Why did US forces bury Osama Bin Laden’s body at sea?

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On May 2, 2011, the US military killed and buried Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader behind the September 11 attacks. US Special Forces took him out in a raid on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where he and part of his family were hiding. After identifying his body, the military took him aboard the USS Carl Vinson and buried him in the northern Arabian Sea on the same day.

The United States took political, religious and practical factors into consideration in deciding how to bury Bin Laden‘s body. It was feared that if he was buried on earth, his grave could become a sanctuary for his followers. It was necessary to observe Islamic burial practices, including the custom of burying a body within 24 hours of a person’s death. And there was the question of whether the United States should take pictures or provide some sort of visual proof that he was dead.

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US officials feared his grave could become a sanctuary

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the National Security Team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the White House situation room on May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC Obama later announced that the United States had killed bin Laden during an operation by US special forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

When US forces killed Osama bin Laden, who was 54, the US government’s explanations for not burying him underground were a bit inconsistent. News reports cited both official and unofficial U.S. officials saying the U.S. does not want him to have a physical grave because it could become a sanctuary, but also because an unnamed country. had refused to accept his body. Articles have speculated that the country was Saudi Arabia, where Bin Laden was born.

“I don’t know where this rumor came from, but I wouldn’t give it much credit,” said Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, director of Islamic studies at American University and former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK and in Ireland.

“The Saudis are inclined to a form of Islam called Wahhabism,” he says, which rejects the shrines of eminent people. The fact that Saudi Arabia does not want his grave to become a sanctuary in their country, combined with the fact that bin Laden was extremely critical of Saudi Arabia, makes Ahmed think that if American officials asked the country to receive the bin Laden’s body, ”they ignorantly asked.

Burying bin Laden in northwest Pakistan, where special forces killed him, would not be ideal from an American perspective either, as shrines are seen as powerful symbols in that region, Ahmed says. To prevent Bin Laden’s grave from becoming an important symbol for his supporters, the United States made the decision to bury him at sea. Although this differs from how most Muslim burials are conducted, officials Americans insisted that he still took steps to bury him in accordance with Islamic traditions.

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Bin Laden’s body was cleaned up, wrapped up and buried in a small burial

USS Carl Vinson

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, tthe US Navy Nimitz-class supercarrier from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea, photographed in Hong Kong on May 22, 2011.

Speaking at the White House press conference on the murder and burial of Osama Bin Laden, John Brennan – then the president’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism – said US officials had “consulted the appropriate specialists and experts “so that” the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict accordance with Islamist precepts and practices. This involved washing bin Laden’s body, wrapping it in white cloth , to recite a ritual prayer with the help of an Arabic translator and to bury him within 24 hours of his death.

Muslim leaders and scholars had different opinions on whether to bury him at sea. Some have argued that burials at sea should only take place when a person dies at sea; otherwise, the body must be buried in the ground with the head pointing towards Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Others have argued that Islam is a practical religion that takes into account special circumstances and that burial at sea was permitted given Bin Laden’s notoriety and concerns about turning his grave into a sanctuary.

Although bin Laden’s funeral was held aboard a large Navy aircraft carrier with thousands of crew members, only a small group of people were present. Less than a dozen leaders on the Carl Vinson knew the burial was even taking place, according to military emails released by the Defense Ministry in 2012 in response to a freedom of information trial.

Obama decided not to post photos

President Barack Obama edits his remarks in the Oval Office before making a televised statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 2011

President Barack Obama edits his remarks in the Oval Office before delivering a televised statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC

When the United States announced bin Laden’s death, the question arose whether it should release photos of bin Laden’s body – which officials claimed to have – in order to counter conspiracy theories according to which bin Laden was still alive. In an interview with 60 minutes on CBS, President Barack Obama explained why he wasn’t releasing them.

“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone who has been shot in the head are not circulated as further incitement to violence or as a tool of propaganda,” he said. . “This is not who we are. We don’t present this stuff as trophies.

The decision not to publish images, as well as the attempt to give Bin Laden an Islamic burial, contrasted sharply with the United States’ handling of the deaths of Saddam Hussein’s two sons in 2003. After US forces killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, they published graphic photos of the men’s bodies. They also embalmed the bodies, which goes against Islamic custom; left them unburied for more than a week; and allowed the media to photograph them.

This was offensive to many Iraqis because it seemed that the United States was deliberately disrespecting the bodies of Muslims. Even if a person is executed for crimes, Islamic scholars argue that the person should be given a respectful burial. US officials say Bin Laden’s funeral, as criticized as it is, reflected an attempt to honor that principle.


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