Posted by: David Offutt | May 22, 2011

Torture and Finding Osama bin Laden

Candidate Barack Obama promised that Osama bin Laden would be taken out if he were found – with or without Pakistan’s help. The criminal mastermind was found, and President Obama sent in the Navy SEALs. Would this have ever happened under Bush/Cheney? I had a running gag during the second term of the Bush/Cheney administration in which I invented a “rumor” that the mass murderer was living in a luxurious bunker on George W. Bush’s ranch outside Crawford,TX.

While logistically improbable, circumstantial evidence made such a scenario plausible. (1) The initial 2001 invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban was so successful that it was hard to believe that bin Laden could have escaped from the Tora Bora caves. (2) Within six months of bin Laden’s disappearance, President Bush admitted that he didn’t care where he was and didn’t give him much thought. (3) The idea of a multi-millionaire like bin Laden living indefinitely in various caves was impossible to imagine. (4) Mr. Bush was clearly more interested in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, bin laden, al Qaida, or the Taliban. (5) In 2005 Mr. Bush dismantled the CIA team that had been specifically created to find bin Laden.

Also, Osama bin Laden and 9/11 were the best things to happen to the Republican Party since the existence of the Soviet Union. The Cold War (1945-1991) allowed the Republicans to use the fear of “the communists are coming!” to persuade voters that Democrats were “soft on communism.” When the perpetual “war” against Russia ended, the Republicans had to contend with the potential “peace dividend,” which was anathema to them. In the 1990’s President Bill Clinton drove them nuts with health care and environmental issues and raising tax rates on the extremely rich and balancing the budget.

The 9/11 attack allowed Bush/Cheney Republicans to return to their coveted policies of perpetual warfare and neglect of social-domestic needs. Amazingly, even though the World Trade Center was destroyed on Bush/Cheney’s watch, for nearly six years they got voters to believe that only they could keep America safe. Because the mere existence of bin Laden was so important politically for the Bush/Cheney Republicans, it was always highly unlikely he would ever be brought to justice during their tenure.

It also allowed me to make up the story that bin Laden was safe and living a life of ease on Bush’s ranch. At the same time, I always pointed out that the so-called rumor was absolutely false. The overall logistics of secretly hiding bin Laden on Bush’s ranch was virtually impossible. Building a bunker and then supplying it for seven years could never have been done without someone noticing or without someone on the inside spilling the beans. This is also the reason that I find it inconceivable that bin Laden could have been in that compound in Abbottabad since 2005 without the Pakistani government knowing about it.

Ironically, it was George W. Bush’s public indifference in locating bin Laden and his publicly disbanding the CIA’s bin Laden unit that ultimately allowed the world’s most wanted criminal to be found. Otherwise, bin Laden would never have felt safe enough to stay in one place for so long. Once President Obama told CIA director Leon Panetta to make finding bin Laden his number one priority, all the pieces of information could be put together – and those pieces led to one place instead of several. If the Bush/Cheney crew claimed this to have been their plan all along, they may have had some bragging rights.

The U.S. executed Japanese war criminals after WWII for waterboarding. During the first Bush/Cheney term, we seem to have forgotten who we are.

Unfortunately, the success of finding bin Laden has resurrected support for the return to its “dark side.” Many of the villains of our descent into the methods of our enemies are now claiming that torture was responsible for getting bin Laden. Unsurprisingly, Dick Cheney, who is known as Darth Vader and as America’s Torquemada – the evil perpetrator of the Spanish Inquisition, is claiming vindication for his criminal policies. Lawyer John Yoo, who was assigned the task of creating legal cover for authorizing torture, is understandably doing the same. So is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others. If these people were to travel outside the U.S., they could be arrested for war crimes. Here, they are making the rounds on television talk shows.

I’ll try to resist  repeating everything I wrote on this topic in my Nov. 27, 2009, essay “Investigating the Bush/Cheney Torture Policy.”  At that time, I opposed the decision by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder not to investigate the illegalities of “enhanced interrogation” and waterboarding – synonyms for torture. I didn’t like, but understood why, that they didn’t want to prosecute individuals for these crimes. Nevertheless, the important thing was, and still is, to make sure no future president resumes these heinous acts.

Bill O’Reilly sees nothing wrong with the U. S. violating international law and practicing the use of torture. Morality and ethical behavior seem to be of no concern to him.

Bill O’Reilly is one of Rupert Murdoch’s most popular entertainers on Fox “News” and, therefore, an unofficial spokesman for the Fox-Republican-TEA Party. In  one of his weekly newspaper columns, ironically titled “Truth and Ideology” ( May 5, 2011), Mr. O’Reilly advocated precisely what I’ve been warning against. He wrote that “if Obama doesn’t want to order waterboarding, fine. That’s on him. But the elected leader of the nation should have the power to make the decision.” No! The president is not above the law! Richard Nixon believed that a presidential order meant that it was legal and should be carried out. Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. We can’t allow our constitutional system to be subverted into a dictatorship.

Having been tortured by the North Vietnamese, John McCain speaks with authority on the torture issue. He insists that torture didn’t provide the major leads that got bin Laden. Of course, we know that torture is intended to get victims to say what we want to hear. However, based on the law of averages, it may get accurate information on very rare occasions. Regardless, it can’t be trusted without verifying it from other non-tortured sources, which the FBI and the National Defense Intelligence College contend is much more effective and reliable anyway.

The seemingly sociopathic O’Reilly asks “who cares?” We all should care. There is a universal moral standard that all nations and individuals are judged by: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those who authorize torture and those who commit torture are personally barbarized. They also degrade the rest of us and our nation as well.

Remember the lines delivered by Spencer Tracy in “Judgment at Nuremburg”: “A country is not a rock….It is what it stands for when standing for something is most difficult.” President Obama has been forewarned by Mr. O’Reilly and others. Unless he and the Congress act, the next Nixonian president who believes that the end justifies the means will undo what’s been corrected, and we will be the lesser for it.

by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published June 8, 2011, in the El Dorado News-Times as a Guest Column.



  1. Nice to see you writing again, David.

    This essay is blatant party cheerleading, though. No real discussion of the issues. :(

    Criminal mastermind ? Do you have any evidence of this ? My understanding is that OBL did fundraising, recruiting, and public relations.

    The criminal mastermind, by most accounts, was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has long been in US custody and who confessed “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z.”

    I wish Howard Zinn were here to address this issue, but since he’s not, we’ll have to settle for Noam Chomsky:

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