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Indiana University

Osama bin Laden: IU experts discuss grief, role of intelligence

May 3, 2011
Bloomington, Indiana --

Picture of Kathleen GilbertKathleen Gilbert, professor and grief expert in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said the assassination of Osama bin Laden likely will bring relief, and even pleasure, to people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but she expects the relief to be short-lived.

"There's this crazy notion of 'closure,' but nobody really knows what it means," she said. "The death of Osama bin Laden might give them some little sense of 'settling,' but other news could trigger pain, such as that he was living in comfort in a gated estate, near the Pakistan equivalent of West Point, while loved ones were fighting in wars." News reports frequently include images of jubilant young people celebrating bin Laden's death, similar to images seen at major sporting events. Gilbert said people in their late teens and early 20s are just a few years older than the teens most affected by the repeated images of the Twin Towers collapsing and other 9/11 atrocities. "There's an element of dehumanization of the enemy, and an element of fairness, that it was payback, he got what he deserved," she said. "The younger you are, the more black and white you are about your thinking." She said the reactions, both celebrating and bemoaning the assassination, are understandable. She would be concerned, however, if the acceptance of violence is extended to people assumed to be connected to bin Laden, such as people who share the Islamic faith. This collective behavior was seen during the World Wars, for example, when Americans shunned Germans and forced Japanese Americans into internment camps.

Gilbert can be reached at 812-855-5209 or

Picture of Gene CoyleThe raid that resulted in bin Laden's death shows the effectiveness of combining persistent intelligence work with sophisticated military force, says Gene Coyle, a retired CIA officer who teaches in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington.

"The tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden is an excellent example of the synergy between patient intelligence collection and analysis, and then lightning fast, precise military execution with a raid on the compound where he had been hiding," Coyle said. "According to newspaper accounts, the CIA had learned of the existence of a trusted courier used by bin Laden through interrogation of captured terrorists, eventually learned his true name and then managed to locate him. By following that individual, the CIA learned of the mansion located on the outskirts of Abbotabad, Pakistan, last August. Further investigation over the following eight months led to a probable, though not a 100 percent certain, conclusion that the compound with such high walls and barbed wire was the residence of bin Laden. President Obama then made the political decision to order the raid by Navy SEALS via helicopter in the middle of the night on the compound within Pakistan."

The death of the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks is not the end of all terrorist threats, Coyle added, "but it certainly gives some sense of justice to most Americans and sends a message to future terrorists that the American government will eventually track them down, regardless of how long it takes."

Coyle can be reached at or through Steve Hinnefeld at University Communications, 812-856-3488 or