Old Well: UNC Chapel Hill Campus

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

All's well that end's well


I was combing my iPad around 10:30 pm, Sunday evening, when a message popped up:  “President Obama to address the nation.”  A few minutes later, another message:  “Osama bin Laden is dead.”  I turned on the bedroom TV.   All the local channel broadcast programming had been interrupted.  Then, at 11:30 pm, President Obama filled us in.  A compound north of Islamabad had been attacked by U. S. military.  In the ensuing firefight, Osama bin Laden, titular head of Al Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attack on the American homeland, had been killed.  U. S. troops took his body as well.

It’s amazing how fast the news spread.  People at the Phlliies ballpark, for example, peering at their cell phones, began to spread the word.  Soon there were shouts of  ‘USA, USA!  In the space of a few minutes, Twitter was inundated with thousands of messages.

I think we should take our hats off to the President for his courageous decision to send in troops, SEALS, to perform this daring mission fraught with risk.  We remember President Carter’s decision to rescue our hostages in Iran and the ensuing debacle; also, the Blackhawk down fiasco in Somalia early in the Clinton administration.  Obama’s aids  were sharply divided as to the three options:  wait for more confirmatory intelligence; bomb, or send in troops.  Only half of his advisors recommended the option Obama chose.  Even still, there must have been a heart-wrenching moment when one of the two helicopters developed mechanical problems.  In the end, we achieved our objectives and even managed to recover what may be important documents and computer files. 

The key question is Pakistan’s role in all of this.  How could they not have known of bin Laden’s whereabouts, given his proximity to Islamabad, just 35 miles away?  The compound had been built at considerable expense five or six years ago, incorporating elaborate security measures, and was located just two miles from Pakistan’s elite military academy.  In Pakistan, police make it a practice to gather information about housing and their occupants.  Costing over a million dollars, the compound lacked internet and phone connections.

This triumph surely will be remembered as the high water mark of the present administration and probably ensures Obama’s reelection.  At the same time, George Bush deserves considerable credit.  We found Osama bin Laden largely as a consequence of enhanced interrogation, or water-boarding, techniques, now cast aside by the Obama administration.  One detainee at Guantanamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave invaluable information concerning lower echelon Al Qaeda functionaries such as couriers, cooks, taxi cab drivers, etc.  He was water-boarded 187 times.

This information led to the tracking of a courier, Sheikh Abu Ahmed, who was found living at the ritzy compound, arousing suspicion.  Without water boarding, so disparaged by this liberal administration, bin Laden would have eluded detection. He was killed in the raid.

There had been voices urging lower echelon prisoners at Guantanamo should be released.  Eric Holder, the Attorney General, had been recently arguing for civilian courts to try Guantanamo prisoners and closing down Guantanamo.  Holder had previously chastised the Bush administration as exhibiting “ a disrespect for the rule of law.”

It became imperative that Obama act quickly to avoid bin Laden’s evading capture yet again.  Only several weeks before, WikiLeaks had released a trove of documents making reference to couriers as message carriers for bin Laden.  Abbottabad, where the compound is located, was mentioned as a possible hideaway for bin Laden.

Ironically, there are several European countries in which George Bush cannot travel without facing possible arrest as a war criminal for supporting enhanced interrogation methods.  Yes, Obama deserves our accolades for his strong action seemingly out of character.  Unfortunately, in the groundswell of national euphoria and political gamesmanship, Bush’s seminal contribution will most likely elude the spotlight it deserves.