Months Of Work Ends With Bin Laden's Death
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
Just a moment ago, at the White House, the president's chief counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, told reporters that yesterday was a defining moment in the war versus al-Qaida. He also said that if Osama bin Laden had presented no threat to U.S. forces, he would have been captured alive. That's not the way it worked out.
Let's go to the White House now and listen in. Again, this is John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism advisor.
Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (White House Counterterrorism Advisor): It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday.
The minutes passed like days, and the president was very concerned about the security of our personnel. That was what was on his mind throughout, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to get through this and accomplish the mission.
But it was clearly very tense, a lot of people holding their breath, and there was a fair degree of silence as it progressed, as we would get the updates.
And when we finally were informed that those individuals who were able to go in that compound and found an individual that they believe was bin Laden, there was a tremendous sigh of relief that what we believed and who we believed was in that compound actually was in that compound and was found. And the president was relieved once we had our people and those remains off-target.
Unidentified Man #1: Was it - was there a visual, or was it just radio reports or phone reports that you were given?
Mr. BRENNAN: We were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation.
I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds(ph) that were there, but it was - it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis.
Unidentified Man #1: And I understand that there was a moment of real tension, one with the helicopter but then also when the Navy SEALS were leaving, and the Pakistani government started scrambling their jets, and there was a concern when - that they were coming to where the U.S. troops were, where the Navy SEALS were.
Was there an actual concern that the Pakistanis, since they were not apparently informed about this military operation, was there an actual concern that they might actually take military action against the Navy SEALS?
Mr. BRENNAN: We didn't contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace. At that time, the Pakistanis were reacting to an incident that they knew had taken place in Abbottabad. Therefore, they were scrambling some of their assets.
Clearly, we were concerned that if the Pakistanis decided to scramble jets or whatever else, they didn't know who was on those jets. They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be U.S. or somebody else.
So we were watching and making sure that the - our people and our aircraft were able to get out of the Pakistani airspace. And thankfully, there was no engagement of Pakistani forces. This operation was designed to minimize the prospects, the chances of engagement with Pakistani forces. It was done very well, and thankfully no Pakistani forces were engaged, and there were no other, you know, individuals who were killed, aside from those on the compound.
Unidentified Man #1: Thank you, sir.
Unidentified Man #2: Thank you. Can you talk to us about what documentation you may have found there with a bank vault worth of information. And are you able to potentially get some additional leads out of the information that was found?
Mr. BRENNAN: The people who are on the compound took advantage of their time there to make sure that we were able to acquire whatever material we thought was appropriate and what was needed. And we are in the process right now of, you know, looking at whatever might have been picked up.
But I'm not going to go into details about what might have been acquired. We feel as though this is a very important time to continue to prosecute this effort against al-Qaida, take advantage of the success of yesterday and to continue to work to break the back of al-Qaida.
Unidentified Man #2: Was it a lot of information? How would you describe in terms of the volume?
Mr. BRENNAN: We are trying to determine exactly the worst of whatever information we might have been able to pick up. And it's not necessarily quantity; frequently, it's quality.
Unidentified Man #3: Now that you have Osama bin Laden, can you tell us how close the U.S. has gotten to him in the past, beyond Tora Bora, any other close calls that we had not been informed about?
Mr. BRENNAN: Over the years - Tora Bora was certainly the last time that we had actionable and what we thought was very credible information about where he was located. A number of leads have been pursued over the years.
I think what this operation demonstrates is that there are some very, very good people who have been following bin Laden for many, many years. They have been very persistent. They have pulled on every thread. And as a result of that diligence and their analytic capabilities, they were able to track this and continue to build a body of evidence that suggested, circumstantially, that bin Laden was at that compound.
That's what they did. It was much greater confidence that we had in this body of intelligence, in this body of information, than we've had since Tora Bora. Still, though, there was nothing that confirmed that bin Laden was at that compound, and therefore when President Obama was faced with the opportunity to act upon this, the president had to evaluate the strength of that information and then made what I believe was one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory.
Unidentified Man #4: In the lead-up to that final mission, can you talk to us about how the anxiety of not being able to track or even get the name initially of the gentleman who (unintelligible) the compound.
Mr. BRENNAN: Counterterrorism work and doing what's called targeting analysis is exceptionally tedious and painstaking as far as taking a little bit of data and piecing it together and trying to correlate it with something else.
And as a result of the information that we had in a very generic way about these couriers and individuals who were cutouts for bin Laden, over time we were able to piece together additional information, get his - the name he was known by, his nom de guerre, associate that, then, eventually with his real name, associate that, then, with other things that that real name was associated with and track it until we got to the compound in Abbottabad.
And then over the past six months, with trying to ensure that we had the best visibility in terms of understanding what was happening at that compound, that body of evidence kept accumulating to the point when the president said: I want to have operations against this compound. I want to know what the pros and cons are of them. I want to have options. And I want to make sure that we take into account the safety and security of the American people, of the Americans that would be conducting this operation, that we look at it from the standpoint of limiting collateral damage and making sure that we're able to maximize the chances of mission success.
And ultimately, we got to that point. We can bring those together. The president made the decision, and the results, I think, speak for themselves.
Unidentified Man #5: You said that Osama bin Laden was actually involved in the firefight. We had - it has been reported that he reached for a weapon. Did he get his hands on a gun, and did he fire, himself?
Mr. BRENNAN: He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house that he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don't know.
(Unintelligible) that, from a visual perspective, here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield. I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.
And so again, looking at what bin Laden was doing, hiding there while he's putting other people out there to carry out attacks, again just speaks to, I think, the nature of the individual he was.
Unidentified Man #6: These anxiety-filled minutes that you said felt like days, what was the most anxiety-filled moment? Was it when the helicopter appeared to be inoperable, or was it when you heard shots fired? And when you monitored in real time, could you actually hear the shots fired?
Mr. BRENNAN: You know, when you plan these things out, you have already - you know in your mind exactly what's the first step, second step and everything going along. If there's any deviation from that, it causes anxiety.
But the individuals who carried out this assault planned for all the various contingencies. So when that helicopter was seen to be unable to move, all of the sudden you had to go into plan B.
And they did it flawlessly. They were able to conduct the operation as they were preparing to do. But seeing that helicopter in a place and in the condition that it wasn't supposed to be, I think that one of the - at least for me and I know for the other people in the room - was the concern we had that now we're having to go to the contingency plan. And thankfully, they were as able to carry out that contingency plan as they were the initial plan.
Unidentified Man #6: Did you hear shots fired?
Mr. BRENNAN: We were able to monitor the situation in real time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: That is John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism advisor, speaking with reporters at the White House Briefing Room. And with us now is NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos, who's just back from another visit to the Middle East, which included stops in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Beirut in Lebanon. She joins us from a studio in Woodstock, New York.
Deb, good to have you with us.
DEBORAH AMOS: Thanks, Neal, very good to be here.
CONAN: And I wonder, you've been listening to John Brennan speak. What does the end of bin Laden in these circumstances, what does that say about the future of bin Ladenism?
AMOS: Well, I keep thinking that he died as an irrelevant figure to these young revolutionaries that I have been seeing in Cairo, in Beirut and across the border in Syria.
He had nothing to offer them but rage, and these young Arabs believe in a nonviolent approach. And I think what al-Qaida stands for is unappealing to the vast majority of Arab youth, who want a more open system of governance. That's what they're talking about.
One thing al-Qaida never offered was a way to organize society. It simply was a nihilistic organization, and the idea was to cause as much mayhem as possible.
It is interesting that he dies at this moment of turmoil in the Middle East, but positive turmoil in many, many ways.
CONAN: And he dies at a moment where, if he could have picked a way to die, maybe, as we read from his writings, going down in a gunfight with U.S. Special Forces might have been his choice. Will he wind up a martyr?
AMOS: I think for those people who do still follow him, of course he will. But across the Middle East, you heard much more cheering. Some conspiracy theories, I have to say, when I was looking at comments certainly in the Saudi newspapers, but much more cheering than mourning.
I think that there are small groups, pockets of people who believe that his way is the right way. But those groups are becoming smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, and his death will in some ways disrupt that movement.
Already this morning, there are reports in regional papers that Taliban who have set up shop in the same way that he did, across the border in Pakistan, are moving themselves across the border, that Pakistan now is not safe, as they see it, that the Americans' relentless pursuit of bin Laden has made them nervous.
