Why it’s wrong to doubt the news about Osama. ~ Harris Mercer

Via elephant journal
on May 2, 2011
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UPDATE: Wow. Well, at least people are reading this post. (My last one, on British political reform, still has only 84 views.) This morning, some of the accusatory language that I had originally used was rightly softened by others at elephant. The intent of those alterations wasn’t dishonest; it was to bring my piece more in line with the usual tone here at elej.

Thanks to everyone for reading and for responding, including and especially those who have been critical, or angry, about what I said. To the extent I have time, I’ll be replying in the comments below.

~ Harris.


William Shakespeare, Richard III:

Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end;
Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend.

Act 4, Scene 4, lines 191-196, The Oxford Shakespeare

Photos: NYTimes, USSOCOM

In the hours since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death rocketed around the world, there’s been jubilation and anger, satisfaction and skepticism, hyperbole and understatement.

The killing of bin Laden is an incredible achievement. It’s real, it happened, it’s documented, and no one should doubt it for long; it’s important, it’s historic—and it’s wrong, ultimately, to deny that.

I’ve heard some friends say that it’s a distraction, that it takes away focus from real issues—that it’s a meaningless victory.

I have friends who say they’re skeptical that what the media is reporting is the truth, in this case that they suspect that either the U.S. government or bin Laden did not really do what we’re told they did.

Photo: NYTimes

Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. Let’s be clear.

Let’s be equally clear: on the orders of President Barack Obama, bin Laden, the mastermind of the largest mass killing on American soil in our nation’s history, was shot through the left eye by Navy SEALs at approximately 1 A.M. local time on May 2 2011 after a fire fight. Before being buried at sea, his body was retrieved as evidence and separately identified through DNA testing and facial recognition analysis.

There is overwhelming evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, and nothing to suggest that Bush & Co. were anything worse than incompetent when it came to the hideous attacks on our homeland—and my hometown. I’ve heard some, mostly my fellows on the left, deny this basic fact for years.

And for, well, a day now, I’ve heard claims that there’s something “fishy” about the way bin Laden’s body was buried at sea, that the timing is suspect, that he might not really be dead, it might not really be him, and so on.

More reasonable people make more sensible arguments about the import of what has happened and question whether the coverage has been over-the-top. Richard Engel, NBC’s phenomenal foreign correspondent, has declared that, “This ends a chapter in the global war on terrorism which has defined a generation.” Yes, that’s too extreme. And it’s true: the death of Osama bin Laden will not bring a single person killed on 9/11 back to life; it probably won’t end the operations of al Qaeda; there is a possibility that in the near term it may even inflame and energize our enemies; and the rightness or wrongness, past and future, of our ongoing military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are not vitally altered by this victory.

But this is some kind of victory.

I cannot imagine that there could ever be a more powerful triumph in the struggle to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat those who attacked us on 9/11, or a greater way to achieve justice for the thousands killed and millions scarred that day—in short, a bigger symbolic victory—than shooting Osama bin Laden in the head in his secure compound outside Islamabad (whilst he or another of the two adult men, one of them his son, who were also killed, attempted to use a woman as a human shield), seizing his body, ceremonially dropping it into the ocean to prevent any burial site from becoming a shrine—and then coming together to hear the cautious yet cathartic announcement of this well-executed (and, yeah, pretty badass) mission, delivered by a serious and thoughtful president to a relieved and celebrating nation.

Photo: NYTimes

I’ve heard, too, from people who are uncomfortable with the images of crowds cheering and partying, singing “We Are The Champions,” whooping and hollering, who feel this is good news, but it’s still wrong or distasteful to celebrate death or glorify murder. I’m sympathetic to that feeling. I oppose the death penalty, and if bin Laden had turned himself in to coalition forces, I would have been content to let him stand trial and sit in a jail cell. In a way, that would be harsher than this quick death in the midst of relative luxury.

But he wasn’t handcuffed in the town square: he was gunned down in a firefight.

Let’s remember: the crowds that gathered at Ground Zero and at the White House were largely moved not by vengeful anger but by joy in a job well done and a world made more secure, tinged with sorrow for all those lost in the last decade; they were waving American flags, not trampling the flags of others; they were holding aloft pictures of loved ones, not burning their enemies in effigy. This was not some inversion of the angry young men of an anti-American street protest; these were the joyous exultations of a merciful “American family, 300 million strong,” in our president’s words.

There’s nothing bloodthirsty about that, I hope.

And there’s nothing mean-spirited, or meaningless, about being glad that a murderous man met with an unpleasant end; that, thank goodness, few were killed or hurt in doing so; that all this was accomplished with the brutal effectiveness we should all want from our military.

