I personally believe our attention should focus on the huge opportunity to pressure President Obama to responsibly withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq. But journalists and activists also need to contend with diversionary conspiracy theories at the same time.
The American Right is blighted by conspiracy theorists who seem to believe Obama is an illegal alien whose mother slipped him across the border. On the other side are those who believe the wars cannot be ended until we realize that 9/11 was actually a false-flag operation in which we allowed the attacks to happen as a pretext for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Personally, I believe that more truth will come out about 9/11 than about the president’s birth certificate. But the 9/11 “truthers” are a drag on the peace movement because they believe the wars will never end until the truth, as they see it, finally is revealed.
They have a certain point. I myself continue to research the killing of Abraham Lincoln, which may have been a Confederate conspiracy at the highest level, suppressed and forgotten in the interests of national unity. But I don’t allow my suspicions about Lincoln’s murder to divert me from doing everything possible to prevent history’s repeating now.
So I think it is dangerous for visible representatives of the peace movement to assert that the killing of bin Laden did not happen, claiming as “proof” that his body was dumped at sea. Or that Obama’s refusal to release the photos is “proof” that it wasn’t Osama bin Laden. These speculations, delivered so rapidly with so little evidence, are signs that some people prefer total denial to accepting an official version of anything. They believe we are fighting a war over the “truth” rather than struggling day to day to end conflicts that are shrouded in “the fog of war.”
But the daily revisions of how Osama bin Laden was killed are so shocking in their sudden alterations that we need to pay careful attention. The official narrative has shifted 180 degrees. At first the White House line was that there was a firefight at the compound, that Osama bin Laden used a woman as a human shield, and that Osama bin Laden held a gun. It was Shootout at the O.K. Corral. Within a day that narrative was scrapped because it lacked any significant evidence, and there was a danger that eyewitnesses would tell a different story.
The next narrative was that the raid was a perfect surprise operation, that a mere handful of resisters were shot, that Osama bin Laden was killed expertly while standing in his pajamas near a weapon, that secret tapes quickly were obtained for examination, and that virtually all the women and children were turned over to the Pakistani police. No tunnels were found. This was not Hitler’s bunker.
In the new version, Pakistan’s police were in position to take care of women and children while the U.S. kept the Pakistani army and government completely in the dark, and the Seals slipped away before being detected. This narrative has no merit either. The CIA says Pakistani intelligence provided “initial information” on Bin Laden. According to the Washington Post, the CIA spied on the Osama Bin Laden compound for months from a nearby safe house close by a major Pakistan military base, whose leaders and troops were oblivious to both the CIA and Osama bin Laden.
Every day it gets weirder.
Ordinarily I focus on disclosing and following the facts as they develop. But I cannot help suggesting another scenario which all this may lead to:
Based on the evidence so far, Osama bin Laden was neutralized or contained as the CEO of Al Qaeda, Inc. or, if you will, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Al Qaeda. He was a hugely significant symbolic leader whose connection to his base was advisory. It does not appear that he was commanding operations through couriers, although new disclosures are immanent. The highly publicized threat to American railroad lines was “dated and vague,” according to officials. In any event, his couriers were monitored for a period of months.
The shocking absence of a security guard for bin Laden has been explained away as “hiding in plain sight.” For five years? That is not a serious explanation.
The most plausible, if so far unproven, explanation may be that the government of Pakistan, which is the army of Pakistan, gave bin Laden up. They simply walked away, without telling him he was being left on his own.
Why would they do that? That is the deep question. What did they receive in exchange? Best case, a deal in which bin Laden is exchanged for a Pakistani role in the future peace settlement in Afghanistan. Worst case, Pakistan was forced to give him up because an ultimate threat was coming from Washington. Buried in Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, for example, is a chilling revelation that if any attack on the United States is traceable to Pakistan, the U.S. will unleash airstrikes against 100 Pakistani targets which already have been chosen, with little if anything Obama can do to intervene. In this scenario, the ultimatum would be: give up bin Laden, or face hell from the air.
It is important to reflect on these possibilities since our citizens, politicians and media are so filled these days with uninformed threats against Pakistan. If there is to be peace in Afghanistan, it will require our government to recognize the realities of Pakistan and Taliban interests in at least the Pashtun areas on both sides of the “Af-Pak” border where the insurgency thrives undefeated. Having driven Al Qaeda out of sanctuaries in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, the emerging narrative could justify invading Pakistan to wipe out the sanctuaries there.
Related: Please read "Question: Why was Bin Laden so lightly guarded?"
 See Robert Redford’s fine historic film, The Conspirator, for more on this.
 Perlez, Jane. "Pakistani Army Chief Warns U.S. on Another Raid," The New York Times, May 6, 2011. Page A17.
 Miller, Greg. "CIA spied on bin Laden from safe house," The Washington Post, May 5, 2011.
 Perlez, The New York Times.
 It will seem an odd comparison perhaps, but similar relationships exist on a lesser scale in the “wars” against drugs, gangs and organized crime. For example, the FBI currently has in custody the leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang from El Salvador to the suburbs of Washington, blaming them for domestic terrorism while employing informants to manipulate and monitor their every move.