A partial picture of bin Laden

Though incomplete, portrait is fascinating

By Walt Braun

One day, perhaps, the United States will make public all of Osama bin Laden’s correspondence in order to show a fuller picture of the al-Qaida leader instead of the limited one available now.

Not that what the 17 documents made public this week isn’t fascinating; it is. And given the death and destruction bin Laden and al-Qaida have inflicted on this country, Americans will gain some satisfaction in reading that he was worried enough about U.S. drone attacks to suggest moving most of al-Qaida’s members away from the frontier along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and that he and other al-Qaida leaders scrambled to evade detection by National Security Agency listeners and U.S. spies.

That he was perpetually in hiding speaks volumes, and despite his group’s spectacular success on Sept. 11, 2001, he never came close to repeating it. Instead, he focused in recent years as much on trying to salvage his organization’s reputation among Muslims as attacking the United States. He would have liked to have had President Obama and Gen. David Petraeus assassinated; indeed, he directed teams of supporters to try to blow up their planes on visits to Afghanistan. And although the death of President Obama certainly would have sent America into shock and grief, bin Laden’s contention that Vice President Joe Biden was “totally unprepared” to become president and would “lead the U.S. into a crisis” was wishful thinking. Fortunately, our forces got to the al-Qaida leader before his forces could get to ours. Though al-Qaida remains dangerous, it is bin Laden’s organization that finds itself in crisis.

The bin Laden documents date from September 2006 to April 2011 — just weeks before he was killed. They constitute a small sampling of the material seized when U.S. SEALs raided his compound in Pakistan just over a year ago.

It isn’t surprising that U.S. officials set aside material that they believe could bolster the spirits among al-Qaida or ignite anti-America sentiment, as the recent inadvertent burning of the Korans has done. Nevertheless, what has been released tells us what our government wants us to know about bin Laden’s thoughts, not all that is worth finding out.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the release was timed to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden’s death because of interest in the occasion. OK, though the timing also adds credence to criticisms that President Obama is milking the anniversary for every available political advantage.

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