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Resting in a Watery Unmarked Grave

Among the many serendipitous aspects of the Osama bin Laden operation is that the founder of Al Qaeda was true to his boast not to be taken alive. He apparently offered resistance to SEAL Team Six and wound up with a bullet—or perhaps multiple bullets—in the head.

Imagine if he had been taken alive. What a circus would have ensued.  Where would he have been held? What techniques would have permitted for his interrogation? How would he have been tried? Those questions would have consumed public debate for months.

President Obama has backtracked on his intent to close the Guantanamo detention center and to end the military tribunals for captured terrorists. Both are still in operation, with Attorney General Eric Holder announcing recently that Khalid Sheik Muhammed and other 9/11 conspirators would face a military tribunal, not a civilian court. Presumably the same precedent could have been applied to bin Laden but whether tried by a military or civilian court his proceedings would have been the mother of all media circuses. In custody he also would have been a rallying cry for jihadists who undoubtedly would have carried out atrocities to try to blackmail us into releasing him.

His fast death is not all to the good. It does make it impossible to interrogate him, thus depriving us of possibly critical intelligence. But by most accounts bin Laden had become increasingly divorced from daily Al Qaeda operations; his compound did not even have telephone or Internet connections. Moreover his interrogation would surely have reopened the difficult debate over the use of coercive techniques—a debate that may reopen in any case because of news that some of the information which led to his location was obtained in secret CIA facilities using harsh methods.

All things considered, it is just as well that he now rests in a watery unmarked grave.


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