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Dead, Alive, Or Disappeared

I was talking about Osama's whereabouts with a senior Democratic congressional aid last week, and I brought something up that didn't seem to have occurred to him. OBL is considerably more popular in Pakistan than is GWB, so there's a real question as to whether the Pakistani government could survive apprehending him and handing him over to the USA. As a result, if I were running the Pakistani government, I would try to find OBL, kill him, and make the body quietly disappear without telling anybody. That eliminates the risk that US intelligence will locate him somewhere inside Pakistani borders, creating a demand for a handover that the Pakistani government can't afford to execute. As a result, I don't think his apprehension will ever become public knowledge, whether it takes place in the future or has, in fact, already taken place. From the American perspective, this is unfortunate, since in a propaganda sense our continuing inability to apprehend him looks bad, and the longer he stays out of sight (possibly since he's already dead) the more he takes on the status of a mythic icon, a folk hero to those disgusting with US policy.

October 18, 2004 | Permalink

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» Dead, Alive, Or Disappeared from Snow World
Matt has a very interesting point. I've often written about how Osama is very popular in Pakistan, so much so that he would probably be elected president of the country if it were a democracy. In fact, this is what [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 19, 2004 12:03:47 AM

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yglesias makes the case for a convenient move by pakistan to disappear everyone's favorite terrorist mastermind: OBL is considerably more popular in Pakistan than is GWB, so there's a real question as to whether the Pakistani government could survive a... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 19, 2004 3:32:04 AM

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» Gift Basket from Tom Jamme's Blog
Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a... [Read More]

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Comments

And at the same time they keep the American teat handy by feeding the US reports of near misses and thwarted captures. So long as we're chasing ObL and until we capture him or lose interest, Pak will be considered our most important and financiable ally in the region.

Posted by: Kriston | Oct 18, 2004 4:37:31 PM

there's a real question as to whether the Pakistani government could survive apprehending him and handing him over to the USA


I don't think so. At least, I don't think there isn't any evidence that doing so would materially increase the probability that the government would not survive. Although, if you had any actual evidence (as opposed to rank speculation), I wish you'd post it.

(And, no, a survey saying that "X% of Pakistanis approve of Osama" is NOT evidence that apprehending Osama and handing him over to the USA would materially increase the probability that the government would not survive.)

Posted by: Al | Oct 18, 2004 4:40:46 PM

Imam Musa as-Sadr

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Oct 18, 2004 4:44:36 PM

You mean they wouldn't just kill him, and hand over the body with a request that it be "found" elsewhere? After all, not finding him is causing some tension with the US, and that's not a good thing either. Better to get the credit privately, IMO.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Oct 18, 2004 4:45:48 PM

Popular opinion doesn't have a strong track record of influencing the government in Pakistan. . .when people talk about Mussharraf placating the fundamentalists, they aren't talking about him placating the vaguely conservative and anti-american plurality--they're talking about him placating a well organized, well armed, deeply fundamentalist minority.

Posted by: Saheli | Oct 18, 2004 5:18:59 PM

A great point, Matt. However, speaking as a congressional staffer, we generally prefer "aide" to "aid." It just sounds more pretentious.

Posted by: J. | Oct 18, 2004 5:32:54 PM

ThisisRumorControl has a "3" saying that he was given amnesty in Xinjiang, and the US is now negotiating for his release.

Posted by: praktike | Oct 18, 2004 5:48:18 PM

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

"I know because a publicity whore and grandstanding scumbag like UBL could not possibly resist the multitude of opportunites to inspire his cult members. His number 1, Zwahiri, has appeared on video or audio broadcasts every few months since 9/11. UBL has not been heard from since Tora Bora despite developments in the GWOT in Afghanistan and Iraq that make it unthinkable for him to have remained silent. Not to mention successful attacks in Bali, Madrid, Turkey, and Jakarta to name a few that remain unremarked upon by UBL. The invasion and occupation of an Islamic state by the US and not a word. Elections held for the first time in Afghan history, and he had nothing to say about it in the lead up."

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 18, 2004 5:56:49 PM

If he's dead, or even in custody, Musharraf would be a very stupid man to help Bush now. As long as UBL is at large, Pakistan remains an ally. Given Bush's track record, loyalty-wise, the odds of UBL turning up in the next two weeks seem pretty slim.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Oct 18, 2004 6:23:49 PM

As long as UBL is at large, Pakistan remains an ally.

Unlikely. Bin Laden's death or capture doesn't mean the end of Al Qaeda. As long as there are Islamic terrorists in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and as long as Pakistan continues to possess nuclear weapons, it is in the interest of the U.S. government to maintain close ties to Islamabad. Musharraf isn't shaking in his boots about the prospect of losing Washington's friendship no matter who occupies the White House next January.

I do agree that it may be unlikely that OBL is captured any time soon. But this is first and foremost because he's likely in an area where the local populace is highly sympathetic to his cause, and is broadly anti-American, not because of the malfeasance or lack of cooperation of the Pakistani government (though these, too, may play a role). When you're hunting for a needle in a huge, remote and mountainous haystack, it's absolutely vital to possess the goodwill of the people intimately familiar with that haystack. This, I fear, is what we lack.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Oct 18, 2004 6:37:48 PM

Time to feed the trolls:

Al: Why did Musharraf let bin Laden escape into Pakistan when we had him trapped in Tora Bora? Since the real problem with terrorists is the potential to get their hands on a nuke, why didn't Musharraf punish AQ Khan, the biggest nuclear proliferator in the last decade, when he "discovered" what he was doing?

As I have said here for months (when some of you, only tangentially affiliated with the reality based community, were still saying Bush would produce OBL before the election), if bin Laden is caught in Pakistan, Musharraf is dead.

Of course that won't happen, since Pakistan, who Al thinks is his best buddy, is not our ally on this. Pakistan harbors bin Laden and AQ Khan. Musharraf won't even let us interview Khan to find out where he spread nukes.

Is Pakistan our ally in the "war" on terror Al? If you have any actual evidence (as opposed to rank speculation), I wish you'd post it.

Posted by: epistemology | Oct 18, 2004 7:11:33 PM

(And, no, a survey saying that "X% of Pakistanis approve of Osama" is NOT evidence that apprehending Osama and handing him over to the USA would materially increase the probability that the government would not survive.)

That's right, foolish reality based community! No evidence shall stand in my way!

Posted by: Al | Oct 18, 2004 8:26:35 PM

That's right, foolish reality based community! No evidence shall stand in my way!

Oh, cunt off, Al.

Bin Laden became a mythical figure after Tora Bora. In a sense, though we didn't really know it at the time, his silence has assisted in the dissemination of 'Osama-ism', with lots of distinct (and distant) groups putting their own spin on international jihad. Thus Zarqawi.

It's an uneasy comparison, but imagine how still having Jesus around would have cramped Paul's theological style in his letters.

Posted by: ahem | Oct 18, 2004 8:58:55 PM

ahem: It IS an uneasy comparison, because it also suggests that it would be in other Osama-ists' interest to quietly liquidate him. And that certainly isn't the case at this point.

And as to Musharraf, he's surfin some gnarly waves right now, and there is no discernible reason -- lack of notarized affidavits from a majority of Pakistanis nothwithstanding -- why publicly handing bin Laden over to the US, presuming he could, would be in his interest.

Posted by: Bleh | Oct 18, 2004 9:42:49 PM

There are certainly downsides for Musharraf, but there could also be an upside not yet mentioned. If he gets OBL, he could increase his bargaining positon with India via stronger US support.

Posted by: Publius Rex | Oct 18, 2004 10:33:53 PM

As a result, if I were running the Pakistani government, I would try to find OBL, kill him, and make the body quietly disappear without telling anybody.

Musharraf would have to do it without any of the militants in his intelligence service and officer corps finding out. Remember, the last assasination intent involved mid-level officers in the army, and reports abound of divided loyalties in the military and intelligence service, so the vulnerability of his gov't is indubitable. And such a mission to quietly kill bin Laden would probably involve an incursion by a decent sized (battalion, at least, I'd think, given what we've heard about bin Laden being in a 10-square-mile area of Waziristan) super-loyal troops from ISI or the army. You think he can get hundreds of well-trained Pakistani troops not to tell somebody with connection to militants about killing the world's most famous living Muslim? More important, could that operation be carried out without every tribe in Waziristan knowing about it? Bin Laden isn't getting food from under a magic rock.

This scenario is the only way Musharraf could have done it, and I don't think it's logistically possible to have kept it secret.

Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Oct 18, 2004 11:26:50 PM

The Bushies would not want to hide the death or capture of bin Laden. But they de-emphasize his importance to cover up their own ineptitude.

The first bombing of the WTC took place on 26 February 1993. The mastermind/ringleader of that attack, Ramzi Yousef, was arrested on 07 February 1995, less than two years later.
Mr. Yousef is now rotting in a federal supermax prison in Colorado.
Heaven forbid that anyone should think Bill Clinton had a better record on counterterrorism than the Fortunate Son.

Posted by: Tim Z. | Oct 19, 2004 4:05:15 AM

I always figured UBL would have already had his own people take him out and find a way to destroy the evidence (i.e. have the people that help him die with him by collapsing a cave in on themselves).

Let's face it there is not much the old guy can do other than be a moral booster for the faithful. If we kill him it's a big pschological blow. If he evades capture for eternity the faithful will continue to believe in his cause and believe the US can be fucked with successfully.

Just my 2 cents

Posted by: unknown unknowns | Oct 19, 2004 6:42:19 AM

OBL died many moons ago. He looked like a walking ghost in the pictures of him around 9/11. Could a walking ghost survive 3 years of hardship, lack of care, and close pursuit? I don't think so.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Oct 19, 2004 9:00:50 AM

Why did Musharraf let bin Laden escape into Pakistan when we had him trapped in Tora Bora?


Wow, just about everything in that sentence is wrong. At least according to the General responsible for the operation in Tora Bora. But, hey, why listen to the actual person in charge, when we can listen to you?! Especially when the person in charge (gasp!) supports Bush! *snicker*

? Since the real problem with terrorists is the potential to get their hands on a nuke, why didn't Musharraf punish AQ Khan, the biggest nuclear proliferator in the last decade, when he "discovered" what he was doing?


Uh, he did. After 8 full years under Clinton in which nothing was done about Khan, Bush got Mussharaf to fire Khan from the AQ Khan Research Labs within a matter of months. (Can we recap? Yes, under Clinton, 8 years of NOTHING. Under Bush, results within MONTHS.) And now Khan is out of business. And since "the real problem with terrorists" is "the potential to get their hands on a nuke", we've done what is necessary - got Khan out of the business of selling nukes.

Posted by: Al | Oct 19, 2004 10:34:35 AM

At least according to the General responsible for the operation in Tora Bora.

Hmm: Franks is a) a Bush supporter, who b) doesn't want to admit his own culpability. Funny, that.

You festering fucktard.

Posted by: ahem | Oct 19, 2004 11:06:54 AM

For the reality-based among us: the government of Pakistan controls the area along the border with Afghanistan in much the same way the US controls Iraq. Yeah, they can go there in force during daylight; if they bring enough force they can even stay overnight.

Tommy Franks? Anybody who acquiesced in going into Iraq undermanned has a lot more explaining to do than he can handle in an op-ed piece.

Posted by: TomR | Oct 19, 2004 9:05:21 PM

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