. How come these people don’t deserve the same rights? How can we just turn our backs on the system we created as a society to keep our governments in check? This new terminology makes it so difficult to make a possible distinction of what is permitted to do with these suspects because most are just suspected of terrorism that professors of law can’t even really define what their rights are? It took a ruling of the supreme court to rule that the facilities at Gitmo are illegal. I find this highly suspicious to what has become of a nation that once stood for liberty and freedom for all.

        Sadly U.S. citizens find it less hard to follow their own government which has gotten more radical over the years because they are under the impression that anyone that dislikes america are either hostile or should be treated with suspicion. The what we know is that America is wrong attitude is what was coined by the government of the U.S. not by any foreign dignitaries or citizens of foreign states. Yet whenever someone critisizes the U.S. any citizen will immediately feel attacked and jump up and call people out on this holier than though attitude. This whole hostile climate towards criticism in the U.S. is harming it’s own intellectual community and itself as a nation. Because there are no more critics who make the government watch it’s step, because those people are either called not patriotic enough or conspiracy theorists.

        I would say let’s take a good look at ourselves and see what we have become before we jump on other people for giving us their version of the truth.

  31. Juan,

    Good post as usual. I don’t agree with myth 10 though. Its true that the type of house wasn’t so out of the ordinary for Pakistan, and that there are a lot of rich nutjobs in Abbottabad (like many other places) but the place was built specifically to hide OBL in 2005 from what I’m reading. I can think of no reason to choose Abbottabad for this project (which is under VERY tight security) unless there were powerful local people who could provide protection and cover. In Abbottabad this means the military/security elites. The captured documents from the house may very well implicate some of these folks, and that will be VERY hard for US-Pakistan relations.

  32. Juan,

    about point n°3 : arguing whether torture is efficient or not is wrong. This is not the issue.

    Torture is ethically unacceptable, that is all there is to say about it.

    To speak a religious language, torture is evil. Those who torture are evil; those who order torture are evil; those who support the use of torture are evil.


      • No, even then, it is evil.

        An evil act does not become good because it has material benefits. Most evil acts have material benefits.

      • This is exactly why I said it is wrong to argue about whether torture is efficient or not.

        People with no ethics will do anything if if gets them a benefit, and from their point of view they will always find excellent rationales.

        Inefficiency is not the reason torture is wrong.

        Ethics is the reason !

        Torture is evil !

  33. Mr. Haider also needs to point out that the wealthy class in Pakistan need to live in bunker like compounds to protect themselves from the masses of desperately poor, whom they fear. It’s a future the wealthy envision for the States.

    Also, to admit that part of the reason they build these razor wired encircled edifices is to keep their women jailed in them is just…well. It’s horrible.

  34. It’s my recollection that Soviet soldiers were instructed to take Hitler alive at all costs.

    Also, even when Hitler’s whereabouts were known, Western allies made no realistic raid compared to Operation Geronimo. The only top Nazi successfully dispatched with Western support was Heydrich.

  35. Double tap, remember?? Described as a shot to the head followed by a shot to the chest. Does that sound like self-defence to anyone? Does that sound like shooting to wound or incapacitate? Does that suggest that he was wanted alive?

  36. I wish to express confidence that Juan is not becoming an Obamabot. He is well aware that the administration is not of the left, that it is not very able to shake off traditional racist and colonialist attitudes on Middle East policy, and that it is maddeningly lawyerly (I am sure the decisions to disappear Osama’s body and keep the photographs out of the papers was made by some emotionally and intellectually crippled attorney, just like their failure to persuade us that they are against torture). But it is in so many really good ways really profoundly different from the old one and deserves to be applauded for that no matter what, with our sincere gratitude, as on this occasion (part of what’s wrong with what Elspeth said above).

    I am sure Juan is right about point 3, which is by far the most important to me, and at least legalistically about 7-8 (and I honestly believe this sort-of-justifiable in-the-heat-of-it homicide is preferable to the sanctimonious theater of capital punishment which we have been spared!).

