If your present domicile is rather cold, damp, and dark, and if your neighbours happen to be an assorted group of earthworms and beetles – congratulations, you’ve been living under a rock, and Osama bin Laden is dead!
For everyone else, this is old news I’m sure for all of you, as is the debate about whether the US should release photos of the newly dead-ified bin Laden. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring on this one, though I’m sure I echo the sentiment of many.
First of all, I would like to say that people will come up with conspiracy theories about just about anything. This does not (necessarily) mean that they are mentally ill, just that we, as a species, love to associate random snippets of information into a cohesive whole. Usually, these snippets are lacking a lot of necessary detail, and so we fill it in with the best available knowledge we have. That is to say, we make shit up.
Of course, we don’t know we’re doing it, as it’s an unconscious process. We think snippet A and snippet B are part of the same story, and the things that connect them are just pushed in by whatever it is the most actively activated pathway in our brain. If we think about aliens a lot, we’re likely to fill in those gaps with aliens. If we’re religious, we might fill in the gaps with God, angels, or demons. If we’re fearful of our government and people in authority – so births the government conspiracy theory. And indeed, on the surface, a lot of them seem plausible. But, perhaps the biggest problem with conspiracy theories is not that they would require a massive number of people to be utterly silent about nefarious goings-on, but that real conspiracies tend to be way crazier than our plebeian minds can gasp.
Basically, if the government has something to cover up, they’re not just going to tell you that they did something, and then straight up not do it. No, they’re going to tell you, oh, we’re not doing anything at all, please look over there at the pretty pony while we create the insane freaking things that you only hear about in science fiction. The government, for all its inefficiencies and laziness, is not going to half withhold fake information. Why would they? I mean, if they wanted to boost the approval ratings, why wouldn’t they say they did it, photoshop some pictures, produce somebody else’s dead body, and be done with it? If they were worried about it being a gruesome photo, couldn’t they have just faked a politer one where he was shot in the heart? And if it really was an evil conspiracy, why wouldn’t it have happened a lot sooner?
This is one of the few situations where I’m willing to say that the lack of evidence being produced actually strengthens my feelings that is true. It’s not a matter of “Why would they lie?” – that’s a silly premise to work on.
No, I think it’s real because if they are faking it, they are pulling the worst possible fake ever. Let’s look at the information that has come out of the White House.
1) The Press Conference
It was called with little notice, to be held nearly at midnight in Washington. The majority of your East Coast Americans, the ones who were the most impacted by the events of 9/11 and the ones who would feel the strongest about it, are in bed and likely asleep. If you wanted to schedule something for publicity, wouldn’t 9:30 EST have had a lot more impact?
2) The Sea Burial
I’m not going to lie: this one perplexed me at first too. Why would they take the only tangible, irrefutable evidence they had, and dump it in the ocean? From a “prove it” standpoint, this is utterly ridiculous. Why not bring the body back to America or bury it someplace? There are a couple reasons forthcoming for this one. First of all, why should secret government operation, which until that point was operating completely under the radar with the express purpose of leaving no trace of their efforts suddenly shift gears to utter transparency? The beginning of the mission was completely secretive for the purposes of the security of the mission as well as national security. Why should those priorities change? “But, Flora,” the hypothetical conspiracy theorist replies for the purpose of advancing my argument, “doesn’t the government have a responsibility to its taxpayers?” Of course it does, but this is not a clean cut situation. Bin Laden might be dead, but al Qaeda is not. Imagine if George W. Bush had been assassinated and his body taken to some Afghan cave by terrorists. Wouldn’t the American South been screaming bloody murder for the return of his body? Is there any doubt that the US Military would have rampaged in after the terrorists for the sole purpose of retrieving the corpse? Bin Laden’s body buried ANYWHERE would only lead to the potential of innocent lives lost to reclaim it. However, if you dump it in the ocean, al Qaeda can scream all they want – they’re welcome to go try and find it themselves. No burial means there is no target.
Furthermore, as much as I don’t think the guy deserved appropriate Muslim burial rights, it was the right call. In our hypothetical Bush situation, imagine if the terrorists desecrated the body with Sharpie, wrapped it in a gay pride flag and tossed it in a garbage bin. How much would you want to have to go into the American south as a Muslim person after that? When someone already hates you, nothing good can come out of pissing them off even more. Normally I’m not for this sort of pandering to religious beliefs, but we could at least do our best to not intentionally give them the finger.