I'm sure that they will not be welcome in Afghanistan, but nevertheless, many of them say that they are moving across the border to a safer haven.
CONAN: Deborah Amos is going to stay with us as we continue our special coverage. We're going to get more reaction from around the Middle East and talk with some of the people who have some experience in this, a former field team commander and the president of the Families of Flight 93. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to special coverage from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
Crowds gathered at ground zero in New York. And outside the White House here in Washington last night, they chanted: USA, USA and sang the national anthem after President Obama announced that U.S. Special Forces had killed Osama bin Laden.
It's a moment that's stirred up a decade of difficult emotions, especially for the families of the victims and those killed on September the 11th. We'll talk with members of those families later this hour.
If you are among them, if you lost someone on 9/11, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. But reaction to bin Laden's death is not confined to the United States. We'll also hear more about how the news was received around the Middle East.
NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos is with us. She covers the Middle East for NPR, just returned from her post overseas, with us from a studio in Woodstock, New York.
And Deb, one of the places you were in was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's home country, which was, if one has to say yes, he launched attacks at the United States, but Saudi Arabia was his true target.
AMOS: Indeed. In - between 2003 and 2006, there was a terror campaign inside Riyadh. I remember being there in 2005, where there were tanks out in front of the big shopping malls in Riyadh.
Bin Laden always claimed that he was going to bring down the House of Saud, and he tried very hard to do so. He was stripped of his citizenship in 1994.
And the Wall Street Journal, Neal, reported this morning that the U.S. asked the Saudis if they wanted to claim his body. And apparently, they said no, they did not. They did not want to have a shrine, I'm sure, to Osama bin Laden on Saudi soil.
This morning, there was great celebration in Saudi Arabia among most people, not among everybody. There were some conspiracy theories. There are people in Saudi Arabia who believe that he was an American creation, that we put him out there. But those are conspiracy theories, and they will live for a long time.
I'm also reminded that the Saudis have an ideological security program within their interior ministry. They have people who go out online and battle al-Qaida ideology on online chat forums. And I think that those people are going to be busy over the next couple of days.
CONAN: More on that in a moment. Of course, Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's home country. His family is quite prominent there, very wealthy in, among others, the construction business. Was there any indication, Deb Amos, that his family wanted his body back?
AMOS: I would - I don't know. And I think that there's nothing in the press that I've seen so far that tells us one way or the other. They are, you are right, a very wealthy family in Saudi Arabia. They are just part of the normal social scene there.
And you see the name, Osama bin Laden - not Osama bin Laden but bin Laden - on big buildings. His father was a very wealthy construction magnate in the country. And one of his brothers is a racer. He races cars. And you can go to the races in Saudi Arabia, and there he will be.
So they are very comfortable there. They have repudiated this sort of black son of theirs, and to have his body back in Saudi Arabia would simply complicate their lives, and I think the Saudis simply would not countenance his body being buried there.
CONAN: What we've heard is that the body of Osama bin Laden was taken to the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea, then prepared for death in the Islamic manner, washed, and then verses of the Quran read as his body was commended to the depths.
Joining us now is NPR foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers. She's in Beirut. Thanks very much for being with us.
KELLY McEVERS: Hi there.
CONAN: And what are you, Kelly, hearing about response in that part of the world?
McEVERS: Well, you know, the Arab response has been really interesting. First of all, you have statements from Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, you know, coming out against the way that Osama bin Laden was caught.
You know, this is not a totally extremist group. It's a group that says it believes in justice. They're saying, you know, the way he was assassinated wasn't quite right. It should have been - you know, he should have been brought to trial.
And they're also using this as an opportunity to kind of call for, you know, again, for U.S. troops to leave Muslim land, you know, to stop the occupation, as they say, of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, you know, that's just one sort of slice of the Arab population. What I think you have among most Arabs is this kind of sigh of relief, honestly. People are just relieved that the guy who sort of brought this retribution and punishment upon the Arab world, as they see it, is finally gone.
You know, no longer do they have to suffer for what he did. You know, there's this long list of punishments that Arab will give here: You know, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay. You know, in some ways, you know, that this is - this just sort of ends that chapter of the bad times.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you - and Deb, I'd be interested to hear from you, as well: Yes, there is of course lingering resentment of the actions in Iraq, as you mentioned Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan throughout much of that region.
