There’s a new report out saying that “Bin Laden was within our grasp” back in 2001.  Apparently the intelligence on where Bin Laden was hiding (in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan) indicated that there was a good chance of capture if the military could execute a “classic sweep-and-block maneuver”.  The decision was made not to attempt it, however, as it would require a large number of forces and went against the established strategy of “light footprint”.

Of course, the report brings up a lot of questions:

  1. How solid was the intelligence at the time (Cheney says it wasn’t certain)?
  2. What exactly would have been the risks involved that made it prohibitive?
  3. What was the likelihood of success had the military committed to the operation?
  4. What would have been the result had Bin Laden been captured?

Most of those questions aren’t answered, but there’s some interesting speculative parts to this:

  1. What if an executive decision was made not to proceed due to outside influences?
  2. What would we have done with Bin Laden had we taken him alive?

Both of those can be merged into one scenario: would America have allowed Afghanistan to prosecute Bin Laden, or would we have taken him back to the US to prosecute?  Look at the situation with Saddam: the US captured him and gave him to the Iraqis to put on trial.  Would that have happened in this case?

Politically I don’t think Bin Laden could be given to Afghanistan due to the charged atmosphere in the US, especially back in 2001.  At the same time, what kinds of strain would that put on the legal system in the US?

Right now debates are ongoing about how to deal with the Guantanamo Bay detainees who are going to be tried in the US (specifically New York).  Can they get a fair trial in the US?  How will security be handled (especially with regards to them facing their accusers)?  It’s a fascinating look at the extremes the judicial system is put under, and it would be all of this times a hundred with Bin Laden.

From what I’ve read, I don’t believe Bin Laden has much influence anymore.  If he’s still alive, he and his group spend all their efforts just running and hiding rather than planning any operations.  Many of the news reports also state that his organization has been upended by infighting among factions, and more pressing priorities in other Middle East regions.  So spending much time worrying about this guy isn’t particularly productive, though it would sell a lot of papers if he were ever captured and brought back to the US for a trial.