Newspapers left by visitors grace the fence overlooking the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. credit: Getty Images
It's very rare that a person or organization must prove that they killed someone. It happens with hit men and assassins, who prove to their clients that the job has been done to collect their fee.
But usually people who are accused of killing deny it. The Obama administration is in the curious position of trying to prove to the public that they did in fact kill Osama bin Laden in a raid on Sunday.
People want proof, and the decision was made not to release photos of Osama bin Laden's body because they were too graphic and could inflame bin Laden's followers. Bin Laden had already been positively identified using multiple means including DNA analysis, so there was no need to hold onto the body, which was buried at sea.
Not seeing a photo of bin Laden has stoked conspiracy theories, and there are many, both in America and around the world, who doubt that bin Laden is really dead. To these people, the news is all part of larger conspiracy for political or financial profit.
Some think that it's a ploy by the Obama administration to divert attention from the recent killing of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi's son in a NATO airstrike; others believe it's a hoax to boost the president's approval ratings. Still others think that the White House itself was hoaxed, and that bin Laden knew about the raid and used a double to fool the West into thinking they finally got their man.
Many believe that bin Laden could not have been killed in the raid because he actually died in 2001 of advanced kidney disease. It doesn't seem to occur to the conspiracy theorists that the earlier information that they believe is true (such as bin Laden's health problems) might have been disinformation, or simply wrong.
The problem with lying is that you need to keep lying to keep up the original lie. If bin Laden is not dead, then the photos of the bloody bedroom are faked; the intelligence reports are faked; the 79 American SEAL commandos are all part of the cover-up. Maybe the whole raid was staged, including the downed secret Blackhawk helicopters seen in photographs and videos. Bin Laden's daughter and his wife (who was shot in the leg) are both for unknown reasons lying about seeing him dead.
The DNA results are faked, and so are the death photos that Obama elected not to make public. And the trove of computer information about Al Qaeda that the commandos took isn't real either.
The interviews and articles and books in the coming months and years with those involved in the raid, from the President to the helicopter pilots, will all be carefully orchestrated lies. If it's all an elaborate hoax, it seems almost more work than getting Osama bin Laden.
It's not clear why many have such a hard time believing that bin Laden was killed. He was not found by dumb luck, nor psychics, nor by a traitor but instead by meticulous research. As the New York Times noted, "The raid was a culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work…Intelligence agencies eavesdropped on telephone calls and emails of couriers Arab family in a Persian Gulf state and pored over satellite images of the compound."
Either Osama bin Laden is dead or he is not; it is not a matter of opinion or conjecture. Perhaps the best proof that bin Laden is dead is that he hasn't been seen since his death was announced. If bin Laden were alive, what better way to embarrass and discredit President Obama and the United States than to make a smiling public appearance?
In fact, his appearance wouldn't even need to be public; bin Laden could merely contact any news organization through a courier, from CNN to Al Jazeera, and arrange a meeting with a reporter. It would be the scoop of the century: the most wanted man in the world turns out to be alive after being pronounced dead by his enemies. It would instantly make any journalist's career.
Unless, of course, bin Laden really is dead. Those who distrust the government will use any excuse to support their beliefs, logical or not. Conspiracy theorists prefer complex mysteries over simple truths, and find mystery where none exists.