Peter Bergen discusses the life of Osama bin Laden

May 02, 2012

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On May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Live chat with journalist Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt - a detailed account of the pursuit and killing of bin Laden.

Bergen once interviewed bin Laden in a mud hut in Afghanistan, and will answer questions about bin Laden, including the book Bergen wrote about him, and how the world has changed since his death.

Submit questions and opinions for Bergen to respond to now.

Peter Bergen signing on to the chat

Exactly how has the world changed since his death? Do you mean that the world is safer from terroism? And, if so, how would we know that for sure?

There hasn't been a successful attack on  the United States in more than a decade by al-Qaeda. We know from the documents recoverd from his residence that bin Laden was pushing for another big attack on the U.S. With him gone we certainly are safer.

Before and during the Libya operation to oust Qaddafi, there was talk that a Libya without Qaddafi would provide openings for Al Qaeda. Is there any evidence of a significant presence of AQ in Libya?

None that Im aware of

Do you know if he practiced his religion while he was in hiding?

Bin Laden has been a religous zealot since his early teens. So yes, he would have continued those religous practices.

Peter, In the many documents recovered from the OBL compound that you were privy to, were any Pakistani government officials named who were aware or helping OBL hide-out in their country?

No evidence of this at all.

How has the organization recalibrated their message after the Arab Spring if at all?

They have tried to opportunistically insert themselves into the events of the Arab Spring by releasing tapes that focus on those events.  Very few in the Arab world take these messages serioulsy.

In hindsight do you believe we could have caught bin Laden at Tora Bora with a more targeted effort, or do you believe he simply knew the terrain too well and was always likely to escape?

the effort was insufficinet at Tora Bora. More journalist were presnt at the battle than US forces, a fact that speak for itself. he did know the terraon very well, he had a country house there and had been visiting the region since the mid 1980s

In your estimation what is the likelihood that Al Qaeda engages in such an operation in the near future or are they so destabilized that such an operation would prove too difficult for them right now?

Very difficult for them to mount now. They had some aspirations to do something like this in Germany in 2010. it came to nothing

What happened to Bin Laden's forturne? Will his wives have a claim on it?

His family cut him off in 1994. There is no fortune to inherit. In fact bin Laden was very pressed for cash in his final years, he was paying the two men protectng him only one hunderd dollars a month each.

Peter, since your first book, I just wanted to say thank you for being an honest broker for giving us a peak into that murky world that driven most analyst mad, and for that matter, has allowed a perpetual myth and threat to be spun as conventional thought for all the wrong reasons.


Did the US, in its tendency to create a single bad guy, elevate bin Laden to the level of cult celebrity and thus add momentum to his appeal?

I think its human nature to personlize issues and problems. So yes bin Laden was accorded a kind of mythic status by some. Getting a look--as I did- at the toilte he used in his residence in Abbottabad would convince one that he was just a man like any other.

Do we now believe that al Qaeda is not the collection of independent cells, as some theorized in the past, but does have more of a central command?

Not any more. Al Qaeda is an organization that is in deep trouble as bin Laden himself realized in the internal memos he wrote to his key lieutenants and that were recovered in the Abbottabad compound

After Bin Laden's klling by U.S. Military Special Ops, do you believe this puts a damper on morale and membership recruiting of Al Quaeda operatives in the future.?

In a word:  Yes

How was bin Laden able to escape Tora Bora? Was there anything we could have done to kill or capture himl there?

I have a long answer to that in my new book. Its not something that can be covered in a sentence or two or even a paragraph

Peter: There was a story in yesterday's Post that said bin Laden was considering changing the name of Al Qaeda because he thought there were now too many negatives attached to it. Can that possibly be true? The idea of "rebranding" a terrorist organization sounds like something out of a Christopher Buckley novel. If it is true, what does that say about Osama's mindset in the last months of his life? Thanks.

The story is true. I was able to review the original docuemnts in which bin Laden noodled with some alternative new names for his group.

In your best guess, where do you believe Zawahiri might be currently located?

Pakistani tribal regions or near them

Does it seem like bin laden was an obsessive compulsive personality like a ted Kaczynski? Do you see commonalities between people who obsess about there particular mission and those who who just prefer?

Im not a shrink but OBL doesent seem like Ted K.  he wasnt a loner like Ted K. OBL lived and died surrounded by wives and kids.  

Why did bin Laden choose to hide in Abbottabad of all places?

I begin my new book with the words "It was a perfect hiding place". You ll have to read the book to fin out why...

You stated "Laden was pushing for another big attack on the U.S.. How could he have been able to do that when he was living in isolation in a house in Pakistan. Was he able to communicate and by what means with those who could carry out an attack?

He communicated via courier.

Regarding the Navy Seals who got him: have you interviewed any of them?

No one has interviewed the memebrs of SEAL eam 6 who did the operation

Besides the death of Osama bin Laden, to what degree has al Qaeda been dismantled? Are we reducing the effectiveness of al Qaeda?

If al-Qaeda was a a stock I would have started shorting it from about 2009 forward

I'm sure you've addressed this question in the past, but it keeps coming up. Why did bin Laden hate us? Some say he hated us for our freedoms. Bin Laden denied this, and claimed he hated us for specific actions we took in the Muslim world and the Middle East. It seems to me that bin Laden had a big enough ego and was so sure God was on his side that he would be say what he really thought. So I reject the claim that bin Laden was lying to prevent us from knowing that he really hated us for our freedoms. What do you think?

Mostly US policies in the Middle East motivated bin Laden

What's next for Al Qaeda? The combination of democratic movements during the Arab Spring and the ferocious effort by the US military to figuratively decapitate them must be taking a toll on the organization, but how are they responding, if at all?

Al Qaeda is on life support for the reasons you outline

Thanks for the questions.  I have to go now. Peter

In This Chat
Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen is the author of three previous books about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, two of which were New York Times bestsellers. He is CNN?s national security analyst and a director of the New America Foundation. Bergen has held teaching positions at Harvard and at Johns Hopkins University and is a graduate of Oxford. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, documentary producer Tresha Mabile, and their son.
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