Commentary: Waiting for Osama bin Laden to be himself

The Charlotte ObserverMay 3, 2011 

Late last night, as we stayed up late soaking up the details of the death of Osama bin Laden, I started thinking about the value of waiting.

One thing I've learned in my job is that the key to understanding someone isn't fancy writing or clever questions. It's watching and waiting. Most people aren't real when they first talk to a reporter -- they want to please, or they want to put up a front of some kind. But if you hang around long enough, eventually the mask drops. At some point people go back to being themselves.

I'm sure the people who lead our military and intelligence operations have a much more profound understanding of that. They are used to waiting.

Osama bin Laden was born into a billionaire family that owned the largest construction company in Saudi Arabia. He transformed himself into an Islamic radical and terrorist, but his roots were among the elite. By age 15 he had his own stable of horses. He grew up living in mansions, not caves.

A cave is where most of us figured we'd find him someday, maybe already dead -- there had been reports for years that he was suffering from kidney disease. But it has been nine and a half years since the 9/11 bombings he was responsible for. Think about running for nine and a half years. Think about knowing that the most powerful country on Earth would never stop trying to catch you.

So bin Laden ended up back in a mansion, this time in a wealthy section of a Pakistani city. Based on the pictures this morning, it wasn't an especially elegant home. It's also a place that was bound to draw attention -- the compound is several times bigger than any other homestead in the area, and it's surrounded by a high wall and barbed wire. It's almost like a sign: SOMEBODY BAD LIVES HERE.

But it's the kind of place you might live if you're used to being the richest man in town.

We had to wait nine and a half years. But Osama bin Laden finally came out of the cave. He had to go back to being himself. And that's when we killed him.

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