In an Oct. 7, 2008, debate, candidate Obama said, "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority."

But Obama was already backtracking on that goal just days before his inauguration, saying "I think that we have to so weaken [bin Laden's] infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function," he said. "And I'm confident that we can keep them on the run and ensure that they cannot train terrorists to attack our homeland."

Why is the goal not still to capture bin Laden? Is it because capturing him might end the “war on terror,” a racket that continues to generate money for the military-industrial complex, even as it breeds more terrorists and makes us less safe, the longer it lasts?

Wouldn’t it be less expensive to us tax payers to capture bin Laden, rather than to keep his followers “on the run” and “pinned down”? Or was Obama signaling something when he said, “whether he is technically alive or not”?

Given the serious ransom payment the American taxpayers are being asked to make, isn’t it worth asking first, for “proof of life” for bin Laden? Is bin Laden even alive?

Bin Laden was suffering a serious case of diabetes and was on dialysis. In fact, Le Figaro and Radio France International reported that a CIA agent, later purported to be Larry Mitchell, met with bin Laden in a Dubai hospital on July 12, 2001.

According to the Radio France report, Mitchell was recalled to the CIA’s Langley headquarters on July 15, 2001, the day after bin Laden was said to have checked out. (The CIA dismissed these reports as a “total absurdity” and the American-owned International Herald Tribune suggested this was false information put out by the French government, which did not want to join the war in Iraq. Radio France, on the other hand, stood by their reports, according to a UPI report by Elizabeth Bryant on Nov. 1, 2001.)

In his last undisputed video appearance in December of 2001, Time magazine reported that bin Laden looked sallow; his speech was slow, and his left arm immobile.

By contrast, in April of this year, the Telegraph in the UK reported that Pakistan’s last two Presidents both questioned whether bin Laden was still alive. Earlier this month, the Mirror supplied additional reports of bin Laden’s death, including a leaked French secret service purporting he had died and Benazir Bhutto’s comment to David Frost that bin Laden had been killed by a Pakistani militant. 

And if he’s alive, is he even in Afghanistan? A new Senate report, titled “Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get Bin Laden and why it Matters Today,” states that most analysts believe he is in Pakistan.

The report discusses how bin Laden escaped there after having been essentially pinned in a network of caves in the Tora Bora region. Bin Laden so expected to die that he’d left a will.

“But the Al Qaeda leader would live to fight another day,” the report states, explaining that requests for troops on the ground were denied and that the “vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”

That decision allowed Bin Laden to escape by foot, with his bodyguards, to Pakistan. The report makes clear that the United States had all the manpower and means necessary to have prevented his escape, had the Bush administration wanted to do that.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the operation’s commander, General Tommy Franks, decided not to send in troops out of the supposition that massive numbers of American troops may well have fostered an anti-American backlash that would fuel a wider insurgency.

If that rationale was correct in the past, might it not be correct in the future? Dare the U.S. risk a massive increase of troops in Afghanistan for such an unclear objective?

Whether or not the Bush administration was ever intent on capturing bin Laden, clearly he is not the motive for U.S. actions in Afghanistan now. That raises the question of whether the Bush administration knew that eliminating bin Laden in late 2001 might have meant a premature end to the “war on terror” and might have derailed plans for invading Iraq.

It’s worth nothing that Iraq and Afghanistan both border Iran, which was a subject of intense concern in the Bush administration. Were both wars efforts engaged in part to establish American bases on two fronts for an ultimate plan to invade Iran? What is the real reason to be in Afghanistan?

As someone who spent the night before the inauguration sleeping in the National Mall in DC to see the swearing in of a President that I hoped would help the United States turn past the military page, I feel betrayed by the escalation in Afghanistan, given the lack of a clear and pressing need.

I hope the President has a compelling reason for this escalation. I fear very much he will not.

Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.   

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