On the death of bin Laden
Note: I purposely haven’t provided any stories on the death of bin Laden, but not by choice. Because I am a working journalist, I have a contractual obligation to my employers in working stories for them first. I have to provide them content first, then my own endeavors second.
Yesterday was fairly quiet for me. I spent it in quiet reflection on the death of my Richard, killed seven years ago on May 1st. I don’t become all weepy or maudlin; I usually watch I Love Lucy (our favourite show), wrap myself in the good memories we had together, and I’ll smoke a cigar in his honor (one of his favourite past times).
After I’d gone to bed, I got a call last night from a friend of mine overseas that something huge was happening. Helicopters were spotted in an area they normally aren’t seen, and while my friend didn’t know what was going on he thought he’d pass it to me just the same. I placed a few other calls to contacts, and nobody seemed to know much. Just the same, I hit the start button on the coffeemaker just the same in case I had an all-nighter in store for me.
Neither of us had a clue about the significance in this event until later last night. It didn’t surprise either of us that some of the first news of bin Laden’s death made it to Twitter far earlier than any journalist could file his story, including myself.
Not long after our chat, the President made everything clear in his address:
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
It was too good to be true. Did we really find and kill the bastard?
As this story started to take shape, I couldn’t help but remember the involvement Richard and I had in 9.11. Not only did we witness firsthand the worst attack on US soil in history but we both feared we were going to become casualties of it. We both managed to be spared, only for Richard to be killed three years later. That time we had after September 11th was punctuated by my career skyrocketing as a photojournalist (from a largely wildlife/nature photographer base), and leading to my being stationed in some of the most God-awful places imaginable as we ramped up the war and our hunt for the man who bragged to the world that he’d masterminded the attacks.
One thing that always stuck with me was television crews and reporters trying to interview me on my reactions. I needed to keep a press pass out so that emergency personnel wouldn’t try and hustle me out of the area, and it was like a beacon to any other reporter trying to get their story filed.
I gave exactly one interview on the 9/11, and none since despite repeated requests to this day. The most evil editor I had in my career taught me a very important lesson: the minute you become the story, it’s over. You can’t file objectively, you don’t stick to the facts, and your outside-looking-in perspective is shattered for good. Stay in the fucking background, Daniel. Do you job, file the goods and stay out of the spotlight.
As is obviously well documented by this stage, we did get him. His years of taunting us after 9.11 were finally brought to a close. No more videos, no more taped messages. It’s done; check out time for you, pal. It wasn’t a raging gun battle where Osama had racked up more numbers on his already staggering body count. No more American deaths, and he went out with a bullet to the brain, his remains dumped in the ocean to keep him from becoming a terrorist memorial.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of the world will not mourn his death, however it is not surprising that there are some sectors who are going to hate us even more:
“Oh God, please make this news not true … God curse you, Obama,” said a message on a Jihadist forum in some of the first Islamist reaction to the al Qaeda leader’s death. Oh Americans … it is still legal for us to cut your necks.”
For some in the Middle East, bin Laden has been seen as the only Muslim leader to take the fight against Western dominance to the heart of the enemy — in the form of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.
On the streets of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s native land which stripped him of his citizenship after September 11, there was a mood of disbelief and sorrow among many.
“I feel that it is a lie,” said one Saudi in Riyadh. He did not want to be named. “I don’t trust the U.S. government or the media. They just want to be done with his story. It would be a sad thing if he really did die. I love him and in my eyes he is a hero and a jihadist.”
Our own government is smart enough to realize that this even may be the fuel driving more terrorist attempts against the US, especially in light of expert warnings that, “…by the time of his death bin Laden was not delivering operational or tactical orders to the numerous al Qaeda affiliates across the world,” said Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Others will still say with crossed fingers that bin Laden being killed will bring about the inevitable dismantling of Al Qaeda for good.
For me, it brings about a bit of closure in my life. September 11th 2001 made my career as a photojournalist, and I’ve spent the last ten years working very diligently to stay out of the spotlight. I didn’t want the notoriety or recognition, and I certainly didn’t want LGBT media picking me up. I’d be forever branded as a “gay photojournalist” and I’d become a story I never wanted any part of.
I avoided publishing photo exhibits of my 9.11 shots, and yes, I still have all those photos I mentioned from that day that were never published.
I think this is the year they need to be seen.