Letters from bin Laden

The Obama Administration has released roughly 200 pages of documents found in Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound as part of the ongoing Murderversary Spectacular. Here are the highlights:

Bin Laden Bought the GOP Line on Joe Biden
In one undated letter, bin Laden gives orders to station operatives near airports in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the aim of taking down planes carrying Barack Obama or David Petraeus to the region. But he gave strict orders not to target Biden, because he is an idiot and would be more valuable to Al Qaida as president:

They are not to target visits by US Vice President Biden.... The groups will remain on the lookout for Obama or Petraeus. The reason for concentrating on them is that Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis.

Al Qaida Tried to Rebrand Itself, Just Like Coke
Apparently killing lots and lots of civilians doesn't go over very well with the public! Despite the fact that Al Qaida once represented the hottest new thing in jihad, by the end of the aughts the brand was beginning to sag a little bit under the weight of all that blood. So one blue-sly memo even raised the idea of a corporate name change: "The name of an entity carries its message and represents it. Al-Qa'ida describes a military base with fighters without a reference to our broader mission to unify the nation. Building on what is presented, it would be nice if you could discuss and come up with appropriate names that would not be easily shortened to a word that does not represent us."

Some of the ideas they considered:

Monotheism and Jihad Group
Monotheism and Defending Islam Group
Restoration of the Caliphate Group
Support of Islam and Al-Aqsa Group
Muslim Unity Group
Jihad Organization for Unification and Rescue of the Nation
Jihad Organization to Liberate Al-Aqsa and Unify the Nation
Islamic Nation Unification Party
Al-Aqsa Liberation Group
Rescue and Revitalization of the Nation Group

My favorite is the last one: It's nice and vague, and sounds a little like a Karl Rove-backed SuperPAC. I think they should have consulted a real naming consultant and come up with something more snappy, like Alqualex. Or Qaidoo!

Al Qaida Was Worried About the Extremists in Its Midst
Really. Many of the documents released today reveal that bin Laden and his associates were very concerned about the out-of-control actions of the "affiliates" around the world, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaida in Irag, and Al Qaida in Yemen. The letters reveal that bin Laden had no idea that the Pakistani Taliban dispatched an operative to bomb Times Square in 2010, and that he worried the various affiliates were too strict in their adherence to religious law and too ready to kill Muslim civilians.

One 2007 letter written by an unknown Qaida member laments a doctrinaire speech given by a leader of Al Qaida in Iraq:

The fact that they were mentioned in his speech...indicates that they are extremists and implies they are deeply entrenched and in a hurry [to act]... such things are a turn-off and [show] lack of judgment.

Al Qaida Appeared to Have a Relationship with British Journalist Robert Fisk
In one letter, American jihadi Adam Gadahn urged bin Laden to use the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to plant favorable stories in the press. "I also think that you should write to Abd-al-Bari Atwan and Robert Fisk and tell them that the tenth anniversary is coming and it is the harvest of a fierce war between al-Mujahidin and America," Gadahn wrote. Atwan is the editor of the Arabic newspaper Al Quds, and Fisk is a legendarily left-wing foreign correspondent for the British Independent. Both men interviewed bin Laden in the 1990s; Fisk did three times. "This is a chance to explain our motives for continuing the war," Gadahn continued. "The wise people would tell you to give people their rights in order to be able to focus on other vital issues such as global warming. They have the option to stop the war, but we do not have any option, except to defend our nation. This is a conflict between the biggest cultures in the world at a time when the climate is changing rapidly. Tell them that we suggest that they make a documentary on this anniversary and we will provide them with printed, audio, and video materials."

Al Qaida Viewed the Bush Administration as a Cautionary Tale
In a letter urging bin Laden to cut ties with Al Qaida in Iraq over the group's bloodthirsty tactics, Gadahn compared the group to "George W. Bush, who, in his mind, repelled the Europeans and the intellectuals of the world."

Bin Laden Was Bizarrely Obsessed With Oaths
As bin Laden watched the accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad face trial in New York—after having been kept in the dark about the entire operation by the Pakistani Taliban—his primary reaction was anger at seeing Shahzad admit that he lied when he took his citizenship oath.

You have perhaps followed the media trial of brother Faisal Shahzad, may God release him, during which the brother was asked to explain his attack [against the United States] in view of having taken an oath [not to harm it] when he was awarded his American citizenship. He responded that he lied [when he took the oath]. It does not escape you [Shaykh `Atiyya] that [Shahzad's lie] amounts to betrayal (ghadr) and does not fall under permissible lying to [evade] the enemy [during times of war]…please request from our Pakistani Taliban brothers to redress this matter.... I would like to verify whether Mahsud knew that when a person acquires an American citizenship, this involves taking an oath, swearing not to harm America. If he is unaware of this matter, he should be informed of it. Unless this matter is addressed, its negative consequences are known to you. [We must therefore act swiftly] to remove the suspicion that jihadis violate their oath.

That's right: When you dispatch someone to attack the U.S. and murder dozens or hundreds of civilians, make sure they have never taken an oath not to do so, because violating an oath would be wrong. In the same letter, bin Laden urged his deputies to seek out jihadis who are natural-born citizens, and therefore never had to take a citizenship oath, which would disqualify them from killing people because doing so would entail the sin of lying.

Bin Laden was a weird person.

The documents released today—about 17 in total—represent a fraction of what was recovered from the compound. They were handpicked by the Obama White House and intelligence community for declassification and public disclosure. Without the context of the rest of the trove against which to view them, they should be regarded as little more than very interesting propaganda.

[Image via Getty]