When Obama announced that Osama bin Laden’s body had been buried at sea (apparently, he would have been submerged inside a steel casket with holes in it) a lot of people (and few, if any, major media outlets) questioned the logic of throwing away the evidence of bin Laden’s death. In Slate, Brian Palmer explains the likely rationale for disposing of the body in this way, and it makes a lot of sense.
Palmer describes the dilemma that Germany experienced in dealing with the remains of Hitler. His remains were dug up and re-buried repeatedly to avoid his grave becoming a shrine for neo-Nazis. When you think about it, there is no way that the US should have let something similar happen with bin Laden’s remains. Obviously, there were discussions over the last 10 years within government agencies about what to do with bin Laden’s remains if and when he was killed. So why not cremate him, as has been done in the past? This is against sharia law and, although Muslim scholars are now saying that he should not have been buried at sea, I don’t think we are presented with a better option. Bury him and he inspires his followers in death. Burn him, you anger conservative Muslims.
Disposing of the body immediately put an immediate close to bin Laden’s chapter in American history. Government officials have been quoted saying, “we don’t want a bunch of people going to a shrine for him”. It has also been speculated that they likely would not have tried to capture bin Laden alive, because of the inevitable side-show of putting him on trial. It’s a fact of human psychology that we associate movements and organizations with a leader, and we do this to a fault. We often think a leader, like the President of the US, or Osama bin Laden, have a greater impact on the larger events in which they are agents. This is a consequence of a bias called the fundamental attribution error. This doesn’t mean bin Laden’s death is less significant; it makes it more significant. It has been said ad naseum that perceptions play a huge role in the fight against Islamic terrorism. This is without a doubt a blow to the perception, in every part of the world, of Al Qaeda’s strength.
More details from the Washington Post.
Also interesting on Slate:
“Obviously, the operation that was successful did not require the military occupation of a nation,” said Tom Andrews, the former Maine congressman who directs Win Without War. “It required good intelligence. It required the capacity to execute a precision-based operation. And it demonstrates the sort of precision needed to fight terrorism. This is coming on the eve of the decision of the president to do an accelerated transition from Afghanistan.”