Note to regular readers: being short on time, I refer you to my Twitter feed for more of my thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden.
Let joy be unconstrained! Justice has finally reched Osama bin Laden. Like Adolf Eichmann, bin Laden could run but he couldn’t hide forever. Whatever your politics, credit should be shared first and foremost between (1) the CIA and other intelligence operatives for tracking down bin Laden and (2) the Joint Special Operations Command troops for carrying out an extremely hazardous mission to take him out.
But moving on to the politics and the policymakers, bin Laden’s death will no doubt provide a political victory to Barack Obama, who gave the order to have him taken out (after passing up a chance in March to drop massive bombs on his compound – a recognition that bin Laden’s death is more important as a visible symbol than as an operational matter) – but make no mistake that it is also a policy victory for conservatives.
Officials say CIA interrogators in secret overseas prisons developed the first strands of information that ultimately led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.
More blow-by-blow here and here on how the initial interrogation strands developed during the Bush Administration led ultimately to yesterday’s raid (and reflect on Pakistan’s complicity – bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad was built in 2005). Also note the report that “One woman was also killed after one of the targeted men tried to use her as a human shield during the raid.” Bear in mind, bin Laden’s guards were presumably Al Qaeda’s most elite fighters. If your elite bodyguards’ go-to move in a firefight is hiding behind a woman, maybe you should dial back the bravado a wee bit. [UPDATE: Apparently it was bin Laden himself cowering behind a woman. Of course.]
Of course, conservatives have always argued that a viable intelligence-gathering apparatus requires not only interrogation of detainees but the full range of intelligence tools: electronic surveillance, covert operations, payoffs to seedy sources and defectors, occasional sub rosa cooperation with nasty regimes, and of course maximizing the information we get from having troops on the ground in foreign lands. The Left has spent the past decade deriding each of these sources. But if you celebrate the killing of bin Laden, bear in mind what had to be done to get him.
Two: the raid was carried out by a JSOC team that clearly had no compunction about shooting bin Laden twice in the head. You will remember when Seymour Hersh and Keith Olbermann breathlessly described JSOC as “a covert executive assassination ring that reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office”. You’re welcome.
Three: The Administration acted unilaterally in carrying out this mission. International institutions and alliances have their uses, but in the end, some things a nation has to do for itself.
Four: the reaction to bin Laden’s death has, predictably, smoked out the same nasty impulses among our enemies that led Saddam’s state-run media to laud the 9/11 attacks. Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have both condemned bin Laden’s killing. No amount of whitewashing will change what these groups are. (More here on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority).