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Published May 15 2011

Nelson: Did US take out right man?

The funny thing about the “USA! USA!” chant by celebrants at the White House fence after Osama bin Laden’s killing is that we don’t yet know if he was behind the 9/11 attacks. Looney tunes conspiracy theory? Hardly. The last time I looked, the FBI website of Most Wanted Fugitives didn’t even mention the 9/11 bombings in its charges against bin Laden. The African embassy bombings, yes. But apparently the FBI didn’t think it had enough evidence on bin Laden and 9/11 to use it in its arrest file.

The terrorist himself denied any responsibility for 9/11 for years before ultimately claiming credit. Even the videotape of bin Laden with two of the 19 hijackers can only, at best, show that he knew of the plot, not that he was behind it.

We might never have certainty now, after bin Laden’s execution. Maybe the millions of documents seized from his house will answer the question. Or perhaps interrogating his wives, which should make us wonder why we didn’t capture him and get the answer firsthand to begin with.

But the victorious chanting of Americans in the street, apparently by people who thought they were at an Olympic sporting event, was a trifle dismaying. Even Rudy Giulani professed himself “a little uncomfortable” by it all. The Vatican probably had the best reaction to bin Laden’s death: It is a time for somber reflection on our responsibilities before God, not rejoicing.

But relief and satisfaction at bin Laden’s demise are justified, assuming we got the right man. We have the right to defend ourselves, even in cases of our short-sightedness causing what the CIA calls “blowback.” Thoughtful rue and melancholy are called for, too. We’ve left a trail of unnecessary blood and suffering through two countries. We’ll have spent trillions by the time this is all through. We joyfully gave up various constitutional rights to “secure” ourselves against the weakest enemy we’ve ever faced. In many ways, bin Laden won.

As columnist George Will pointed out, the killing of bin Laden was through persistent, police-like investigating (torture notwithstanding), not through massive armies crashing through countries. And it turns out that the special ops mission that got bin Laden was very much like what Ron Paul proposed in 2001: Through the letters of marque and reprisal clause in the Constitution, we could have allowed and assisted small groups of privateers to track and take bin Laden.

After all of this – 9/11, the wars, bin Laden – we’ve learned nothing. In logical and temporal terms, we have terrorism here because we’re over there. Bin Laden listed his reasons for 9/11, none of which had anything to do with our liberty, prosperity or culture. But we’ll stumble on, intervening here and there, and wonder why they hate us.


Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.