Was Osama given a fair trial by US ? No, he was just shot dead and dumped into the sea. Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. While excruciatingly slow and frustrating, the Allies decision to go through the entire legal process before finally deciding that who should hang, tells the world that democracy does not believe in kangaroo courts and mob justice.
Operation Northwoods was a proposed false flag operation against the Cuban government, that originated within the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States government in 1962. The proposals recommended that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets, blaming it on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba. The proposals was authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff but were rejected by the Kennedy administration.
The reality is tribal politics amped up by radical Islam and lots of drug money drives the corruption and violence. That was a lot more obvious after 2014 because the Taliban and drug gangs concentrated their violence in a few areas most important to drug production and movement (to foreign markets). Thus fighting has long been heaviest in the south where Taliban control of Helmand province, which is the key to drug gang operations and the bulk of Taliban income. Helmand is where most of the opium poppies are grown and where the portable labs use chemicals smuggled in from bordering Pakistan to convert the sap of the poppies into heroin.
The Taliban were largely Pushtuns and many came from Kandahar and Helmand. Tribal identification was important and a Pushtun killing someone from another Pushtun tribe is a bad move because of the culture of revenge. But if you use foreigners to do this, especially Arabs, the resentment is directed at largely unreachable foreigners. The al Qaeda brigades (one or two thousand men each) did most of the heavy fighting for the Taliban in the late 1990s and into 2001. When the Taliban gained control over most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s they found that there were many advantages to using foreign (non-Pakistani) mercenaries provided by al Qaeda.
These men were, by far, the most determined fighters available to the Taliban. By 2001 there were some 5-7,000 of these al Qaeda gunmen working for Osama bin Laden and loaned to the Taliban government as needed. These foreign fighters became the shock troops of the Taliban army and were used to insure that the Taliban would never surrender bin Laden to the Americans. Most of the bodyguards for the Taliban leaders were al Qaeda. Most of the al Qaeda recruits who had gone through the terrorist training camps went on to serve in the al Qaeda infantry brigades to finish their training and prove their dedication to the cause. The al Qaeda troops would more likely fight to the last man. The al Qaeda Arabs did not hide their disdain for the locals (who were considered a bunch of ignorant hillbillies). The Taliban managed to make this worse by allowing their fighters to massacre conquered non-Pushtun tribes, and then move Pushtuns into the depopulated areas. This only made the non-Pushtun tribes resist even more strenuously.
The drug gangs would prefer to bribe the army and police to stay away but that has not worked because the heroin (and much cheaper opium) is hated in most of the country. Over 5% of Afghans have become addicted to the stuff. A majority of Afghan, including nearly all non-Pushtun Afghans refuse to allow the Taliban and drug gangs (which are mainly Pushtun operations) to run the country. It has always been that way. The Taliban respond to this by offering police and army commanders an attractive deal; a bribe large enough to get the commander and some of his family to the West (usually western Europe). The U.S. understood this, at least CIA and Army (especially Special Forces) personnel who spoke local languages and had studied the local cultures. Follow the money and go after leaders and other key personnel and even Islamic terrorist organizations will be crippled or destroyed.
In the decade after 9/11, al-Qaida attracted money, initiates and prestige like no other jihadi group in history. It grew to command the loyalty of a wide network of terrorist branches and affiliates that stretched from Europe to Africa and South Asia. Never before had so many geographically disparate groups been united under one banner. Bin Laden achieved this feat, at least in part, by remaining ideologically flexible. He refused to be proscriptive on small matters of faith, avoiding the kind of disputes that had ripped apart other jihadi coalitions in the past. In keeping with its formal name – Tandheem Qaidat al-Jihad, The Organisation for the Base of Jihad – al-Qaida acted as a hub for militants to make connections and receive financial and organisational support. Regional commanders were entrusted with a great deal of operational freedom. In return, al-Qaida’s leadership demanded one thing above all else: loyalty. Its commanders were strictly vetted before being appointed; only those known from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya – and deemed to have the requisite knowledge of Islamic scholarship – were elevated to the group’s upper echelons. On their appointment, these senior commanders swore a blood oath to Bin Laden himself.
When Zawahiri took over after Bin Laden’s death in 2011, he found himself geographically isolated. While he was hiding out, according to numerous sources, in the mountains on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the centre of jihadi activity had moved thousands of miles away, to Syria and Iraq. As Pakistan’s army and American drones tightened their net around al-Qaida central, it became harder and harder for Zawahiri to maintain contact with his commanders in the field. In fact, al-Qaida’s main branch in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), had long been a source of difficulty. Since its effective creation in 2003, under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ISI had been happy to use al-Qaida’s brand name and its money, but often ignored pleas for closer communication with central command – even when they came from Bin Laden himself.
ISI had been pushed to the brink of collapse by US and Iraqi forces – but the Syrian civil war gave the group a chance to rebuild. A personal aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi described the men running Isis as a different breed from the religiously inspired jihadis of al-Qaida; in fact, he said, the group had been run for several years by men who once served Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime. According to Raheem, when Zarqawi was in charge, it was his unofficial policy to shut out anyone from the secular nationalist Ba’ath party. Zarqawi firmly believed that Iraqis in general, and Ba’athists in particular, lacked piety. After Zarqawi’s death in 2006, ISI was almost destroyed by US forces and Sunni tribes revolting against its brutal violence. To save themselves, Raheem said, ISI’s inner circle decided that the group needed to broaden its ranks: revolutionary Islamist credentials were no longer essential – if you could recite a few lines of the Qur’an and grow a beard, you could sign up. The former Ba’athists, who had run Iraq for decades, were invaluable new recruits: Hussein’s former military officers knew the vulnerabilities of the Iraqi army; his former intelligence officials knew the power brokers in each town and village. Since the regime’s overthrow, these men had lost their incomes and their authority; now the Islamic State of Iraq would serve as a vehicle for them to regain their status. (Documents obtained by Der Spiegel have revealed the major role played by a former colonel in Hussein’s air intelligence service, known as Haji Bakr, who is said to have been the architect of Isis’s takeover of northern Syria; according to Raheem, he brought an entire Ba’athist unit with him when he joined the group.)
In 2010, they crossed a line: ISI appointed a new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, without prior approval from al-Qaida, whose senior leaders knew almost nothing about the man – where he had come from, his military experience, whether he could be trusted. Former Ba’athists who became senior members of ISI – who nominated Baghdadi as the organisation’s new leader in 2010. Until his appointment, Raheem said, Baghdadi was regarded as a minor figure, quiet and uncharismatic. He had no military experience, and his scholarship was of little note, though he held a PhD in Islamic studies. But he made the ideal front man: on paper, at least, he was a religious scholar; his family claimed to be descended from the prophet Muhammad; and most importantly of all, he was not himself a Ba’athist.
As the conflict began to intensify, Baghdadi quietly dispatched one of his junior officers, Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, across the border in late 2011 to take advantage of the chaos. Equipped with funds, weapons, and some of ISI’s best soldiers, Joulani’s group – which would soon be known as the Nusra Front – quickly became the most formidable fighting force in Syria. Baghdadi declared that the Nusra Front and ISI would officially become one organisation. Nusra’s battle-stained banners, which hung over their newly captured headquarters in Syrian cities such as Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs would be replaced. The merged organisation would be called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or more simply Isis. The rebrand was effective immediately. Baghdadi made it clear that he was not willing to compromise: in a personal message, he warned Zawahiri that any hint of support for the “traitor” would have “no cure except the spilling of more blood”.
Isis began preparing for war: swelling its ranks and readying itself to claim back Syrian territory from Nusra, which it believed was rightly its own. In an astonishing series of prison breaks, it freed hundreds of Iraq’s most dangerous inmates by firing mortar rounds at walls and using car bombs to blow apart entrances. According to secret documents recently obtained by Der Spiegel, Isis also began implementing plans to take advantage of the stream of thousands of men who were flooding into Syria from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Europe. Without ties to native Syrians, these foreign fighters were likely to remain loyal. And they needed to be loyal, because instead of fighting Assad – as they had come to Syria to do – they would be used to stab the homegrown anti-Assad rebel groups in the back.
From their jail cells in Jordan, Abu Qatada and Maqdisi watched the vicious struggle between Isis and al-Qaida with growing concern. For Abu Qatada, it felt like history was repeating itself. In the early 1990s, he had been a fervent supporter of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) – issuing fatwas that gave GIA terrorists license to kill with little discrimination. But when the GIA inevitably began murdering rival militants, Abu Qatada assembled a group of radical scholars to denounce the organisation, helping to strip it of intellectual credibility among fellow jihadis. Now, more than 20 years later, he wanted Maqdisi to join him in a similar campaign against Isis – to publicly shame the group as extremists acting outside the accepted rules of jihad.
On 5 February, Jordanian officials confirmed that the intellectual godfather of al-Qaida, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, had been released from prison. Though he is little known in the west, Maqdisi’s importance in the canon of radical Islamic thought is unrivalled by anyone alive. The 56-year-old Palestinian rose to prominence in the 1980's, when he became the first significant radical Islamic scholar to declare the Saudi royal family were apostates and legitimate targets of jihad. At the time, Maqdisi’s writings were so radical that even Osama bin Laden thought they were too extreme. Today, Maqdisi counts the leader of al‑Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as a personal friend, and he is held in the highest esteem by the rest of al-Qaida’s regional heads, from North Africa to Yemen. But he may be best known for personally mentoring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded the organisation that would later become Isis, while the two men were jailed together on terrorism charges in Jordan in the mid-1990s. Zarqawi was released in 1999 and, after swearing allegiance to al-Qaida, went on to become one of the most notorious figures in postwar Iraq, unleashing a brutal campaign of sectarian terror, which led Maqdisi to publicly upbraid his most famous student in a series of devastating public critiques.
Initially, their strategy seemed to be to bring Isis back under the authority of al-Qaida, using something like a good cop, bad cop approach. Maqdisi’s war of words with Isis is emblematic of the new fratricidal split within violent Islamic radicalism – but it is also a sign that al-Qaida, once the world’s most feared terrorist network, knows it has been surpassed. Isis has not simply eclipsed al-Qaida on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and in the competition for funding and new recruits. According to a series of exclusive interviews with senior jihadi ideologues, Isis has successfully launched “a coup” against al-Qaida to destroy it from within. As a consequence, they now admit, al-Qaida – as an idea and an organisation – is now on the verge of collapse.
“They are like a mafia group. Isis don’t respect anyone. They are ruining the wider jihadi movement and are against the whole ummah [Muslim nation]” Abu Qatada said, while Maqdisi nodded. But Maqdisi and Qatada have looked on as Isis’s young radicals rampage from victory to victory – cursing, mocking and betraying the old guard as they go, while al-Qaida, largely guided by veterans of the Afghan era, has been brought to its knees in this jihadi civil war. Such impudent behaviour, the two men agreed, would never have been accepted in the days when Bin Laden was alive. “No one used to speak against him,” Maqdisi lamented. “Bin Laden was a star. He had special charisma.” But despite their personal affection for his successor, Zawahiri – whom they call “Dr Ayman” – they both admit that he does not possess the authority and control to rebuff the threat from Isis.
excerpts from 10 June 2015, The Guardian news.
by Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili.
I shot Bin Laden but first he shot me. Then I got the dinner at Applebee’s, bad dreams and a nervous Stomach.
For God and Country, Geronimo
I shot bin Laden, but when I did, he shot me.
After our helicopter crashed in the courtyard, Jimbo and I rushed inside the house. We killed his son first, on the ground floor by the stairs. His name was Khalid. I should've known that then, but I learned it later. We shot him at the same time. I think I killed him, but Jimbo might have done it. Who knows. The kid wore a white T-shirt with the collar stretched loosely around the top of his smooth chest. He caught the first round in his thin and neatly clipped beard, right under the jaw. It hit him like an uppercut. As he fell backwards, the second round hit him in the stomach and knocked his legs out from under him, so instead of landing on his back, he landed on his face.
Jimbo rushed in front of me and up to the second floor. His wide swimmer’s shoulders filled the staircase. Sweat poured from underneath his helmet and down the thin points of his sandy blond hair. He wanted to get to the top first. (Jimbo had always been a dick in that I’m-gonna-shoot-bin-Laden-before-you kind of way.) We took the stairs two and then three at a time. We raced so fast that our rifles dropped out of our shoulders and lazily down to our sides. Jimbo’s pace slowed. I thought I’d catch him and maybe push by, but then he shouldered his rifle and fired. A pair of shots chiseled into the wall behind the second story landing. Little ricochets of dust kicked into the face of a tall man in a tan shalwar kameez and prayer cap. It was that fuck, bin Laden.
Since the raid I've read the accounts about how isolated bin Laden had become, and from that glance I can tell you it was true. He looked like what they said: a middle aged man who sat in a room, recording angry videos, hatching plans he couldn’t handle, and jerking off to a stash of internet porn he hid from his three Wahhabi wives—signals intercepts told us he deleted his browser history as often as twice daily. This struck a sympathetic cord in all of us.
None of this changed how badly I wanted to kill him. So did Jimbo, and after he slowed down to take the shots, he should've let me move past him, but he didn’t. He kept hogging his way up the stairs. We got to the landing and ran through the open door bin Laden entered. Inside two women screamed in front of a bed that occupied the center of the room. Jimbo tackled them, one with each arm. I don’t know why he did it. Later on, everyone decided that maybe they were wearing suicide vests, but who knows. Jimbo’s always been a violent guy, but aren't we all?
That left me and bin Laden. Mano a mano. I couldn't believe it, and in the second it took me to believe it, that’s when bin Laden shot me. He shot me from across the bed, and he shot from the hip. The round struck me square in the chest, right in my SAPI plate. It knocked me back two steps, and before I was certain it hadn’t gone through, I fired my first shot into the same spot on bin Laden’s chest. The round went straight through him. It didn't knock him back. What it did do was drag him down, as though my shot had dropped him into the dunk tank at the state fair. I fired again, and as he fell the second round hit him in the forehead, just above the left eye.
Jimbo pulled himself off the two women, who began to wail. He shouted: “Lettichi lattat a harrack!” Don’t talk. Don’t move! Then he called over to me, “You all right?”
I reached down and felt my plate. Its center was hot. My finger burned when it touched the blossom of lead embedded in the ceramic armor. I breathed and it hurt. I reached under my body armor, and removed my hand. No blood. If there was no blood, then you weren't hurt.
“Yeah, fine,” I called back to Jimbo.
“Holy fuck, dude.” He flipped the two women onto their stomachs, flex-cuffing their wrists. “You just shot Geronimo.”
I knew Jimbo hated the brevity code for bin Laden, but now it didn't seem to bother him. The whole operation used a series of brevity codes from the Indian Wars, and Jimbo was a quarter Apache. To be honest, I didn't like them either. I wished we could've used code words from one of the good wars. Maybe the brevity code for bin Laden could’ve been Hitler, or Lee—well, maybe not Lee, he was a good guy, just on the wrong side. I guess there weren't that many bad guys in good wars, maybe we could've called bin Laden, Darth Vader.
I crossed the room with my rifle up, stood on top of the bed, and from my perch looked down at bin Laden. His eyes were no longer connected to each other; they hung loosely, like the eyes of my daughter’s American Girl doll. I pressed the dime-sized rubber button on my vest, which was linked to my radio. “For God and Country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo!”
The words would travel far, I thought. They’d be listening in the Situation Room, all the situation rooms. In the media and in the history books, they’d recount how a nation committed itself to killing a single man and through the work of millions of Americans over the course of a decade and at great expense we’d achieved that goal. Like when we put a man on the moon.
One giant leap for mankind—I was the new Neil Armstrong.
Fuckin’ a right, I was.
We’d all imagined our chosen set of immortal words if we killed him. I knew Jimbo had picked a few, but I’d never ask him what they were. I wondered if he would've done better.
The rest of the raid force filled the room, everyone moving with a purpose: gathering DNA samples, removing hard drives, taking photographs. And everyone wanted to get a look. I was glad when they arrived and pushed me out of the way. I didn't like standing there with bin Laden and his loopy eyes.
It took me fifteen minutes to fill a thick black Hefty bag with papers and computer parts. Then Jimbo and I headed outside; he was hauling bin Laden’s DVD player, and an old style TV set with rabbit ears. I didn’t know why the intel weenies wanted the stuff, but they did, and we looked like a street gang walking out of the house with it.
A Chinook idled in the courtyard. It was the replacement bird for the Blackhawk that hard landed. Jimbo and I walked up its ramp and into the hull, which looked like the gutted inside of a school bus. The crew chief helped us throw our loot into a pile near the pilots’ cabin. Inside the darkness shook, and I felt nauseous from where bin Laden’s bullet hit. I wanted to step outside and get some air before we flew back to Bagram. Jimbo and I headed towards the ramp when the crew chief grabbed us. He shouted above the twin engines overhead, “STAY ON BOARD, WE’RE LEAVING!”
As he spoke, the rest of our guys piled inside. Four of them carried a thick black nylon body bag, two to a side, and loaded it into the middle of the hull. They crisscrossed thick white ratchet straps across bin Laden as though he might rise from the dead and hijack our aircraft. Jimbo and I sat next to each other, Indian style, and leaned against the stack of black Hefty bags and electronics. The Chinook vibrated with deeper and deeper groans until its twin engines managed to heave up our dead weight. Flying back was probably the most dangerous thing we did that night, but for whatever reason everyone relaxed in the darkness. I tried to relax too, but I felt my stomach tighten and I began to sweat.
Jimbo tapped me on the shoulder and grabbed my arm. He pressed a hollow shell casing into my palm and leaned towards my ear, “I PICKED IT UP FROM THE BEDROOM!” I looked towards him and his teeth shined broad and white even through the darkness. I shifted and put the casing in my pocket, and when I did, I felt a quickening from my stomach to my jaw. I upchucked all over myself and Jimbo.
In the darkness none of the others could tell where the stench came from. Jimbo wasn’t mad; he understood, and was a good enough friend to give me a swill of Pepto from his med kit as he helped clean me up.
When we finished taxiing on the concrete pad in Bagram, the Admiral, the General, and the important civilians were there to meet us. The Chinook’s ramp lowered and they all winced as the stench wafted out the back. But their grimaces soon turned to smiles. They thought the smell was bin Laden.
Before we could drag our loot down the Chinook’s ramp, the reception committee pushed their way among us and started pumping fists. The Admiral told every man, “I just spoke with the President and he plans to thank each of you personally.”
He shook my hand. He was very sincere and nice, but I saw him glance at the pink moustache across my lip. Then I felt nauseous again. Once the handshaking was over, we pulled the Hefty bags, TVs, and DVD players out of the helicopter and laid them in full display on the tarmac. We unloaded bin Laden’s body next, and placed him beside the loot. Everyone was very interested. We unzipped the body bag, and a crowd of craned necks strained to get a look. We shared a silent moment and then a couple of folks snapped official pictures, and the handshaking started all over again.
An older and firmly round fellow with a trim beard leaned his head back and fought off tears. The history books say that in ’69 the guys at mission control cried too.
I was done looking. I walked across the runway to the large hangar we were housed in. I stripped down to my gym shorts and stretched out on my cot. I lay there for a while with my eyes shut, palms up and ankles open, but it was tough to sleep. I felt light on my eyes and opened them. The first bits of day crept under the tin-walled hangar. I shut my eyes again, and the light receded.
Now, the room was dark, mud walled and damp. My rifle was in my shoulder in that familiar and powerful position. But it wasn’t my M4. It was a Remington Repeater, a very old rifle, like the Red Ryder BB Gun I’d had as a kid. Bin Laden turned to me, just as he did before. It all felt very familiar. He looked at me and asked, “Quien es?” I didn’t say anything and he asked again, “Quien es? Quien es?” I shot him down. He dropped and I felt a tight surge in my stomach that ran all the way up to my jaw.
I woke up.
A movie blared in the background. I ran outside the hangar. I didn't make it to the toilet, but I made it far enough to puke in the dirt. Very little came up. I wiped my mouth and walked back inside. A few of the guys were gathered around a TV where Emilio Estevez played Billy the Kid. He raged, “You killed the boy, Patsie!” Another guy, who is only known for playing Pat Garret, replied coldly, “No, Kid. You did.”
I didn't want to hang around. I wanted to sleep, but none of us could sleep. We were all strung out on adrenaline and purpose. I laid down on my cot and shut my eyes. The movie’s dialogue kept rolling, and I thought of the boy, Khalid, and how we killed him, and bin Laden and the Kid. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of the other boy, the one Garret killed who rode with the Kid. Bin Laden killed the boy, not us, and I slept and I dreamed.
Bin Laden stood in an adobe walled bedroom, his back to the door. I walked inside. He didn't face me, but he asked over and over the same question the Kid asked into the darkness of his bedroom before Garret shot him down, “Quien es? Quien es?” Who is it? Who is it?
The Kid never knew.
We spent one more night in the hangar and then we flew back. I met my wife at home when she got off work. I’d been gone just over two weeks. By then everyone knew about bin Laden, but the details of what happened were top secret. There’s an unspoken rule that you can tell your wife everything if you want to, and I did, but she’d already figured that I was involved. Then I told her the thing she hadn’t figured.
“It was you?”
“Yeah.” I nodded, puffed my chest out, but then looked at the ground.
“What is?” I looked up, a little hurt.
“Nothing, I was just so sure it would've been Jimbo.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing sweetie, nothing. I'm so proud of you.” She smiled, grabbed my hand and patted it between hers.
“You can’t ever tell anyone.”
“I know, I know.” Her smile flattened out, and I could see her mind racing as she thought over what, if anything, this would mean for us. Her smile perked up again. “We should celebrate. Let’s go out; anywhere you want!”
“Of course, this is a big deal.”
“How about the Cobalt Grille; they’ve got a great steak.” As I said it, I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle steak, but I’d try.
“Don’t you think that’s a little nice for the kids?” she asked.
“Oh, you want to take the kids?” The disappointment was clear in my voice.
She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m sorry hon’, but where am I going to find a sitter on such short notice. Why don’t we go to Applebee’s? The kids like it, and you can get your steak there.”
I took a bottle of Pepto with me. It bulged in the pocket of my Dockers and as I loaded our minivan I noticed my wife noticing it. When we got to Applebee’s, I slid into the sticky vinyl booth. My daughter bounced in next to me. The kids ordered pizza. I still wanted a steak, but I didn't want to risk them seeing me puke. I ordered a salad, ate it, and in the bathroom snuck a swig of Pepto. I managed to keep the salad down, but I left the restaurant hungry.
I couldn't eat much more than a salad without upchucking. After about a week, I started losing weight. We were scheduled to fly over to Fort Campbell to meet with the President and I was worried. I couldn’t be running off to puke at the drop of a hat. I mean, shit; I was the guy who shot Geronimo.
I went to see our squadron doctor about it. Inside the wax floored examining room, I sat up on the powder blue table with my shirt off. My tattoos were draped over my shoulders like a little old lady’s crocheted quilt, and a thin but undeniable ring of belly fat reminded me that I was closing in on forty. The doctor poked and prodded me with his thin cold fingers. He stuck his index finger in the red welt around the spot where bin Laden shot me.
“Why didn't you tell anyone about this?” he asked.
“It didn't bleed so I thought it wasn't a big deal. The welt’s been getting better. That’s not the problem. The puking is the problem.”
The doctor took some X-Rays. He stepped out of the room and told me I could put my shirt back on. He was gone for a long time, and when he returned, he brought another doctor with him, a guy I’d never seen. Our squadron doctor was lean, well muscled, square jawed and blond. Even if he wasn't a SEAL, he looked like he belonged. This other doctor wasn’t. His uniform was too tight and was wrapped around his doughy body like cellophane. He wasn't balding; he’d finished and was perfectly bald.
The other doctor held up the X-Rays and examined them with a level of expertise that our squadron doctor didn't seem to have. He pointed at the translucent white on black prints with a single sausage finger that was as hairy as some men’s chests.
“When the bullet hit you,” he explained, “it broke a piece of your rib off. That piece is lodged in your large intestine.”
“So that’s why I'm throwing up?”
“Yes, and soon your body will work the piece of bone out of the intestine.”
“So I’ll stop puking then?”
“Not exactly. You’ll pass the piece of bone in a bowel movement, but the scar that forms will likely be bigger than the bone. The scar is the problem.”
Our squadron doctor put his hand on my shoulder, making his own addition to the prognosis, “The scar will form a permanent intestinal obstruction. It won’t do any real damage to you, but the vomiting may not subside, at least not for a while.”
“Can I stay in the Navy?” I asked, my desperation obvious.
“We’ll watch it, but I don’t think it’ll be much of a problem,” said our squadron doctor, speaking quickly.
