Editorial: Bin Laden divided us in life, brings us together in death

Published 11:17 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

“Thank God for President Obama.”

— Rush Limbaugh

After holding our breath for almost 10 years, we exhaled loudly May 1 at the stunning news that U.S. forces finally took out the most hunted man, the Adolf Hitler of our time, terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Contrary to crouching in caves in remote tribal lands along the Afghan border with the blood on his hands of 2,700 Americans from Sept. 11, 2001, the spiritual leader of Al Qaeda hid comfortably in plain sight in a custom-built, fortified, lap-of-luxury lair in Pakistan. It’s in Abbottabad, not far from a military base and that country’s equivalent to West Point, where former military officers reside.

The compound is already a tourist attraction.

At first glance an American accustomed to Trump hotels might not describe it as a “mansion,” but it’s eight times the size of anything else in that relatively affluent suburban ’hood, with walls as high as 18 feet. “It’s the closest you can be to Britain,” a neighbor remarked.

Bin Laden’s family occupied the second and third floors.

Not only wasn’t he strapped with a suicide vest, he didn’t even feel the need to be armed.

Given its size, seclusion and propensity to burn trash on site, American analysts figured it must shield a high-value target behind those imposing barriers.

After the initial rush of pent-up air which sent thousands streaming into the streets of New York City and around the White House in Washington, the second instinct was to pinch ourselves at this bombshell to make sure we weren’t imagining. The bulletin “Geronimo KIA” had a dreamlike, non-sensical quality, alternating between words like “firefight” and “no American casualties.”

Could a team of 79 Navy Seals really carry out such a surgical strike as to surprise him by helicopter and take out the most reviled individual of our time by blowing off his head and shooting him in the chest?

Unless you were up all night marinating in the relentless coverage of an epochal 40 minutes, by the time you tuned in Monday morning he had already been buried at sea to sleep with the fishes like a mob hit without the gratification many demand of photographic proof.

His head on a stick would be cheered, but others feel caution coursing back into their calculations and how inflammatory such a visual would be. Like the president’s birth certificate days before, it would not satisfy some.

President Obama said he would not release death photos.

The U.S. intelligence community has been looking at couriers since 2003 and got a big break last August when a promising one was identified.

Eight months of painstaking intelligence work ensued, with President Obama brought into briefings during March.

In the excited first blush of mission success, many felt and acted like Americans instead of polarized reds and blues for perhaps the first time since 2001.

Comedians decided it could not be soon enough to joke about an evildoer’s demise. Jimmy Fallon talked about what a rough year it had been for the sea, starting with the BP oil spill and Japanese radiation.

To see Bush administration figures, including former vice president Dick Cheney, toasting the decisiveness of President Obama as commander in chief was a startling sight, while the already infamous war room photo etched the weight of our world on our leaders’ faces as they watched the raid unfold, from the president’s uncharacteristic “death stare” to the vulnerability of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Shortly after taking office,” Obama said, “I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against Al Qaeda.”

Next Washington will need to sort out what Pakistan knew and whether a supposed ally which has received $20 billion since 9/11 was complicit or incompetent.