Less than 48 hours after U.S. Navy SEALs raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and grabbed America’s #1 enemy, President Barack Obama and his national security team find themselves facing down a political firestorm.
U.S. Republicans are challenging Obama’s ban on water-boarding by exaggerating the perception that enhanced interrogation yielded bin Laden’s courier. The use of Special Forces behind Pakistan’s back has triggered calls for more unilateral operations and less aid, a realistic possibility considering Islamabad’s jittery statements. Meanwhile the general debate over extra-judicial killings and Pakistan’s sovereignty hums in the background.
But no dilemma is more immediate than bin Laden’s final moments, burial and the accompanying footage. Apparently the bottom of the Arabian Sea isn’t deep enough to rid the world of Osama bin Laden.
Whether the Obama administration sincerely believed that it buried bin Laden by the Islamic book is difficult to predict. A high degree of public skepticism was clearly anticipated, however even the best laid plans go awry and White House is facing intense pressure to act immediately. The politico-religious sphere of bin Laden’s death hasn’t experienced the lightning success of U.S. military operations, and a quick dump of bin Laden’s body has fueled doubts of his end. A special case should have been warranted to allow a more public consultation with major religious authorities in the Muslim world. That seems to stand a greater chance of conclusively burying him.
Choosing the water route came with a price: Washington would be forced to release pictures of bin Laden’s disfigured corpse. Potentially inflammable at a basic physical level, posthumous pictures will violate Islamic law in the eyes of his remaining followers. A tough dilemma when the Obama administration wanted to snuff all enthusiasm out of al-Qaeda.
It doesn’t help that the White House issued two major corrections on Tuesday. Spokesman Jay Carney read a Pentagon narrative of the Abbottabad raid, during which he retracted previous comments that bin Laden resisted arrest and that he used his wife as a human shield. Carney told reporters, "In the room with Bin Laden, a woman - Bin Laden's wife - rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed."
He said these miscommunication were due to the White House’s desire to inform the American people.
"We provided a great deal of information in great haste in order to inform you, and through you the American public, about the operation and how it transpired. And obviously some of the information came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on.''
Why bin Laden was killed instead of taken prisoner appears to link into his rapid burial, and hence into the need to release a deceased photo. U.S. officials have already begun to explain their side, saying that SEAL teams were instructed to captured bin Laden only if he were naked. A senior congressional aide who was briefed on the rules of engagement, said; "He would have had to have been naked for them to allow him to surrender.”
The story checks out for the most part, however pieces still feel like they’re missing. Numerous corrections and perceived plot holes have spread further skepticism. Only in time will we learn of the raid’s climatic end, but why an unarmed bin Laden was killed in one shot will take a great deal of additional explaining. The general consensus, at the moment, asserts that capture was never an option. Nor do U.S. official wish to explain the fact that bin Laden’s body is an unwanted burden. CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress last month that, in a hypothetical case, bin Laden would have been taken first to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay, which Obama promised he would close.
Caring for an infirmly bin Laden would present considerable obstacles in housing him. A sea burial affords a quick and easy way to be rid of his body. No one wanted to give him a chance to speak during his final moment or in a U.S. court, and torturing his live body would eclipse mishandling his dead body.
With positives and negatives weighing roughly even, they’ve also created a stalemate that the Obama administration must break with bin Laden’s photos. Although the administration is reportedly worried about derailing the narrative against al-Qaeda, failing to release the photos equally hijacks this narrative. The myth builds as each day passes. Obama might be waiting to pop a bigger bubble, or maybe until after his visit to Ground Zero.
In any event, it’s better to take control of bin Laden’s status rather than allow it to evolve on its own.