The Death of Bin Laden

The movie version, first draft.

Twenty-five heavily armored commandos descend in a two Blackhawk stealth helicopters into the valley surrounded by the scenic Sarban Hills. Lights still glitter in Abbottabad, a city of 80,000, just after midnight. The silent choppers hover momentarily over the heavily fortified compound, then land in the courtyard next to the trash incineration heap.

A lone defender fires a weapon at the SEALs from one of the buildings. Unflinching, the heroes enter and shoot him down. They blow away his wife, then blast their way through a wall to enter the main house. It’s a simple, rudimentary structure without air conditioning. An unarmed man appears on the first floor. They shoot him dead. An 18-year-old boy, also unarmed, appears on the stairway. They kill him immediately.

Bounding up the stairs past the corpse, the commandos find a 29 year old woman. She lunges at them, crying out Osama’s name. One of them shoots her in the calf. Someone binds her wrists while others climb the stairs to the fourth floor.

There they find their quarry in his pajamas, defenseless. Without hesitation, they shoot him in the chest, following up with a shot to the head that blows off half his skull. His 12-year-old daughter looks on.

In a “situation room” in the White House, the president and other top officials anxiously watch live video feeds from cameras mounted on Special Forces’ helmets, until the feed fails for 25 minutes. They do not see the death of bin Laden.

The special forces, proud and professional, quickly handcuff the 15 surviving women and children, leaving them there for Pakistanis security to detain and question. Then they gather intelligence: files, computers, video tapes, flash drives. Finally they soar into the sky in one of the stealth choppers with their precious cargo, Osama bin Laden’s bloody carcass.

This all needs to last 38 action-packed minutes, fully half of it to the intelligence-gathering.

After an appropriate musical interlude accompanying the helicopter flight over the majestic Khyber Pass we see the heroes back at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The corpse is photographed and subjected to DNA testing. Somber-faced troops haul it onto another aircraft and fly south to the Arabian Sea. We watch a Muslim chaplain conduct a brief service before the body, wrapped in a sheet, is dropped into the water below.

I’m not really sure about what happened. The story has been altered many times in the last few days. But this is probably a realistic depiction of events.

The problem is, it doesn’t really inspire the film viewer. Maybe some would break into applause and chants of “USA! USA!” in seeing young Hamza blown away, or seeing Osama’s wife Amal crumble to the floor. But there’s no heroism here. It’s more like a horror flick.

So on to the second draft.

What this scenario needs, if it’s to get financing and become box-office hit, is an intense firefight fought inside a mansion. The Arab men should use their women as human shields, establishing their cowardice and contempt for women’s lives and highlighting the difference between Good and Evil. Fighting should continue throughout the operation, culminating with the engagement with bin Laden on the top floor. He should be reaching for his AK-47 on a table when a commando shoots him in the chest in self-defense.

In the White House, Obama and other top officials should be viewing the mission throughout, somberly following each advance.

The thing is, this is precisely the scenario originally announced. “After a firefight,” Obama announced the night of the action, “a small team of Americans with extraordinary courage?killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.” The next day John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism coordinator, stated that bin Laden had been “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.” A senior defense official at a Pentagon briefing repeated the story; bin Laden “and some other male combatants on the target appeared to use?certainly did use women as shields.”

Brennan called the firefight venue “a million-dollar-plus compound.”  In fact, as Bloomberg reports, “Video of the interior featured rooms with basic, inexpensive furniture. More luxurious homes in Abbottabad are listed for less than $500,000.” But in the movie the house should be elegantly furnished, with ornate Persian rugs, teak furniture, polished bronze candlesticks, a fine brass hookah, silk curtains and so on.

It was initially reported that Obama and his national security team had seen everything. “It was probably the most anxiety-filled periods of times,” said Brennan. “The minutes passed like days, and the President was very concerned about the security of our personnel.” “Those were 38 of the most intense minutes,” declared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the film, best to stick to that script and leave out the 25 minute gap in the live feed.

Some other ideas for the screenplay:

Some Pakistanis should be shown secretly monitoring events, perhaps from the nearby military academy, mortified that their complicity with al-Qaeda will be revealed, and contemplating action against the U.S. forces. This will help justify the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and make the commandos appear more heroic, since they risk engagement with local military.

The U.S. and bin Laden forces should be evenly matched to make it seem a fair fight. Some SEALs should at least be injured. Women soldiers (think of the Jessica Lynch myth) should play key roles, and there should be some African-Americans although in real life there aren’t may among the SEALs.

Osama should be wearing a bullet-proof vest, surviving the wound to his chest enough to take further threatening action. Perhaps the 12-year-old daughter, screaming, could rush to him and he could hold her close (as a human shield) forcing the heroes to blow the 6’4” Saudi’s brains out.

There should be tons of the blue pills on Osama’s bed stand. (Remember how Viagra was found in the luggage of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, after U.S. soldiers assassinated him?) And some gay porn. (Recall how U.S. troops reported finding this in Manuel Noriega’s office?) It could be right next to an open Qur’an. A blueprint for a nuclear weapon should be laid out on the desk. And a stash of marijuana in the top drawer.

The thing is—this might very well happen. In 2002 HBO aired the television “Live from Baghdad” which featured the infamous fiction that Iraqi troops invading Kuwait in 1990 had removed prematurely born babies from incubators, leaving them to die. (The charges were made on the eve of “Operation Desert Storm” by a daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, coached by the Hill & Knowlton advertising firm. They had been disproved over a decade earlier.) But hey, it makes for great drama.

Lies often serve the warmongering elite. From the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 (falsely attributed to Spanish forces) that justified the Spanish-American War to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident of 1964 that justified the Vietnam War to charges of al-Qaeda ties and weapons of mass destruction that justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they pile on the lies. The neocons have an articulated theory about “noble lies” needed to generate public support for actions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

In this case, the discrepancy between the initial reports and later “corrections” has been attributed to the “fog of War.” Such a nice concept. War, you see, is so inherently confusing that misreporting is the norm. Nobody’s fault, surely. But what are we to believe happened in this case? Why was the counter-terrorism advisor so wrong? Did he misinterpret audio and visual reports from the ground? Did the sound of maybe a dozen assault rifle bursts over 20 minutes sound like a firefight? And was it not clear within hours of the episode that there had been only one instance of resistance in the first minutes of the operation?

The cynical (and not so cynical) might theorize that the initial false reporting was deliberate. Tens of millions will no doubt have been convinced forever that this was a heroic battle, and that those questioning that view are supporting the enemy. Those who peddle disinformation know that the truth will eventually come out, but by that time the purpose has been achieved.  Many were ecstatic at the original version, gathering spontaneously to wave the flag and chant USA! USA! They won’t be inclined to listen to the debunkers.

Sen. John Kerry is among those with little patience for those who question and criticize. “I think those SEALs did exactly what they should have done,” he declared May 8.  “And we need to shut up and move on about, you know, the realities of what happened in that building.”

Shut up and move on about the realities of what happened! In other words, agree without knowing or question that the commandos did “exactly what they should have done.” By definition, virtually.

I think of the old Beatles song: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,” because this is what Kerry asks us to do. Why should we bother with “realities” when we have the psychological refuge of unthinking patriotism?

I think too of an unnamed Bush administration official’s statement to Ron Suskind on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, contemptuously dismissing “what we call the reality-based community.” These are people, the official elaborated, who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re  an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That sort of sentiment remains alive and well in the Obama administration and the whole power structure. Empire creates its own realities, and wants everybody to shut up.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He can be reached at:



Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: