Bin Laden Burial Account Requires Better Explanation
by TREVOR WESTRA
May 5, 2011
USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier on which bin Laden’s body was washed, prayed over, and then buried at sea.
One of the more peculiar storylines emerging from this week’s news that U.S. Navy Seals successfully killed the elusive Islamic-terrorist figurehead Osama bin Laden at a fortified compound in Pakistan was the surprising manner in which U.S. officials allegedly disposed of his remains. While it is certainly understandable that the Obama administration would want to avoid entombing his dead body, thereby allowing his followers a location that they could turn into a mausoleum for generations of al-Qaeda sympathizers, affording bin Laden a full religious funeral complete with body washing and Arabic rites was a questionable move.
With the body gone forever it now becomes undeniably necessary for U.S. officials to provide substantial evidence to support their claim that bin Laden was in fact killed. It is outrageous that the Obama administration today decided not to provide the world’s media with access to hard documentation of his ‘burial at sea’, given the gravity of the claim and its implications globally.
A number of important historical examples come to mind when considering the urgent need for a disclosure of evidence in support the current account.
First, when Che Guevara was killed in 1967, the Bolivian Army made a great effort to offer journalists a chance to take images of his dead body so that citizens and governments around the world could be confident that he was in fact killed. When the outlaw’s body was later buried at a secret location, however, a long and drawn out public debate over the final resting place of his remains began. That carried on for decades, to the point of obsession for many theorists, until his bones were allegedly found and exhumed in 1997 and reburied with state honors at what has become a popular tourist destination.
By contrast, it was a decidedly different outcome when, in 2003, U.S. officials released graphic photos of Saddam Hussein’s two sons Oday and Qussay Hussein after they were killed by American forces in Iraq. Though they anticipated criticism, due to the graphic nature of those images, the Bush administration understood that the people of Iraq needed concrete proof of the brother’s deaths if they were going to fully accept that they had perished.
Again, when Saddam himself was hanged, video evidence offered that confirmation for Iraq’s citizenry and indeed the world over.
Saudi Reaction to ‘Islamic Burial’
Though Obama officials had obviously hoped that by honoring Islamic funeral rites, specifically the hastened deposing of bin Laden’s corpse, they could pander support from Muslim sympathizers globally, this strategy appears to have backfired. As word spreads that bin Laden’s body was dumped in the sea, clerics from his birthplace of Saudi Arabia have denounced the move.
Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, an advisor to the Saudi Royal Court, was quoted by Reuters Tuesday arguing, “This is not the Islamic way. The Islamic way is to bury the person in land like all other people.” Though he concedes that in the past if a person died on a ship or could not be buried on land in the traditional 24-hour period after death they would drop him into the sea with a weight, al-Obiakan suggested that, “Today the case is different. We Have airplanes, freezers, and it is not necessary to get rid of the body in the sea in such a way.”
Prominent Saudi judge Issa al Ghaith has also suggested that the Obama administration made a mistake burying bin Laden at sea, claiming it gives the impression Americans “fear him even after his death.”
Regardless, now that the White House has failed to offer substantial video and/or photographic evidence of bin-Laden’s death and burial, they have risked running a scenario similar to that of the death of Adolf Hitler, where the accuracy of Soviet accounts of his suicide, burial, exhumation, cremation, and supposed ash scattering continue to be debated by both historians to the present day.
Bin Laden’s Death and Its Implications for Pakistan
It is not at all shocking that bin Laden’s alleged hideout was in Pakistan. Even Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai has long claimed that bin Laden, if alive, would be found hiding on Pakistani soil. But the fact that he was found in an urban city center, down the road from a Pakistani military academy is equal parts shocking and outrageous.
Dr. Davood Moradian, a former senior policy adviser to the Afghan foreign minister called this week for the ISI to be declared a terrorist entity. According to Moradian, “We eliminated the most important and symbolic person in the phenomenon of terrorism … but three factors are still out there; the ideology, the infrastructure and the conducive environment.” The latter is certain to be a theme from which analysis on US-Pakistani relations will be focused intensely and for some time.
Family Security Matters Contributor Trevor Westra is a Canadian blogger whose writings on religion and modernity have been featured at the Canada Free Press, the New Media Journal and online magazine Global Politician. He writes frequently on international affairs at the blog, the Theo Log (www.theolog.ca). A graduate in Religous Studies from Canada's Laurentian University, he has lectured on Indian religious traditions in Canada at the University of Sudbury and specializes in the religions of South Asia.