I’m as happy as the next red-blooded American that Bin Laden is dead.
For more than a decade, the government has said that Bin Laden is the world’s worst terrorist, a terrorist kingpin, the head of the worst terrorist group in the world.
But if we captured and interrogated him, he could have spilled a lot of beans which would help prevent future terrorist attacks.
But as the Atlantic reports today:
There’s one option the administration appears to have never seriously considered: taking bin Laden alive.
The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.
That might be true, although Bin Laden wasn’t exactly a healthy spring chicken. Indeed, Bin Laden was already pretty sickly by late 2001. (Don’t worry: This post won’t go down any rabbit holes regarding claims that Bin Laden died years ago.)
As CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen – who met Bin Laden and studied Bin Laden and his operation for many years – told CNN in 2002:
He’s aged enormously between ’97 and October of last year.
This is a man who was clearly not well. I mean, as you see from these pictures here, he’s really, by December he’s looking pretty terrible. But by December, of course, that tape that was aired then, he’s barely moving the left side of his body. So he’s clearly got diabetes. He has low blood pressure. He’s got a wound in his foot. He’s apparently got dialysis … for kidney problems.
I mean, this is a man who has a number of health problems, apart from the fact that anybody running around the Afghan mountains is not going to be in great shape.
Indeed, the oldest – and second-largest – French newspaper claims that Bin Laden was in the hospital for kidney failure two months before 9/11. As the Guardian notes:
Two months before September 11 Osama bin Laden flew to Dubai for 10 days for treatment at the American hospital, where he was visited by the local CIA agent, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.
The disclosures are known to come from French intelligence which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.
Bin Laden is reported to have arrived in Dubai on July 4 from Quetta in Pakistan with his own personal doctor, nurse and four bodyguards, to be treated in the urology department.
Bin Laden has often been reported to be in poor health. Some accounts claim that he is suffering from Hepatitis C, and can expect to live for only two more years.
According to Le Figaro, last year he ordered a mobile dialysis machine to be delivered to his base at Kandahar in Afghanistan.
And CBS news reported that Bin Laden was ill on September 10, 2001, being treated in a Pakistan hospital with kidney dialysis:
In addition, it is rumored that Bin Laden had Marfan Syndrome – a disorder of the connective tissue, which usually shortens the life span (Abraham Lincoln had Marfan).
As Salon noted in November 2001:
Judging by photos and the FBI’s physical records, Osama bin Laden could be a candidate for the diagnosis. He is said to be between 6 foot 4 inches and 6 foot 6, which is apparently unusual for his family. He is thin, bony and has little muscle; he weighs only 160 pounds. And he uses a cane — possibly the result of connective tissue or back problems. Other information about the leader of al-Qaida suggests he may have a heart condition. His facial structure also resembles that of people with Marfan.
“He is Marfanoid,” says Dr. Richard Devereux, a clinician who treats patients with the illness at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. “He seems to have long fingers and long arms. His head appears to be elongated and his face narrow … It’s certainly conceivable that he has the Marfan syndrome and could be evaluated for it.”
Though people have long speculated about bin Laden having Marfan, federal officials won’t answer questions about his health. “We don’t discuss the medical conditions of our enemy commanders,” says Maj. Jay Steuck, a Defense Department spokesman. And a Central Intelligence Agency spokesman says, “We don’t do unclassified medical summaries.”
Yossef Bodansky, staff director of the House Task Force on Terrorism, told the New York Post: “We are getting a lot of reports and rumors. By all accounts, bin Laden is not a healthy man and is under a lot of stress.”
David K. Schenker, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees that bin Laden’s size is atypical for his surroundings. “I lived in the Middle East, and I never ran into anyone that tall,” he says.
Should bin Laden have Marfan syndrome, the stress of cave-hopping and trying to outrun Allied cruise missiles could prove deadly. “People with the disease are told not to engage in heavy exercise,” says Dr. Darwin Prockop, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at Tulane University. “If Osama bin Laden has Marfan, he is in danger of sudden rupture of the aorta and sudden death.”
Again, this post will not go down the rabbit hole to ask whether Bin Laden died prior to Sunday’s raid. I am only focusing on the fact that Bin Laden was probably not a movie script type healthy young terrorist when he was thought to be reaching for a gun.
