Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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MAY 3, 2011 12:08PM

Bring Us the Head of Osama Bin Laden?

Rate: 8 Flag

In the spring of 1865, assassin John Wilkes Booth was cornered by Union troops in a Virginia tobacco barn and shot dead. His body was loaded onto a ship and taken back to Washington, autopsied and incontrovertibly identified on the basis of a ragged neck scar and a tattooed hand. Then, in full view of a crowd gathered on the shore, his body, wrapped in sheets and weighted down with cannon shot, was rowed to the middle of the Potomac and dumped.

Only much later did the public learn it had been duped. Booth’s body hadn’t been committed to the fetid depths of the Potomac. It had been buried in a gun-box under the floor of a warehouse at the nearby Navy Arsenal. He was joined there in death by the bodies of three men and one woman hanged as his closest accomplices. The body was later repatriated to the family and buried along with his parents and siblings in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Even before the Government tacitly acknowledged its duplicity in Booth’s burial, the speculation had begun. It wasn’t Booth that had been captured and killed in Virginia. He had escaped to the South, to the West, to Europe, to South America. He was “sighted” in India, in Ceylon, in China, the South Seas. He became an actor in California, a minister in Richmond, Virginia, a bar-keep in Granbury, Texas. In 1903, a drifter named David E. George committed suicide in Enid, Oklahoma. He spent much of the next four decades traveling sideshow circuit as the mummified corpse of John Wilkes Booth.

The lesson? Nothing straps walking shoes on a corpse faster than an unseen death and hasty burial. Not two days after the death of Osama Bin Laden, he’s already lacing up his Sketchers. And there isn't much anyone can do to change that.

Bin Laden is dead, just as Booth was dead and whether he was buried at sea or in, say, an unmarked grave in Afghanistan, the salient point is: dead. But that seems to be not-quite-enough for a growing Coalition of the Un-Persuaded. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan says: "I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you're stupid.”  Her polar opposite, Jim Geraghty at the National Review, says we should look at it as “Osama’s final photo-op.” Charles Blow of the New York Times tweets that: “’Buried at sea’ is just a little too ‘it’s just a weather balloon.’ Conspiracy theorists will run with that one for decades.” The almost masturbatory bloodlust apparent on other blogs and comment streams are frankly too depressing to reprint.  

With the pressure mountin, Jake Tapper at ABC News says the White House is debating the release of photos of Osama in death, perhaps along with the helmet-cam video of the raid that killed him and a record of the burial at sea.

So what’s the hold-up? For starters: the photos are purportedly super-gruesome, with a gaping wound above the decedent’s left eye, with blood and brains exposed. And the video is well, it’s a video of several people meeting violent ends. It’s not family-friendly fare. It has to have network executives (who have, after all, spent the last decade very deliberately not airing photos or video of violent, gruesome, bloody death) chugging the Maloxx. At the same time, intelligence experts must be weighing the psychological value of the photos to Americans against the propaganda value to radical groups around the world.

It's fascinating to watch all this unfold. The documentation will likely be released, perhaps as early as today, but, in the end, it’s just another raggedy sideshow mummy. Incontrovertible photos? Photoshop. Video proof? They faked the moon landing, didn’t they? DNA evidence? Psuedo-science. Sloppy lab-work. Fake. (See: OJ Simpson)

Here's what we need to come to grips with: Osama will stay alive for all those who need him to be alive. He’ll die, over and over, for those who need him to be dead. How could it be otherwise? Bin Laden was never so much a living being in the public consciousness as he was a metaphor, a specter, a messenger, a hobgoblin. Mostly silent and hidden, he could be anything to anyone. His physical death is just another chapter in a continuing career.  



Cross-posted at the What Now?|Now What? mirror blog.

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This will certainly boost Obama's popularity. I'm happy he's dead and that he got a proper burial. I do think this comes too late. The Bush administration only made Al Qaeda stronger through the war in Iraq. Now there will be other boogiemen.
I'm one of them who never believed the story of Osama's responsibility for 9/11. I think it was done mainly by Americans themselves.

This story of killing of Osama? Who believes that?
I bet Osma will be more and more 'alive' from now on.

I think that Osama might well have been dead already during 9/11.

The story of killed Osama is really brutal. It tells quite much about the mentality of many Americans today.
Great post. It reminded me of the photographers in the 30s who would take gruesome post-mortem shots of gangsters, very staged and theatrical. I agree that Osama is more a state of mind than a person for those of us who experienced 9/11, especially in NYC.
Great post. It reminded me of the photographers in the 30s who would take gruesome post-mortem shots of gangsters, very staged and theatrical. I agree that Osama is more a state of mind than a person for those of us who experienced 9/11, especially in NYC.
Reminds me of the general in the novel Autumn of the Patriarch by Garbriel Garcia Marquez. The general is thought to be dead at the start of every chapter, yet he is still alive. And dead.
bin laden is real. its 911 thats fake.
another pt to make which you dont mention. there are a lot of eyewitnesses to his death including his own family-- wife, daughter. read in an acct the daughter is supposedly 12yrs old. after interviews come out with people close to the operation/incident, that will decrease the incredulity. the govt certainly didnt help its case in the way it handled boothe's death did it? and yeah, not really with OBLs either.
Well written as always, Heather.
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Here is an interesting article written in September of 2009 and the reader comments are interesting too:

“Mistakes, scandals, and failures no longer signal catastrophe. The crucial thing is that they be made credible, and that the public be made aware of the efforts being expended in that direction. The ''marketing'' immunity of governments is similar to that of the major brands of washing powder.” -- Jean Baudrillard
Just as a grave site would provoke, photos of the gore would provide too much an ignition point for the smoldering undercurrent of fanatical hatred out there.

Can we discipline our collective blood lust just this once?
I agree that Bin Laden is more a symbol, than a personage. I remember the morning of 9/11 before anyone was talking about Bin Laden thinking, this is the kind of thing Osama would do. I always thought his living represented the failure of the Bush regime, but I can't say his death represents the success of the Obama Administration, it's been too long.

So I'd see his death as a point in time by which things will be measured, evaluated, and a point of comparison. I have seen the whole invasion of Afghanistan, and Iraq, as a bankrupt, and bankrupting act on the part of America. Perhaps the last chapters of an empire in decline.

As to celebrating his death, it's just something I can't personally do, although I do understand the jubilation of others.
"The almost masturbatory bloodlust apparent on other blogs and comment streams are frankly too depressing to reprint. " -- you caught the pervasive aura of the whole sodden business. Like ding dong, the wicked witch is dead is gonna really change anything.
The mortal man is dead but by killing him, his enemies made him immortal, by transforming him into an icon, a symbol, a myth, a legend--and those avatars are immortal and invulnerable. Think William Wallace (Braveheart), Joan of Arc, Che Guevara, and (dare I say) Jesus of Nazareth. The more mundane facts disappear, overwhelmed by the legend, the image, the icon, the symbol, which can be endlessly re-interpreted and re-invented and which (unlike the real, flesh-and-blood mortal human)is immortal and invulnerable.