Osama Bin Laden Killed in Pakistan

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Ed. note: Now updated with more news links – scroll to bottom of page

Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan during a CIA raid approved by President Obama yesterday.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced today, at approximately 11:36 EST, that Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 2001 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, has been killed in Abottabad, Pakistan. President Obama stated in his speech that, upon taking office in 2009, he had directed his CIA director, Leon S. Panetta, to make bin Laden’s death or capture a “top priority”.

President Obama was apparently briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden’s location in August 2010. Though Obama described the lead as tentative, he approved a follow-up, which finally turned up a possible location for Osama bin Laden in recent weeks. President Obama approved an operation by special forces (6th Navy Seals) to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. These special forces closed in on bin Laden’s location, killing him after a firefight. Obama claimed that the agents took great care to avoid civilian deaths, yet did not reveal whether any civilians were actually harmed.

President Obama credited Pakistani intelligence agencies as critical to leading American forces to bin Laden’s compound, stating that they viewed bin Laden’s elimination as an equally high priority. Abottabad lies approximately 35 miles to the north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

President Obama’s speech focused on a sense of “justice” for the families and relatives on 9/11 victims, as well as the importance of this “bringing to justice” in demonstrating what America is able to accomplish. He also noted that the “War on Terror” was not a “War on Islam”, and that Osama bin Laden should in no way be considered a “Muslim leader”.

The President’s speech was short and to the point: a prime-time address at nearly midnight is hardly the place for extended soul. Still, it’s worth noting what was left out, if only as a jumping-off point for conversation. There was little mention of the thousands of others who experienced death or imprisonment along the 10-year long journey of the “War on Terror”, inaugurated under President Bush, Obama’s predecessor. There was no mention of bin Laden’s beginnings, in the U.S.-funded jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has not been stopped by any means, and it remains to be seen how bin Laden’s death will impact the organization.

Bin Laden’s death is largely symbolic, but symbols have power, especially in domestic politics. His killing presents a clear-cut foreign policy success for Obama, much as the capture of Saddam Hussein did for President Bush following the Iraq war in 2003. Even as President Obama spoke, a crowd of Americans gathered outside the White House, waving American flags and reportedly shouting “USA! USA!” Obama presented the killing of Osama bin Laden as an example of what America can accomplish if it applies itself,
“not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are.”

In death, Osama bin Laden is presented as he has been seen in the United States for much of the past 15 years: a monster who must be stopped at all costs. The monster has been slain; now comes a prime opportunity to try to untangle the nightmare of the past decade, as we try to gauge just what those costs have been.

[Updated 12:15pm 05.02.2011]

Timeline of Osama bin Laden assassination

Thoughts on bin Laden’s death with respect to the broader Middle East

Repercussions of bin Laden’s location – not far from Pakistan’s capital

Reaction within Arab countries to bin Laden’s death (audio)

Andrew Lieber is a student at Brown University
Tik Root is a student at Middlebury College

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3 Responses to Osama Bin Laden Killed in Pakistan

  1. Ethan says:

    Another issue with the speech was the egregious disregard for the first amendment of a state taking any sort of stance with regard to religion or god. He did this three times unnecessarily, even stressing that GOD is doing the blessing. Let us not forget that religious craziness and lack of reasonable thought was a big factor in this mess.

  2. Andrew says:

    Ethan, your criticism is well received. However, I would caution against too much ire directed against the President’s reference to God in his speech. There is an inevitable civil religious component to these occasions. It is common practice in the US to invoke a blessing on significant occasions and it is a benign practice. Additionally, conflating the President’s mention of an unspecified God with fundamentalist violence and irrationality does a disservice to intelligent discourse on any issue surrounding the speech. Instead, let’s have a civil conversation on the significance of OBL’s demise.

  3. Ethan says:

    Andrew, thanks for the reply. I comment about the speech, and not the event, because the speech evokes comment as well, and you indeed dedicate a few paragraphs to it. I don’t mean to dwell on it. But I must reply, before the conversation descends into the consequences of the death itself. Naturally anything but a civilized conversation would be unproductive in this forum, but I must disagree when you opine that there will inevitably be a religious component. The only way I would see any sort of reference to the numinous is if secular language were to fail, and here it does not. Common practice is a good reason for very little, and the speech’s pan-religious coda adds nothing but subtracts something, albeit something subtle. I suppose it just seemed to me that we haven’t learned our lesson. “God” blessed al-qaida as well, according to the late OBL, and I think Obama missed a teaching point in that speech. Sure, it may seem benign, but it also enables some people interpret religion harmfully without having to answer to the credibility of their arguments. To the statement of “God blesses al-qaida,” Obama would have to answer “No he doesn’t” instead of the far-easier answer “What god. Explain how you could possibly determine that.” Having said that, kudos to Obama for having qualified OBL not as a Muslim leader, but as a terrorist and murderer. He had me up until the very end.

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