At the November 2011 School of the Americas Watch vigil in Columbus, GA, I attended two sessions on the United States military’s use of drones and activists’ resistance to this use.
These are excerpts from whitehouse.gov transcripts of press briefings dealing with the killing and burial of Osama bin Laden.
And what is the U.S. going to do with bin Laden’s body?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.
Q John, can you tell us about the burial at sea? Where did it happen? When did it happen?
MR. BRENNAN: The disposal of — the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict conformance with Islamist precepts and practices. It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements. We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance.
So it was taken care of in the appropriate way. I’m not going to go into details about sort of the where, but that burial has taken place. It took place earlier today our time.
Q And why?
Q When was that decision made?
MR. BRENNAN: I’m sorry?
Q When was that decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?
Q Can you explain why —
MR. CARNEY: One at a time.
Q Was it thought through years ago? Was this part of the plan all along?
MR. BRENNAN: The COAs — the course of action and the subsequent decisions that would have to be made have been developed over the course of the last several months. Senior officials, and there was a working group that was working this on a regular basis, if not a daily basis, over the last several weeks, looking at every decision and based on what type of scenario would unfold, what actions and decisions would be made. It was looked at from the standpoint of if we captured him, what will we do with him? Where would he go? If he was killed, what will we do with him, and where would he go? And it was determined that it was in the best interests of all involved that this burial take place, again, according to Islamic requirements, at sea.
Q Why at sea?
Q Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?
MR. BRENNAN: It was determined that that — there is the requirement in Islamic law that an individual be buried within 24 hours. Went inside of Pakistan, carried out the operation, he was killed, he was removed from Pakistan. There were certain steps that had to be taken because of the nature of the operation, and we wanted to make sure we were able to do that in the time period allotted for it. Going to another country, making those arrangements, requirements, would have exceeded that time period, in our view. And so, therefore, we thought that the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.
Q John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?
MR. BRENNAN: We consulted the appropriate specialists and experts, and there was unanimity that this would be the best way to handle that.
Q There are reports that he was wrapped in a weighted white sheet. How secure is that? Are you confident the body is not going to —
MR. BRENNAN: Burials at sea take 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.
Q Is there a visual recording of this burial?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve got to get other people a chance here. Mara.
Q Just a quick question about the burial and then something else. Was there an imam there? Was there a religious —
MR. BRENNAN: It was done appropriately with the appropriate people there.
Q There’s been some reporting that the burial — that the U.S. offered the body to the Saudis for a burial, but they declined. Is that true?
MR. BRENNAN: We, after we had confidence that it was bin Laden and that he was dead, we took the steps that we had agreed to in the interagency that were necessary to ensure that that burial entity was the most appropriate thing to do. And so we touched base with the right people. I’m not going to go into any details about who we might have consulted with in the aftermath of his death and before his burial.
Aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the burial of bin Laden was done in conformance with Islamic precepts and practices. The deceased’s body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag; a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea.
At the end of the May 2, 2011 White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney joked about assassinating Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Q Jay, almost lost in this news is the NATO strike against Qaddafi’s compound on Saturday, where his son was killed and three of his grandchildren. Is it — does the White House believe that that mission was in keeping with carrying out the U.N. resolution?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And I think there have been ample — there’s been ample commentary about that from NATO. So we do believe that, and obviously continue to focus on that mission as we do on other missions.
Q Is there a message there to Qaddafi in this?
MR. CARNEY: You could say that. (Laughter.) Thank you.