Readers give fiery opinions about Osama bin Laden letters
Comments cover media strategy, vanities, drone strikes
On bin Laden's Biden reference, readers defend and criticize the VP
More than 2,700 CNN readers have shared what they think of Osama bin Laden’s letters which were released Thursday.
Many who left comments said they were fascinated that bin Laden had apparently been strategizing about how to promote al Qaeda using media, and how his approach seems similar to any marketing agency or political party. Others carefully read the full documents CNN posted and responded with a variety of theories about them.
The total pages released Thursday were a drop in the bucket compared to the trove the U.S. government says it confiscated from the Pakistan compound where bin Laden was killed in May 2011. Thursday’s release included 17 letters totaling 175 pages. Officials said they would release the remaining documents later, but would not say when.
Bin Laden’s marketing focus
Bin Laden’s letters showed he was focused on how al Qaeda could use the media to attract more members. For example, he recommended to followers that al Qaeda consider reaching out to Al Jazeera and U.S. media to deliver the terror group’s message on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden’s writings also reveal he wanted to launch a publicity campaign to draw people to al Qaeda who “have not yet revolted” during the Arab Spring uprisings.
CNN reader Breck Archer said: “Interesting to see how much emphasis bin Laden placed on the media campaign. Crafting messages to incite revolt for the 10th anniversery of 9/11 and during the Arab spring seemed to be a priority of his while holed up in his compound. Trying to implement the media as a weapons system while popping Viagra and dying his beard as the fledgling Al Qaeda network crumbled around him.”
Poster tinwatchman weighed in: “The war against al Qaeda has never really been just about the bombs and guns. It’s been fought inside people’s heads. We’re not just fighting Bin Laden, we’re fighting the story that he’s telling people: that this war is against Islam and Muslims, that it’s like the Crusades come all over again, and that any Muslim who wants dignity and freedom by definition must be against the United States, when the truth of the matter is – at our best, anyway – the United States really doesn’t *care* what religion you are…”
ZerkWerk, another reader, thought about who might be listening to bin Laden’s message. “I felt like a filthy devil just reading what little I did. Makes me sick to think that people read that tripe and believed it.”
Rebranding al Qaeda
Other readers were intrigued by an al Qaeda memo discussing changing the group’s name which means “The Base” and is associated with mujahedeen battles with the Russians in 1980s Afghanistan. Al Qaeda thought it might be better to go with, for example, “Jihad Group.”
“Bin Laden was worried that the name made it too easy to disassociate Al-Qaeda from Islam – and thus from Bin Laden’s self-appointed position as Islam’s representative. Doing so allowed Obama and the US to move away from the kind of ‘cosmic war’ between Christianity and Islam that Bush wound up falling into during the Iraq war,” tinwatchman wrote.
“That holy war pattern is something that Bin Laden was entirely comfortable with – something he thrived on. In a lot of ways, taking that story away from him is one of the most important moves Obama made.”
Poster Payton Stone said it was “jarring” to hear the word “brand” used in reference to al Qaeda. “On one level, one could consider it an abomination to use this word so casually. A terrorist organization is far different than a toothpaste.”
“I believe we should use language which draws distinctions between methods utilized by institutions of horrific violence and those deploying commonplace capitalist methodologies,” Stone wrote. “While it may contribute to establishing a commentators cognoscenti credentials to re-purpose common words in this way, one should be ever vigilant in thinking carefully about how the use or words can positively or negatively impact our perceptions of the world.”
Theorists and skeptics
Several commenters suspected the U.S. government fabricated or manipulated the letters or parts of them.
SamQuentin: “Are we to believe that NO DOCUMENTS in this ‘treasure trove’ have revealed exactly how OBL managed to end up hiding in that Pakistan compound, as well as EXACTLY WHO had been protecting him for all the time he was there?”
Where is the smoking gun, the poster asks. “Or will that information be ‘strategically released’ at an ‘appropriate moment’ to confirm Pakistan’s complicity?”
Lt. Col. Liam Collins, director of the Combating Terrorism Center which published the documents, gave an advance quote to CNN prior to the Thursday release of the documents. The CTC published an analysis of the documents.