    I want to note something commonly forgotten by people who know it much better than a mere newspaper reader like me, on point 10: that the Pakistani government and military, the Pakistani government and intelligence system, and the Pakistani intelligence system in itself, are far from unified, and that we can’t say from outside whether someone with the authority to articulate a given policy is the one with the power to make it effective. It is likely that Zardari and Gilani and Kayani all mean everything they say about Bin Laden but this does not prove Bin Laden was not being protected by somebody, perhaps at a fairly high level and even with the knowledge of someone still higher up who was unable to interfere.

  37. Surely 7 and 8 are only myths IF he was shot because he made threatening moves (with a pretty high treshold for what counts as a ‘threatening move’, not just enough pretext for a trigger-happy marine)? Isn’t it a bit early to denounce them as myths purely because they *might* not be true?

  38. professor, what are you thoughts about releasing the photos? i’m not sure i buy the argument that it will incite the extremists.

    my apologies if this has been addressed already.

  39. Can everyone please read what Juan wrote before making the same poor criticism?

    There would certainly have been fears the house was booby-trapped or that Bin Laden had a gun somewhere on his person, so his refusal to freeze when so ordered was a serious potential threat.

    • Irrelevant. The SEALS should have been ordered to take him alive regardless of risk to themselves or others. bin Laden’s intelligence and PR value were far too high to kill him unnecessarily.

      The SEALS are trained marksmen with handguns and automatic weapons. They can enter a room full of terrorists and hostages and kill every terrorist without killing a single hostage. They shot a woman in the leg who was actually attacking them rather than kill her. What if SHE had a bomb vest on? If they ignored that possibility, they weren’t concerned about it with bin Laden.

      If they could kill bin Laden, they could have incapacitated him without killing him. And they should have.

      Remember, the other critical point is the disposal of the body, for which there is ZERO rational arguments. Which makes the KILLING of bin Laden itself massively suspicious.

  40. What’s sad is that we actually have commentors on this web site defending Osama bin Laden. As if we shouldn’t have killed him the way we did. I just wonder where those people were on 9-11-01 and if they were watching the same thing I was. Pityful people.

    • i honestly haven’t seen anyone on this thread defending obl. i have seen some with questions and personal observations surrounding the circumstance of his death, if that’s what you mean. i was watching plane number two go in, live on the news that morning, failing to realize my 9 year old standing behind me, also watching. so, not only did i in a small way bear witness to a tragedy, i also watched my child’s innocence die that day.

      • it woulda happened sooner or later.

        the loss of innocence is inevitable.

        if you’ve got a computer or a tv in yer house, the kid was prolly already indoctrinated and exposed.

  41. Wow, there sure are a lot of people with expertise on conducting night raids by special forces on this thread.

    So, fellow Juan Cole Commenters, you think that the Navy SEALS totally didn’t have a good reason to shoot Osama in that room? You can totally second-guess the statement that they were ready to accept a surrender.


    • I don’t think anyone in the thread has claimed expertise on conducting night raids by special forces or expertise on much else except reading comprehension. Much of the concern expressed has to do with the fact that Panetta and others declared the raid a kill mission. That’s as clear as it gets. I sincerely do not understand why Juan thinks he knows better.

      I also do not know, and neither does our favorite professor, that bin Laden reached for a weapon. Who says? Is there any documentation except for the statements of the SEALs involved?

      I’m usually one of the groupies who, when Juan makes an unequivocal statement, gets in the car and drives to the bank to deposit it. In this case however, I’m puzzled not just by some of his conjectures, but the fact that he presents them as “facts,” that supposedly disprove “myths,” and truly most of what we’ve heard so far qualifies as neither.

      I reserve a special dislike for those who characterize others who question the official story, which incidentally changes every day, as defending OBL. Nobody gives a crap for bin Laden personally, I’m certain. Some folks, myself included, would simply like the US to live up to calling itself a nation of laws and an example to the rest of the world, and with leaders who don’t reserve the right to order extrajudicial killings and then determine after the fact what is and isn’t the truth and what the people can and cannot see or know about the act.

    • Yes, I can, because I know what SEALS are capable of, I have some knowledge of CQB (close quarter combat), and by the simple fact that bin Laden’s intelligence and PR value absolutely demanded that he be taken alive at whatever potential risk to the SEALS (short of mission failure to take him alive.)

      That and especially the quick and convenient disposal of the body CLEARLY proves the official story is bogus.

      • The baseless allegations you have made do not prove any such thing, and all you have done is express an opinion with no facts to back it up, then proceed to a tautology. Please cite some proof when you make sweeping statements.

        This is not a typical comments page, it is for letters to the editor. The editor at a newspaper decides which get published and which not, and that is how IC works. The editor takes a dim view of letters such as the above.

  42. It sounds like the primary purpose if the mission was to stop bin Laden, and to capture him if possible was secondary. Does anybody seriously have a problem with that?

    • Yes, that was a poor choice (although I’m sure no one gave it much thought give all the other things going on). Its defamatory to the Apache leader and undeservedly dignifies Bin Laden.

  43. Pop quiz: how many armed drones are sent over the Pakistani military’s equivalent of West Point?

    Side note: the Viet Cong used to dig complex tunnels to create bases underneath US bases… this was their best protection against bombers. Does this prove the US was secretly aiding the Viet Cong?

  44. Juan, how can you be so sure with the details on how the raid on Bin Laden was carried out? Did you see that?

    Some of us may know for 10 years that Bin Laden was dependent on dialysis. I’m sure that the whole OBL stuff is a big blow.
    link to

  45. It is not helpful to discuss “assassination” as if it should be illegal to kill someone just because you know their name in advance. The life of someone famous or important is not worth more than that of anyone else. Combatants on both sides of this and almost any modern conflict will kill their enemies while they lie sleeping if they get the chance. Non-combatants are supposed to be off limits, but it is hard to claim, for instance, that the leader of a country who order troops into combat is innocent of that combat.

    I think leaders deserve to be privileged only in two respects:

    1) As symbols of the people they lead. If the US had killed the Emperor Hirohito during World War II, it would have implied to the Japanese that our intent was virtually to kill all of them as well. That is why symbols matter.

    2) Because attacks on them make the mechanisms of collective warfare into tools of private vendettas. Trying to kill Khaddafi years ago led to his sending his own agents (not just client terrorists) to bomb a plane over Lockerbie.

    To me, it seems Osama bin Laden represented only his own hand-picked followers. I think he would have insisted that he was a combatant, already completely dedicated to using his public and private life to kill non-Muslims as a means to ruling (and oppressing) the Muslim world.

    Shooting him was legitimate regardless of his posture at the time. Capturing him would only have been more useful, but he did not rate protection under a reasonable, realistic prohibition against assassination.

    If he was indeed given a burial in accord with Islam, then that was a moral act worthy of note. Contrast, for example, with the Iranian leader who toyed with the charred remains of an American serviceman after the failed raid on Tehran. When you get a chance to save a scrap of decency out of the miserable business of human violence, take it.

  46. Juan,

    Your glee at Osama’s death appears to be clouding your better judgement. Getting into an argument about whether lethal force was justified in self-defense by Navy SEALS is just plain silly. Here is the relevant point: Osama’s life was of no intelligence or political value to the US. If the word had come done from on high that the US needed Osama captured alive, that is what those SEALS would have done, captured him alive. Telling SEALS you have the right to defend yourself is in practical terms a veiled order to kill.