Photo: The White House

If you think there are more important issues, you’re right…but that’s no reason not to savor this moment.

If you think this whole thing is some kind of fraud…I’m not sure what to say.

If you don’t think bin Laden and his compatriots were solely responsible for 9/11, if you believe Bush had something to do with it…really?

I’m probably not supposed to be so harsh to elephant journal readers, but I feel strongly—as a proud New Yorker who lived through 9/11, as a liberal, patriotic American who patriotically dissented from almost everything the Bush administration did in my name, and as someone who firmly believes in asking tough and uncomfortable questions of authority and maintaining a healthy skepticism of government and the media—that it is not only incorrect to cling to the delusions of the so-called 9/11 Truthers but actively harmful to our democracy and to the causes of truth and peace.

I’m proud to be an American, a liberal, a lover of peace, and a protester of war. And I’m glad, I’m proud, and I’m relieved that Osama bin Laden is finally dead, and that we can all move on, and focus on peace.


Harris Mercer is a new resident of Boulder and a native of New York City. He served as National High School Director with Students for Barack Obama at Obama for America throughout the Democratic presidential primaries in 2007 and 2008. At Bennington College in Bennington, VT he got to study both his obsessions: politics and Shakespeare. He can be reached at harrismercer [at] gmail [dot] com and wants you to go to http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.

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36 Responses to “Why it’s wrong to doubt the news about Osama. ~ Harris Mercer”

  1. Rich Bordoni says:

    I absolutely love that you're studying politics and you're telling me that my opinions are incorrect and harmful to democracy. No, you're right kid, I should just shut up because what CNN and NBC tell me have to be facts! Or else it wouldn't be on teevee! That doesn't sound like corporate-controlled propaganda! And you're not a fascist!

    Good grief.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Within my family is someone I love dearly and who believes we are all blind sheep accepting the official story that is radically wrong. I cannot take it. Thank you for speaking up. While I wonder why bin Laden was "buried at sea," I do not doubt that he was killed yesterday. I question a lot, but my deepest being tells me that while the official story is probably not the entire story (actually, we know it is not because of security reasons, whatever that means), it is not such a lie as to be a massive conspiracy. It feels good to hear a fellow liberal yoga-minded person say this. Thank you for posting this. I needed to hear (see?) it!

  3. Kevin Hoth says:

    This is journalism? Why represent the rantings of a kid telling people to “shut up” if they have a different (albeit questionable) opinion?

  4. James LAWRENCE, KS says:

    Hey Mercer, "you're crazy – shut up." See how it feels? EJ took a real chance posting this; I think it will alienate a big part of the audience. I for one feel a bit insulted even though I don't necessarily think there was a conspiracy of some kind. But come on, to blindly believe in these reports just because…is pretty crazy also. Elephant Journal, no more glorified and condescending blog entries, please?

  5. Fredric says:

    You can't be serious? This is soooo plastic, not fantastic. When the corporate leaders take over our country through the Fed and enslave us all then you will get what you deserve along with all the other Sheeple. Wake Up!!! Ya herd?!?!

  6. Arvin Vaziri says:

    This article is a joke. Calling people stupid and telling them to shut up because they are of a different opinion than yours is childish and immature. And as for your ridicoulus defense of the people cheering Bin Ladens death. You forget that the people burning american flags also lost loved ones. Believing yourself to be better than them while you're cheering for someones death is just utter bullshit. The cheering going on in NY is by no means more justified.

  7. Valeria says:

    W, I have read many articles on your site that I LOVED and many others that I didn't care for, and that is ok. The difference is that, while you are asking all of us to be respectful of his opinions, and I believe we have been as none of us've told him to "shut up", the article itself is very disrespectful to anyone who disagrees with him. In my opinion as a reader, I believe that we should share ideas that put out a positive message, and not reinforce and spread senseless ones. If we have the power, one post at a time, to make the world a better place, let's be conciouss of what we are posting.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    I don't know, dialogue? We can disagree without being disrespectful, sir? ~ W.

  9. Nancy says:

    To the author: Harris, I have read other articles by you that were insightful and well thought out. This one appears to be based more on "feeling" than rational thought. Also, calling people "wrong" or "crazy" for holding a different viewpoint only angers them; it does nothing to encourage them to consider your viewpoint. If you had written an article that was a more rational explanation of your viewpoint, you would not have had such a fury of angry responses and you might have succeeded in swaying some opinions. Just sayin'.

  10. Johnny says:

    Duuhhh…. bro wake up….
    or maybe its too much for your ego to handle…..and how deep the rabbit hole goes…it goes beyond the beyond and back again!
    educate yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTuKSaQTpcU

  11. elephantjournal says:

    elephantjournal.com Also from Harris…you want poker faces? http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/more-relev

    Valeria E Thomas O'Leary This is such a ridiculous article! And it is just as ridiculous to celebrate death…US killed many people in the middle east and when we watched them celebrating on 9/11 we were all in awe and disgusted by their attitude…we called them brainwashed, remember? By your rules, they had the right to celebrate…it was there sweet revenge! Arghh…

    Richard Furr Is this article a joke? Is he being sarcastic? I can't tell.
    Rich Bordoni this is the worst article i have ever seen on elephant journal, and probably top 10 in my life

    Amanda Heussner I hated the fact americans were acting like animals .. rejoicing in death… shame on us.

    Daniel Thomas Williams Why was my comment deleted??? Obviously your other readers agreed with my comment, as it recieved several "likes" within a minute. What is this, Soviet Russian 1960s? :oP

    Richard Furr Yeah, I hope this is a joke. If so, it's funny. If not, this dude is retarded.

    Valeria E Thomas O'Leary I hope its a joke, too… but there are many people out there that think like he does…scary world!!!

    elephantjournal.com As the person who posted this link and article – I only post stuff that I think is good – I have no idea why so many of you are so dis-liking it? Can anyone explain please? ~ Ben Ralston

    Kevin Liberty Hotaling Considering that the government is completely trustworthy, I can't wait to read Harris's expose on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nothing solidifies a deeply flawed argument quite like an O'Rielly-esque "shut up" to finish it off.

    Valeria E Thomas O'Leary Well, explain to us why you think it's good…maybe we are missing something here…

    Rich Bordoni He basically wrote a diatribe about a sensitive issue that amounted to "I'm right, you're wrong, shut up, end of discussion."

    Paul Garrioch Please be happy about your tax money being used to kill people, keep consuming the planet and helping the rich become rich, DO NOT QUESTION WHAT THE AUTHORITIES TELL YOU

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Hunter Quarterman
    Any reasonable person should look as deeply as possible. 9/11 was not the most significant bloodshed on american soil. It started with the slaying of hundreds of thousands of natives who lived here for maybe thousands of years. After that, …some 50 million "colored" human beings lived and died as slaves under old glory. Then the civil war..not sure the numbers there but its a really big big one. We can skip over vietnam laos and the like and get up to the international red cross statistics which report that since desert storm attacks economic sanctions on iraq are directly responsible for appx 1 million civilian deaths since 1991. And then there is the illegal and unjust destruction of iraq and of the lives of the american soldiers and their families…..there is also the matter of a couple trillion tax dollars and borrowed dollars that our grandchildren will be paying back to china saudi arabia and japan long after we are all dead..to fund it all…has anyone notice the domestic economic situation and where all the money has been going? Any educated and consciencious american who is not suspicious is neither the former nor the latter.
    May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering..
    Please wake up. Please?

    Hunter Quarterman Oops..that's 1 million civiliand deaths PER YEAR since desert storm..

    Daniel Thomas Williams How come now when I click on the articles on the site, it just wants to sell me a membership?

    Jennifer Imme Very disappointed in this article.

    Hunter, what are you referencing?

    Nancy Sikora
    This article might as well be entitled, "Why it's wrong to think critically." I'm not even a conspiracy theorist and I have my doubts. It doesn't matter much one way or another. Al Qaeda still exists, there is nothing to be "relieved" ab…out. Bin Laden wasn't a superhuman deity, they can go on without him. For all we know, he's been dead for years and our government killed a decoy (like Queen Amydala, hahaha.)

    Osama Bin Laden's death is largely symbolic. It has the effect of giving a sense of relief to those who were most fearful. A placebo of sorts.See More

    elephantjournal.com Please, readers, comment on the article itself, Harris the author will get back to you. And if you want to criticize him or his points, please do so respectfully. We can be an example of being able to agree to disagree, and not get nasty. ~ W.

    Daniel, as it says on that page if you bothered to read it, all readers get 3 articles free every day. Or, you can come back tomorrow, and every day, and read another three articles free. If you find yourself exceeding that amount, which is… enough for 95% of our readers, literally, consider supporting elephant. Otherwise, you can support the improvement and growth of mission-based indy media, help us afford an editor, but…good good…paying $1/month for unlimited reading. Remember back in the 90s? When people paid for journalism? We'd like to get back to quality journalism, and to sustainability. ~W.
    Paul Garrioch The article tells people not to think, it tells people that they should be celebrating violating another country to murder someone, it tries to justify the $trillion spent and millions killed,… how much do you want to know about it how bad it is?