“As for Pakistan, the discussion in the documents is scarce and therefore inconclusive,” Collins said. “There are no explicit references to any institutional Pakistani support for al-Qaeda or its operatives.”
Europedude wrote: “How do we know the documents aren’t just another made up lie? They’ve lied about everything else.”
Establisher posted: “Obama has done well, at least tactically. Pulling out troops before further escalation of deaths, a successful raid or at least a drama that is convincing to many, except the Pakistanis themselves. And now the documents, even if forged, sends a clear message … we are pulling out and our work is over.”
“People actually trust that these documents are genuine and not manipulated for political means? Really? Revoke their voting cards,” posted 55reasons.
“This is all such timely horse s****. Obama flies to Afghanistan to tell the US stormtroopers their liberation is near. Suddenly we hear about Osama’s remorse for his failures and misdeeds. Give me a break. Those documents in US hands….We are to believe that they are telling us HIS truth. Yeah, right the check is in the mail…”
Finding the humor
Some readers found bin Laden’s letters simply amusing, if not downright funny.
BBoy705: I just read a bunch of the letters, I had no idea OBL was that us! Boy that guy was on a holy terror! His poetry was awful though… no cadence. Anyway, I guess it really doesn’t mater now… he’s dead.
Phil: LOL these docs are so hilarious. They’re all about “Oh dear Brother, God protect you, Allah loves you, In the name of Peace and God…” and then “rip out their eyes and let the blood from their tainted bodies flood the streets”. Puuuuuhlease.
MartinOM: Laughed out loud at this comment from the letter from Gadahn about the anniversary of 9/11, speaking about American news channels: “From the professional point of view, they are all on one level–except Fox News channel which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks neutrality too.”
Tinwatchman wrote that reading bin Laden’s letters recalls the everyday writing of Adolf Hitler or the Columbine shooters.
“We tend to mythologize people like Bin Laden – be it as a hero, a villain, or a monster. In Bin Laden’s case, it seems to me that he deliberately tried to build up his own legend. But looking into these letters tends to reinforce just how ridiculously human he really was underneath it all. (What was it they said about Eichmann? “The banality of evil”?)
“It’s easier, in a lot of ways, to pretend that only a monster or a caricature could do the sort of things that Bin Laden did. To know and accept that actual feeling, thinking human beings can commit such acts? That’s hard.”
Drone strikes strike a chord
The letters reveal that bin Laden was instructing his followers to be careful because U.S. drone strikes were hurting al Qaeda.
“The government needs to step up these drone strikes because from the documents it shows that those drones had Bin Laden all shook up,” understandingoverignorance wrote.
Facepalm28: “Ten years after 9/11, we still go about our daily lives without constantly worrying about when the next bomb will go off or next attack will come. The men who plotted that attack (those that are still alive) live in constant fear of when our drones or spec-ops teams will find them. THIS is how we should fight the war on terror; THIS is how we will win it.”
A poster claiming to be an Army sergeant deployed in Afghanistan wrote: “Agreed! It would be nice if they could take care of it with the use of Drones alone, but unfortunately we have to be on the ground in many situations, to guide our precise munitions. Too many years over here.”
Bin Laden on Biden
Bin Laden’s correspondence shows that he instructed his followers to try to kill President Barack Obama but to leave Vice President Joseph Biden alone. Biden is “unprepared for that post,” according to one letter.
If Obama were killed and Biden took control of the White House, bin Laden wrote, it would “lead the US into a crisis.”
KeninTexas posted about bin Laden: “Well, I guess he wasn’t wrong about everything.”
ThisGADude wrote: “I love how OBL and his like believe the rest of the world is as black and white as theirs is. (If) Obama would have been assassinated, the US pop. would have rallied and united behind Biden and our military in a way that hasn’t been seen in the 1940’s. We disagree on policy – there is no lack of nationhood. Stupid Terrorist.”
If you have an opinion on the documents, tell us in the comments section.
The comments were compiled by CNN.com’s moderation staff. Some have been edited for length and clarity.