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Osama bin Laden: Why the burial at sea

May 4, 2011 | 12:00 pm

Burial at Sea

The families of 9/11 victims as well as various other factions have criticized the decision to bury Osama bin Laden's body at sea, and quickly. Some people want the satisfaction of having his body in custody; others want more proof that the corpse was that of the terrorist leader. Meanwhile, the two major reasons given by the Obama administration for the quick ocean burial ring a little hollow: that no other country would take his body, and that they wanted to follow the protocol required by Muslim law to bury within 24 hours. Not that these aren't true, but they don't sound like the real reasons.

There are numerous situations in which a person's religious beliefs do not or cannot hold sway in these matters. If an autopsy is needed on a murder vicim, for example, burial will likely have to be delayed, even though both Islam and Judaism call for speedy burial. For that matter, strict Jewish practice calls for avoiding autopsy altogether, but criminal law takes priority over religious law.

It's easier to believe a reason that's been given as an afterthought -- that a grave could become a shrine. But there's obviously more to this well-thought-out plan than that.

Think of the trouble that would be caused by having custody of Bin Laden's body. There would be endless debates about how it should be treated, who should have access to it and how it would be guarded after interment. It would be harder to gain consensus for a sea burial if the body were in U.S. possession, and harder to make that burial a secret, location unknown.

In other words, there might have been a bit of public complaining after the fact, but there's no real public furor. It's easier to gain forgiveness than permission. That decision was as tactically smart as the attack on the Pakistani compound.


The Osama bin Laden 'deathers'

Mailbag: Goodbye 'birthers,' hello 'deathers'

After bin Laden: We've yet to learn the long-term consequences

--Karin Klein

Photo: Religious rights were conducted on the deck of the aircraft carrier Carl-Vinson, located in the North Arabian Sea. Credit: Timothy A. Hazel / AFP / Getty Images

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