In any case, it is possible that they simply told us that this is what happened to quell the potential for attacks – but, really, what are they going to do with the body? An autopsy is irrelevant. We know he died of a bullet to the head. What possible use do we have for the rotting, smelly corpse of a dude that we really, really don’t like? And what country would be willing to take his body within its borders?
3) The Meeting Photo
In what has become an iconic photo, the Obama administration’s national security team is being briefed about the upcoming mission to kill bin Laden. Although the intensity on the face of Barack is striking, what makes this image so arresting is Hillary’s hand, covering her mouth in horror of what’s being shown to her. Or, you know, coughing because of seasonal allergies. Whatever.
Either way, this really advances nothing other than their attempt to quell people’s curiosity while utterly failing at it. Again, if this was a cover-up, if this was a conspiracy, why on earth would they be so damn bad at it?
(Side note: is it just me or does Joe Biden over there look like somebody just killed his puppy?)
4) Information About The Operation
What they have given us a lot of information about was the operation itself. We know a team of 25 Navy SEALS entered a compound 116 kms northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan. No Americans were injured. They avoided civilian casualties. One of bin Laden’s couriers returned fire. We know they were airlifted out by up to 4 helicopters. One helicopter crashed just inside the walls of the compound. Four other people died – three men and one woman. Two women were injured. One of his wives was one of the injured and is talking to the press. There were 13 children also living in the compound. The compound raised suspicions because of its lack of phone or television lines, and the fact that its residents burned their garbage within it. Bin Laden and his Yemeni wife had not left a singular room in the compound for 5 years. He was unarmed. He was, in what I believe to be cruel of them, killed in front of his daughter. They fully admit that they never had any intention of capturing him alive. BBC has extensive coverage about it, if you really care for all the details.
There are also graphic photos of the scene here, which I don’t care to include directly. WARNING: There are bodies and blood.
And yet, people are crying conspiracy! People are saying, “why aren’t you giving us more information? What do you have to hide?” What more could they possibly want to know? On the radio, I heard one morning show host stupidly asking for the names of the heros who partook in the raid. Are you kidding me? These people have families, lives outside the military, and they want the entire world to know precisely who took down the man that people are willing to die for? If they released the names, anyone named Joe Smith and Jane Doe and any of their families would be at instant risk for kidnapping, torture and horrible, gruesome deaths. Why on earth should the government endanger its citizens like to that? To fulfil the curiosity of some nosey conspiracy theorists who won’t believe you no matter what you say anyway?
5) The Lack of Photo
This is what you need for proof? Really? All of that wasn’t enough? You would like to have racist, ignorant Americans to have access to that photograph as a trophy? I can already see the bumper stickers with that photo and “DON’T MESS WITH THE US!” You want to have a really gruesome photo for the Muslim extremists to have as proof of America’s corrupt cruelty? You want the inevitable plastering of that photo all over the internet and newspapers for shock value? And that would be irrefutable proof?
In the coming days and weeks, more information will likely come to light. And in all likelihood, it just won’t matter. The “birther” theories continue despite Obama’s short and long form birth certificates being produced. People still believe that aliens visited Roswell, New Mexico, despite the fact that all known instances can be explained by a combination of hoaxes and recently declassified military operations. If they produced the photograph, people will be screaming “SHOPPED” and denying it just as loudly as they do now. The confirmation bias means that we ignore and discount any evidence which conflicts with our current views – that’s how insanity like this persists. The anti-vacc’ers still think Wakefield is a hero, the creationists still think evolution is an elaborate scam, and Robert Sungenis still thinks the universe revolves around the earth. And unfortunately, the more vocal and adamant about our position we are, the stronger the confirmation bias is. At this point, Obama could produce of video of bin Laden saying “Hello, I am Osama bin Laden. I have been captured by American infidels,” and a soldier saying “Hi, I’m Joe Smith from Newark, New Jersey, 39 Elm Street, and I’m about to kill Osama bin Laden with a bullet to the face,” followed by Joe Smith from Newark, NJ shooting Osama bin Laden in the face – and that wouldn’t be enough. You could build a time machine, take someone back in time and let them watch it unfold, and they would accuse you of some sort of Matrix-style shenanigans. The fact that al-Queda isn’t releasing a video of bin Laden saying “Ha ha, you didn’t get me, suckers!” is telling. The fact that his wives and his children are not screaming that the Americans are dirty filthy infidel liars should say a lot.
At this point, if you don’t think that Osama bin Laden is actually dead, then I don’t think there will be any convincing you. But then, maybe I’m wrong – I’m welcome to hear what sufficient proof would be.
UPDATE: This morning, May 6th, al Qaeda confirmed bin Laden’s death. Case closed.