Two years ago this week, US special forces shot and killed Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man.
American TV is filled with chest-thumping and flag-waving about how bin Laden was hunted down and executed. For most Americans, bin Laden was the acme of evil and author of the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people. Good riddance.
Hunting “bad guys” is a venerable American tradition from the days of the Wild West and the Roaring 20’s: Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger. The TV program “America’s Most Wanted” remains one of the nation’s most popular programs. Osama bin Laden was the ultimate most wanted.
However, this simplistic “good guys v. bad guys” tale remains troubled by the facts. Why, for example, was a clearly retired bin Laden living without bodyguards in a villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan? Was he really found by the CIA’s patient detective work, or betrayed for the $25 million put on his head by Washington? Did Pakistan really not know Osama was in Abbotabad, and hour’s drive from its capital, Islamabad?
Why was bin Laden executed gangland style and not brought to stand proper trial in New York City? A trial could have finally determined if he was in truth the author of 9/11, as alleged by the US government and media. If not, who was?
Circumstantial evidence regarding 9/11 points to bin Laden. But he always denied responsibility for the attacks, though he applauded them after the fact. The Afghan Communists produced fakes tapes supposedly showing bin Laden demonstrating how the attacks were made. These fakes tapes ran widely on US TV.
The 9/11 attacks were planned in Hamburg, Germany and, apparently, Madrid, Spain, not by al-Qaida in Afghanistan, as the US claimed. The planners and executors of the attacks were mostly Saudis, not Afghans.
After the attack, US Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded Afghanistan’s Taliban government hand over bin Laden. Taliban refused to do so without a proper extradition request detailing bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. Powell promised to issue a White Paper about bin Laden’s guilt, but never did so. Why? Probably because the US could not assemble a convincing case. US forces invaded Afghanistan and began their hunt for the elusive bin Laden.
The Bush administration, caught sleeping on guard duty, needed a target for America’s fury over 9/11: Afghanistan, Taliban (which had nothing to do with 9/11), bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization were blamed. Al-Qaida was wildly exaggerated by western governments and media into a nefarious worldwide network of fanatical Islamic conspirators worthy of Dr. Fu Manchu.
I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the birth of al-Qaida and spent many hours with its founder, Sheik Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. Al-Qaida was a rest house for jihadists going to fight in Afghanistan; it never had more than a few hundred members. Al-Qaida was not run by CIA, but the US planned to use bin Laden’s men against Muslim regions of western China in the event of a US-China war.
Al-Qaida’s so-called “terrorist training camps” in Afghanistan were in fact mostly run by Pakistani intelligence to train guerillas for use in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
Al-Qaida was dedicated to battling Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Afghan Communists, and KGB agents of influence, warlords Ahmad Massoud and Rashid Dostam.
In 2010, then CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there may only be 25-50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. But the convenient myth of al-Qaida continues. While America glories in killing bin Laden, many in the Muslim world still see him as an Arab Che Guevara, one man against the mighty US imperial order. Most Muslims disapproved of the 9/11 attacks, yet many felt a sneaking admiration for the Saudi firebrand whose goal was to drive western influence from the Muslim world.
Osama bin Laden is dead, and discarded at sea in true pirate “dead men tell no tales” tradition. But the anti-western movement he began is alive and growing: al-Qaida was not an organic organization but a trans-national movement.
Anti-western groups have sprung about across the Mideast, Africa, Central and South Asia. Many have adopted the al-Qaida brand name. That was bin Laden’s plan.