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The Evolving Narrative of the Killing of Osama bin Laden



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Not a good day for John Brennan yesterday as the White House had to come out and clarify how bin Laden was killed, walking back Brennan’s earlier account that bin Laden was armed and that he used a woman (possibly a wife) as a human shield. Neither turned out to be true. I watched live and could tell Brennan’s story wasn’t adding up, but I kind of assumed the narrative of the raid would change. They usually do.

But another part of yesterday’s briefing is bothering me — that of bin Laden’s burial at sea. Here’s the excerpt:

Q    John, can you tell us about the burial at sea?  Where did it happen?  When did it happen?

MR. BRENNAN:  The disposal of — the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict conformance with Islamist precepts and practices.  It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements.  We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance.

So it was taken care of in the appropriate way.  I’m not going to go into details about sort of the where, but that burial has taken place.  It took place earlier today our time.

Q    And why?

Q    When was that decision made?

MR. BRENNAN:  I’m sorry?

Q    When was that decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?

Q    Can you explain why –

MR. CARNEY:  One at a time.

Q    Was it thought through years ago?  Was this part of the plan all along?

MR. BRENNAN:  The COAs — the course of action and the subsequent decisions that would have to be made have been developed over the course of the last several months.  Senior officials, and there was a working group that was working this on a regular basis, if not a daily basis, over the last several weeks, looking at every decision and based on what type of scenario would unfold, what actions and decisions would be made. It was looked at from the standpoint of if we captured him, what will we do with him?  Where would he go?  If he was killed, what will we do with him, and where would he go?  And it was determined that it was in the best interests of all involved that this burial take place, again, according to Islamic requirements, at sea.

Q    Why at sea?

Q    Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?

MR. BRENNAN:  It was determined that that — there is the requirement in Islamic law that an individual be buried within 24 hours.  Went inside of Pakistan, carried out the operation, he was killed, he was removed from Pakistan.  There were certain steps that had to be taken because of the nature of the operation, and we wanted to make sure we were able to do that in the time period allotted for it.  Going to another country, making those arrangements, requirements, would have exceeded that time period, in our view.  And so, therefore, we thought that the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.

 Q    John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?

MR. BRENNAN:  We consulted the appropriate specialists and experts, and there was unanimity that this would be the best way to handle that.

[. . .]

Q    Just a quick question about the burial and then something else.  Was there an imam there?  Was there a religious –

MR. BRENNAN:  It was done appropriately with the appropriate people there.

Listen, I’m totally OK with throwing bin Laden into the ocean, but this business that it was done in accordance with Muslim beliefs is already falling apart. It looks like he didn’t have to be buried at sea to meet the 24-hour threshold. Other reports suggest his home country of Saudi Arabia didn’t want his body and the potential of an OBL shrine, so that’s why we buried him at sea.

I understand the shrine argument, but they buried Saddam Hussein in Iraq without incident. I’m not sure why we didn’t just FedEx bin Laden home to his family rather than this ruse of trying to placate the Muslim world.



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