Seven years ago it would be hard to imagine a bin Laden message being completely ignored or relegated to page E12, but that apparently is where we stand today. Buried on CNN we hear of the alleged latest from the allegedly alive alleged terrorist mastermind.
Does anyone actually believe that this guy is still alive at this point? Theories of bin Laden's death have the foul odor of a paranoid conspiracy theory but the possibility is not nearly so far-fetched. To be honest, I consider theories of how he could still be alive more outlandish. The intelligence community barely seems to be trying to keep up the charade these days, making pronouncements that "Analysis of tape indicates that voice sounds like Osama bin Laden's." Well, I'm fuckin' convinced.
Two facts are important to keep in mind: first, bin Laden has been widely recognized to be in poor health. Second, the last Bin Laden Tape which provided irrefutable proof that he was alive dates to 2004.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was widely considered to be a right hand of bin Laden for several reasons, one of which is that he is a licensed physician. While the exact nature of which, if any, chronic illness bin Laden suffers is a matter of conjecture, numerous sources over a fifteen-year period (including Pakistani President Musharaff) have noted that he requires kidney dialysis. FBI Counterterrorism chief Dale Watson publicly stated that bin Laden is likely dead from renal failure. Some sources, including the CIA, discounted any health-related theories out of hand and insisted for years that the man is healthy as a horse. Then over the summer the CIA abruptly reversed course, leaking a report to Time confirming that bin Laden had entered end-stage renal failure and had months to live.
Bin Laden's videotape appearances, aside from becoming very rare after 2002, are often impossible to date. That is, they contain no visual evidence that bin Laden is alive and could easily be old stock footage. Note how videos that refer to events after 2004 (such as the death of Abu al-Zarqawi) are discussed only in videos consisting of a still photo of bin Laden with a voiceover. Videos containing actual live footage of bin Laden refer only to general anti-American sentiment or vague condemnations of various aspects of Western policy. In other words, it has been over four years since an authenticated, contemporary video of bin Laden appeared.
The last video with a dated reference was made sometime in 2004, inferred from bin Laden's mention of the Bush-Kerry election. The sensationalized 2007 video references current events only in the portions of the video where the image freezes and "bin Laden" continues narrarating, casting its authenticity into serious doubt.
If you find all of these fragments of information confusing, you're not alone. National Review writer and right-wing scholar Michael Leeden stated in 2006: "according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan." A French newspaper reported, also in 2006, on a Saudi intelligence report that bin Laden died of a malarial illness which overwhelmed his kidneys.
For the past half-decade we've seen and heard nothing but heavily-edited videos and lame audio tapes which are so easy to fake that it would take a fantastic leap of naive faith to even begin entertaining ideas of their authenticity. The Pentagon and intelligence community are likely to let this play out indefinitely because OBL is infinitely more useful to them as a boogeyman than as a living target or trophy corpse – and of course the same is true for al Qaeda, who recognize his boogeyman value and will go to Weekend at Bernie's lengths to maintain the illusion that he lives.
We will never know what was his fate. He died at some point and was buried where he fell. Thus he disappears and becomes the Keyser Soze of terrorism. Each passing day and each flimsy video/audio "appearance" makes it less plausible that he is in hiding and waiting for the right moment to emerge. We won't get closure, in other words. We'll get a Jimmy Hoffa-like set of a dozen different versions of his death, and whether he is in fact dead will remain a matter of conjecture until someone produces a skeleton. Let's not hold our breath.