Yet at the same time, we've heard at least initially reports of pretty substantial support for the United States and NATO actions in Libya. It is curious that this comes at a time when, if anything, Western intervention in yet another Arab country is largely supported in much of the Arab world.
AMOS: A friend of mine was listening to the end of prayers in a Benghazi mosque, and he said he was shocked to hear the imam say: God bless the United States. God bless Britain. God bless France.
You know, these are words that were unimaginable over the last 10 years. And there is such a shift in support and such a shift in mindset.
You know, it was interesting to listen to Kelly talk about the punishments of the last couple of years in a way that Arabs see that what bin Laden did, they have been suffering all these years. I think there's also been a change in even those who did support him, to see that there was no path that got you anywhere with al-Qaida, that there was nothing at the end of the road in following al-Qaida, unless you simply thought that rage was the way to go.
CONAN: Kelly McEvers, there are groups in the Middle East that do align with al-Qaida, even some, we are told, in Gaza. And I was just wondering if you've seen any reaction from there.
McEVERS: I was speaking with an Islamist leader who is based here in Lebanon now. He for a long time was in the U.K. And it's funny: Even he, you know, in calling for, you know, the ouster of occupation troops from (technical difficulty) Iraq and Afghanistan and sort of deploring the way Osama bin Laden was assassinated, you know, in his home with his wife, with his family, and saying that this will unleash a new sort of cycle of revenge, even he seemed to kind of temper his remarks as if in some way it's almost like with the Arab revolutions that are sweeping the region, in some way it's just, it's not really cool to talk about violence any more.
You know, in some ways, that kind of aligns you with these Arab leaders who are now being, you know, publicly insulted for the first time ever in decades. And so, you know, even he was a little bit reluctant.
You know, on one hand he would say: You know, we have to get rid of these troops. But on the other hand, he would say: But, you know, if people are willing to negotiate, maybe (unintelligible).
CONAN: And let me ask you: Yes, Deb Amos made the point that this comes at a moment when perhaps, given the events of the past few months, bin Laden is regarded by many in that part of the world as irrelevant.
As you look across the border at what's going on in Syria today, yes, I'm sure that comment would obtain. Would it obtain in Yemen, where you've also been?
McEVERS: Oh, that's really interesting. You know, I am certain that there are still people in Yemen who believe that militancy is the way to go. But also, at the same time, you know, there are people - those same people have cousins and brothers who have spent the last, you know, two months in the street.
You know, I think a lot of people in this region in some ways see what happened to bin Laden as sort of the punctuation at the end of an old story. You know, I think a lot of people are acknowledging that there is a major paradigm shift underway here.
You know, at one time, it was violence and rage, as Deb said, was a way to kind of address your grievances, to teach justice. Bin Laden, even if you didn't necessarily with all of his tactics, during kind of the worst years of Abu Ghraib and Iraq, he represented somebody who was seeking that justice on your behalf.
And then something happened. You know, a guy set himself on fire in Tunisia, a revolution happened, and all of the sudden people realized that they could do it for themselves.
CONAN: NPR foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers, thank you very much for your time today.
CONAN: Kelly McEvers joined us on the line from Beirut, and as she said, Deborah Amos, there is a new paradigm for change in the Arab world. Yet there are a lot of the regimes that Osama bin Laden would have loved to have overthrown, and principally again that in Saudi Arabia, but Jordan, too, that they are still in place, and change has not yet come.
AMOS: That is true. But what you feel when you're in the region is a change in the way that people see the way forward, and I was thinking about what Kelly said about, you know, was this an overnight thing, did the death by burning yourself in Tunisia change everything? And I would argue that this is a long-term change.
We have a youth bulge in the Middle East. Almost every country in the Arab region has - about 60 percent of the population is under 30, and at the same time these people are more educated than - certainly than their parents' generation. You've also had a variety of religious leaders who have shown them that you can be a good Muslim and love your iPhone, that technology has changed things.
Ironically, al-Qaida was very good at using technology, but not in the way that we see this generation using technology. It's to reach out to each other. It's to share experiences. It's to broaden their experience. It's to connect them to the world.
What Osama bin Laden, what he was selling was an idea of the sixth century, you know, a caliphate, and it simply was no longer appealing to people who could get into this global conversation.
