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Jewish World Review July 19, 2002 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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A Secret No One Can Keep

Why Osama bin Laden is still alive. | For three to keep a secret, two must be dead.

That old saying is the reason we know that Osama bin Laden is still alive.

The evidence for his being dead is compelling, for sure, for those who wish to connect the dots. Intelligence indicates that bin Laden's personal bodyguards are now scattered around the world. Bin Laden has not released a video tape since April, and video is his favorite means of communication and taunting. And in recent remarks at a law enforcement conference, FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson said that he himself believes Osama bin Laden is dead -- and if anyone should know, it's Watson. As the bureau's top man for counterterrorism and counterintelligence, he has access to (we hope) heaps of information the public never sees. Yet even he equivocated, saying "I am not really sure of the answer," and "I have no evidence." Rhetorical shackles do not generally accompany confidence.

In the end, though, random scraps to suggest he's dead are unpersuasive against human nature's need to tell.

Secrets are hard to keep, and the great persuader in all this is what has not happened -- a list of things that surely would have occurred had bin Laden shuffled off this mortal coil. For instance, if bin Laden had died, his jealous lieutenants would have mounted a loud and bloody scramble to replace him. It is unthinkable than men who sit in caves planning the murder of people they don't even know would have any compunction about suppressing the news of bin Laden's death in favor of some amorphous cause, let alone their own aggrandizement.

Some suggest that our government already knows he is dead. But why keep the news secret? If the Bush administration knew he was dead, the President would have told us in an address to the nation. Not only would it be the sort of great good news Americans want to hear, it would be the sort of political cure-all that the domestically mired administration needs just now. On top of that, the morale-boost to shore up commitment to the war on terror would be without precedent, especially as the fear of terror slips to the level of non-alarm an Alabaman feels when the tenth tornado "warning" in two weeks comes on TV.

Perhaps the revelation would break cover for an Al Quaida informant? Possible, but still a hell of a secret to keep, especially with the current political need for good news. In the case of protecting a spy, the administration's news would have come as a leak, probably in the form of a "purloined" classified letter, leaving the administration with deniability, and tying the confirmation to neutral sources -- not difficult to do in the muddled world of middle-eastern power personalities. To have the news slip out sans media blitz or as an embarrassment to the administration -- instead of being announced as a declaration of victory -- would be perhaps the greatest missed political opportunity in the history of the republic.

Besides all this missing activity to convince us, there are various reports that bin Laden is alive. Though they're hardly concrete -- they sound like the same wishful thinking and speculation that comprises the other side of the argument. In fact, without physical evidence, these "facts" are not even as convincing as the evidence on the other side. London's Al-Quds Al-Arabi Arabic newspaper has reported that bin Laden was injured in American raids but is still alive. In a phone interview, a spokesman for the paper told the Associated Press added that bin Laden had taken shrapnel in his shoulder and undergone surgery for it. And earlier this month, a German intelligence official said that bin Laden is alive, and at Afghanistan-Pakistan border. But how convincing is this sort of second-hand guesswork? We have reporters and intelligence officials in the U.S. saying just the opposite.

Take or leave all that. Osama bin Laden is still among the living, and we know this because of the glory that would have been grabbed if he were gone. For bin Laden's would-be successors, personal power is on the line, and a place in the history books. For our government -- if they knew he was dead -- hiding such a fact would be a mammoth, foolish, and unnecessary risk.

One more thing: Bin Laden appreciates that nothing is more frightening than the unknown. Osama bin Laden, a megalomaniac and giant killer since he helped boot the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, knows the power of being a shadow. He may be evil, but he is also smart.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
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01/08/02: Desperate Dems
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11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
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09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
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© 2001, Michael Long