    What are the implications of the fact that Osama’s life was worth nothing to the US? I don’t mean from a purely emotional point, I mean from a practical military, political and/or intelligence point of view. Remember, this is the person who the media and US government have been telling us is a big, bad ass who is a major threat to US security interests. Wouldn’t the US have some questions for a guy like that? Or even better, tell his followers the time has come to stand down? Or maybe he was never any real threat after all!

    A number of people inside the US and especially around the world think 911 was in reality an inside job, meaning Osama probably had nothing to do with it. Maybe killing Osama was necessary so he could never prove to the world he had nothing to do with it.

    • Now we learn today from the Pakistan Government that they had let the US forces use a private airport about 17 miles away, and that they were aware that two C130 transport/command and control aeroplanes landed there with some BlackHawk chopper gunships, and also that some 80 US troops entered the ground floor where all the people were handcuffed with plastic bracelets, ,photgraphs sold to the US press show three of the five assassinated, with blood cascading out of their eyes, ears, nose and mouths in classical murder style! Moreover, whoever was the principle resident of the house had been under police watch for the last six months??

  47. A new, more detailed description of the raid has now appeared, and this description makes it clear that the U.S. team worked its way through the main residence on the compound and simply executed every male they encountered, while sparing the single woman they came across, even though she was the only person who threatened U.S. personnel in any way:

    link to

    This recitation of events is consistent with the series of photographs released today by Reuters, which shows several dead men, each of their lives ended by a kill shot to the head:

    link to

    A gun enthusiast explains how the Reuters’ photos demonstrate the presence of kill shots:

    link to

    The only plausible interpretation of the evidence is that the U.S. team went to the compound with the express purpose of killing every male they found, and then checking afterward to see if they had gotten bin Laden. (There surely wasn’t time to positively identify him before he was shot.) These were cold-blooded killings of defenseless–if terribly evil–human beings. Conjuring up hypothetical dangers with no known factual basis adds nothing to the argument.

    More than that, these were unlawful killings, and therefore murders, as this commentary from Der Spiegel makes clear:

    link to

  48. Juan Cole is such a cut-up

    Only someone with a real sense of humor could title a story “Top Ten Myths about Bin Laden’s Death” and claim, as support Bush wasn’t really looking for OBL, a quote that itself is a fake, and a myth!!!


    >>> In fact, Bush said in 2002 that capturing Bin Laden was not a high priority: “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”
    – G.W. Bush, 3/13/02<<<

    Out here, in reality, that quote is fake.

    Official WH archive of that day's statement, confirming by conspicuous absence he never said it:
    link to

    CNN video of that press conference. Notice the words "I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority" are never said?
    link to
    (1/3 of of the way down, in the gray box)

    Informed debate about the quote, by people who actually care about whether the quote is accurate, and have done some looking, instead of parroting fake quotes:
    link to
    "Fake quotes?

    I'm almost certain that the following quote is fake

    "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." – Sept 13, 2003

    I often see it attributed with this quote, which Bush also did not say

    "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority" — 3/13/02

    After an exhaustive search, I can't find any official transcript that shows Bush said this. It seems to be a recycled internet quote, mainly found on anti-Bush sites or anti-Bush forums. — 23:34, 11 Mar 2004

    That Juan Cole, he's a funny guy.

      • He said many things. But to be clear, he NEVER said regarding OBL “…I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority”,on 3/13/02, or any other date.

        And to present it as a legitimate quote on a site that is about “Informed Comment(ary)” makes one seem uninformed about what is accurate and real, and what is not.

        I’m convinced that the reason this inaccurate “quote” is so often cited is that either a.) the person using it is uninformed, since they can’t be bothered to fact check it themselfs, or b.)they feel it is somehow “better” or more compelling to make their point than what he REALLY said, and for that reason, it calls into question the honesty, integrity, and agenda of those who use it to make a case.

        • I have been traveling and didn’t have time to look into the quote. I remember seeing Bush say words to that effect. Not being able to find it on the Web is not actually proof of anything. Did you check Lexis Nexis and other deep databases?

