Catholic Phoenix


Osama bin Laden Sleeps with the Fishes

With apologies to Mario Puzo.

In Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 movie The Godfather, Santino 'Sonny' Corleone, played by James Caan, receives a bullet-proof vest wrapped around some fish to notify him that the loyal enforcer Luca Brasi had been eliminated by a rival gang. I wonder if there was similar dialogue in Pakistan:

Al-Sonny wahiri : What the hell is this? Clemenza Sheikh Mohammed : It's a Seal Team Six message. It means bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.

The President had these words when he announced the success of the raid to the nation:

We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.

I wonder what "Justice has been done" means to the President in this instance. Certainly there is a proper place for Osama bin Laden which comes from God's infinite Mercy and God's infinite Justice. Does the President simply mean that he has faith in God's infinite justice, and that if rotting in hell was Bin Laden's final disposition, then he has already started?

The first issue of The Onion to come out after the 9/11 attacks included this dispatch: Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell

JAHANNEM, OUTER DARKNESS— I was promised I would spend eternity in Paradise, being fed honeyed cakes by 67 virgins in a tree-lined garden, if only I would fly the airplane into one of the Twin Towers," said Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, between attempts to vomit up the wasps, hornets, and live coals infesting his stomach. "But instead, I am fed the boiling feces of traitors by malicious, laughing Ifrit. Is this to be my reward for destroying the enemies of my faith?

The President, in saying "Justice has been done", was not likely thinking of God's infinite mercy, the understanding of which allows for a conversion of heart no more profound than "Mercy!" one split second before impact.

The President could not have meant that all of the damage bin Laden had caused had been reversed and all of his victims made whole. That is nowhere near true.

Was President Obama speaking of criminal justice, the kind with civilian trials and long prison sentences? No, it seems that bringing Osama to trial was not the primary aim.

For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.

I'd like the plot of the Abbotabad raid to sound a little more like The Dirty Dozen, a WWII drama that has Lee Marvin leading a troop of military convicts behind the German lines to assassinate Nazi officers.  It's a good movie because the Dirty Dozen are a bunch of ill-trained expendable characters:

Major John Reisman: [briefing the dozen] Shoot any officers you see in there. Victor R. Franko: Who? Ours or theirs?

On the surface, The Dirty Dozen looks just like the Abbotabad SEAL raid: fly in, get the bad guys at their house, get out.   But there the differences end: the Lee Marvin character Major Reisman leads a band of criminals, while the SEAL Team 6 was not a band of criminals, it was a highly trained group of elites. They were, in a certain way, our very best.   I wish our best did not need to stoop to this level.

Using language the Corleone family would understand, Osama bin Laden had it coming, or at least that's the general idea I get from these remarks by the Dalai Lama, the man who does not swat mosquitoes.

I'd also like there to be more similarity to The Silence of The Lambs: I wish that this was a case of just one maniacal wicked man who, once eliminated, would stop committing atrocities forever.

But with the elimination of Osama bin Laden, I'm sure that Janet Napolitano was relieved to have already done away with the old DHS "Tutti Frutti" colored terror threat scale. She'd have been in a real bind on the day we got bin Laden, wouldn't she? Announce a major special-ops achievement, and as a direct result, crank up the warning level, thus sending the message that bin Laden's death had actually made us LESS safe.

But it was not and is not a lone man we are at war with.  To borrow a phrase, "It's the ideology, stupid!"

That ideology now has a martyr in bin Laden, and probably a replacement too. Young Jihadis can now dream of being the next big honcho, even if it means that any speck in the sky could be a drone aircraft capable of reading your lips and relaying your position to SEAL Team 6 and their dog.

You say "But we had to get him!"  Yes, yes, I guess we did, but I would've preferred that he spend his declining dialysis years condemned to serve his sentence as an unwilling guest on late night American television matching wits with the likes of Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, and Steven Colbert. In all I'd say he got off easy.

If, on hearing of the successful killing of Osama bin Laden, I had said "Vengeance is Mine", half of my audience would've understood that to be my own feeling of satisfaction at having settled the score and pleasure at the death of a bad guy, one who had it coming but the Vatican reminds us all:

Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.

Don Corleone, who was at least something of a Catholic, says:

You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me?

If I had said "Vengeance is Mine", the other half of my audience would've understood that to be a partial scriptural quote, possibly Romans 12:16-20.

Being of one mind one towards another. Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble. Be not wise in your own conceits. To no man rendering evil for evil. Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men. Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.

Unfortunately, this verse might sound more like an indictment of our military decision making than as something reflective of the trust which I have in our chain of command and our executive branch, to determine the proper rules of engagement and the proportional response.

(For the record, I don't think Saint Thomas Aquinas said anything about the just and proportional response to either flying civilian planes into civilian buildings or the use of human shields.) So, was justice done?  did we avenge our dead?  Was it right?  I trust in God's mercy and in God's justice.

I have an overwhelming sense that he had it coming but  I can't precisely explain the Catholic moral justification for flying into Pakistan and eliminating an individual in his house.

Cistercian Monk Arnaud Amalric, when asked how to distinguish the just from the heretics during the 13th century Albigensian Crusade, responded:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

(Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)

The brother has been paraphrased on t-shirts  by people who might be even more frustrated than I am about the vagaries of the justification of military actions:

Leave the helicopter. Take the cannoli.

5 comments | Add one of your own.

  1. JoAnna

    Regarding Amalric, the Wiki article you linked to notes, “As a matter of fact, Caesar did not state that this sentence had been actually uttered: more exactly he just wrote that Amalric was reported to have said it (dixisse fertur in the original text).”

    So, maybe he said it, and maybe he didn’t. :)


    1. Captoe

      So true, JoAnna! We shouldn’t lean too heavily on any such quotation.

      The monk is frequently, if inaccurately, attributed with this expression. I find this phrase to reflect something at the root of my frustrations, which is that we can rely completely on the justice of the Lord and that the justice of men always falls woefully short.


  2. Charles Smith

    Yes, Justice has been done. But whose? Certainly, one can argue that in many ways, the only acceptable solution was for Bin Laden to come out of the compound in a body bag. In no way will I condemn or second-guess the Dev Group team that prosecuted the operation. There has been a standing “dead or alive” order on Bin Laden since he claimed credit for the 9/11 attacks, and I am sure that the team had orders and discretion to act in a particular way.

    I recall my own thoughts when we learned that evening of his death: “Thanks be to God. May He have mercy on Bin Laden’s soul.” I couldn’t rejoice in the man’s death, but I understood what it meant to those that have lost loved ones either in the initial attack, or for the thousands that have been lost since our country made the decision to directly move to remove these terrorist threats. I suspect that while many were pleased that Bin Laden was in fact, “swimming with the fishes” now, they would much rather have their family member or friend back.

    This morning, we learned of a bombing in Pakistan that is allegedly in retaliation for the Bin Laden incident. But it occurred in Northern Pakistan, at a poorly equipped border training facility. Not in the Pakistani capital, not in Afghanistan, certainly not in the USA. Not even by Al-Qaeda, but by what appears to be a splinter group of the Taliban.

    In the end, a great good may come of the grave evil that was the killing of Bin Laden. I’m in no way justifying it, but I also understand that nothing short of his death would have lead to the end of Al-Qaeda. Already we are learning of Bin Laden’s extreme micomanagement, which may have worked to their favor during his lifetime, but is their downfall in his death. If Bin Laden really has controlled things as tightly as it’s been intimated, and the level of intel that has been collected suggests so, then these cells that have been so dependent on central coordination and more importantly, funding, will die off.

    In my own analysis, it was bound to happen anyway. Bin Laden’s relevance was already in decline, by nothing less than peace. Peaceful demonstrations across the Arab world just in the last few months has done more for accomplishing the goals of young Arabs than 20+ years of insurrection, jihad, and senseless murder. Peace and prayer, not bombs and guns. The one holdout at this point is Libya, and I feel that it will not be long until we witness a regime change there. What next, Iran? And I’m not so much concerned with these new governments being our ally as I am with making sure they are not our enemy.

    Their ideology does have a martyr in Bin Laden; but the ideology is dying. It is a snake that has consumed itself, or continues to do so.

    All that aside, if we had taken Bin Laden into custody it would have caused an uproar on a scale we cannot imagine. How many jurisdictions would claim rights to hold/prosecute him? One wonders if Saudia Arabia would have stepped into the fray, considering that they revoked his citizenship. Who would try him? How would punishment be doled out? Would anything less than capital punishment been acceptable, and under what auspices? Firing squad, lethal injection, electric chair, driving a plane into a building he occupies, strapping a bomb vest to him?

    How would we have secured him? I’m sure if you put up enough defenses, no one can get through, but how many plots would hatch in an effort to spirit him from his captors? How many more would die as his followers attempted to free their leader?

    In the end, two shots to the head ended all the controversy. America’s best were given an order, and performed to the highest standard, and executed sound judgement based upon the facts that they had in hand. Their goal was to acquire the HVT and retreive him dead or alive, with a minimal amount of casualties. Our men did what they had to do in order to accomplish the mission.

    In the end, they also respected the human person of Bin Laden. His remains were disposed of within the tenets of his faith, without desecration of his body, or disregard to his Faith. Has justice been served? I don’t know that I am the one to decide that. I believe he has been judged by the one most uniquely qualified to do that: God. Again, I can only pray that God has mercy on his eternal soul.

    As far as the virgins- I heard it was 72, and not virgins, but Virginians. And they’re ticked!


    1. Captoe

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Charles.

      I agree passionately with the thought that there were no tidier acceptable solutions. I’d also hate to sound as if I had anything less than admiration for the team that executed this plan.

      I do not envy the decision makers.

      Remembering the capture, detention and trial of Saddam Hussein I can’t help but wish that the world got to see Bin Laden in his tightie-whities with bed head before he was dispatched by his own people. No, I can’t see exactly how or where that would’ve worked out.

      I don’t share your optimism in the ill health of the jihadi ideology, but I can hope and pray that you are right.

      I’ve not managed to pray for his departed soul.

      About those 72 Virginians, it was all a big misunderstanding: