Bin Laden death: Glued to the news, waiting for the lies

May 09, 2011|Susan Reimer

Like many Americans, I stayed up most of Sunday night watching the story of the longed-for end of Osama bin Laden unfold on television and on the Internet.

I was spellbound by the drama of a midnight helicopter raid on bin Laden's hideaway; on the mythic SEAL commandos who moved through the house, room by room, until they cornered their prey and killed him; on their ticking-clock departure as the Pakistani air force scrambled to react to the unknown invaders.

But through it all, one thought echoed: Don't let this be a lie.

Don't let this story unravel like the tale of the heroism of injured soldier Jessica Lynch. Don't let it be a cold-blooded cover-up like the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. Don't let it be a slide-show fabrication, like Colin Powell's case for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The story of the raid on bin Laden's Pakistani compound did, of course, partially unravel in the days that followed.

It wasn't a mansion. It was just a big house, and kind of run down, too.

It wasn't a firefight, aside from a few opening rounds from bin Laden's protectors. It was, rather, a "hostile and threatening environment."

Neither bin Laden, nor his protectors, used a woman as a human shield — an action that would have been particularly humiliating in that part of the world. A woman was, instead, killed in crossfire. Bin Laden's wife was injured in the leg.

Bin Laden did not resist. He probably didn't make threatening moves, either. There were weapons nearby, however.

And it was probably never a "capture or kill" mission. It is pretty clear it was always going to be "kill."

Compared to the terrible lie of Pat Tillman's death, these are relatively minor edits to a narrative that took more time to unfold than reporters — or administration officials — had the patience for. We wanted to know what happened almost as fast President Barack Obama learned about it.

Nevertheless, the administration was criticized for its ham-handed handling of the story, and when that criticism got too loud, the White House said no more information would be released, out of concern for operational security.

Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, speaking on the "Diane Rehm Show" last week, said less information, not more, should have been released.

"I'm someone who would like fewer details about this event than we're getting. This should be kept, in my judgment, as secret as possible. These operations are very dangerous, even under the best of circumstances. …

"I would prefer to know less, be grateful that bin Laden has been eliminated along with anyone else who was associated with him, that we have profited from this in an intelligence sense, which, I think, we probably have. …

"But beyond that, I think we've harmed ourselves by providing too many contradictory details because of too many people trying to spin things. … There should be one story, and it should be quick, straightforward, dirty and uncomplex."

As I watched my own reactions to the raid, and then the story of the raid, I was aware of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It seems that I do not trust my government — the political leaders and the military leaders — to tell me the truth, and not just because things are happening quickly or because people are confused.

There is a great difference, I know, between a conspiracy to make a national hero out of a football star who was accidentally killed by his own men and what happened with the emerging story of the killing of bin Laden.

But what does it say when we see our enemy vanquished — and we wait for the lie to be revealed?

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is

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