How It Went Down

Well, as more time passes, we are learning more and more details about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Here’s where things stand right now:

  • The Navy SEALs on the raid had orders to kill or capture him and to not worry about taking him alive.
  • Bin Laden was and was not armed in the final shootout.
  • A woman who was or was not one of his wives was used as a human shield and threw herself between him and the SEALS and rushed at the SEALS, and was killed and wounded by the SEALS.
  • Five and twenty-two people were killed in the attack.
  • The Pakistanis were and were not involved in the attack.
  • Bin Laden’s body was thoroughly examined by US forces and transported to a US aircraft carrier for burial at sea within five hours.

Now, these kinds of contradictions are typical when first reports of events of momentous import occur. In fact, one blogger who used to be worth noting had what he called the “48-hour rule:” don’t put too much credence in any details on these kinds of stories for the first 48 hours, as they are almost guaranteed to be wrong or incomplete until there’s been time for the truth to shake itself out. And it’s a damned good rule.

But in this case, it must be remembered that the people reporting to us on the raid monitored the whole thing as it happened, even to the point of watching much of it in real-time video, and the whole thing was captured on video by the SEALs’ helmet-mounted video cameras. They literally have no excuse for getting the details wrong — it would be like asking a bride about her wedding day, and she getting the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses wrong.

Naturally, I have my own theory on why the initial reports were so out of whack with later “clarifications.”

According to the first reports, the SEALs invaded Bin Laden’s compound. They took out the guards, then cornered him in his bedroom. They demanded his surrender, but instead he grabbed a gun, used his wife as a shield, and opened fire. The SEALS shoot back, far more effectively, and kill him.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the climax of so many action movies: the bad guy is trapped and has no chance to escape. The heroes give him a chance to surrender and live, but instead he fights back and the heroes have no choice but to kill him. Just to name two, it’s the ending of the first Tim Burton Batman movie and the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie.

However, the updates have “clarified” a few things: the SEALS weren’t explicitly ordered to not take him alive, but it was strongly implied. Bin Laden was not armed, but did “resist” in some vague, undefined way. The woman in his bedroom may or may not have been one of his wives, but was shot and wounded in the legs — as a commenter on another site noted, this is highly unusual for the SEALS, who are trained to shoot to kill; a leg shot seems to be a SEAL’s way of telling someone “sit down and stay out of our way.”

This “clarification” is far more consistent with the SEALs having orders of “go there, kill Bin Laden and anyone else who gets in the way, and bring back the body and any other stuff that might yield useful intelligence.”

For the record, I think that’s perfectly acceptable. I have absolutely no problems with those orders, and think that they are entirely appropriate.

But they don’t “sound good.” They aren’t the actions of the heroes, the good guys, as Hollywood has defined them. The good guys always give the bad guy a chance to surrender, always try to take him alive, and only kill as the absolute last resort. And it’s the bad guy who makes the decision to not be taken alive. The good guys don’t go in with the clear intent of killing the bad guy, even if he tries to surrender. The only ones we kill indiscriminately are the cannon fodder and unnamed extras who try to protect the bad guy, usually most ineffectively.

So the Obama administration tries to cast the raid in the mold of this Hollywood myth. They want to have Americans be proud of this action and this administration, so they instinctively shade the truth and tell us how it all unfolded in just the way we’re used to seeing such things unfold (even to the tension and drama of a helicopter failing and crash-landing in the beginning of the raid). But then, someone has an “oh, shit” moment and realizes that there is not only video of nearly every detail of the raid, but photos — released photos — of all the key players watching said video in real-time. Even Obama’s spokesman is there in the picture. They literally have no excuse for getting the details wrong, and should the video ever get out (and in the age of Wikileaks, it’s virtually guaranteed to get out — after several fakes, video-game recreations, and half a dozen Rickrolls) there would be proof that they had seriously fictionalized the details. So they immediately started walking back the particulars, slowly “evolving” the official story to more closely match the reality.

It’s entirely understandable. As I said, I have no problems with the raid as it apparently did happen, instead of the Hollywoodized version that first came out. Neither will most Americans. But there will some who will have ethical concerns with it, calling it “murder” and “an extralegal execution” and decrying that he should have been taken alive for trial — and nearly all of them will be among Obama’s base. While all of us like the Hollywood myth, they are the ones who really need it. Hell, they want even more — they would swoon if the SEAL who pulled the trigger on Bin Laden appeared on TV, horribly upset that he had to kill him, saying that he really wanted to take him alive, but Bin Laden gave him no choice but to pull the trigger, and he’ll be haunted for the rest of his life at having to take a life, even someone as evil as Bin Laden.

Which is, of course, a load of crap. There’s an apocryphal story out of Afghanistan about a sniper (sometimes American, sometimes British) being asked “what do you feel when you pull the trigger and kill a terrorist?,” and answering laconically “recoil.” Men like this, if they do feel such anguish over carrying out their orders, do not show it in public.

But that’s part of the myth. That’s part of the fantasy. And that’s the story the Obama administration wanted to sell to the American people at first. They didn’t think we could handle being told “we found him, and we decided that no real purpose would be served by taking him alive, so we told the SEALs to not bother — just kill him.”

I think that calculation was just about dead-on (pardon the expression) for a significant portion of Obama’s base — the loudest part. But it woefully underestimates the majority of Americans, who — like me — understand that we’re at war, Bin Laden was a leader of our self-declared enemy, and we understand that, as they say in Texas, “some folks just need killing.”

On that list, Bin Laden was at the top. I’d also put on that list Muammar Ka-Daffy, Bashar Assad, the leadership of Hezbollah and Hamas, Whitey Bulger, and Charles Manson, just off the top of my head. And in an act of tremendous will and restraint, I would not put on the list “the executives at Fox who totally boned over Firefly.

We’re grownups. We can handle the truth. We don’t need the pablum and the polite fictions. Just give it to us straight — we’re not all as fragile and nutty as the far left nuts and wusses that make up a major portion of Obama’s base.

A View From Abroad
"Moral obtuseness on a staggering scale"