by Lucky Gold, CNN
With foreign policy surprisingly front and center in the U.S. presidential election, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy victory, the killing of Osama bin Laden, could prove a major factor.
Mark Bowden, journalist and author of Black Hawk Down, the blockbuster book and film about America’s debacle in Somalia, has just written The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden. In researching his subject Bowden had unprecedented access to one incomparable source – the man who ordered the attack, President Barack Obama.
Christiane Amanpour asked Bowden what many have wondered ever since the raid in Abbottabad: Were the president’s orders “shoot to kill” or was there ever the possibility of capturing Bin Laden and bringing him to trial?
“He (Obama) said that he assumed that they would probably kill him,” said Bowden. “And as he put it to me, he (bin Laden) would have to have been naked and on the ground for him to even have the possibility of surrendering.”
But Bowden also offered new details, suggesting that the president was actually interested in putting bin Laden on trial: “He felt that if they brought bin Laden back, he might have had the political capital to really do what he would most like to do, which is put him on trial in court.”
Even though bin Laden might have used it to promote jihadist propaganda? “To the contrary, he (Obama) feels that, you know showcasing the American criminal justice system, showcasing our society as one of laws as opposed to one of strictly power, is the most effective way of getting across the message that he feels he wants the United States to convey to the rest of the world.”
Even if they got him, they wouldn’t know who they got
However, there were two other options besides sending in a Navy Seal team to capture or kill the world’s most wanted terrorist. Option one, to bomb bin Laden’s compound and destroy everything and everyone in the vicinity has been well documented. But the second option has, until now, been a secret.
“Well, it was a very small missile about the size of my forearm fired from a small drone,” said Bowden. “It basically functions as a sniper shot. And they had been watching a tall man pacing in the garden outside the compound, or inside the compound walls. And he would come out every day.”
When asked why the president decided against that option, Bowden said, “It’s a new weapon; it’s not tested. If it missed, he (bin Laden) would be gone again. They probably would never find him. And the other piece of it was that, even if they got him, they wouldn’t know who they got.”
I worry the trail has gone cold
Given the political stakes this year, Bowden was asked if President Obama deserves credit for making bin Laden a priority or if it was really the CIA that drove the mission.
“Here’s the deal,” Bowden quotes President Obama as telling his inner circle soon after he came into office. “I want this hunt for Osama bin Laden…to come to the front of the line. I worry the trail has gone cold. This has to be our top priority.”
Bowden then added, “I do give President Obama a lot of credit because I think that when you have the man at the top asking for monthly progress reports, nobody wants to file a monthly progress report with no progress in it.”
CNN’s Meredith Milstein produced the interview with Mark Bowden for television.