Osama bin Laden is dead.
I write this article immediately after the news has been broken on Sunday night, sitting in my downtown New York City apartment which overlooks the Ground Zero site.
A growing crowd of hundreds, mostly young people, have gathered around the fenced-off World Trade Center area, where work has been droning on for years to complete the new Freedom Tower, the Sept. 11 Memorial Park, and a wider office park. Police have secured the area and are patrolling the neighboring streets. Cars and taxis skim the site, laying on the horn like the United States has just won the World Cup.
And above it all, the growing skeleton of the Freedom Tower rises in the night, symbolism that can’t be lost in this moment.
It has been nearly a decade since the very same World Trade Center site now under construction was rocked by the worst attack on American soil. Since then, our society itself has changed dramatically. Ten years ago, no school child would have been able to locate Iraq or Afghanistan on the map. Now we can't escape seeing Middle Eastern countries in the news. We all know too well the terms “war on terror,” “terror group,” or “threat-level.” We have all come to terms with airport pat-downs and increased security at major events. Cold War Russia never presented such a ground-level threat to our society, or such a shadowy fear.
Though our fears and anger may have dampened over the years, there has never been any real closure. President George W. Bush famously and ironically proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” before anything really had been sorted out. We captured and executed one tyrant, Saddam Hussein, but that was really only a side bar in the grander War on Terror. The prison-interrogation camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seemed to only create problems, not answers.
According to President Barack Obama, in a speech announcing bin Laden's death to the nation, American intelligence knew of bin Laden’s position as early as last August. Located in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 30 miles north of Islamabad, it took some 8 months to plan and execute a mission to kill the Al-Qaeda leader. After a squadron of Special Forces assaulted the compound in a fire fight, bin Laden was killed and his body taken into American custody, where it was quickly buried at sea.
“Justice has been done,” Obama said in his speech.
And just as quickly, new questions arise.
Retaliation is, of course, now the top concern. In a Wikileaks memo documenting intelligence gathered from Guantanamo Bay interrogations, a top Al-Qaeda leader threatened to detonate a dirty bomb in Europe if bin Laden were ever killed. We can only wait to see if that is an empty threat, and wonder if Al-Qaeda still has any operational sleeper cells.
We must also wonder about the international ramifications of the American raid to nab bin Laden. Did Pakistan know about the mission, and did they agree with it? More so, why did it take 8 months to launch the mission? Will this now limit our involvement in Pakistan?
How will the Arab world react to the death of someone which some called martyr, and others simply discarded as a clown? Bin Laden's body was apparently quickly buried at sea so as to avoid any shrines from being created, or any operations launched to re-gather the body.
What sort of political leverage will Barack Obama gain from this? Is this his re-election gift-wrapped? The president can now boast to do something George W. Bush never managed, though that president launched two wars to find bin Laden. Obama sure gave himself a lot of credit for authorizing the raid during his speech.
Will the eye sore that is Guantanamo Bay prison now cease?
And will we see a loosening of security around a country now so consumed with policing it's own people? New York will likely bolt down, becoming again a fortress bristling with NYPD.
Will someone else take bin Laden's place, or will Al-Qaeda fade into history?
As a writer and journalist, I hate to write sentences that aren't definitive. Stating questions does nothing to help a reader understand the wider issue. Unfortunately, this is a situation that closes the book on one story, yet opens up a ton of new ones. Questions can only be asked at this stage.
The national mood, though, is at this point savoring the death of the Al-Qaeda leader. Almost in a morbid way, crowds have gathered in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
Around Ground Zero the chants of "U-S-A," "Yes We Can!," and "Fuck Bin Laden" echo into early Monday morning. It's a festive atmosphere where young people climb light poles donned in American flag shirts, pumping their fists and grinning widely. Many of them surely don't wonder what will come next in this saga.
But what shouldn't be lost in the vagueness of all of these questions is the cyclical fact that what happened on a fall day on Sept. 11, 2001 ended on spring night on May 1, 2011. Whatever happens next, America will be prepared for.
It’s been a long 9 years, 7 months, and 20 days, but we've come a long way.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons