Monday, April 24, 2006
Bin Laden's relevance
Osama bin Laden always seems to be with us. Or at least with me.

I've spent the past few weeks in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan covering terrorism; before that I was in Jordan.

During this trip, I spent some time working on a CNN Presents documentary about bin Laden that will come out later this year. I talked to people who knew him in high school, in college, and in Afghanistan. Some unusual facts emerged: He used to drive a Chrysler and liked to spend time riding horses.

But the question that dominated my interviews about bin Laden concerns his significance: Is bin Laden still relevant? Or to move the discussion forward: Do tapes like the one that came out Sunday still matter?

Most of the people I spoke to would like to say, "No, he isn't relevant." And maybe bin Laden isn't significant anymore in terms of running a worldwide network like a CEO. But then you get three blasts going off in an Egyptian resort town the day after bin Laden's tape surfaces and you have to wonder if there is a connection.

It is highly doubtful, though possible, that whoever did this attack was acting directly under bin Laden's orders (or those of his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri). After all, bin Laden's most significant activity these days seems to be sending out audio tapes on an intermittent basis to Al Jazeera.

But think about bin Laden differently for a minute. Think of him as the face on a brand, a kind of figurehead, instead of viewing him as a CEO-type. His brand is anti-Western (what he calls the Zionists and Crusaders) and pro-his distorted version of Islam.

Viewed this way, bin Laden is able to get things done even if he doesn't have a direct hand in planning and helping carry out particular terrorist attacks. There are people who believe in the bin Laden brand enough to act upon his exhortations. That doesn't mean he has any direct connection to what happened today in Egypt. But it does mean he remains an important figure.

So back to my original question: Is bin Laden still relevant? You tell me.
Posted By Henry Schuster, CNN Senior Producer: 4:54 PM ET
  52 Comments
bin Laden is relevant enough that every news organization is discussing his current tape. Lets stop giving him attention and maybe he will disappear. I don't want to seem paranoid but those tapes may be a signal to carry out a terrorist attack somewhere. I have no fact checker so I don't know if there are always attacks following the release of the tapes.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn Michigan : 5:19 PM ET
I definitely believe that bin Laden is still relevant. He's still #1 on FBI's Most Wanted; his picture still makes Americans and Westerners cringe; and he's still out there! In this day and age, perception and image is everything, and Americans know that better than anyone in the world.
Posted By Anonymous Sara, Stamford, CT : 5:23 PM ET
I think that someone like bin laden is relevant in as much as he has a lot of people who know who he is (both hate and love him) for those who love him they would give their lives for him.

So he may not be directly relevant to us or others, but he will always be indirectly relevant.

Look at other figures in history, not just our own.
There will always be someone down the history line (given that global warming does not wipe us off the map) who will study him as a great man, so the way I see it: He should be seen in the back of our minds. His marks have been made both indirectly and directly.
Posted By Anonymous Melis SLC, UT : 5:42 PM ET
I believe, Henry, that you answered your own question. After all, you took the time to devote an entire blog entry to the man.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Longview, TX : 5:43 PM ET
We can't live in fear of the man himself, but we should protect ourselves here (not in other countries) as much as we can against his disciples. He is not relevant.
Posted By Anonymous Adam, Brooklyn N.Y. : 5:52 PM ET
Of course he is still relevant. The orginization that he ran and may still run carried out 9/11. Unfortunately, the President has allowed Iraq and not the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan to become the focal point of the war on terror. I will never understand why our government has never been fully committed to finding him.
Posted By Anonymous Jay Neal Danville, VA : 5:52 PM ET
We seem to have done a bang-up job of making Bin Laden "super relevant" and an equally bad job of hunting him down.
Posted By Anonymous Janice Scanlan, Sugar Land, TX : 5:52 PM ET
If you quit talking about him then he will go away...if you don't give him the stage he will become irrelevant very quickly.
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 5:53 PM ET
Of course Bin Laden is relevant. He is an international criminal and mass murderer who must be hunted down and put away. To think that his influence has waned would be to repeat the mistakes made by the U.S. during the Clinton years that preceded him attacking us.
This guy is dangerous. Whether he is in charge directly at this time is not important. We owe it to all the citizens of the free world to hunt down this mad dog and destroy him.
Posted By Anonymous Jay Galvin, Scottsdale Arizona : 5:54 PM ET
Hi Henry,
I think he is still relevant to some degree. I think one of the reasons his network is not so active at this point is because the security is very thight after 9/11 for them to move around freely around the world. Their communication with Bin Laden might be very difficult too even to get any new big terrorist plan approved by their master. About the Egypt attack, seems to me like it's his follower's way of letting Bin Ladin know that even though they're not in contact with him anymore, they're always ready to carry out those attacks for him.
When Bin Laden offered "truce" the last time, U.S. should've considerd about it. Not to actually accept his offer, but to get him out of hiding. Instead of flatly refusing "no", the Bush Adminstration should come up with a carefully thought out plan to get him out of his hiding, but then I might be asking too much from this administration since this is something they can't seem to do at all. If they can get him to come out from hiding, even if it's for a "meeting with the U.S.", it would be a lot easier to deal with him rather than not knowing where he is, what he's up to, what to do next to find him and having to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money for that purpose, not to mention the money we're spending for the war in Iraq.
I will be looking forward for the CNN presents that you're working on. Thanks for the heads up.
May.
Posted By Anonymous May Gabriel, Farmingdale, NY : 5:56 PM ET
of course he's relevant...he is the whole reason we went to war, remember???? just imagine if we had found him back in 2001. We never would have had to go to war, so hell yeah, he is relevant.
Posted By Anonymous Melinda, The Woodlands, TX : 5:58 PM ET
Of course he is still relevant. If we don't continue to search for him, and I am not sure I believe we still are, we'll make him a hero. We can't ignore his impact on would be terrorists.

I believe that he is still viewed as "the one America couldn't capture or stop". He gives hope to people that want to attack the United States and Americans. His messages are still powerful enough to encourage people to act and that makes him relevant.

He will continue to be relevant until we kill or capture him.
Posted By Anonymous Gary Mason, Stattle, WA : 5:59 PM ET
I believe he is very relevant in a symbolic sense. Too many Muslims view the state of Israel as an occupation of Arab land that is propped up by the United States. When that notion becomes irrelevant, Osama Bin Laden will become irrelevant.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Schaumburg, IL : 5:59 PM ET
Osama bin Laden was the orchestrated the worst attack on American civilians in our history. He killed 3000 of our citizens in cold blood and has never faced justice. I don't think anyone really believes he is irrelavent even if he is not currently attacking Americans.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Schroeder, St Louis, MO : 6:04 PM ET
Anybody who claims Bin Laden is not relevant is in denial over the failure of Bush and his administration -- both to protect us from him on 9/11 and to destroy him in 4 and one-half years since then.
Posted By Anonymous John in Charlotte, NC : 6:04 PM ET
Absolutely.

However his relevance will remain in question until his capture and or death.

Only then, will we fully understand the significance of bin Laden.
Posted By Anonymous Mark Albert, Brookhaven, New York : 6:06 PM ET
Is there a statute of limitations on orchestrating the murder of nearly 3000 people? The question isn't whether he is relevant or not, the question is, why would you begin to imagine he isn't? Could it be because our president has, for all intents and purposes, stopped looking for him? If I could get into the White House briefing room and ask one question, it would consist of two words: "Where's Osama?" And I would keep asking it every day until I received an answer.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, New York, NY : 6:06 PM ET
bin Laden is relevant. More relevent than we think. He is a figurehead and if he does as little as inspire a terrorist attack, he makes his relevance known. I predict, with no joy, that within the next 3 years he will have a hand in a terrorist attack in the U.S that is much bigger than Sept 11. That is why he must be caught. But try doing that while bogged down in Iraq.
Posted By Anonymous Charlie Brooklyn, NY : 6:06 PM ET
This tape may yet prove to have already serve a very relevant purpose.

It could have been the trigger for Today's bombing in Egypt.
Posted By Anonymous B Hall, Vista, CA : 6:08 PM ET
I think he's still relevant. You hear every now and then of murderers being caught 20-30 years after the crime. They still need to be brought to justice, murder today is still murder tomorrow, and in that case I think Bin Laden needs to be brought to justice.

I also doubt his physical role in terrorist activity but I do believe he's still dangerous and needs to be caught.

Being in the Military I get frustrated at times when people forget or jump off the band wagon. After 9/11 everybody was for going after this guy. Now we have people outside our base with signs yelling at us for it??? Screaming at us saying they want peace, but who are they going to call to when "god forbid" we get attacked again?
Posted By Anonymous Konrad Tampa, Florida : 6:10 PM ET
I don't think he is relevant anymore. I believe he keeps on popping an audio tape every now and then in a vain attempt to keep himself on the radar. Infact he has become a tool for the political machinery of this country to keep the masses scared. They invoke the bin Laden clause often enough to trample on basic civil liberties.
Posted By Anonymous A.R., Arlington TX : 6:11 PM ET
bin Laden serves as an important symbol or rallying icon to many around the world - a focal point for their cause just as the American flag is an important symbol to most Americans.

Capturing or killing bin Laden is just one step in slowly dismantling and marginalizing this particular terriorist organization but it is a step that must occur.
Posted By Anonymous Cassie, Dallas, PA : 6:11 PM ET
I think Bin Laden might not be as important as he was in the '90's, but his money is still very important. If you think about it, 9/11 was a product of 19 people plotting within the US, maybe there was some general advice given from Afganhistan, but all in all, once the idea was generated, it was Bin Laden's money that was the main input, not Bin Laden himself in my opinion.
Posted By Anonymous Double A in CA : 6:11 PM ET
He is extremely relevant. As long as he remains free, he is a martyr to terrorist everywhere. He can do this to the US and get away with it. His freedom inspires others terrorists to attempt the same.
Posted By Anonymous Tom Burbank, Ca. : 6:16 PM ET
Is Bin Laden relevant ?!?! I think the one person who would like to say no is George W. Bush. We ( America ) are in a war with a country that has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with 9/11 and the man directly responsible for it has been given a free pass by this administration because he was never a priority to begin with. You can almost say he assisted the Bush administration by jump starting this predestined, preplanned "War on Terror".
Makes you almost want to pay closer attention to the conspiracy theories, does'nt it?
Posted By Anonymous Patrick Mooney St.Petersburg, Fl : 6:16 PM ET
Bin Laden becomes relevant every time the current administration finds itself in trouble.
Posted By Anonymous Mike G. Boston : 6:17 PM ET
Of course it can't be verified either dead or alive, but I believe Osama Bin Laden died years ago. Osama is propped up by our government and supposed tapes are released every so often to frighten the citizens into blind obedience. Osama is supposed to be on kidney dialysis, which is kind of hard if you are living in a cave and on the run.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Boulder, CO : 6:20 PM ET
The fact that you can even ask that question is a clear indication of just how distorted US foreign policy, and the US public's views of that policy, have become.

Rather than tracking down and bringing to justice the man who has claimed responsibility for 9/11, the US has waged an unending war, based on fraudulent evidence, against a country that had no connection to 9/11, while violating US and international laws relating to torture, warrantless spying on citizens, etc.

The real question is: How did this country allow itself to lose its bearings to such an extent that (a) it is even possible to question the relevance of the person who was apparently behind the worst terrorist attack in the country's history, and (b) the country and its mainstream press largely ignore the ever-mounting evidence of impeachable offenses by the President?
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Los Angeles, CA : 6:21 PM ET
I don't believe that Osama is as relevant as he used to be. People don't believe that he is masterminding Al Q. Zawahiri has always been promoted as the idealogical point man for the organization. bin Laden was more the 'face' of Al Q. Now that he hasn't shown his face, it greatly diminishes his impact. There was a time when a pronouncement from bin Laden led to fear in the Western world, but now we have grown weary of the mostly empty threats and accusations made against Americans and Israelis.
If we found bin Laden today, it wouldn't end the "War on Terror" one day sooner. He is still worth fully neutralizing to avoid future troubles (as we should have in the 90's).
Posted By Anonymous Dan, Fraser, MI : 6:21 PM ET
Yes, bin Laden is still relevant and for the reasons you've already stated. Whether he has direct control over others who carry out his orders is irrelevant. He is the figurehead of the anti-western Muslim movement and his word carries weight in their world. When he issues a call to arms, others listen and carry out the violence.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 6:21 PM ET
If he is a brand, he is relevant as long as the consumers, who are his followers, buy his product, which is inciting violence. He is relevant as a terrorist even if he never masterminds an attack again, because he did attack once and he can instill fear with every tape he makes. I wish he were captured.
Posted By Anonymous Joyce West, Lexington, Ky. : 6:22 PM ET
If bin-Laden is captured or killed, then the Congressional act authorizing military action following 9/11 could be considered fulfilled.

This administration wants to do a lot more with the military and actually capturing bin-Laden might jepardize that, if not legally, certainly in the public opinion realm.

I'm not saying that the incompetent campaign to get bin-Laden was intentional, it just looks that way.
Posted By Anonymous Greg, Milwaukee WI : 6:22 PM ET
He will continue to be relevant up until his death or until someone of equal or greater charisma takes his place. The point is, this isn't going to end by taking one man out of the equation. And Bush's Iraq-nam is not the answer either. The answer still needs to be figured out which usually happens much more quickly without guns and bombs getting in the way.
Posted By Anonymous W. Thomas, Tokyo : 6:22 PM ET
..he will remain relavant as long as he lives. The sad part is it took 9/11 for us to consider him relevant. Clinton didn't consider him relevant on 3 different occasions before 9/11 when we had a chance to get him and look what happened. Anyone who thinks ignoring him will make him disappear after what happened on the previous administration's watch is nuts!
Posted By Anonymous Joe, Phoenix, AZ : 6:25 PM ET
Bin Laden is relevant: He gives a face and a name to America's no. 1 enemy. He orchestrated the 9/11 attacks..(how can anyone forget the hell this guy caused us?).

His periodic messages remind us all of his moronic evil...
Posted By Anonymous Mike Waltham, MA : 6:29 PM ET
People easily forget that before we knew bin Laden's name, he was relevant. Whether we in the west choose to discuss him or not will have zero effect on his relevance. It seems to me that our policies around the world constantly enable him to continue to be relevant by making it ever easier to recruit those desparate soles in ideologically torn parts of the world. He only has to utter a few words while we do the rest to keep him fully relevant.
Posted By Anonymous Bob, San Diego, Ca : 6:31 PM ET
Stop talking about him and he will go away???? If only it were that simple. He is certainly relevant to most of the New Yorkers I know. His terror acts in NY, DC, and PA changed American history, and he is still out there! We seemed to ignore him after his first attempt at the WTC...Look how well that worked out! Let's not make the same mistake. I can't possibly imagine something worse than 9/11, but I'm sure he already has. Let's find him!!!
Posted By Anonymous Michelle Ryan, New York : 6:32 PM ET
OBL is as relevant as ever... he's not only the mastermind of 9/11, he's a symbol of militant Islam... it's as important to capture or kill him to punish him for his crimes as it is to deprive radicals of their Grand Poobah... don't give Bush a free pass here... we need to keep him to his promise!
Posted By Anonymous Pete Bogs, Brandon, FL : 6:32 PM ET
Bin Laden is more than relevant. If he were not relevant, the world would not play his tapes and we wouldn't be discussing him. He is as relevant as September 11th itself.
Posted By Anonymous Vishal, Houston, TX : 6:34 PM ET
Bin Laden is either hiding in a cave somewhere, or sunning himself on a beach in Miami. He's as irrelevant as you want to make him. Personally, I find him very irrelevant.
Posted By Anonymous Mike S., Buffalo Grove, Illinois : 6:35 PM ET
Well, if I was a dyed in the wool Republican, follower of GWB, I would, of course, say no. If we can't catch him he must be irrelevant! The political ADHD of our political leaders has left us with a terrible embarassment as long as this man is on the loose. They could not stay focused on bin-Laden, Al-Q and Afghanistan long enough to finish the job there, so here we are now, almost 5 years later, still hunting the most wanted man on earth.

Whether he is actively leading al-Q or not, he has a tremendous symbolic relevance. When the criminal responsible for the most awful terrorist attack of this century is on the loose and "the most powerful nation on earth" can't find him, that is very relevant. We look like buffoons to the Arab world.
Posted By Anonymous Jim Shultis, Seattle WA : 6:38 PM ET
With our government's large focus for the "War on Terror" and it's apparent need for new powers and techniques to combat it, bin Laden is certainly relevant as it regards our progress in that fight. Certain U.S. leaders have suggested that traditional wartime powers be granted to the current administration on the basis of our fight against terrorist tactics. A question that needs to be answered fully is what constitutes success in this fight. Eliminating bin Laden could be viewed as a major event or "success" that leads the american public to believe that the "War on Terror" is coming to a close. With the current polls showing a decrease in support for the situation in Iraq, the capture or death of bin Laden could cause public support for Iraq to fall even further. The Bush administration understands that achieving success against bin Laden will very likely further hamstring its ability to justify our current level of involvement in Iraq and its intentions for Iran. Is bin Laden relevent? Very much so. Does the Bush administration want him captured or killed? Not necessarily...
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Los Angeles, CA : 6:38 PM ET
Some of the previous responders are under the delusion that bin Laden will go away if Henry Schuster and others refuse to write about him. As long as bin Laden (or somebody) regularly place his video footage online or an Arab TV, his presence will remain relevent. If he is killed but no physical proof remains, his followers will still use his name and face as a catalyst for terrorism in similar fashion.
Posted By Anonymous Dan, Portland, OR : 6:39 PM ET
Al-Qaeda has morphed from an organization into a movement. Although Bin Laden is likely not involved in low level terror planning, he inspires the cowards who direct attacks at defenseless women and children.

So yes, indirectly he is still relevant and must be eliminated.
Posted By Anonymous Chris Blazakis, Columbus Ohio : 6:39 PM ET
Bin Laden is extremely relevant considering he was behind the 911 attacks. Strange how we haven't found him yet, isn't it? I mean President Bush being the great military leader / policeman of the world he is, you think he would bring in the one guy who was responsible?

Makes you think that either nobodys actually looking for him or the republicans are soft on justice?
Posted By Anonymous Jeff Indianapolis Indiana : 6:42 PM ET
his men killed my brother in law in the WTC. So to answer your question, yes, he is still relevent.
Posted By Anonymous mike,in bloomfield michigan : 6:46 PM ET
I believe that Osama is still relevant because he continues to taunt the worlds only Super Power with constant reminders every few months via video/audio tapes that they are not able to find him.
If you follow the amount of time between each of the past "major" attacks then America is past due for the next one. Every time I go to a major sporting event , I cant help but wonder when one of these extremely soft targets will be exploited.
Posted By Anonymous Seth SLC, Utah : 6:46 PM ET
Of course he is still relevant -- whether he has a direct hand, or not. Everything I have read about Al-Qaeda's organizational strucure is that it is loosely-connected and that regional operatives have autonomy to act locally. Either way he is the face of fundamentalist radical islam -- and has achieved diety-like status in the Arab world for successfully attacking the West -- most notably the US. My guess is that even Arab moderates are secretly rooting for him.

As we approach 5 years in the post 9/11 era, our inability to capture him is embarassing, and exposes several inter-related deficiencies:

1. Our intelligence network is lacking;
2. Our understanding of Arab culture is lacking (multi- million dollar bounties don't seem to be working), and
3. We don't know who our friends are (or, we don't have any) -- otherwise we wouldn't be on a perpetual wild goose chase.

I agree with the others who have commented that the more we talk about him, the more we give him relevancy. I also question why Al-Jazeera has been allowed to continue the propoganda campaign. Someone there obviously knows someone who knows Osama. Talk about the white elephant in the room!!!
Posted By Anonymous Tom, Redwood City CA : 6:46 PM ET
He's dead. Only the whispers and echos remain.
Posted By Anonymous Homer Lee, Tempe, AZ : 6:46 PM ET
Americans don't care about Bin Laden. They only care about they're bank accounts. Now if Bin Laden had oil in his portfolio, he would be in GITMO!!!!
3000+ Americans died on September 11 th 2001. Maybe people forgot about that.
Posted By Anonymous Derek Deline Canada : 6:47 PM ET
No, Bin Laden isn't really relevant in a pragmatic sense. It doesn't sound like he plans or funds terrorist operations to any significant degree any longer.

However he's highly relevant symbolically-- both as a role model (in a twisted way) to islamic fundemantalists abroad, and as a reminder of the administration's shortcomings at home.
Posted By Anonymous Eric, St. Louis MO : 6:47 PM ET
I believe if any so called religion believes in killing people to be true to Allah, then it should not be considered a religion but a cult. God isn't in the business of asking people to kill in his name; he says" Thou shalt not kill" (ten commandments)so we know he isn't saying to do it. Call it what it really is, a terrorist organization..which should be dealt with by law already on our books..
Posted By Anonymous angie mcpherson gallatin, tn : 1:35 PM ET
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