And I think that the change in attitude has been coming over time. We didn't really notice it in the West. But if you look at those numbers, if you look at that giant youth bulge and the education they have and this technology that they are using, I think you could have predicted it coming.
Even last year, when I was in Cairo working on a piece about social media, all the analysts there said, you know, this idea of radicalism, it's just not there anymore. These kids don't see it as an option. It's kind of dead, so you know, you hear that from analysts, and you think, all right, I'll put that in the back of my head, and I'll just keep it back there.
But it turns out that it is true, and what we saw in these uprisings across the Arab world proved that it is true. These were beardless kids who were talking about democracy. They weren't talking about al-Qaida.
CONAN: The U.S. Special Forces team assigned to the mission that ultimately resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden is known as SEAL Team Six. Montana State Senator Ryan Zinke is a former Navy SEAL Team Six commander and spent much of his career searching for Osama bin Laden. He joins us by phone from Whitefish in Montana.
And it's good to have you with us today.
State Senator RYAN ZINKE (Republican, Montana): It's great to be here, Neal.
CONAN: And I'm sure - have you been in touch with members of your former command and celebrating with them?
State Sen. ZINKE: Well, our(ph) member was called it the Broken Flipper Club. It's the former members that are retired, and like myself, you know, still stay active in certain reaches of the Department of Defense. And you know, it's just a great day, I think, for America. It's certainly a great day for the SEALs. But you know, the SEALs are one of the group that was involved, and you know, this is a culmination of a 10-year effort, in which there's a lot of players, a lot of dedication, and fortunately for the U.S., we came out on top.
CONAN: Could you describe SEAL Team Six for us? Just tell us a little bit about it?
State Sen. ZINKE: Well, what it is, is it's a group of tier one forces, which is the nation's 9-1-1 force. There are only two. There's the SEAL Team Six and Delta Force, and both of them are equally as good at what they do, and these are gentlemen, they're a little older. It's very expensive to keep that force up and running.
The SEALs, for instance, you know, the attrition rate just to be a SEAL is about 80 percent fail. It takes about three and a half years before you're in harm's way to be a SEAL. And then once you're a SEAL, after five years or so, the process even gets tougher to be re-interviewed, re-screened and go through an additional screening, and those that are successful will go to SEAL Team Six where they are charged with defending our nation on missions of high risk, of great strategic importance.
CONAN: I wonder, how did you get the news? How did you find out that Osama bin Laden was dead after...
State Sen. ZINKE: Well, I got a - I got a phone call, and then it was followed by a plethora of emails, and, you know, again, I think this is, you know, people oftentimes forget that this is a team that's working - there are members from every service.
And 10 years is a long time to put that much resources that we did, you know, forward, you know, looking for bin Laden. And there's been hours and hundreds of thousands of people that have been involved in this, and I'm just glad that this particular chapter has come to an end. But I share the concern of many that we're not done with this war. We're done with this chapter.
CONAN: And I wonder, where you surprised that at the end of day Osama bin Laden was found not in North Waziristan in a cave somewhere but in a mansion 35 miles from downtown Islamabad?
State Sen. ZINKE: Well, you know, I was not actually surprised. You know, I think he's been elusive. I certainly spent a lot of my career, you know, looking for him, and I think that he has moved around. He's a man of means and considerable intelligence, you know, but also Pakistan is a very complicated society. And it has different factions on it. It has a complicated history, fairly porous borders. And, you know, I think that that his network to a degree has been dismantled. He's not as influential as he has been in the past. He wasn't a tactical commander, but certainly he was a leader as far as, you know, psychological affairs goes. And his demise certainly is nothing but good, from our perspective.
CONAN: We just have a few seconds left. Given what you know about him, are you surprised that he stayed in the same location for what we now presume to have been since at least last August, several months?
State Sen. ZINKE: Well, it was his mistake, wasn't it?
(Soundbite of laughter)
State Sen. ZINKE: And I think because he did stay, it allowed us an opportunity to target him specifically to a location and put the right forces on the ground, you know, and to kill him.
CONAN: Ryan Zinke, thanks very much for your time today.
State Sen. ZINKE: It's been a pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: Ryan Zinke, a Montana state senator, a former Navy SEAL Team Six commander - as he mentioned, a member of the Broken Flipper Club. He joined us by phone from Whitefish in Montana.
