By JOE KLEIN May 4, 2011
Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs. In 2004 he won the National Headliner Award for best magazine column.
President Obama is basking in the after-glow of the successful operation that led to the demise of Osama bin Laden. As I have said previously, he deserves credit for making the gutsy decision to use a Navy SEAL team to take Bin Laden down. Of course, the lion’s share of the credit belongs to the special operations forces themselves, who overcame immense odds to mount the incredibly risky attack ordered by their commander-in-chief.
However, as President Obama savors the high point of his time in office to date, there are some questions that he needs to answer to the American people. Here are just a few of them.
1. Does the president have any change of heart about the harsh criticisms he leveled at his predecessor for using renditions of suspected terrorist detainees and enhanced interrogation techniques in light of the crucial information they yielded on the identity of bin Laden’s trusted courier, which in turn led us to locate Bin Laden himself?
Since taking office, President Obama has largely followed the counter-terrorism policies of President George W. Bush, despite criticizing them while campaigning to succeed Bush. Guantanamo remains open. Military commissions are still being used by the Obama administration to try some detained terrorist suspects. Renditions and indefinite detentions of high risk suspects without trial have continued. It’s time for President Obama to admit that he was wrong in castigating the Bush administration during the campaign and acknowledge the continuity of Bush’s policies that are necessary to fight an evil foe determined to kill as many Americans as possible.
2. Why have there been so many conflicting reports on what happened during the mission?
First we were told by the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who reportedly observed the mission in real time from a live feed transmitted by the Navy Seals as it went down, that Bin Laden had a firearm which he was using when confronted and shot.
Brennan said in his initial account that Bin Laden was
engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was inWe were also told that he used one of his wives as a human shield.
The next day we learned that Bin Laden was not carrying a weapon when he was killed by our forces, but was somehow resisting arrest. We also learned that Bin Laden had not used any human shield. Given the fog of war in a fast-moving operation, why did Brennan speak with such certainty in the first place on what happened when apparently he did not know the whole story?
Was there an attempt to justify killing Bin Laden, rather than taking him into custody, in order to satisfy international law sticklers including President Obama himself? Will the Obama administration, in its usual deference to the United Nations, comply with the request from the UN’s senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, for detailed information on the operation to confirm its ‘legality?’
3. Why did the Obama administration show such concern in handling and disposing of bin Laden’s body to make sure it conformed to Islamic law?
President Obama said in his speech to the nation on Sunday night that
“Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.If Bin Laden represented a perversion of Islam, why obsess that he be buried within 24 hours and cleansed in accordance with Islamic law? Why not bury him in an unmarked grave or drop him into the sea to live with the fishes after making absolutely sure that we have confirmed his identity?
4. What are we going to do about double-dealing Pakistan where al Qaeda terrorists are finding sanctuary?
Shouldn’t we re-focus our efforts in the region from counter-insurgency, nation-building in Afghanistan to more limited counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and Yemen where our enemy is now concentrated?
The Obama administration wisely left Pakistan in the dark about the Bin Laden mission until it was completed. Elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have a record of working with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
There is no way that bin Laden could have been hiding in a town filled with Pakistani military facilities and within yards of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point without the knowledge and support of members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service. Advance information about the operation in the wrong hands would have ensured the failure of the mission and could well have brought about significant casualties to our forces.
After initially praising the killing of Bin Laden as a “major setback to terrorist organizations around the world,” the Pakistan government issued a statement yesterday complaining that the United States had undertaken an “unauthorized unilateral action.” It’s time for a major push back against this fair weather, duplicitous ‘ally.’
Is the Obama administration planning to revisit the billions of dollars Pakistan receives each year from our country? Will we continue, and even expand our counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan, including continued drone attacks and commando raids, without seeking Pakistan’s permission as their treacherous government demands?
And aren’t we wasting billions of dollars and sacrificing the lives of our soldiers trying to re-build Afghanistan when the global terrorist networks threatening America are now operating out of Pakistan and Yemen, not Afghanistan?
5. Finally, will the Obama administration continue to mistakenly look at radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their U.S. affiliates such as the Council of American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America benignly, distinguishing them from al Qaeda, even though they are using more stealth means towards the same Islamic supremist agenda to impose sharia law as broadly as possible?
President Obama can take pride in his accomplishment of ridding the world of Osama bin Laden. But the American people deserve answers to these and other difficult questions in the days, weeks and months to come.
Joseph Klein is the author of a recent book entitled Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam
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