Commentary Magazine


He Will Not Find 72 Virgins Awaiting Him

The death of Osama bin Laden brings to an end one of the most massive and complicated manhunts in history. The operation itself appears to have been a masterpiece in terms of planning and execution. Jake Tapper reports that President Obama authorized the use of elite American forces to kill bin Laden in lieu of bombing his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was done in order to preserve DNA evidence to prove bin Laden was dead and to minimize collateral damage. This decision is a credit to the president. If the operation had failed, as Jimmy Carter’s effort to free the Iranian hostages did, it would have been extremely damaging.

It will take some time to assess the effects of bin Laden’s death on al Qaeda specifically and militant Islam more broadly. But the moral ramifications are enormous. Bin Laden, after all, was the living, breathing symbol of al Qaeda. Once considered to be the “North Star” of global terrorism, in the 1990s bin Laden was one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremism in the world. And then came the massive, cruel attacks on September 11. As long as bin Laden was free, the circle remained unclosed.

Finally, in the early morning hours on Sunday, the man who had declared it the duty of every Muslim to “kill Americans wherever they are found” was himself killed with a bullet through the head. He will not find 72 virgins awaiting him.

Among the most vivid memories of my life was attending, as an official of the Bush White House, the Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral, where President Bush spoke to the nation in the middle hour of our grief. “Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history,” he said, “but our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of [this] evil.” He went on to say, “On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.”

At the close of the service we sang, with tears welling in my eyes, the Battle Hymn of the Republic. “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” the lyrics go. “His truth is marching on.” And so it is. Justice may have been delayed. But in the end, justice was not denied. Osama bin Laden is dead.