Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2001 / 18 Tishrei, 5762
There is certainly no questioning just how earnestly the U.S. government and public want to find and bring to justice the western world's most hated man. However, just as in "normal" life, one must be careful of what one wishes for, because you might just get it. With this adage in mind, it may be well worth pondering what would happen if Osama bin Laden looked at all of his dwindling options and decided to do exactly what we claim to want him to do. What if bin Laden simply decided to give himself up?
At first glance, it would seem that this unlikely scenario would produce the best of all worlds for the United States. After all, we would get our man without putting any of our own in any real jeopardy, or without inciting even further American hatred and increasing the likelihood of further terrorist attacks. But I believe that there are aspects of this possibility that would not be nearly as beneficial to our cause, and, overall, I do not think that we should be hoping for it to happen.
First of all, it is clear that while bin Laden may have been the person ultimately responsible for the attacks on America, that the threat of terrorism against us will not end, or perhaps even be reduced, with his capture. Getting rid of bin Laden would be like chopping off the head of a thriving dandelion; the most prominent part would be temporarily gone (soon to be replaced), but the roots would continue flourish and probably expand.
This reality, however, is just a small part of why bin Laden may be able to cause us far more trouble by turning himself in, than he ever could by trying to delay his inevitable apprehension and probable death. It seems to me that if bin Laden truly wanted to further his cause (and perhaps even save his life) this is exactly what he should do. Assuming that he could get himself in the hands of an authority friendly enough to him that they wouldn't shoot him on sight and yet credible enough for the United States to respect (Pakistan perhaps?), it would seem that circumstances might suddenly not look so dire for the man suspected of causing the deaths of over 6,000 innocent civilians.
If bin Laden chose this bold course of action it would seem to me that he would put us in a rather awkward, and potentially embarrassing, position. Where would he be put on trial? Would we yield to the likely calls from nations sympathetic to him that he receive a "fair" trial in front of a World Court or United Nations tribunal where we would lack control and where almost anything is possible? If we insisted on trying him in the United States we would risk looking like the bully that most of the world already wants to believe that we are; and who even knows how that would turn out?
A trial of Osama bin Laden would probably take years, during which much of our moral high ground to aggressively pursue other terrorist organizations would evaporate, and bin Laden's celebrity and Robin Hood-like hero status in the Middle East would grow exponentially as he valiantly battled the American legal system. Our eventual "victory" would hardly be productive, or even cathartic. And that is what would happen if nothing went wrong.
What if our evidence against bin Laden is the type that has convinced our government and NATO (and amazingly, without even being presented with it, our news media and public) that he is guilty, but doesn't actually meet the hefty standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt"? By all accounts, bin Laden runs his organization much like a mob boss (we haven't had too many of those slip through the hands of our legal system over the years, have we?) whose fingerprints are not likely to be clearly visible on any "murder weapon." And surely, with the massive amount of publicity that would surround the case and the money that he probably still has stashed in a remote Afghani cave, bin Laden would be able to attract a legal "dream team" that would make even O.J. Simpson envious. Would anyone want to bet against Jonnie Cochran, even with a defendant as unpopular as bin Laden? Regardless of who bin Laden hired to represent him, having him beat our sometimes pathetic legal/jury system is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
Obviously, the ramifications of that potentiality would be staggering,
probably impossible to fully predict, and almost too painful to even ponder.
It is certainly not worth the risk, however remote. Let's be glad that Osama
bin Laden does not appear smart enough to call our bluff and do exactly what
we say we want from him. While it will likely mean putting American lives in
danger, bringing bin Laden back dead rather than alive would be well worth
09/24/01: Lessons learned --- or, ones that should be