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Declassify Most of Bin Laden’s Files

12:59 PM, Apr 30, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Osama bin Laden was killed by an elite group of Navy Seals one year ago this week. And bin Laden’s files, a massive trove captured in his Abbottabad, Pakistan safe house, have been the subject of various articles since. Now, the Obama administration has reportedly decided to release “some” of the files to the public.  

osama bin laden

That’s good news. The files should be released to the public. But not just “some”—nearly all of them should be released. 

Yes, some files still contain operationally relevant intelligence and exceptions can be made in such cases. But the vast majority of bin Laden’s documents should be made freely available online. Why?

Everything in what was formerly known as the “war on terror” has been the subject of a fierce and partisan debate – from the war in Afghanistan to the strength of al Qaeda today. And perhaps the best way for the American public to have an informed, intelligent debate is to see how al Qaeda’s deceased master viewed the world. This is especially true in the middle of an election year in which America’s fight against al Qaeda has already been politicized.

Some of the documents will likely help President Obama make his case. Others probably will not. We should see them all (again, with as few exceptions as possible) and let the American people be the judge.

What has been reported about the documents thus far suggests that bin Laden’s files will radically alter how many people view al Qaeda, including some in the Obama administration. Based on the files he was shown by a “senior Obama administration official,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported that bin Laden was a “lion in winter,” who “lived in a constricted world, in which he and his associates were hunted so relentlessly by U.S. forces that they had trouble sending the simplest communications.”  

When compared to so much other reporting on the bin Laden files, this looks like pure spin.

The latest report comes from Jason Burke of the Guardian (UK). We learn the files “show a close working relationship between top al Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar, the overall commander of the Taliban, including frequent discussions of joint operations against NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and targets in Pakistan.” One of Burke’s sources says that the files indicate a “very considerable degree of ideological convergence” between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

This is hardly surprising, but it directly contradicts the Obama administration’s arguments for ending the war in Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has claimed, for instance, that “the Taliban, per se, is not our enemy,” even after a decade of Taliban forces targeting Americans in Afghanistan. Biden’s argument is based on the false premise that the Taliban and al Qaeda are not closely allied. Bin Laden’s documents, according to the Guardian, disprove this wishful thinking.

The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reports that the files include “a lengthy paper by bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, laying out the al Qaeda strategy for Afghanistan in the years after the United States withdraws, current and former U.S. officials said.” This contradicts the idea that al Qaeda doesn’t have an eye on Afghanistan.

Other reporting on the contents of the bin Laden files challenges much of the conventional wisdom about how al Qaeda has operated all these years, too. It has been widely argued that bin Laden was out of touch with al Qaeda’s affiliates and that they operate with complete autonomy.

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