Yesterday the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, today the conspiracy theory in my inbox! I was somewhat shocked to see who the e-mail came from (but probably shouldn't have been, given that he had sent me a series of e-mails about the Obama birth certificate casting suspicions on the Hawaii certificate while championing two forged certificates purporting to come from Kenya). I was not surprised to find that there are people doubting the truth of the news of Bin Laden's death - I would have been more surprised to find that there were none.
So why am I not convinced? Simply because of Occam's Razor - the principle that the simplest explanation is most likely to be true.
Let us lay out the options. The claim that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US special forces the other day is either true or false. If false, then either Bin Laden is still alive, or he was already dead. Now, the claim has been made that the death of Bin Laden was announced to help the Obama re-election campaign - this is what the e-mail in my inbox suggested. If so, Bin Laden must be dead - otherwise Obama has in fact prepared a sword of Damocles to hang over his head - a living Bin Laden would sink the re-election campaign far more surely than a dead Bin Laden would help it. Assuming that Obama is not a gibbering idiot (as a gibbering idiot would not do something as devious as he is accused of), then it follows that Bin Laden must be dead, or at least Obama is reasonably certain that he is dead.
If Osama Bin Laden is dead, then it follows that either he was killed the other day, or he was already dead. So we follow the conspiracy theorists, what if Bin Laden was already dead? Then it follows he either died of natural causes, or he was killed by allied forces. Now, if he died of natural causes while with his own people there is no reason this would not have been reported - it would have denied the West a propaganda coup for one thing. So we have the option that he was killed by allied forces. That Al-Quaeda would not have reported this is unlikely, however - a dead leader is a martyr for the cause, after all, and I have lost count of the number of senior Hamas figures who have been killed and whose deaths were reported at the time. A non-US operation would also have reported this.
Granting for the same of argument that Al-Quaeda would not have reported Bin Laden's actual death, then it must have been by US forces. If it was not the operation reported in the news it would have been an operation that happened some time ago - which means either under the Bush administration or under Obama's. Indeed, there is a conspiracy theory circulating that says he was killed as far back as 2001, and the body was kept on ice until now. This is laughable for the simple reason that there has been a change in US administrations. If Bush had killed Bin Laden, then the death would have been used to back the McCain campaign. Unless one believes that the US is really governed by a secret cabal, and that presidential elections are all shams, in which case nothing really matters at all anyhow. So we are left with the option that Bin Laden was killed by American troops at some point during the Obama administration. In other words, it is all a question of timing.
Now, if Obama is the master-manipulator that the conspiracy theorists claim, the man who covered up the secret of his Kenyan birth in order to become president, surely he must be a very intelligent man. In fact he must be the most monstrous and cunning villain. Thus he would have carefully planned when to release this news if it is in fact faked. The contention is that the news was released now to help Obama's re-election bid.
There is just one problem with this: The date of the next US Presidential election is November 6, 2012, roughly 18 months away. That's an awful lot of time in an era when the public forget so soon. Now, the first Gulf War ended on February 28th 1991 in a resounding victory for America and her allies. Yet President George H.W. Bush lost the Presidential election in November 1992. On the other hand, the Falklands War ended on 14th June 1982, and one year later, give or take a few days. Margaret Thatcher's Conservative administration was returned to office. Given this, it is plainly a good idea to have the victory fairly close to the election date. If Obama had the power to stage the death of Bin Laden at any time of his choosing, to have done so in November of this year, or later, would have made more sense.
Finally, the actual events surrounding the death of Bin Laden are so antecedently improbable. That he should have been found, not in a cave in Afghanistan or in a tribal village, but in a Pakistani garrison town is surely a scenario no competent script-writer would have created. And that is to say nothing of its effect on the Pakistani government. In addition, we are now told by the Pakistanis that there are survivors, including Bin Laden's teenaged daughter, who witnessed her father's death. So we have witnesses. And consider the alternatives - that the US government staged the whole thing and risked antagonising the Pakistani government should it all have gone wrong, or that Pakistan, a nuclear power, knowingly allowed itself to be so humilated by the US for no reason - given that a staged 'killing' could have taken place anywhere with as much, if not more, believeability.
So I do not buy the conspiracy theories. The options are these: either the US government killed Bin Laden at some point in the last couple of years, managed to conceal the fact, and then staged a commando raid and killing in a sensitive part of a friendly country in such a way as to shame that nation internationally, all in order to possibly help the re-election of a president in 18 months' time, or the news story that we have all heard is true. Now, you may believe whatever you want to - it's a free country - but I find the conspiracy account to be so inherently implausible that it ought not to be taken seriously without good evidence in its favour.
I do think, incidentally, that the summary exection of even a man who has done what Bin Laden has done, in front of his teenaged daughter, is highly problematic ethically, but that is another matter!