    Jennifer Imme With all due respect "W.", how can you expect readers to be respectful and "not get nasty" when the author tells people who have doubts about our government to "shut up"?

    Valeria E Thomas O'Leary Sorry W, with all due respect, there is nothing that the author can say that would be worth listening… I heard enough from him. I think we are more in awe that it was posted in your site.

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Nancy Sikora ‎@Ben Ralston– I suspect the "dislike" comes from people who feel that it's a bit over the top to label as "wrong" or "crazy" anyone who takes news from the mainstream media with a grain of salt. And perhaps also from people who might appreciate that bin Laden has been "removed" but don't feel the need to celebrate his death.

    Daniel Thomas Williams Yeah, delete my (critical yet civil) comment from your facebook page, and then try to SELL me something.. LOL

    Jenn Meehleis I didn't post anything rude just the fact that I disagreed with the article and still my comment was deleted?! I mean isn't that part of the news? If you write an article aren't people allowed to respectfully disagree without having their comments deleted. There's too much censoring in the U.S. these days….it's kind of scary

    elephantjournal.com Jennifer, that's when respect matters most: when others, including this author in your view, don't offer respect to us. It's easy to be pleasant with people and views we already agree with. It takes more effort to enlighten and discuss in detail than it does to insult. So enlighten Harris! Thanks to the comment forum on the above post, this is a conversation, not a monologue—as young Harris himself said. ~ W.

    elephantjournal.com PS: here was my view of the matter, perhaps a little less confrontational or idealistic, as was Harris' work. ~ Waylon http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/editors-le

    elephantjournal.com Daniel, I haven't deleted your other comments, so give me that, and accept my apology–but the first few comments, I guess yours included, didn't seem to be reacting to his article, but rather just the headline and summary. I wanted to give Harris a chance to get comments from readers who read his article, as I anticipated he'd get attacked brutally, as he has been, above, by you all. ~ W.

    elephantjournal.com Valeria, we're an open forum. Part of our mission is to speak to and with those who don't already disagree with us. I'd welcome conservative writers on this site. Our mission is not to be right: but rather to have respectful dialogue and find things we share in common, like hoping and working to build enlightened society—something we all have to do together, for the next seven generations' sake. ~ W.

    Jonas Daniels should we teach our children not to question things? what have they done to earn our trust? why are you so eager to "buy" everything our polititians tells us?

    Gerald Hix Never ever let it be said that it is unpatriotic to question your government.

    Fredric Ward This almost made me unsubscribe to EJ Still contemplating it after the garbage that's been posted here lately about Barry Soetoro/ Bush 2.0 AKA Obama. Wondering whether EJ has been bought out by main stream media. 🙁

    elephantjournal.com Fredric, no such luck. Feel free to unsubscribe if you can't stomach a young intern using overly strong language in an article you (and many others) disagree with. As for me, I'd rather belong to a club that includes and nurtures dissent, and doesn't shout down a young man for having a different, and in many of our views, wrong opinion. ~ W.

    elephantjournal.com Gerald, amen.

    elephantjournal.com Jonas, please comment on the article, Harris will respond to you, I'll make sure of it! ~ W.

  14. elephantjournal says:

    Great comment: critical but respectful, constructive. Thank you, Nancy! ~ Waylon, ed.

  15. Marsha says:

    Let the conspiracy theories begin. Elephant, the new Onion

  16. resource says:

    The question one has to ask is how many times can one person die? And the awareness is, only once and of natural causes.
    To celebrate a violent death is to become a part of the movement that appears to hold hate as its highest motivation. Anyone who celebrates this has become the same as those they hate. Sad, sad story.

  17. Lani says:

    in no where here does harris say "shut up." he argues that a certain position is incorrect, but i see absolutely nothing that is disrespectful about this post. it's too bad i can't say the same about the comments.

  18. elephantjournal says:

    Last night, Harris M, an elephant intern who helped lead the nat'l high school campaign for Obama in '08, wrote http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/why-its-wr… Within minutes, he'd received 39 mostly angry, personally insulting comments on this Page. Can we remember that everyone, as Jay B. says below, is worth respecting—even & esp if we disagree?