We'll hear more reaction to bin Laden's death in a moment. What does it mean to you? We'd especially like to hear from those of you who lost someone on 9/11. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. You can also reach us by email. The address is email@example.com. NPR foreign correspondent Deb Amos will stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's special coverage from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos is with us from a studio in Woodstock, New York.
We got this email from Greg Carter in - I'm not exactly sure where he's writing from, but he said my cousin, Colonel Chuck Jones, U.S. Air Force retired, a shuttle-qualified astronaut whose mission was to follow Challenger and was scrubbed after the Challenger explosion, was on the first plane to hit the first tower. I take no real joy in bin Laden's death, but I have the very real sense that Chuck's spirit is free and can rest in peace now. Justice may be the wrong word, but it is the only one that seems to apply. I'm gratified to know that the proper burial ritual was followed for bin Laden's body. We owe(ph) no disrespect to Muslims in general. They are as horrified at 9/11 as we were and have no love for Osama bin Laden. And the observance of this ritual shows we respect that. Even the most horrific Christian criminal gets a proper burial ritual. We owe civilization that much. Finally, he wrote, there is a deep sense of closure and release.
And joining us now on the line is Gordon Felt. His brother was one of those passengers who was aboard Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It did not crash in a U.S. government building, perhaps the Capitol, perhaps the White House, because of the heroic actions of the passengers. Today, Gordon Felt is president of the organization Families of Flight 93 and joins us by phone from Remsen in New York.
Thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. GORDON FELT (President, Families of Flight 93): Oh, my pleasure.
CONAN: And what's your reaction to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden?
Mr. FELT: Well, it's mixed. I mean, certainly, you know, any time there's stories surrounding the tragedy of September 11th, it brings back the memories of the loss of my brother and the thousands of others that perished on that day. However, this story tempers that to a degree with the knowledge that bin Laden is finally dead, has been killed by our military. So while there's no sense of joy, there certainly is a sense of a certain amount of completion for this chapter in this story.
CONAN: As you heard the news, we are, of course, coming up on the 10th anniversary, I'm sure you had thought ahead to what kind of preparations might be necessary, required, appropriate. How does this change things?
Mr. FELT: Well, I don't think that it changes our preparations at all. The 10th anniversary is a time when we will mourn out in Somerset County, Pennsylvania the loss of our loved ones, the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. We also in September will be dedicating the Flight 93 National Memorial, so there certainly is a sense of excitement about that. The fact that bin Laden is dead I think will bring us a certain amount of comfort but nevertheless not complete closure by any means.
CONAN: As you have gone through all of the cases of the various settlements that were offered to family members, and I think the last court case is wending its way through now, has that process been - I don't know the word to use for that. Has the conclusion of that process or the near conclusion of that process, does that help things heal?
Mr. FELT: Well, you know, it's interesting. My - I've not been involved in any of those court cases. While it was my brother, my sister-in-law is the next of kin, and we've kind of left that aspect of this tragedy to her, and she has managed that.
So for those family members that were not involved, you know, that's been somewhat of a mystery to us, but I do know that that those cases have, you know, consumed a lot of time and emotion on the parts of family members.
CONAN: And I wonder as you - the years went by and no word and no word and no word. Did you get the feeling that this hunt had been relegated to the backburner?
Mr. FELT: Well, you know, I've always had faith in our military and our government. They've made a commitment to the families that they would not rest until they had captured the perpetrators of September 11th. And while it's taken nearly 10 years, I think today is a day that we can feel great pride in our military and feel gratitude towards our government for keeping the faith and working towards reaching this conclusion.
CONAN: As you go ahead, I wonder - you said it doesn't change the mourning, and I'm sure it doesn't. Nevertheless, the psychological set as you go to those memorials on the 10th anniversary, it's got to be somewhat different.
Mr. FELT: Well, there's no doubt. This is clearly a victory in this war on terrorism. However, I don't want anyone to come to the false conclusion that the war is over by any means. You know, this is a day where we have taken a great step forward in this war in terrorism.
And I suspect, as we remember the loss of our loved ones in September, that this will be a moment that we can look back on, you know, and feel a certain degree of comfort, that we're moving in the right direction. But nevertheless, no matter what our government does, no matter what our military does, you know, there'll be no replacing those wonderful people that we lost in September of 2001.