          If I can’t authenticate it I will retract. However, Bush did say repeatedly that finding Bin Laden was not a high priority for him and that he did not give Bin Laden much thought, and your attempt to imply otherwise is disingenuous.

        • Being unable to reply to your response below, replying here instead:

          I welcome you to dig deeply in search of this supposed quote. I have done that, and provided documentation, via actual WH archives, and video that Bush did not make the statement you attribute to him on the date claimed, nor can it be found on any other date.

          And I welcome the integrity that a retraction would represent.

          As I said, Bush said many things, things which you could cite to make your point. However, in context, and even in isolation, they do not make nearly as strong a case.

          I am not implying anything, nor am I being disingenuous–I made no statement about what Bush’s priorities may or may not have been. I’m simply informing you and your readers that the supposed quote you site is false, and should not be used by anyone making Informed Comment(ary), as it undercuts your credibility, and calls into question whether other statements made elsewhere are accurate.

          The statement may or may not be an accurate assessment of Bush’s mindset–that’s a judgment you may make. But that does not mean it should be placed inside quotation marks, next to a date, and presented as an accurate or honest quote.

    • And Bush disbanded the special CIA task force that was looking for bin Laden. It’s clear that Bush had moved on and saw bin Laden for what he was–a has been. Obama resurrected bin Laden to also resurrect his poll numbers.

  49. I think I agree with everything Juan has said, with two caveats. First, if the point about “assassination” is a legal and not a factual one, then this lawyer thinks it’s fair to say that the facts as they may be further revealed and as we currently understand them are compatible with the use of the word “assassinate” in colloquial usage. I don’t think we know enough to know what the operational plan really was, but if it was “go and kill this guy” I’d call that an assassination, though perhaps not in a sense actionable under US law. Second, the final statement is a tad loaded. The totality of information available gives *significant* *evidential* *support* for the thesis that at least *elements* within the Pakistani state apparatus were complicit in harboring him. But of course you can’t “prove” that Bin Laden is even dead, can you? And what US policymakers care about is, just how useful are these guys to work with, and feed? And in the US, and in the US government in the past few days, an awful lot of people are saying “not very.” Surely that’s fair.

  50. Juan,

    Do you have any opinion of whether the worry about OBL’s grave becoming a shrine made any sense? My understanding was that that was more a Shia than Sunni thing, but I’ll admit I don’t know enough to be entitled to an opinion.

  51. Osama was a sick man who was often on his dialysis machine. I think too many people believe him to be a dangerous villain in the same way that pop culture portrays villains such as Magneto or Apocalypse, etc. Just because a person is part of a nefarious organization it doesn’t make them a direct, menacing and personal threat, especially to trained Navy SEALS. He easily could have been captured alive.

    I think by killing him off, the USG can now claim victory. Maybe they are finally planning to leave Afghanistan since they can now do so without the fear of the Taliban claiming that they defeated the USG.

  52. Dear Prof. Cole,

    CNN and other news agencies have noted that the earliest claims about the raid contradict later claims:

    link to

    This raises an issue that I mentioned in an earlier comment of mine, one that I was disheartened to see was not approved for posting. The issue is this: how can you be confident about the details of what happened given that we have only Pentagon’s word, a source that is generally unreliable?

    Best wishes,

    • cantankerous,

      Thank you for posting this link. This is the best response to this post I could imagine.

  53. Aren’t we missing something here. Hate begets hate. Like two wrongs don’t make a right. There is nothing worst than hatred; it saps the energy right of us. I’m not not a bright person and all this talk is mute. Nearly 3000 people were killed nearly 10 years ago, what did you expect to happen. Hatred begets hate. I swear to god most of you folks like to hear yourselves think. Frank Corley

  54. None of this matters. The only thing that matters is the AH is dead. None of the symantics matter, none of the details or the reactions, or the opinions of the readers matter. He is dead. The wicked witch is dead

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