Bin Laden was discovered not in the godforsaken, lawless borderlands but living in a million-dollar mansion in a touristy suburb nearby Pakistan’s top military academy. Steve Coll of the New Yorker writes that the Pakistani military was obviously sheltering bin Laden and that al-Qaeda’s other top leaders are likely being given safe haven as well, but the United States simply cannot press the issue — Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is “too big to fail”:
Abbottabad in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, is in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistan Army and retired army officers. The city is most notable for housing the Pakistan Military Academy, the Pakistan Army’s premier training college, equivalent to West Point.
Looking at maps and satellite photos, I saw the wide expanse of the Academy not far from where the million-dollar, heavily secured mansion where bin Laden lived was constructed in 2005. The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted area,” indicating that it was under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without it coming to the attention of anyone in Pakistan’s Army.
The initial circumstantial evidence suggests the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control. Pakistan will deny this, it seems safe to predict, and perhaps no convincing evidence will ever surface to prove the case.
If I were a prosecutor at the United States Department of Justice, however, I would be tempted to call a grand jury. Who owned the land on which the house was constructed? How was the land acquired, and from whom? Who designed the house, which seems to have been purpose-built to secure bin Laden? Who was the general contractor? Who installed the security systems? Who worked there? Are there witnesses who will now testify as to who visited the house, how often, and for what purpose? These questions are not relevant only to the full realization of justice for the victims of September 11th. They are also relevant to the victims of terrorist attacks conducted or inspired by bin Laden while he lived in the house, and these include many Pakistanis as well as Afghans, Indians, Jordanians, and Britons. They are rightly subjects of American criminal law.