There is a great, really great, story out there. Is it the one we are being told at our local movie theatre in ZERO DARK THIRTY, great as that one is? When the event being depicted is as seminal, as landscape-changing, as the gunning down of the entire globe’s most infamous terrorist, and reputed orchestrator of the earth-defining attacks of 9/11, is it acceptable that serious, and entirely reasonable scholars and observers of world events cannot agree about, or at least express sincere uncertainty concerning, the facts?
And I am not talking about the question of whether Osama Bin Laden could or should have been captured alive. I am not talking about the doubtfully helpful role that torture played in his demise, or the movie’s depiction of that conundrum. I am not talking about whether he was armed when he was gunned down, had used a woman, a wife, as a shield, whether there was a weapon within reach or how baggy his clothes were. The question, strangely enough, that is still in dispute is, was that Osama Bin Laden.
Let’s get the obvious rejoinders out of the way. Clearly some very important people, almost certainly the soldiers firing in the dark, thought it was OBL. The prickly, and probably in real life, captivating female CIA officer who did the hardest work of coming to the pivotal conclusion that it was he, she surely believed it was OBL. And in retrospect it seems almost silly to question the premise. Why in the world would anyone live in a house with a 12-16 foot high concrete wall around it, and be able to look forward to only a shaded walk in a very small circle in the back yard once a day, every day, if you weren’t hiding from the world’s most formidable weapon-toting information apparatus, and hiding for very good reason?
So, what is the point of this exercise? Is there any reason at all to think that was not OBL lying there supposedly with a hole through his eye, body later slid mostly unceremoniously into some sea or other, no independent authority having made what is the cornerstone of any homicide prosecution anywhere in the world, a positive identification? Other than the troubling notions contained in the preceding sentence, yes, as a matter of fact there are a number of reasons, and a simple list should suffice.
1. According to the Observer newspaper in Pakistan, he died around December 13th, 2001 in Tora Bora and was buried the next day in an unmarked grave, attended by 30 or so Al Qaeda fighters. He looked calm and relaxed in repose.
2. He suffered from kidney failure, this according to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a Bush Administration official citing “American Intelligence,” requiring dialysis, which would be hard to survive in a cave at the top of a mountain range. It has been shown that he was visited in a hospital in Dubai in the summer of 2001 by a CIA case officer, confirming illness and also his relationship to American intelligence, he carrying the name Tim Osman in the 1970’s as a CIA asset. What’s more, there has been no reference to finding a dialysis machine in Abbottabad, nor to any of that which attends the medical treatment for kidney disease.
3. In the years following, President George Bush, having once said OBL was wanted “Dead or Alive,” expressed no interest in his whereabouts or in any efforts to capture or kill him, actually saying at one point that he didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
4. General Richard Myers said the mission in Afghanistan had never been to get OBL, a surprising statement given all that had been said previously and the presumed suppositions of the American people. His acknowledged death too soon would have undercut the reasons for war, one guesses.
5. There is a “confession” videotape, “found” by US forces in some raid in Jalalabad in December of 2001, dated November 9, 2001, which purports to be OBL but doesn’t look that much like him and might be fake for a number of reasons, among them:
a. He appears too fat;
b. There are those who say the nose is wrong; some say the cheek bones are wrong; it would take a pro to make an accurate determination
c. He is seen writing with the wrong hand;
d. He is wearing what appears to be a gold ring, which is unIslamic.
e. His language contains none of his normal religious usages, and there are arguably illogical statements contained in it.
f. Up until this tape, he had denied any responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
6. There are other audio and videotapes which some well-informed observers say are fakes, at least one of which was proclaimed fraudulent by Bruce Lawrence, head of the Religious Studies Department at Duke, and foremost expert on OBL and his utterances.
7. An audiotape from November 2002 was proclaimed a probable fake by a forensic lab in Switzerland, the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence.
