Our politics has gotten so crazy lately that we seem to have developed a standard form for designating conspiracy theories, just as we mechanically append -Gate to the scandal du jour: the “-er” suffix. You know, “Truther,” “Birther,” and now (for those who suspect Osama bin Laden may still be alive) “Deather.” I wonder whether this doesn’t create a deceptive equivalence.
Just to be crystal clear in advance: I assume that bin Laden was indeed shot and killed in the course of the Abbotabad raid as we’ve been told. That said, I don’t think someone who harbors doubts on this front is on par with people who spin wild fantasies about Obama’s Kenyan birth or George Bush’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Suppose Osama bin Laden had been captured alive and was being interrogated. It would be pretty much impossible to conceal the fact that the raid had occurred—at least from other high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives. But it might be desirable to conceal for as long as possible the fact that he had become a potential source of intelligence. The easiest way to do this would be to announce that he’d been killed in the raid—assuming that when the truth was ultimately revealed, most Americans would forgive a necessary deception. Again, I don’t think this is what happened. But in contrast with the Birther and Truther conspiracies, this hypothesis doesn’t require one to cling to a fantastic speculation, in the face of mountains of evidence and everything we know about human motivation.
I say all this only because it’s worth bearing in mind that there are sectors of the government whose legitimate function is to engage in, for lack of a better word, conspiracies. Probably this one is as false as the others, but it is worth resisting the suggestion that all doubts about official government narratives are equally nutty. There’s plenty of stuff in the Church Committee reports that sounds like the paranoid delusions of a tinfoil-hat wearer, except for the fact that it happened.