/ 8 May 2011

Osama bin Laden’s ‘home videos’

Osama Bin Laden's 'home Videos'

Myths make large, but reality diminishes. On Saturday night, with the release of images of his dead body vetoed by the US president, the Pentagon, who ordered his death, showed something else: Osama bin Laden alive. Osama reduced to a more human scale than the bogeyman he had become.

The four video clips that were released show a man made mute by the removal of the audio that once accompanied these videos, excised by those now attempting to define and control how he will be remembered.

And Osama’s “home videos” were hardly as rumoured. For they showed nothing of his life with his family. Instead they covered far more familiar territory, with one exception.

The longest showed a taped speech, allegedly recorded in 2010 delivering a message about the America that killed him in the end and who removed his voice as if to prove the point that he, Bin Laden, had gone. Osama had been silenced at last.

It was familiar not simply because we have seen this format before but because, in a strange way, we have grown used to him — his peculiar delicacy of movement. In a white cap and gold cloak, Bin Laden’s body stays still as he reads from his script. He raises a finger. Points to one side. Sometimes his eyes fix on the camera. His beard is black and trimmed, his poise erect. Which makes one wonder about the next clip, the one intended to damage him.

The camera lingers for a long time on a menu of satellite channels shown on a television. There is a tight shot as the cameraman pulls out and this time it is another Bin Laden who is revealed to view. He seems old and hunched, a brown cloak around his shoulders, a black cap comforter pulled over his head. His beard is grey. Unkempt. He seems almost unrecognisable from the previous figure.

He flicks through the channels watching footage of himself. There is Osama speaking. Old footage of Osama with Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s chief of operations. He makes a remark to the cameraman. Flicks through the channels.

You have a sense of how he had lived in those last years within his compound. There is a blackout curtain over a window. A computer and a cheap bolster and a carpet, but little else. Even in the act of contemplating himself, this hunched figure appears so diminished that you wonder how he inspired such fear.

The remaining two clips show Bin Laden rehearsing for one of his taped addresses. One is labelled “A Missed Cue”. They flick off almost as soon as they have begun.

The question is: what are these clips supposed to tell us?

Ironically, the answer is that they say as much about those who finally caught up with the world’s most wanted terrorist as about Bin Laden. What was the intention in revealing these mundane clips? To show that Bin Laden was vain? That he was obsessed with his image?

They manage that. But paradoxically, by silencing his voice so emphatically — making him mute — they force the viewer to contemplate what was behind the words. And that was a man. A man who ordered mass murder and who was killed, his body dumped at sea. But a human being all the same.

As all killers are. – guardian.co.uk