The other doctor frowned.
The next day the whole raid force piled into a windowless conference room at Fort Campbell. We sat in rows of grey steel fold out chairs that faced a model of the compound in Abbottabad. We got there four hours early. The President was scheduled to arrive at noon, which was perfect. I’d brief him on an empty stomach, before lunch.
The officers rehearsed who would say what as we presented the details of the raid. Everyone agreed that if the President wanted to know who killed bin Laden and who called, “For God and Country, Geronimo,” I would volunteer myself. But if he didn’t, I’d anonymously describe how the upstairs of the compound was cleared and bin Laden’s last moments.
Once the rehearsals were done all the presenters, including me, sat in the second to front row of seats. The President and his staff would sit in the front row. Jimbo sat behind me, and patted me on the back with his heavy tomahawk of a paw. I turned over my shoulder and smiled at him. He pulled out the empty shell casing he carried from the raid and waved it at me. I smiled again.
The President came in and our squadron commander called, “Attention on deck!” We all jumped from our seats and stood rigid as plank boards. The President strutted down the center aisle. He grasped our squadron commander’s bicep and shook his hand. Then he whispered something in his ear. Our squadron commander smiled and called, “At ease. Take your seats, gentlemen.”
About five minutes into the briefing, one of the Secret Service Agents walked down the center aisle, kneeled, and delivered a tuna fish sandwich to the President. Lunch had been planned for after the presentation, my weak stomach was counting on that, but the Fort Campbell chow hall must not have passed muster with the Secret Service’s food tasters.
While the President chomped on his tuna fish sandwich, the Blackhawk pilot explained the details of his crash. The conference room suddenly felt very warm, and I wondered if the AC had gone out. The thick fish smell wafted through the soupy air, and my skin went clammy.
Our Pashto interpreter explained how he had pretended to be a Pakistani policeman when interested crowds approached the compound. The President continued to chomp on his sandwich, and now I was sweating. I started to squirm in my chair and Jimbo put his hand back on my shoulder to settle me down.
Now the lead breacher explained how he cut through the steel doors bin Laden used to seal himself into the compound at night. He described in painful detail the composition of the bars and the heavy shackles on the pad locks.
I felt the tight rush from my stomach to my jaw. I stood, and without looking at anyone, charged past the pinstriped Presidential Staffers, past the dark suited Secret Service and out the tan double doors of the non-descript brick building. I upchucked into the green grass, and once my stomach was empty, I dry heaved for a while.
Finished, I sat in the grass with my knees up and leaned against the building’s white wall. I breathed sloppily through my mouth, hung my head between my legs, and spit every so often. After about twenty minutes a small convoy of SUV’s pulled up, and a crowd of Secret Service loaded the President inside. Before he sped off, I pulled myself up. I didn't want to be on my ass when the President departed.
As soon as the convoy left, Jimbo came out of the double doors.
“You alright, dude?”
I spat in the grass again. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Jimbo sized me up from head to toe. “You sure?”
I nodded. “So how’d it go?”
“Good, I guess.”
“Did he ask?”
“Nah, it was strange. He really seemed to not want to know. You’re off the hook, hero.” Jimbo smiled at me and then added, “He did mentioned how relieved he was when he heard, ‘Geronimo,’ come over the live feed in the Situation Room.”
I nodded again.“He also asked if with all the shooting any of us got hurt.”
I looked up at Jimbo, my face pale and showing the ten pounds I’d lost since the raid.
Jimbo looked down the road where the convoy had driven off. “We told him we were all fine. He said, ‘Thank God for that.’ He also gave each of us one of these.” Jimbo reached behind the door and pulled out a large frame.
“Bin Laden Wanted Poster, nice.” I said.
“Yeah, check it out, the entire cabinet signed it.” Thick black scrawls surrounded the frame’s border.
“What’s the matter: you don’t like it?”
“It’s not that.” I said.
Jimbo plopped the wanted poster in the grass. He checked over both shoulders to see if anyone was around. Then, from a pocket inside his camouflage top, he pulled a hidden stainless steel flask. He raised it up, toasted us, and took a swig. He passed it to me. I had no guts left to puke up so I toasted us and drank, too. Jimbo had filled his flask with Pepto.