Apparently, the team going after OBL was instructed not to bring him out alive. I have already read several posts saying that it is a good thing OBL was killed, rather than captured alive. Donald Rumsfeld just said the same thing on the Greta Van Susteren show. The usual rationale is that it avoids the chaos and confusion that would necessarily have been the outcome of a trial.
I’m not so sure.
First, and possibly most important, consider the intelligence we might have gotten from him. The amount of crucial information he had must have been staggering. He was obviously not hiding away in a cave, as some of us suspected, so he was probably in close daily contact with whatever is left of the Al Qaida network. It’s not clear how much he would have talked, particularly under Obama’s interrogation rules, but interrogators have said in the past that sometimes arrogant prisoners will talk about anything, just to demonstrate how important they are. And, skilled interrogators have ways of getting information, even without waterboarding.
Also, don’t discount the symbolic benefit of having OBL in custody. OBL is now a martyr, even without a grave to visit. And he will be considered to have died a hero. If he had been captured, and pictured in chains, it would have been an enormous psychological blow to a society that puts great emphasis on symbolism.
And I don’t buy the argument that it would have been too difficult to keep him in custody, and conduct whatever kind of trial was deemed appropriate. Are people really suggesting that the United States is not capable of conducting a fair trial of someone like OBL, in a reasonable manner? Yes, it would have required special security measures, and would have been a media circus in some ways. But, OBL was clearly a war criminal, and not entitled to a civilian trial. A war crimes trial, along the lines of the Nuremburg trials, would certainly have been easily possible, if we cared to pursue it. This would have been well within our capabilities.
So, why not at least try to keep him alive? Well, I suspect the reason is very simple: Obama has no place to go with him. He has already promised to close down Guantanamo, and it would make him look very bad to have to admit that was a bad idea. Furthermore, he learned what a bad idea it would be to try someone like this in a civilian court, when he proposed the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York City.
In short, Obama painted himself into a corner. He had nowhere else to go, except to order OBL killed. And we will never know how much that cost us.