The announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden came as welcome news to most Americans. His life and work of organizing terror has taken our country down a path that lead to the anti-personal-liberty Patriot Act, two wars that were placed on the national credit card, and the moral abyss that is called torture in Guantanamo Bay and other undisclosed anti-terrorist prisons around the world. In many ways, bin Laden has succeeded in destroying the best things about America. For nearly ten years after he organized the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 Osama bin Laden’s mere existence in the world has been a dark spot in the American psyche. The fear generated in this dark spot has allowed the American people to swallow policies that would be denounced as un-American in saner times.
President Barack Obama understood that as long as Osama bin Laden avoided capture or death, his existence would remain in our nightmares, and that the only way to help America heal was to close that chapter in our collective lives. The impromptu celebrations and cheering in front of the White House and at ground zero in New York City after the announcement of his death are evidence of how deeply this single man and his terrorist network affected our country. I too am happy that bin Laden was taken down, not because I glory in his death, but because it will give our country a chance to begin healing and to eliminate some of the fear-based anti-terrorist and anti-Islamic policies that many people now think are the solution to America’s National Security.
Many hawkish Americans have been quick to point out that the George W. Bush policies of enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) helped us find Osama bin Laden. Some have gone so far to criticize Obama for campaigning to eliminate those policies. But such celebration of torture is evidence of how far down the path of evil we as a country have trodden in order to exact revenge.
Those enhanced interrogation techniques were terrible enough that Alyssa Peterson, a devout Mormon, objected so much that she ended up committing suicide in 2003 over the internal moral conflict she experienced by being commanded to implement Bush’s policies of torture. In testimonies gathered around the incident, there was consensus that she “she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties.” Even though Alyssa had been trained in interrogation techniques, apparently what she was being asked to do in 2003 was more than her conscience would allow her to do. Alyssa was not willing to sell her soul for the opportunity to find Osama bin Laden, and her tale should serve to caution those who proclaim torture as morally acceptable, just because the ends justify the means.
The cost to Americans to get Osama bin Laden has been great. He and his terrorist operatives murdered nearly 3,500 people in America on that fateful day of 9/11. To date, in the ensuing wars, we have lost 1,500 soldier in Afghanistan and 4,400 soldiers in Iraq, or 70% more that we lost directly at the hands of Osama bin Laden. Countless others of our military have been wounded and maimed and will live with the emotional and physical scars for the remainder of their lives. Those who have served in the military are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers who have not served active duty in the armed forces. In 2009 there were more military deaths by suicide than in active duty in Afghanistan.
So yes, we Americans are happy that we are vanquished of our enemy, but the price to get him has been high. We have trod a path that has restricted liberty, compromised our religious moral values, and expended more lives by and souls through our own choices than all the destruction directly attributed to Osama bin Laden.
What are we celebrating again? Oh yes, let the healing begin, for we desperately need it.