Students, faculty react to death of al Qaeda leader
At an 11:35 p.m. EST press conference on Sunday night, President Barack Obama confirmed the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The president’s announcement came nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
“I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama said.
This development is the latest in a decade-long endeavor to track the perpetrators of 9/11 and stymie terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. Soon after assuming the presidency, Obama tasked CIA director Leon Panetta with capturing or killing bin Laden. A promising break came last August, when the intelligence community received information indicating that the al Qaeda leader had taken cover “within a compound deep inside of Pakistan,” Obama said.
“Finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” he said.
“At my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Obama said. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
The news of bin Laden’s death prompted widespread reactions across the country, with crowds of people congregating in Times Square in New York City and in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Among members of the Stanford community, the news also carried great significance.
“The demise of Osama bin Laden is a tremendous victory for the American people,” professor of political science Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. Rice served as secretary of state under former President George W. Bush and is a former provost of the University.
“We are all indebted to the American military and intelligence community for their skill and dedication,” she said.
Political science professor Scott Sagan said bin Laden’s demise signaled a major breakthrough in the effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network, but urged for caution.
“I think this is a major step in reducing al Qaeda’s effectiveness,” Sagan said. “This is a great victory for the United States and for all countries that have been in conflict with al Qaeda.”
The fear now, however, is that bin Laden’s death could precipitate retaliatory acts by the al Qaeda network.
“I think at the same time that vigilance is something we will have to have in the short run to be sure that remaining units of al Qaeda around the world do not lash out at us in desperation,” Sagan said.
Students across campus exhibited spontaneous displays of patriotism. Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” were heard in the areas near Meyer and Green libraries and around Hoover Tower and Old Union. Numerous individuals posted celebratory status updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Though many rejoiced at the news of bin Laden’s demise, some students expressed dismay at the manner in which their peers chose to celebrate his death.
“I was very uncomfortable with the way people are glorifying the death of another human being,” said Lara Grendahl ‘14, who is originally from New York. “It reminded me of after 9/11 — all those images on TV of people celebrating the Twin Towers falling…it just reminded me of a version of that exact same dehumanization. It was discomforting.”
Nathan Golshan ‘13 had similar sentiments.
“While Osama bin Laden was a very detestable person and did horrific things, I don’t think celebrating a man’s death is ever an appropriate reaction,” he said. “People need to stop and think about the atrocities the U.S. has committed in the process of searching for Osama bin Laden and in the process of trying to eliminate al Qaeda.”
Both students commented on Obama’s address to the nation.
“The gist of the speech came off as the greatest achievement of America’s foreign policy in the last decade has been killing a man, which just sounds very, very negative to me,” Golshan said.
Grendahl also criticized the overall tone of Obama’s rhetoric.
“It’s so easy to forget our common humanity and the fact that a human being has died,” she said. “The reason people are celebrating his death is that he trivialized human life. Aren’t we doing the exact same thing?”
Alex Alvarado ’12, who is currently studying at Stanford in Washington, offered a differing opinion. He noted that there was “a lot of patriotic sentiment” and “a lot of happiness” at the nation’s capital.
“It was just really awesome,” Alvarado said. “We all saw it on television and ran over to the White House to be in the middle of the vibe.”
For the families of 9/11 victims, bin Laden’s death may also bring a measure of closure.
“We can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: justice has been done,” Obama said.