CONAN: Gordon Felt, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.
Mr. FELT: My pleasure.
CONAN: Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93. His brother was killed on that plane, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in southwest Pennsylvania.
Scott Detrow, state bureau chief for Pennsylvania Public Radio, has been reporting from Shanksville today and joins us now by phone. And nice to have you with us today.
SCOTT DETROW: Happy to be here.
CONAN: And we noted earlier there were celebrations outside the White House yesterday. After President Obama made the announcement crowds gathered also at ground zero in New York City. What happened in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?
DETROW: Well, we did not have those celebrations. I was driving out there early this morning, before dawn, and I didn't know what expect. I got there. It was very quiet, very reflective, both at the temporary memorial at the crash site and also in the town of Shanksville.
This just wasn't a topic of conversation talking to people. First of all, not that many people wanted to go on tape and talk about it. You got the sense they were kind of weary of the whole thing. They were happy that bin Laden was brought to justice. But they were also kind of upset that this, you know, brought up the old wounds of September 11, 2001.
CONAN: There's also been a long-running dispute over the memorial.
DETROW: That's right. It's very interesting, the space - I've been up here and covered it for several different anniversaries and the site always looks different. It was a full construction zone today. And there were a lot of people who came to the site from out of state. I talked to a woman who came from Virginia, a couple that was driving through Pennsylvania. They heard the news and they detoured to the site. And they said, in a way, they felt like between bin Laden dying, you know, being killed by American forces and the permanent memorial getting kind of set up to go, they felt like this the end of a chapter here.
CONAN: End of a chapter. Of course, there were - the plane crashed in Shanksville, but there were no people from Shanksville aboard any of the planes.
DETROW: That's right. There's been kind of an odd relationship that's developed, at times has been very supportive. I know - I actually know someone who owns part of the land, and he has long, close relationships with the family members. But they've also been strained at times. It took a very long time to get the land settled. A lot of disputes between the various private groups set up, the, you know, the government that was involved. That's, for the most part, been resolved now. But it's been a long, tense and, you know, relationship.
CONAN: And I wonder, the residents you did speak with, what did they have to say?
DETROW: They were very quiet about it. They - one woman, she said, you know, this has been the goal of troops that have been there for 10 years. And she remembered that she was talking to a little girl a few years ago. She said she was three or four years old. Her father was in Afghanistan. She said, oh, what's your father doing there? And the girl said, he's looking for bin Laden. And the woman said, she just thought about that over and over today and thought, well, this is main goal for soldiers in Afghanistan. And she was kind of proud that they got that done.
But it was interesting. I was - at least four different people said, well, I'm happy he's brought to justice, but I'm kind of worried now that terrorists might retaliate.
I think it's important to point out that, you know, the war is not over. There's still a lot of stuff to do there. Everyone was very apprehensive and very, kind of, saying look, this is complicated. This isn't the end of something here. Everyone wanted to get into the nuance of it.
CONAN: Scott Detrow, state bureau chief for Pennsylvania Public Radio. Thanks very much for your time today.
DETROW: Thank you.
CONAN: Scott Detrow talking to us about what was going on today in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Deborah Amos, NPR foreign correspondent, I wonder, we have memorial services in this country every 11th of September. What happens overseas?
AMOS: Well, it's not quite the anniversary overseas that it is for us. But I was just thinking as I was listening to that conversation, you know, even as journalists, you know, it has consumed our careers. I remember the first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden. I was standing in Kuwait at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and it was pitch black. The American military had just moved Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, out of his occupation of Kuwait. And a colleague said, I'm going to Sudan. I'm going to go interview this Saudi financier named Osama bin Laden. And here I was in Kuwait.
The U.S. military had moved from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait to push out an Iraqi army. It is a very thing that had enraged Osama bin Laden, that U.S. troops were in Saudi Arabia. And that was, you know, 20 years ago. And I realized how much of all of that reporting has been focused on this man and this movement and September 11th.
