A week after Osama bin Laden's death, new information is still trickling out from U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies. The picture of bin Laden that's emerging is one of a fairly healthy, image-conscious, aging, active, 54-year-old al Qaeda leader who lived with three wives and several of his 20-something children in a less-than-luxurious compound. Over the weekend, the U.S. released five videos (without audio, so as not to "spread the words of terrorists..."), apparently seized in the raid. The videos — and other intel leaks and reporting — offer several new insights into bin Laden's life over the last few years:
1. Bin Laden was obsessed with his public image
The new videos show bin Laden at home, his beard sometimes dyed black — a man who was "very interested in his own image," says one U.S. official. One video shows the terrorist with a grey beard and stocking cap, a blanket draped over his shoulder, flipping through cable channels to find clips of himself. Of course, the U.S. decision to release these particular videos "is as much propaganda as the videos themselves," says Max Read at Gawker. The idea is to show bin Laden "not as a martyr or warrior but as a media figure of his own creation," agrees Ben Smith at Politico.
2. He kept a stash of "natural Viagra" on hand
Pakistani sources released a list of medicines found in bin Laden's hideout, and one of the seemingly juicier finds was a cache of Avena syrup, a wild-oats extract widely marketed as an aphrodisiac or "natural Viagra." "We don't know who used it," cautions pharmacist Cynthia Reilly. "It could have been used by women to stimulate desire." Or, suggests NBC News medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, "it could have provided Osama with a psychosomatic boost." Avena Sativa is also a natural sweetener for people with "sour stomachs," MSNBC points out.
3. He was in relatively good health
Navy SEALS found other medicines, but, notably, none used to treat chronic illnesses. After Saudi Arabia allegedly poisoned bin Laden in 1999, he suffered kidney failure, and several U.S. intelligence officials were convinced he died of kidney disease years ago. But "he was neither weak nor frail," widow Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah reportedly told Pakistani agents. Bin Laden had two successful kidney operations a decade ago, and kept himself healthy with a holistic regime of herbal supplements and watermelon. "He believed in his own medication."
4. Bin Laden's home was essentially a farm
Along with his family and entourage, the compound housed two cows, several rabbits, and more than 100 chickens, according to neighbors. The bin Laden clan also had a large garden that made them pretty much self sufficient. It appears to have been "a life of rustic simplicity," says AFP's Emmanuel Duparcq.
5. But it was also like a prison
Rustic is one word for the compound, says former Bush administration security adviser Juan Zarate, as quoted by CBS News. Spartan is another: It's "a little bit like he was under house arrest." Based on a new video of the compound, apparently taken by Pakistani agents, bin Laden "was really a prisoner, in a sense, in this compound."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- 10 things you need to know today: August 27, 2014
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- In defense of Obama's golfing
- Russia's new air force is a mystery
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
Subscribe to the Week