The tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a president of the United States is still at large. Either that or he’s dead. Again. We’ve been hearing from intelligence sources and the media that bin Laden is dead for a long time. How dead can one evildoer get?
In July 2002 the New York Times carried an op-ed piece that led with "Osama bin Laden is dead." Bin Laden died in December 2001, according to the author, Amir Taheri, an editor of the Paris-based journal Politique Internationale. Both Taheri and his journal have been broadly accused of questionable journalism practices. Taheri’s sources – all unnamed except for then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who "repeated" the information – weren’t any more reliable than Taheri is, but he ultimately based his conclusion on logic. "With an ego the size of Mount Everest," Taheri reasoned, "Osama bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long if he were still alive."
And what of all the videos of bin Laden that have surfaced between 2001 and now? David Ray Griffin, whom the BBC identifies as "a former theology professor and member of the 9/11 Truth Movement," says they’re false because "None of them can be proven to be authentic."
These are negative proof arguments, the kind that say, "We can’t prove little green men are flying over Nevada in spaceships, but we can’t prove they aren’t, so it must be true."
Live or Memorex?
As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi noted in December 2009, analysts "inside and outside the government" base their assessment that bin Laden has found sanctuary in the hereafter on non-evidence: specifically, that they haven’t had any solid information about the al-Qaeda leader since late 2001.
That puts our intelligence agencies, which have access to more space-age gizmology than any other spy apparatus in the history of espionage, on par with the likes of the conspiracy theorists at WHATREALLYHAPPENED.COM. According to these folks, bin Laden is dead because unreliable journalist Taheri said so in a New York Times op-ed piece, and because a video released in December 2001 made bin Laden look much older than he did in a photo taken when he was much younger, and because in the video he didn’t move his left side much therefore he must have been suffering from diabetes, and because in November 2001 the UK Guardian revealed that Le Figaro of Paris reported that in 2000 bin Laden had ordered a mobile dialysis machine to be delivered to his base in Afghanistan.
The bin Laden narrative aptly illustrates the extent to which our government institutions have used the big media and polluted the information environment. Rumor begets hearsay. Hearsay begets opinion. Opinion begets unconfirmed facts, unconfirmed facts beget disinformation begets propaganda begets intelligence, and intelligence begets nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
What makes these convoluted yarns successful is something I call the "grain of truth" factor. If one or more of the assertions in a far-fetched fable seem plausible, a certain type of person will accept some or all of the rest of the tale because "there’s a grain of truth in it." There is, of course, grain in every pile of horse manure, but that doesn’t make horse manure easy to swallow, does it?
Having said all that, there’s a fair chance that bin Laden really is dead. If he’s hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border high up in the Hindu Kush mountains where helicopters can’t fly, he could have died of a nosebleed by now. And in November 2008 then CIA Director Michael Hayden said bin Laden was still alive, which adds credence to the argument that he wasn’t.
It doesn’t matter either way. Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden is the greatest strategist in the history of human conflict. With no navy or air force or anything that resembles a formal army, he’s managed to whip the world’s mightiest nation like a rented camel. Our economy is shot, the best-trained, best-equipped military in history has been proven impotent, and our moral standing in the world has gone through the sub-basement.
Speculation about bin Laden’s status vis-à-vis mortality is little more than a smoke screen to keep the American hoi polloi from focusing on a harsh reality.
A tenet of the Dead Osama Theory says that the Bush administration hid the fact that Osama died in December 2001 to justify continuing the war on terrorism. President Obama stepped in a boiling vat of OOPS when, as Candidate Obama, he vowed to "get the job done" in Afghanistan to deflect criticism of Sen. Obama’s vote against the Iraq surge. In October 2008, a month before the election, Obama vowed to "snuff out" bin Laden, and if bin Laden isn’t available for snuffing out because he’s already snuffed, it gets real hard for Obama to justify the massive Afghanistan escalation that Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal and the rest of the warmongery strong-armed him into going along with.
Hence, the Obama administration has a vital stake in preserving the belief that bin Laden is still consuming oxygen. That may explain why, in January 2010, the FBI published a digital image of how bin Laden looks today on the State Department’s "Rewards for Justice" Web site. Shortly afterward, it turned out the picture was an alteration of a web photo of Spanish parliament member Gaspar Llamazares. Nice try, FBI.
The most recent evidence that bin Laden still lives was the recording al-Jazeera released just before Obama’s first State of the Union Address in which bin Laden taunted, "God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support to the Israelis will continue." But the recording was just an audiotape, so maybe the FBI hired Rich Little to do a voice impersonation.
It is little wonder that the status of the man who goaded history’s mightiest nation has become the stuff of checkout-line tabloids. The facts of our so-called war on terror are more ludicrous than our fictions, as witnessed by the National Security Agency’s exploitation of expanded and probably unconstitutional surveillance authorities to eavesdrop on obscene phone calls.
Here’s the disturbing news: our war on terror has been a colossal blunder regardless of whether bin Laden’s safe haven is in this world or the next one.
All the king’s machines and men deployed to far-flung corners of the earth have done little to stem the threat of terrorism, as the Christmas panty bomber illustrated. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with bin Laden’s attack on New York and Washington. We’re now discovering, thanks to Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service, that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader we ousted from power in Afghanistan because he gave aid to bin Laden’s planning of 9/11, actually attempted to prevent bin Laden from attacking America. Oops. Our bad.
Our "struggle against violent extremism" has produced, at a conservative estimate, a minimum of 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq alone. The figure may be well over a million. In 2007, official Iraqi government statistics showed that the country possessed 5 million orphans. That’s a bunch more Iraqi orphans than Saddam Hussein ever made.
Osama bin Laden didn’t need to survive beyond December 2001 to wreak havoc on the United States and the rest of the world. We’ve done it for him.