In addition, Bin Laden’s 12 year old daughter purportedly claims that Bin Laden was successfully captured alive first and then later summarily executed by the troops. Hopefully, this isn’t true.
But assuming the government’s version of events is true, why didn’t the seals use knock-out gas and capture him? Even common thugs use knock out gas. For example, the U.S. state department warns:
Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have been known to drug food or drink offered to passengers. Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train compartments. Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions. If that is not possible, stay awake. If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage and secure your valuables to the extent possible.
(Be careful if you take any night trains in Italy).
If common hoodlams knock out their victims, you know that the U.S. military has stuff they can easily lob in and knock everyone out. Why didn’t the government knock out Bin Laden and then hall him off to the interrogation room?
Indeed, the U.S. may have gotten the clue about Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad location in 2008. As the Guardian notes:
US may have got Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad clue in 2008 – WikiLeaks
Courier’s interrogation at Guantánamo revealed network of messengers that US traced to track down the al-Qaida leader
The US may have obtained a clue three years ago that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, according to information gathered by interrogators at Guantánamo.
WikiLeaks released the report last week, prompting speculation that the US, afraid that its planned raid might be pre-empted, brought forward its attack.
So the U.S. could have knocked him out in 2008 and interrogated him.
As I’ve pointed out before, the U.S. had multiple opportunities to get Bin Laden in 2001 and 2007:
According to the U.S. Senate – Bin Laden was “within the grasp” of the U.S. military in Afghanistan in December 2001, but that then-secretary of defense Rumsfeld refused to provide the soldiers necessary to capture him.
This is not news: it was disclosed in 2005 by the CIA field commander for the area in Afghanistan where Bin Laden was holed up.
In addition, French soldiers allegedly say that they easily could have captured or killed Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but that the American commanders stopped them.
A retired Colonel and Fox News military analyst said that the U.S. could have killed Bin Laden in 2007, but didn’t:
We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty — which is huge in the world of intelligence — that in August of 2007, bin Laden was in a convoy headed south from Tora Bora. We had his butt, on camera, on satellite. We were listening to his conversations. We had the world’s best hunters/killers — Seal Team 6 [Note: this is the exact same team that is credited with killing Bin Laden yesterday] — nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist. We had him in our sights; we had done it ….Unbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Usama bin Laden.
Indeed, a United States Congressman claims that the Bush administration intentionally let Bin Laden escape in order to justify the Iraq war.
Moreover, as I’ve previously noted, capturing Bin Laden and taking down Al Qaeda was never the real priority:
American historian, investigative journalist and policy analyst Gareth Porter writes in the Asia Times:
Feith’s book, War and Decision, released last month, provides excerpts of the paper Rumsfeld sent to President George W Bush on September 30, 2001, calling for the administration to focus not on taking down Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network but on the aim of establishing “new regimes” in a series of states…
If we had really wanted to get Bin Laden, we would have gotten him in 2001 (indeed, the Taliban offered to turn him over), or 2007.
And Gareth Porter reported yesterday that the U.S. didn’t even consider capturing Bin Laden as part of its Afghanistan war strategy:
The absence of any military planning to catch bin Laden was a function of Bush’s national security team, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, which had firmly opposed any military operation in Afghanistan that would have had any possibility of catching bin Laden and his lieutenants.
Rumsfeld and the second-ranking official at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, had dismissed CIA warnings of an al Qaeda terrorist attack against the United States in the summer of 2001, and even after 9/11 had continued to question the CIA’s conclusion that bin Laden and al Qaeda were behind the attacks.
Cheney and Rumsfeld were determined not to allow a focus on bin Laden to interfere with their plan for a U.S. invasion of Iraq to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.
Even after Bush decided in favour of an Afghan campaign, CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks, who was responsible for the war in Afghanistan, was not directed to have a plan for bin Laden’s capture or to block his escape to Pakistan.
We tortured a bunch of innocent farmers, children, grandparents and reporters … supposedly to get information about Bin Laden. But it doesn’t seem like the government was very interested in actually interrogating Bin Laden himself.