    Annie Ory
    Well, so, it's interesting. I agree, of course, that everyone deserves respect, and, if you tell people they are "WRONG" they will get angry. No one likes that. If you want to offer people a new perspective, you wont get very far by telling… them only one they already have is WRONG. Words are powerful tools and should be used with care. When I want to make people feel stupid I might start at "wrong" but if I want them to actually listen to me, I start with, "I understand how you might think that, by taking a different approach I get to a different place. Would you care to look at this way too and see which one fits best?" I'm just saying.
    Gail L. Williams
    i agree that harris deserves our respect and possibly even kudos for this opinion piece. however, it is just that, an opinion piece, and i really think a lot of people are rubbed the wrong way because he pretty much states that his opinion …about what went down (about what he's been told by the media went down) is the only correct one. i think he needs to respect that other people have opinions that differ from his, opinions based on evidence that contradicts what he believes. 'let's be clear,' there is nothing clear about 9/11 other than the fact that 3000+ americans were murdered in cold blood.

    elephantjournal.com I agree, Gail, and thanks for saying so in a respectful manner. The thing I'd add is that you, and we, and the readers last night, can't control whether he "needs to respect others' opinions" or not…we can however control our behaviour, and help remind him gently that empathy is more powerful than judgment. ~ W.

  19. elephantjournal says:

    I agree generally and thank you for your respectful, sweet, insightful comment.

    I would however offer that there are many people, and people's opinions out there, that are not respectful. Should we include them here on elephant? I think so.

    We as readers and a community are adults, and will have to deal with the Rush Limbaughs in our own family at Thanksgivings etc. We as readers and a community can treat such opinions as Harris', if we vehemently disagree with his offering, with more respect that you or we may feel he offers us. That's our practice, as mindful adults: to enlighten and educate ourselves and others, and not lower ourselves to partisan bickering, but raise them and the level of dialogue to the point where we all can get together and, you know, just get along.

  20. Danbo says:

    Osama pronounced dead for the 9th time (real independent journalism from a non bias reality perspective) http://www.corbettreport.com/osama-bin-laden-pron

  21. Liza says:

    You are entitled to your opinion Harris, just truly the wrong audience for you on this subject. It's not so much your opinion as it is your approach, terribly un-modest, not humble and not leaving any room for others, as well as even acknowledging others. If you begin to speak about how this friend felt this and some people felt that and they're WRONG..well, you have painted yourself into a corner. This is elephant journal, a forum for peaceful and enlightened public discourse. What did you expect? Take Jays advice and look into your own reactivity and examine the effect you have had on your audience and understand, you gave your audience NO SAFE SPACE to feel what they feel. Next time, approach your personal feelings about sensitive issues with humility and space for all emotional diversity to join into the conversation. Opinions are different then statements. Personal experiences are different then being RIGHT. Good luck.

  22. Nancy says:

    OK, does anybody else remember the words "shut up" and "crazy" appearing in this article last night, then disappearing some time this morning?

  23. Nancy says:

    Maybe I AM crazy.

  24. Nancy says:

    OK, whew, I guess I'm not crazy after all.

  25. Harris_Mercer says:

    I'm sorry you felt I was glorified and condescending; I felt I was passionate, direct, and honest about what I feel, which is that 9/11 conspiracy theories are just plain crazy.

  26. Harris_Mercer says:

    Dave, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I couldn't agree more: I would rather live in a world in which none of this was necessary, and far more important than celebrating any one death is to celebrate life—and to recommit to ending the cycle of violence.

  27. Marty says:

    Is it safe to take off my tin foil hat off in the meantime?

  28. Ben says:

    Great post though you should not have altered the original content. Are the readers so sensitive here that the writer needs to protect their feelings. Let it rip.

  29. Rich Bordoni says:

    Great post.

  30. Rich Bordoni says:

    You can call yourself an ultra-liberal all you want, but the fact remains that if you rely on CNN and NBC as "reliable" sources of information, you are at best a moderate-conservative.

    Have you not discovered the arena of independent journalism on the Internet? (and no I don't mean EJ)

  31. […] morning I promoted (via the Elephant Journal Facebook page) Harris Mercer’s article ‘Why it’s wrong to doubt the news about Osama’. In case you haven’t read it, it’s an opinion […]

  32. cathy says:

    you call a spade a spade good for you and all those detractors can just shut up or write their own opinion piece…. I will follow your writing from here on out . Kudos

  33. SriDTMc says:

    No! Are you crazy? You might otherwise forget to stay as afraid as possible at all times.

  34. Jose Amanaceo says:

    I read the article. You did not miss much. How can people so blindly believe in the government (especially after what we saw during Bush years), i don't understand. It is safer to stay in your shell, and believe that all is well, i guess.

  35. Jose Amanaceo says:

    well said

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