Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Irresistible account of bin Laden manhunt
On May 1, 2011, in the city of Abbottabad not far from Pakistan's capital Islamabad, a decade-long drama came to an end.
Surprised in his fortress-like compound, by operation Neptune Spear, Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in U.S history, was gunned down by a team of U.S. Navy SEALS. Here at long last was a measure of justice and closure for the victims of 9/11.
This is the fourth book that British-American journalist Peter Bergen has written on bin Laden and al-Qaida, and it is destined to be a bestseller. It sets a course of murder, manhunt and retribution that would not be out of place in any thriller.
In fact, Bergen's writing unfolds throughout with all the tension and action of a well-crafted detective story. It is an irresistible account.
For all its spellbinding drama, one must keep in mind that the subject is history and not fiction. And it must be emphasized that Bergen is uniquely placed to offer a convincing historical documentary of the events that led to bin Laden's downfall.
He is one of the foremost authorities on terrorism and counter-terrorism and he has direct access to the panorama of military, national security, intelligence and political actors who make their appearance in his pages.
Bergen's privileged access and his ability to cite the crucial and intimate details of important discussions inform the most impressive features of the book.
Nor was access confined to leading American actors. He had close contact with leading figures in Pakistan and was able to acquaint us with the Pakistani responses in the aftermath of the raid and with the growing sense of betrayal and outrage in Pakistan.
In the aftermath of the raid he was the only Westerner who was given permission to investigate the Abbottabad compound before the government had it demolished.
Access extended even further. With the first line of the book Bergen tells us: "I first met Osama bin Laden in the middle of the night in a mud hut in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan in March 1997."
This is remarkable in itself. He was one of only two Westerners to interview bin Laden, and it was on this occasion that the terrorist leader announced his declaration of war to the West. Thereafter Bergen followed bin Laden's and al-Qaida's career assiduously.
He provides a wealth of detail on the private lives of bin Laden and his family. He gives us a multi-faceted account. We see bin Laden as the central figure in the terror war against America and the West.
We are reminded of the murderous intent and the skewed religious vision. We also meet another bin Laden, one of personal charm and one who easily established a charismatic hold on his followers. We see a man devoted to his children, grandchildren and to his friends.
Throughout the account there is an air of directness and honesty. The ruthlessness of the war against terror is amply recognized. We see the failures and the successes and the brutality.
For instance, no attempt is made to disguise the shameful interrogation methods used against members and suspected members of terrorist organizations.
However, those who wish to go further in this direction, who claim there is a dark American government conspiracy surrounding the events of 9/11 and the subsequent declaration of a "war against terrorism," should read Bergen's books and especially this one. They will find no support for their strange fancies.
Davis Daycock is a senior scholar in political studies at the University of Manitoba.
The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden
From 9/11 to Abbottabad
By Peter L. Bergen
Doubleday, 384 pages, $33
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 J7
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