Like many Americans, I remember exactly when I heard about the World Trade Center attacks: in the car, with my father driving me to school. The radio turned on, and somebody started talking about attacks on a “World Trade Center.” At that time I was too young to know what a “World Trade Center” was, except that it sounded really important – like a center for world trade. The radio program sounded like a joke, and I thought it was until we got to school. Then the teacher said quietly that something bad had happened. When I got home that afternoon, I spent the rest of the day watching these big planes slam into these two tall buildings which repeatedly burst into flame. It didn’t really affect me much, given my young age.
In those early days everybody was convinced that we, that is America, were going to catch Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. President George W. Bush grandly declared a “War on Terror,” and the invasion of Afghanistan went perfectly. At first, that is.
Time went by, the years passed, and we were still no closer to Mr. Bin Laden. By the time I was old enough to understand the importance of the September 11th attacks, the administration had de-emphasized the importance of Mr. Bin Laden. Another war had started, this time in Iraq.
Eventually I came to think, probably like many Americans, that the United States would never catch Mr. Bin Laden. He would stay wherever he was – the tribal areas of Pakistan, everybody said – forever. Like Fidel Castro, the man had turned into a half-forgotten annoyance, a person who would occasionally release videos or audiotapes commentating on this or that matter.
Sometimes a lonely person would suggest that Mr. Bin Laden might be captured. Perhaps, some very few hopeful Republicans said, such an event might boost the flagging popularity of the Bush administration. I laughed inwardly whenever I heard such talk. We would never catch Mr. Bin Laden, I thought. It was too late; the trail had long gone cold, and nothing seemed to say the United States had been on his tail for years.
I was in my dorm when the news came that Mr. Bin Laden had been brought to justice. I had been procrastinating, as all college students do, on some homework assignment. Instead of doing what I was supposed to do, I was reading through a random military blog. The author was quite definitely not a fan of President Barack Obama, and often launched the classical Republican attack of the president as weak on defense, unconvinced of American exceptionalism, etc.
I then switched, quite casually, to the New York Times. The front page screamed, in all-capital letters, that Mr. Bin Laden had been captured. It carried a picture of the president announcing the news to the nation.
The United States had finally gotten the person that I had been convinced we would never get. It didn’t seem real. Indeed, for the rest of the night the conspiracy theorist in me wouldn’t shut up. Mr. Bin Laden’s death had only been announced by the White House, hardly a reliable source. There was no third party confirmation, no pictures, nothing outside of the White House’s word. The news that Mr. Bin Laden’s body had immediately been buried at sea provided extremely strong fodder for suspicion.
I now believe, however, that Mr. Bin Laden has indeed been brought to justice. The absolutely enormous damage to the White House’s credibility that would be done were he to be alive is one factor; it is unlikely to lie about such an important event. Third-party witnesses have confirmed that there was definitely a helicopter attack, and there are pictures of blood in the Abbottabad compound. Moreover, the White House’s initial indecision about releasing pictures of Mr. Bin Laden seemed realistic enough to show that pictures of Mr. Bin Laden’s death do exist, which is all I need to know. Indeed, given the purported graphic nature of them – and the fodder such pictures would provide to America’s enemies – I think it’s a very good idea not to release them. If Mr. Bin Laden is indeed still alive, he will soon release a videotape making a fool out of everybody. Yet even the jihadist websites seem convinced that the man is no longer in this world.
Congratulations to everybody involved in this successful operation. Congratulations to the president who ordered the operation, to the military-security apparatus which planned the operation, and to the brave special squad which carried it out.