I think that we still have reporting to do, of course. You know, I think that the Pennsylvania reporter was very correct, where he said it's not over, and we will be reporting. But, you know, 20 years of my reporting career and yours have been devoted for - to this topic.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Jerry(ph), and we want to hear from those of you who lost someone on September the 11th. Today is a bittersweet day, as my brother was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. There are a mix of feelings within my family. Some are extremely happy and feel vindicated, others just sad. We did a good job getting back to normal after my brother's death. Today just remind us of the lost of my beloved brother, Sergeant First Class Rocky H. Herrera(ph). Today I am morning again. That, again, from Joel Herrera(ph).
800-989-8255. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill(ph) is on the line, Bill calling from Littleton in Colorado.
BILL (Caller): Good afternoon. Thank you.
BILL: Appropriately so, the attention is focused on those who died and their families in 9/11 and the emergency response personnel who responded. But there were others who were directly involved as well, and I'd like to tell you my family's story.
My brother, who is in his late 50s at the time, worked in a building just across the street from the Trade Center, came out of the subway, saw Tower One burning. As he stood there, the second plane hit the second tower. He went back into the subway and returned home, did not get into his office, again, for about three months, and watched out the window everyday as work stopped when body parts were found at ground zero.
Needless to say, that impacted him very greatly, and does to this day. While I honor those who were in the buildings, in the planes, who responded, we need to remember that there were others who also had their lives touched by 9/11.
CONAN: And how is he doing?
BILL: Okay. He eventually could not stay in that office, quit work, changed jobs. And when the economy went south, first hired - the last hire first let-go, and after three years of unemployment, retired. He's doing okay. We're doing okay. But it certainly had an impact on our family.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Bill. We wish you and your brother well.
BILL: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Debbie(ph), Debbie with us from Rochester, New York.
DEBBIE (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thank you for taking my call.
DEBBIE: I'm one of the blessed ones, I guess. My aunt had retired just days before 9/11, so our family was spared. And I do put - send my heart out to the families that weren't so lucky. But I have a question for you and for Deborah Amos, do you think that if we had captured him as opposed to killing him and put him on trial, would that have made America look better, you know, in the eyes of the world?
CONAN: Deb, I'll put that in your court.
AMOS: Neal and Debbie, I think that was always a conundrum for U.S. policymakers. What would happen if we did capture him alive? Would that only -let's think for a minute about how much controversy there has been about bringing Guantanamo people to New York to be tried and how New Yorkers who seemed to think that was a good idea completely changed their mind when it became a reality to bring one of the perpetrators of 9/11 to a court in New York.
I think that we would've had huge controversy over trying him in court. Some people would have been very happy about it, and but I - I think that it would have brought so much attention on him and on us.
Now, we were not presented with that possibility. As it turned out, he was shot and killed, you know, as he was being arrested. My question - and, you know, when we get somebody else who knows about how these operations take place, can we find out if there were any survivors, what might have happen to them in this raid from when bin Laden was killed.
CONAN: We do know that four men were killed. Osama bin Laden, one of his sons -we don't know which one yet - two other people who were identified as couriers. There was a woman killed as well, said to have been used as a human shield by some of those who were killed. There were two other women, I gather, who were injured. We don't know their identities. We don't know how many other people were in this compound or what their fates were.
Were they left to be handed to Pakistani authorities? Were they bundled on to the helicopters and taking back to Afghanistan to be questioned and sent on to Bagram Air Force Base along with Guantanamo Bay, one of the places that is a highly controversial place in terms of intelligence gathering?
And, Debbie, you mentioned that, yet we also hear Deborah Amos today that the tips that led eventually to the courier who led eventually to Osama bin Laden came from some of those people who were interrogated in secret U.S. prisons.
AMOS: Indeed. And don't you think that that is going to raise some questions, yet again, about heightened interrogation techniques I believe is the euphemism for what happens to people in some of those places. And whether it is, yet again, worth - do you get the kind of information that you need that leads you to an operation like this?
CONAN: Again, we don't know whether that tip or those tips were the product of enhanced interrogation or perhaps subtler techniques. Well wait to find that and much more information out. Debbie, thank you very much for the call and for the question.
DEBBIE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: More of your calls later as we continue special coverage from NPR News. Deborah Amos is going to stay with us as well. In the next hour, we're going got be focusing on some of the military operations that have taken place, yes. The operation that occurred last night in Pakistan but operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well: How does the death of Osama bin Laden change our calculations as to what happened there. We want to hear from those who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and their family members. Stay with us.
This is special coverage from NPR news. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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