Yes, the article was adapted from a soon-to-be-released book, in this case that would be “Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency,” by Charlie Savage.
Nevertheless, the New York Times exclusive that run under this headline -- "How 4 Federal Lawyers Paved the Way to Kill Osama bin Laden" -- was a major coup, creating lots of sizzle in Beltway land.
The content of this news feature raises all kinds of ethical and moral questions, in part because of the revelation that the operation was, basically, a kill job from the get go.
Normally, that wouldn't put this in GetReligion territory. However near the end there is one rather interesting passage that raises all kinds of religious questions, while including a major slap-your-face revelation that I sure has heckfire had not heard before. Hold that thought. Here's the buzz-worthy lede:
WASHINGTON -- Weeks before President Obama ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, four administration lawyers developed rationales intended to overcome any legal obstacles -- and made it all but inevitable that Navy SEALs would kill the fugitive Qaeda leader, not capture him.
A few lines later, there is this Times summary of the goods it has landed:
While the Bin Laden operation has been much scrutinized, the story of how a tiny team of government lawyers helped shape and justify Mr. Obama’s high-stakes decision has not been previously told. The group worked as military and intelligence officials conducted a parallel effort to explore options and prepare members of SEAL Team 6 for the possible mission.
The legal analysis offered the administration wide flexibility to send ground forces onto Pakistani soil without the country’s consent, to explicitly authorize a lethal mission, to delay telling Congress until afterward, and to bury a wartime enemy at sea.
What jumped out at me was the "bury a wartime enemy at sea" reference.
Why? Because I have heard reporters discuss the White House planning that must have gone into having a Muslim chaplain on the right boat at the right time, prepared to do rites that, obviously, were not ideal from the viewpoint of traditional Islam. (We won't get into the conspiracy theories who think Ben Laden's body is somewhere in secret storage, perhaps near the Ark of the Covenant.)
Would the Times team circle back to that point? The answer is "yes."
But hang on. Let's dig into this a bit:
The final legal question had been whether the United States, to avoid creating a potential Islamist shrine, could bury Bin Laden at sea.
The final "legal" question? Is that the right word? Well, yes, on one level:
The Geneva Conventions call for burying enemies slain in battle, “if possible,” in accordance with their religion -- which for Muslims means swift interment in soil, facing Mecca -- and in marked graves. Still, some Islamic writings permit burial at sea during voyages. The burial memo, handled by Admiral Crawford, focused on that exception; ultimately, burial at sea is religiously acceptable if necessary, and is not a desecration, it said.
If the goal was to offend Muslims as little as possible, which would have been a perfectly valid goal, what "Islamic writings" are we talking about? After all, it's rather clear that Bin Laden was not on a sea "voyage" of any kind.
The world's most notorious jihadist was killed on land. There were several possible, and very appropriate, places to bury him in soil, facing Mecca. However, as the Times feature makes clear, White House officials did not want to create -- literally -- a Bin Laden burial site that would become a landmark for pilgrimages for Islamic radicals from around the world.
I, for one, would love to know more about that "burial memo" and the arrangements for this unorthodox funeral and burial. And I can think of all kinds of questions for Times editors to ask: What prayers were said? By whom? Who prepared the body in keeping with Islamic traditions? Who witnessed these rites and the burial?
Oh, and there's one more thing, a quick detail that raised all kinds of questions, at least for me.
The lawyers decided that Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden’s home, must be asked whether it wanted his remains. If not, burial at sea would be permissible. As expected, the Saudis declined, officials said.
Say what? Precisely when and how were the Saudi authorities involved in planning such a crucial element of the, uh, exit strategies for one Osama Bin Laden? Did this take place before his death? During the fleeting period of time -- a matter of hours -- before the body went into the sea?
I am sure that a few million Muslim readers on the planet would like to know. You think?