At last, bin Laden is gone

After a decade on the run, Osama bin Laden was killed this week and his body was buried in the Arabian Sea.

What happened

After a decade on the run, Osama bin Laden was killed this week in a daring U.S. special operations forces raid on his hideout in a custom-built, walled compound in Pakistan. Acting on orders from President Obama, 79 elite Navy SEALs descended by helicopter on Abbottabad, an affluent suburb 35 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, which U.S. intelligence had pinpointed as the likely hiding place of the al Qaida founder and leader. Following a 40-minute firefight—during which U.S. officials said five people were killed, including bin Laden’s son Hamza—bin Laden was found in an upstairs bedroom. He was unarmed but attempted to resist capture, U.S. officials said, and was killed by a shot to the head. The SEALs left the compound with a trove of computer hard drives, thumb drives, and documents, as well as bin Laden’s corpse. His body was later buried in the Arabian Sea by the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, so as to deny his followers a shrine.

The raid on bin Laden’s hiding place was years in the making. As far back as 2002, reported The New York Times, captured al Qaida members told interrogators about a trusted courier who was close to bin Laden. But under waterboarding and other torture methods, 9/11 chief planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad said the courier was “retired” and of little significance. Another captured leader also tried steering interrogators away from the courier, which suggested to U.S. intelligence that he might be the key to finding bin Laden. Over time, the U.S. learned that man’s identity by putting more agents on the ground in Pakistan, and last August, they tracked him to the compound in Abbottabad. After ruling out bombing the compound, because it would make his remains impossible to identify, President Obama ordered the commando strike last Friday. Once bin Laden’s death was confirmed Sunday night, Obama told the nation that the 10-year search for the world’s most-wanted terrorist was over. “Justice has been done,” Obama said.

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What the editorials said

At last Americans can shake off the sense of pessimism and failure they “felt—but rarely acknowledged—in not being able to apprehend bin Laden for so long,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer. Our country still faces “huge challenges” in Afghanistan and Iraq. But with the architect of 9/11 now dead, “it’s easier to envision a day not too long from now when the wars are over, the troops come home, and optimism reigns.” And although it took us a decade to get our man, said The Kansas City Star, our dogged determination sends an important message to our enemies. “If you do what bin Laden did, the United States will find you no matter where you hide, no matter how long it takes.”

President Obama “deserves credit” for using special operations forces to settle this score, rather than an unmanned drone, said The Wall Street Journal. Had the operation failed, “second guessers” would have torn Obama apart. But he made a gutsy decision, knowing that a U.S. military raid “was worth the gamble” because it would “end once and for all the myth that bin Laden couldn’t be taken.”

Al Qaida’s remaining leaders must be having night sweats, said the Chicago Tribune, especially given the “delicious trove of electronic booty’’ the SEALs found in bin Laden’s hideout. More commando raids—and Predator attacks—could be in the offing.

What the columnists said

The death of bin Laden proves that torture doesn’t work, said Andrew Sullivan in Despite being waterboarded 183 times, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed actually lied about the courier’s name and importance, and so did another al Qaida leader, Abu Faraj al-Libi. What broke this case was “old-fashioned” intelligence work, and Obama’s decision to refocus on capturing bin Laden. But you can’t dismiss waterboarding’s effectiveness so easily, said Shannen Coffin in When Mohammed was captured in 2003, “he was resistant to any form of interrogation, conventional or otherwise.” Waterboarding and “other enhanced measures” made him more “compliant” later, and interrogators were able to deduce from his responses clues about the courier.

One thing is certain: It’s time we stopped moaning about the decline of American power, said Victor Davis Hanson, also in No other country is capable of “pulling off an operation of the sort that killed bin Laden.” So ignore all the fashionable talk about a “post-America.” American military might has radical Islam on the run. Obama now appears more willing to use that power, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. For too long, the president has shown a “counterproductive sensitivity for the sensitivities of the Muslim world,” intervening abroad only with U.N. approval. By sending in the commandos to take out bin Laden, “whether or not Pakistan or anyone else liked it,” Obama has broken free from a straitjacket of his own making.

What “poetic justice” that bin Laden died at the exact moment he was being made irrelevant by the Arab Spring, said Cynthia Tucker in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. None of the wave of democratic uprisings transforming the Islamic world were inspired by his “twisted, despotic version of Islam.” They were fueled by people he hated, including well-educated women and “young Muslims who want the chance to vote in free and open elections.” And to see how irrelevant bin Laden has become in the Muslim world, said Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal, you just have to look at the revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial reign in Egypt. No one in Liberation Square chanted bin Laden’s name or shouted “Death to America.” Instead, “in their own peaceful way, they settled their account with the dictator and signaled their desire for a free, modern society.”

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