8. A number of CIA/military intelligence types have opined that he is dead, one of whom is former CIA case officer Robert Baer who proclaims death emphatically and refers to a polling of his former colleagues in coming to his conclusion. Another is Angelo Codevilla, now a professor at Boston University. Another is Oliver North. When you use Oliver North in an effort to prove a point other than his own depravity, you have probably gone as far as you should under any circumstances, but I don’t know why he would say such a thing with the damage it could do to his ideological confreres then in residence at the White House, if he weren’t speaking what he believed to be the truth.
9. The appearance of one of the declared-fake tapes played an arguably pivotal role as an October Surprise in the 2004 election that beat John Kerry with the help of other electoral manipulations on the part of the Republican apparatus.
One could go on; Professor David Ray Griffin wrote a book on the subject in 2009. What is found above are some of the significant highlights. As other far more astute observers than I have documented, Russ Baker at WhoWhatWhy.com for example, there are in addition to these elements which existed before the killing in Abbottabad, some troublesome questions that have arisen since. The story of what happened was mangled by USG spokespersons as soon as there was anything to report, and most importantly, with regard to the absence of a positive identification, Baker reports that the body was disposed of before there was adequate time to determine if there was a DNA match. As a result, American authorities may think they know now whether that was in fact OBL sinking beneath the waves, but they certainly didn’t know it as the splash subsided. So, what is one to think? Maybe there is an explanation for the known anomalies. One very plausible one deals with the “too fat” question, but leaves the right hand use and ring issue alone. There are just a troublesome number of unanswered questions.
Maybe Bruce Lawrence and Dr. Gupta and the Swiss lab are wrong, but when something very significant is used by a morally bankrupt group of politicians in October of an election year, and they had something to do with its production, AND non-politicians question its provenance, it pays to be very, very skeptical. So waving off the fakeness of the tapes requires a leap of faith beyond my capability.
Why would there be fake tapes if OBL could denounce them to Al Jazeera and disrobe White House efforts to manipulate the electorate, for example? The editor of Politique Internationale, Amir Taheri, declaring OBL dead in July, 2002 made a similar point referring to OBL’s Everest-sized ego. One suggestion is that the fake tapes are efforts by the CIA to smoke OBL out, they being, at that moment, quite hot on his trail. The reason he hasn’t put the lie to the subterfuge is that he realized some of his fundamental protective strategies had been compromised, and he went deep into the hole not to come out again except in a bag; so the theory goes.
The lengths that must have been traveled to achieve the fake version of events that include the on-the-screen assassination of some sort of double, if the suppositions of fakery are correct, are really quite staggering. Al Qaeda appears to have accepted his recent death. The assaulting force in Abbottabad is said to have found at least a son, at least a daughter and a wife or two. In addition, Gareth Porter has written a long article for Truthout that lays waste to almost all that the USG has said about OBL’s death, except for the identity of the dead man, who Porter agrees is OBL, though the question of his identity is never addressed in the article. The article is based on reporting done in Pakistan with a named Pakistani general as a source.
Is it possible that the wives and Pakistani sources for Porter were all unknowing or knowing participants in an incredible charade? Seems very unlikely, but I am not making up any of the facts to which I refer above. How do they and an only-recently-killed OBL live together in the same universe? What are the explanations for this bizarre cohabitation? It is hard to conceive of a factually accurate ZERO DARK THIRTY that does not involve some deceptive manipulations of public perception by some dark forces at some point along the way, possibly ones impelled by some marginally honorable motives.
Isn’t that even a better story, the myriad ways that the USG used OBL, or tried to fake him out, that for a decade were unsuccessful, including notices of his funeral in 2002, and changing the tone of public statements after that? Provocatively, are we to give the Bush White House a pass for jiggering with the democratic process in 2004, if they did, because the activity had as a primary motive the capture or death of our national nemesis? Such moral complexity is the soul of great cinema.
So I ask, doesn’t this nation have the right to know, and agree upon, the facts of the matter in a moment of such enormous importance? This is an invitation to the filmmakers, Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal, to divulge all they know about the smattering of factual assertions contained in this essay, or explain how and why they were unaware of them..