US officials had decided that, should Osama bin Laden be killed in a raid by American troops at a compound in northern Pakistan, they would dispose of his body at sea in order that his grave not become a shrine to his followers. While a White House officials says they planned to follow all rites with Muslim burials and consulted with Islamic experts, the sea burial has been quickly criticized by Muslim scholars who, according to the Guardian, say it violated sharia law and could be reason for retaliation attacks against the US.
Further, some say that the sea burial leaves open doubts as to whether bin Laden is indeed dead; such doubt is spreading in Pakistan about whether or not bin Laden was indeed killed. US officials say that DNA tests taken from the head of the body are a “virtually 100 percent” match with samples from bin Laden’s family members. One of bin Laden’s wives who was living in the compound identified the body, says a senior American intelligence official.
Bin Laden’s body was washed in accordance with Islamic custom, wrapped in a white sheet, and placed in a weighted bag. Then,
With only a small group of witnesses, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a “native speaker,” the official said. The body was placed on a board, tipped up and then “eased into the sea” from the carrier’s lowest deck, the official said.
It was unclear on Monday to what extent the thousands of sailors and other personnel aboard the [American Aircraft carrier] Carl Vinson were aware of the burial as it was occurring. The official did not identify the native speaker or say whether he was a Muslim cleric.
The New York Times says that “the administration reached out to one other country to take the body for burial, but that the country refused.” Some news outlets have suggested that the country may be Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden was a citizen at one point. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said that appealing to other countries would have meant that the body was not buried within 24 hours, as required by Islamic custom. However, the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein, sons of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, were embalmed and not buried for eleven days after they were killed by US forces. As the Guardian notes, “some angry responses” arose after their bodies were shown to the media.
Muslim Scholars Criticize Sea Burial by US
The Guardian quotes a number of Muslim scholars regarding the sea burial of Bin Laden’s body:
In terms of the basic requirements for Muslim burials, standard practice involves placing the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca. Burial at sea is rare in Islam, though Muslim websites say it is permitted in certain circumstances. One is during a long voyage where the body may decompose and pose a health hazard to a ship’s passengers, an exception noted on Monday by Tunisian scholar Ahmed al-Gharbi. Another is if there is a risk of enemies digging up a and grave and exhuming or mutilating the body.
Dr Saud al-Fanisan, former dean of the faculty of sharia law in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said that if a body was buried at sea it should be protected from fish. In the words of alislam.org, the body should be lowered into the water “in a vessel of clay or with a weight tied to its feet.”
Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai’s grand mufti, said of Bin Laden’s burial: “They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say they did it according to Islam. Sea burials are permissible for Muslims in extraordinary circumstances. This is not one of them.”
Abdul-Sattar al-Janabi, who preaches at Baghdad’s Abu Hanifa mosque, said: “What was done by the Americans is forbidden by Islam and might provoke some Muslims.
Slate sets US officials’ decision to bury Bin Laden at sea in a broader context, noting that governments indeed “hate to see a nemesis’ burial place become a focal point for resistance.” After the Nuremburg trials, the Allied forces cremated the remains of Hermann Göring, who had killed himself before his scheduled hanging. The remains of Adolf Hitler — whose death by suicide was announced 66 years to the day that Bin Laden’s was — have not exactly been laid peacefully to rest:
After the Führer shot himself, his subordinates cremated his remains — although not effectively — and buried them in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. Days later, Soviet soldiers disinterred the body and moved it to a different gravesite outside of Berlin proper. Over the next quarter-century, Hitler’s remains were dug up and reburied several times. In 1970, KGB chief Yuri Andropov ordered an officer named Vladimir Gumenyuk to pick a secret final resting place for Hitler, so that his grave wouldn’t become a shrine to neo-Nazis. To this day, Gumenyuk refuses to reveal its location.
US Government Has Yet to Release Photos of Bin Laden’s Dead Body
The US government has not yet released photos taken of Bin Laden’s dead body. Jake Tapper, an ABC News Washington correspondent, says that in at least one of the photo, “the insides of his head are visible.” As the New York Times Lede blog says:
Mr. Tapper’s unnamed source also said that the images show that Al Qaeda’s leader was shot in the forehead and were taken at three different locations: in Pakistan during the raid; in Afghanistan at a U.S. base; and on the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, “before and after he was wrapped in a shroud, in keeping with Muslim burial traditions.”
According to Mr. Tapper’s reporting, the U.S. also has images of the body of Khaled bin Laden, the Qaeda leader’s son who was killed in the raid, and of two other dead men, identified as a courier and his brother.
So far, the only images of the inside of the compound after the raid on Monday are in video obtained by ABC News, which shows bloodstained floors on the first and second floors of what appears to have been the building Osama bin Laden was killed in.
The Guardian reports that, in the absence of photographic evidence, question are mushrooming all over the web about whether or not it was actually Bin Laden who was killed.
Given the speed at which at image can travel once released on the web — seemingly instantaneously — are US officials right to withhold publishing photos of the dead Bin Laden?
Photo from Fotopedia.
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