The Obama administration is in lockdown on the particulars of their disposal of the most hated man in the civilized world. Officials have refused to release photos or video of bin Laden’s capture, corpse or controversial sea burial, instead averring that it was “taken care of in the appropriate way.” “Appropriate” seems to be the administration’s final word on the matter. The answer to whether a Muslim expert was consulted was that “appropriate specialists and experts” were sought out, while a senior defense official at a Pentagon briefing emphasized Osama was handled “using the appropriate procedures and rituals.”
Additional questions on the burial have been decidedly unwelcome — when asked whether American service members were the ones who cleaned the terrorist’s body or why he was given an Islamic funeral, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell sniffed, “I don’t think we care to get into those details.” John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, cut off a reporter asking whether an imam was at the funeral with, “It was done appropriately with the appropriate people there.”
For those wondering just what an “appropriate” Islamic burial entails, “Navy Military Funerals,” created by the Navy to govern laying their dead to rest, is a bit more forthcoming. Their “Service for the committal of a person of the Muslim faith” lays out explicit steps that must be followed in a Muslim sea burial. The body must have been washed and wrapped “as required for the bodies of Muslims,” which refers to ceremonial cleanings that must be done by another Muslim. Those who have gathered to pray at the burial—ostensibly crewmembers since family is not allowed at sea burials—must face Mecca.
Formal funeral prayers must be said—and are specifically listed in the service used by the Navy. In the part of the service in which supplication for the deceased is made, the prayer to be used includes the following:
“O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, pardon him, grant him security, provide him a nice place and spacious lodgings, wash him (off from his sins) with water, snow and ice, purify him from his sins as a white garment is cleansed from dirt, replace his present abode with a better one, replace his present family with a better one, replace his present partner with a better one, make him enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave [sic] and the punishment of hell.”
According to the Pentagon, “prepared religious remarks” were read at bin Laden’s funeral, but when asked whether his burial was performed according to Navy Military Funeral protocol, they had “no additional operational details or comments to make.” Mr. Brennan, however, in his Monday briefing on the bin Laden operation, reassured reporters that, “Burial at sea takes place on a regular basis. The U.S. military has the ability to ensure that that burial is done in a manner that is, again, consistent with Islamic law, as well as consistent with what the requirements are for a burial at sea. And so that burial was done appropriately.”
The families of those slaughtered by bin Laden—many of whom were Muslims—might not be happy to learn that the Obama administration may have considered it “appropriate” to ask Allah to “pardon” al Qaeda’s evil overlord. Or to petition him to not only let him into paradise but give him a nice, big house when he gets there, with a better family and wife (wives?). How will those families feel about the fact that this sociopath got a better burial than many of their dead loved ones, some of whose circumstances of death made them religiously ineligible for the prayers — or “religious remarks” — he received? The Pentagon’s official statement on his burial did not note whether bin Laden’s face was toward Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, as the service instructs, but it did make clear that his body was “eased into the sea.”
All of this goes to show that President Obama is walking a fine line in what he wants two different groups to understand about bin Laden’s burial. There are those who question why a millionaire mass murderer who was disavowed as practicing a reputedly inauthentic version of Islam received an Islamic funeral. Sea burial itself is an American honor for which only service members, their dependents or outstanding U.S. citizens are eligible. This group is to trust that the decisions made by the Obama administration are the correct, “appropriate” ones and stop asking impertinent questions.
Meanwhile, the other group is subtly being courted with the emphasis on “conformance to Islamic requirements” throughout administration briefings. By reiterating, as Mr. Brennan did at least seven times in his Monday briefing, that the burial was done according to Islamic requirements, he has communicated that the President is more concerned about placating the feelings of Muslim extremists than closure for the American people.
Families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks who want to see photos of bin Laden’s corpse must be satisfied with a presidential victory lap at Ground Zero, while radical Islamists can be comforted by Mr. Brennan’s repetitive assurances that the burial was conducted according to rites with which they’re familiar—ones which inherently confer dignity and respect on the dead.
Sending in a SEAL team to blow off bin Laden’s head showed presidential leadership. The subsequent handling of the body and burial, however, raises serious questions about Mr. Obama’s dominant priority. The constraints involved certainly reveal why a sea burial seemed attractive. But if no other country would take his remains and they absolutely had to be disposed of within 24 hours, why didn’t we just tie his body to the back of the carrier (fantail), weigh anchor and see if there was anything left to dispose of by the time our service members were back in the arms of their loved ones? That sort of observance would have shown the respect he deserved.
Anneke E. Green is Assistant Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times.