The Cost of bin Laden

Recently there has been much jubilation over the death of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind who had become irrelevant in the past few years as the focus of the U.S. military switched from the search for al-Qaeda to the rooting out of the Taliban and related groups and nation building in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing occupation of Iraq, where 50,000 American military personnel are still stationed and still being killed, even though the combat phase was “officially over” a few times. 

But is this jubilee appropriate?  While I realize the death has brought closure to families of 9/11 victims and the families of U.S. soldiers killed by al-Qaeda operatives, we need to look at the cost behind the whole affair, the amount of lives lost, and the number of civilians killed — all to find and kill execution-style one man.

According to statistics found on various websites including Man vs. Debt and,  and government documents (DoD Casualty PDF), here are the costs:

  • 1,100+ (Non-US troops) coalition troops & contractors killed
  • 1,566 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan
  • 2,974 American civilians killed in 9/11
  • 11,191 Injured American troops
  • 15,000+ Afghan troops & civilians killed
  • 45,000+ Injured Afghan troops
  • $400,000,000,000+ spent

Add the number of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq — 4,287 and 30,182 respectively (as of 5-5-11), and that comes out to roughly 6,653 killed in both wars and 41,373 wounded to kill one man.  I included the Iraqi casualties, because 9/11 and the supposed bin Laden connection to Hussein was one of the many other lies used to convince the people that Iraq needed to be invaded.

Was it worth it?  Did we really need to occupy 2 countries, spend thousands of lives and trillions of dollars to kill one man?  An occupation did not result in his death; a team of Navy SEALs acting on intelligence did — in Pakistan, no less. While the action was questionable at best (operating without informing the Pakistanis — another can of worms not to be opened here — as well as the killing of civilians and the assassination of an unarmed bin Laden when he could have been taken in and tried for his crimes), it achieved the desired result: bin Laden’s death. While a great symbolic victory, bin Laden will just be replaced (Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al Zawahiri takes over), the war will continue, more Americans will be maimed and killed in action, more laws will be made to curtail our civil liberties, the debt will continue to skyrocket, and the military industrial complex will continue to thrive.  In short, we are still screwed.

To answer the question posed: No, I don’t think the death of one man was worth all the aforementioned costs of life, property, time, and liberty — especially when this could have been done through Letters of Marque and Reprisal, which involve permission to cross an international border to take retaliation authorized by an issuing jurisdiction to conduct operations outside its borders.

Ron Paul advocated the use of Letters of Marque and Reprisal twice:  after the 9/11 attacks, and in 2007 to target the specific individuals who were responsible, and during the piracy off the Gulf of Aden in 2009.  These letters would allow the individuals or military personnel to target specific individuals, but that seems too simple a solution for such a big state apparatus that prefers to nation build and force “democracy” down people’s throats whether they like it or not.

As America remains in Afghanistan, its longest war in its history, almost ten years after the invasion, and in Iraq eight years after, perhaps we should have listened to those who advocated the more limited and thoughtful course of action.

Maybe we should have considered the costs, as well.  We would not be in the situation we are now if we had just considered the costs — of anything government does.  When people celebrate the death of bin Laden, they are also celebrating the costs of his death.  So keep in mind the immense government expansion involved in killing bin Laden the next time someone tells you his death was a victory for freedom.

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