Leaked E-Mails Suggest Bin Laden Not Buried at Sea
According to the official version of events promulgated by the Obama administration, after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, his body was flown to Afghanistan for identification and then buried in the Arabian Sea about 12 hours after his death, supposedly in keeping with Islamic ritual. However, internal e-mails from intelligence service Stratfor, obtained by the hacker group Anonymous and posted to the Internet by WikiLeaks, cast doubt on that story.
Austin, Texas-based Stratfor is a very well-connected organization described by WikiLeaks as “a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.” The company’s vice president for intelligence, Fred Burton, a highly experienced counterterrorism expert with many contacts in the U.S. government, was the originator of most of the e-mails concerning the disposition of bin Laden’s body in the hours after his death.
Bin Laden was allegedly killed near Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, just after 1:00 a.m. local time. President Barack Obama announced bin Laden’s assassination on May 1 at 11:35 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (May 2 had not yet arrived in the United States).
At 5:26 a.m. Central Daylight Time on May 2, Burton sent out an e-mail with the subject “OBL” (Osama bin Laden) stating: “Reportedly, we took the body with us. Thank goodness.”
Twenty-five minutes later he sent one with the subject “Body bound for Dover, DE on CIA plane.” The text read: “Than [sic] onward to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda.” (“Technically this would have meant the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, since the AFIP operations were folded into Walter Reed as part of a consolidation plan,” explained Jason Ditz of antiwar.com, adding that if confirmed, “it would add yet more intrigue to Dover Air Force Base, already under enormous scrutiny for its mishandling of corpses and disposal of remains at a Virginia landfill.”)
At 6:26 a.m. Burton stated that he “doubt[ed]” that bin Laden’s body had been “dumped at sea,” adding, “We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.” “His body is a crime scene,” he continued, “and I don’t see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen.” He suggested that burying the body at sea would be reminiscent of the cremation of Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s body following his capture, trial, and execution, the purpose of which was to prevent anyone from building a memorial to him.
Stratfor CEO George Friedman agreed but noted that “Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed,” then cremated. “No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i [sic] doubt happened,” he added.
Obviously neither of these highly connected men with plenty of inside sources had yet bought into the idea that bin Laden had been sent to Davy Jones’ locker. Indeed, at 1:36 p.m. Burton was still of the opinion that bin Laden’s body was being taken to the United States, writing: “Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.”
By 3:11 p.m., however, he appears to have changed his mind, e-mailing: “Down & dirty done, He already sleeps with the fish.” But he noted the difficulties that this course of action would create, saying, “It seems to me that by dropping the corpse in the ocean, the body will come back to haunt us.”
Although bin Laden’s corpse hasn’t haunted the United States much thus far, the release of the Stratfor e-mails will likely revive the debate over just what happened to bin Laden’s body and, consequently, whether or not U.S. forces actually killed the terrorist mastermind in the first place. Secrecy prior to the raid is understandable; a refusal to produce the key piece of evidence that the raid was successful, on the other hand, is quite curious indeed.
The Obama administration claimed it had buried bin Laden at sea in an effort comply with Islamic tradition, which requires washing, shrouding, and burial within 24 hours of death. However, “a number of scholars have said such an action is appropriate only under ‘extraordinary circumstances’ — and that bin Laden’s death did not qualify,” CBS News reported at the time.
Moreover, observed the Guardian: “The 24-hour rule has not always been applied by the U.S. in the past. For example, the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein — sons of the Iraqi dictator — were held for 11 days before being released for burial.”