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The Death of Osama bin Laden


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#41 CrimsonLine

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:10 AM

What we have taught the world in the past 24 hours is that it's okay to assassinate political leaders with whom we disagree.


As others have pointed out, bin Laden was not a "political leader," and this was much more than a "disagreement."

#42 CrimsonLine

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:16 AM

CrimsonLine wrote:
: Saul was the Osama bin Laden of his day, planning and carrying out terrorist acts against pockets of Christians, hauling them off to arrest and execution, driven by religious zeal to destroy what he saw as the enemies of God.

Slight quibble, but was Saul really a "terrorist" if he was acting with the permission of the authorities? Maybe he had more in common with, say, someone on the pro-Gitmo side of the fence (or what the people on the anti-Gitmo side think the pro-Gitmo side must be like).


Saul was not acting with the permission of any authority that had the right to pronounce a death sentence on people. Remember that the Jewish leaders needed the permission of Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Saul had permission from the Jewish leaders to persecute Christians, but NOT the permission of the government that actually had the power of the sword over the land.

: In fact, Proverbs tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” (Proverbs 24:17–18)

Thank you, sincerely, for quoting the full proverb and not just the first half, as so many have done these last few days.


It IS a very subtle and layered verse, when quoted in full, isn't it?

: The Christian should be glad that justice was done, and that Osama bin Laden received the gravest punishment human beings can give for his crimes. But we cannot delight in his death, because the Lord’s desire was that he should repent, and find forgiveness in Jesus. As it stands, we commend Osama bin Laden to the Judge of all the earth. And may God have mercy on his soul.

This is a thoughtful note on which to conclude. I appreciate it.


When I was thinking this all over, it struck me that in the old days, when a judge passed down a death sentence, he usually said that - "and may God have mercy on your soul." It was an acknowledgement that even the criminal has value in God's eyes, and that human justice does not circumscribe divine justice - or divine mercy.

And then, this famous bit of dialogue from near the end of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BppCSJZl_o

And note, when Eastwood says "We all have it coming", he's referring to death, not justice. The kid is trying to deflect his newfound awareness of death by focusing on justice and feeling superior. But Eastwood brings it back to death.


I haven't seen Unforgiven in a long time. What a powerful scene.

Also, presuming that the majority of Muslims don't support terrorism and recognize that 9/11 was an atrocity, however much ill will our subsequent actions may have generated, I have to think that reasonable Muslims around the world will consider the U.S. action against bin Laden as an understandable and even necessary action. If anything, bin Laden's ability to elude the U.S. for a decade was better PR for al Quaeda than killing him now.


Today's paper here in Rochester, NY features a half-page story on the reactions of local Muslim leaders - all relieved that bin Laden is gone.

#43 SDG

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:28 AM

: Saul was the Osama bin Laden of his day, planning and carrying out terrorist acts against pockets of Christians, hauling them off to arrest and execution, driven by religious zeal to destroy what he saw as the enemies of God.

Slight quibble, but was Saul really a "terrorist" if he was acting with the permission of the authorities? Maybe he had more in common with, say, someone on the pro-Gitmo side of the fence (or what the people on the anti-Gitmo side think the pro-Gitmo side must be like).


Saul was not acting with the permission of any authority that had the right to pronounce a death sentence on people. Remember that the Jewish leaders needed the permission of Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Saul had permission from the Jewish leaders to persecute Christians, but NOT the permission of the government that actually had the power of the sword over the land.

FWIW, my working definition of terrorism is acts of violence directed against innocent noncombatants in order to destabilize communities, and by extension ruling authorities, through fear. For a zealous Pharisee -- or for zealous Muslims in Muslim-majority countries -- to execute or massacre Christians for being Christians is certainly a form of persecution, and carried far enough might rise to the level of genocide, but I wouldn't call it terrorism. The targets in this case are a minority population targeted specifically for their personal offensiveness, not as representatives of a larger community and by proxy its ruling authorities.

Government sanction, IMO, is a red herring. There is such a thing as state-sponsored terrorism. Blitzkrieg-style bombing raids targeting civilian populations in WWII was a form of terrorism by my definition. So was bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Also, presuming that the majority of Muslims don't support terrorism and recognize that 9/11 was an atrocity, however much ill will our subsequent actions may have generated, I have to think that reasonable Muslims around the world will consider the U.S. action against bin Laden as an understandable and even necessary action. If anything, bin Laden's ability to elude the U.S. for a decade was better PR for al Quaeda than killing him now.


Today's paper here in Rochester, NY features a half-page story on the reactions of local Muslim leaders - all relieved that bin Laden is gone.

It would be nice to think that that sentiment is shared outside the borders of the U.S.

Edited by SDG, 03 May 2011 - 09:34 AM.


#44 M. Leary

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:30 AM

Jim Wallis said:

Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means, and is always an occasion for deeper reflection.


I'm not going to argue that Christianity is, at it's philosophical core, a religion of nonviolence. I accept and embrace those ideals. But is violence always a "failure"?

Such armchair sermonizing is precisely the thing that irks me about Christianity sometimes-- it's this detachment from the complexities of the world around us and the apparent denial of the necessity of engaging with its more messy and ugly elements...


This is the second time in this thread you have vaguely patronized someone else's response to this issue as "faux" or "armchair [read: amateur]" without any sort of substantive reason. Believe it or not, Greg, there are entire swaths of the Christian religion that would say: Violence is, by its very definition, always a failure. You are free to disagree, but pretending that such notions are only held by people that don't understand the way the world works requires the construction of a legion of strawmen. I would challenge you to sit down with Moltmann for a while.

Edited by M. Leary, 03 May 2011 - 09:37 AM.


#45 M. Leary

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:36 AM

It would be nice to think that that sentiment is shared outside the borders of the U.S.


I think it is. Though Salafi Islam dominates Western reportage, the American disdain for this kind of jihad also exists abroad in some measure. I agree that the American response represents a minority stake, but Shadi Hamid has written a lot of interesting editorial in recent years about how the Salafi Jihad has lost its glitz, and is laregly still around because it was a handy way for guys Mubarak to generate conservative support.

#46 Greg P

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 10:08 AM

Believe it or not, Greg, there are entire swaths of the Christian religion that would say: Violence is, by its very definition, always a failure. You are free to disagree, but pretending that such notions are only held by people that don't understand the way the world works requires the construction of a legion of strawman.

I don't deny that many great Christian men and women throughout history, have demonstrated striking examples of non-violence under the harshest persecution imaginable. I don't dismiss their difficult choice of non-violence... In many cases, i find it praiseworthy. The Christian pacifist, like Wallis or yourself, is not so generous towards those who have faced difficult choices and chosen to resist or defend themselves. Jock Purves "Fair Sunshine" detailing the lives and deaths of the 17th century Covenanters, springs to mind-- some of those men resorted to violence to escape persecution and protect themselves, some even resorting to blazing gunfights with their blood-thirsty persecutors. But obviously, most were peaceful and accepted their fates. I actually find something to admire in both examples.

But this is not really my point.

Choosing non-violence while facing persecution for the cause of Christ, is far different than, say, being a pacifist when a criminal is harming your child in front of your eyes.

When American white men pontificate on the virtues of Christian pacifism and categorize all violence as a profound "failure", it strikes me as very detached from the reality that all humans -- and in particular, the desperately poor-- around the world face every day. There is a certain smugness to it that I perceive, which is similar to the prosperity gospel proponents who regard sickness and poverty as a "failure". You have the right to believe those of us who have used physical violence to avoid death or dismemberment (for ourselves or our loved ones) have somehow failed God, the cause of Christ or our own dignity, but I have the right to think you're a bit sheltered.

How is that unfair?

Edited by Greg P, 03 May 2011 - 10:29 AM.


#47 M. Leary

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 10:29 AM

The Christian pacifist, like Wallis or yourself, is not so generous towards those who have faced difficult choices and chosen to resist or defend themselves.


Not sure where you are getting this Greg, or how you are able to quantify so finely my levels of judicial generosity. It sounds like you have a conception of "Christian pacifism" in mind that doesn't really match up to the historic conditions upon the term. Again, I would recommend a few of the standard resources on the issue - in which you what you often perceive as smugness may start looking like a fairly unpopular form of discipleship.

Edited by M. Leary, 03 May 2011 - 10:33 AM.


#48 Greg P

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 10:38 AM

Not sure where you are getting this Greg, or how you are able to quantify so finely my levels of judicial generosity.

Sorry, Mike. It was wrong of me to assume. Perhaps you can shed some light then on the scenario I mentioned and how such a physical intervention may or may not be considered a "failure".

#49 M. Leary

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 10:55 AM

No worries, Greg.

"You have the right to believe those of us who have used physical violence to avoid death or dismemberment (for ourselves or our loved ones) have somehow failed God, the cause of Christ or our own dignity..."

I think this is our theological disconnection. I don't think we should say in such contexts: "I have failed God" or "I have failed Christ." Rather, all occasions of violence (even in cases where such violence is ethical, if not obligatory) are symptomatic of the great post-Eden failure in which we live. If we think of violence as the Fall made active in human history, then it is reasonable for us to look at any occasion of violence as a way to envision history as the space in which God's redemptive work is taking place. Through the church, he is actively working on behalf of all of us who have been victimized by the fall - victim, victimizer, and accidental bystander.

This, in part, is what Luke is referring to when he pictures Jesus as the suffering servant in Isaiah - not just dying for those who are killing him, but taking the very shame of this violence upon himself.

Edited by M. Leary, 03 May 2011 - 10:57 AM.


#50 Christian

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 11:46 AM

Andy Borowitz tweets:

BREAKING: AT&T Says Bin Laden Still Responsible for One Year Left on iPhone Account

#51 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 11:51 AM

So when I heard the news, two of my first thoughts were, of course, movie-related.

I personally couldn't help thinking of the heartbreaking ending of Peter Berg's The Kingdom.

Persiflage wrote:
: It's going to take more than killing symbolic leaders to accomplish any lasting good here.

They're saying now that they didn't just kill him; they took his computer, too. Any thoughts on whether that might have any tactical value? Or has Osama withered so much towards being a figurehead that he wouldn't even be in the loop on anything important nowadays?

The computer might have useful information on it, but what everyone seems to be ignoring is how much al-Qaeda has changed and adapted over the years. Much of the useful intelligence we'd gather while I was in Iraq would only be worth anything for a day or two at most. Radical Islamic terrorists are not a traditional army - so it's not like they have a leader that you get to win by killing. And killing an old man who helped inspire some brainwashed guys to kill thousands of Americans ten years ago is not victory against al-Qaeda. This is an "organization" in the loose sense of the word. For the most part, many al-Qaeda terrorist cells operate completely independently - united only by their radical religion and their hate.

This is how hard and nontraditional this is. Everyone is celebrating bin Laden's death as some sort of military victory. And yet, this is precisely how he probably would have chosen to die - murdered (martyred) by those who he hated, causing other fellow radicals to be inspired & determined all the more only to die for killing many of the infidel Empire. We may have lost the "battle" when it came to bin Laden's death as soon as President Obama announced it to the world. Serious foreign policy thinkers are suggesting the best tactical decision would have been to keep the whole thing under wraps for a while. If we did gain intelligence information from bin Laden's computer, it's likely any usefulness it possessed was destroyed as soon as we decided to announce his death to the world.

: Spiritually, I can think of nothing better to turn believers in Islam away from Christianity and the gospel forever than to see Christians celebrating the death of bin Laden.

So ... are we taking it for granted, then, that there won't be any MUSLIMS celebrating the death of bin Laden? I mean, he's killed a lot more of THEM than he has of US, no?

From the ones I've talked to, I think most of them understand that this is a little accomplishment. It may have been inevitable that we'd catch him some day, but it taking 10 years for us to find him, and 5-6 years after he'd already lost most of his usefulness to al-Qaeda as anything other than a mere symbol of success - that's him beating us. If there are Western Muslims celebrating bin Laden's death, they're the less thoughtful. Most of the intelligent ones who have taken time to understand foreign relations and military strategy in the Middle East probably just look upon all this talk about "victory" with wry smiles.


Making a public display of celebrating "Justice" in many cases, without even exploring the moral implications of doing so, is often unwise. This is one of those cases. The news media is currently engaged in the task of creating hours and hours worth of al-Qaeda recruitment video footage.

Why is this any greater of a recruitment than our country's past ten years? Why is this somehow worse than torture/harsh interrogations, Guantanamo Bay or invading Iraq? If he was a mere outdated figurehead, as many on conservatives have argued over the last several years...why is this suddenly a dangerous recruiting opportunity for terrorists?

It's the symbolism of the thing. Torture/harsh interrogations are precisely that - interrogations to get intelligence information - it's not like we're putting them on video camera and sawing their heads off. Guantanamo Bay is still a public debate, not a public celebration. Invading Iraq was good al-Qaeda recruitment over the years, but it was the sort of recruitment we want - forcing al-Qaeda to fight in order to prevent their own people from being free instead of to fighting at our homeland is winning the fight within both public relations and national security spheres. However, Americans celebrating in the streets at the death of a radical Islamic leader changes the focus again. It cultivates the hatred referred to at the end of the film, The Kingdom, and it demonstrates how many of us still have such a small understanding of what the conflict actually entails.

Tellingly, American reactions to bin Laden's death is revealing the still entrenched divergence of opinion on what has been called "the war on terror." What really are our goals? How do we go about accomplishing good and prevailing over evil? Some believe it's by killing a few bad guys like bin Laden (a belief also held on Western/Middle Eastern conflict by a number of Medieval historical characters). Some believe it's only by exposing and educating Muslim human beings to certain principles about humanity (often called "Western" values) ... a culture-clash problem we were confronted with in Japan in the late 1940s.

With this whole episode, I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to seek out the insights of thinkers who understand culture in the Middle East. I still recommend Vali Nasr (author of The Shia Revival and Forces of Fortune), as well as the writing of Lawrence Wright and Raymond Ibrahim. None of these thinkers, while relieved, are celebrating in the streets or talking about what a great victory this was.

Edited by Persiflage, 03 May 2011 - 12:00 PM.


#52 Christian

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 11:54 AM

Kim Voynar at Movie City News is struggling with Christians' reactions to OBL's death. Her comments are heartfelt but frustrate me in equating the Bible and the Koran ("their messages aren’t actually that dissimilar").

Edited by Christian, 03 May 2011 - 11:56 AM.


#53 Greg P

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 11:57 AM

I think this is our theological disconnection. I don't think we should say in such contexts: "I have failed God" or "I have failed Christ." Rather, all occasions of violence (even in cases where such violence is ethical, if not obligatory) are symptomatic of the great post-Eden failure in which we live.


I accept this. But wouldn't "regrettable consequence" be a more apropos phrase than "failure", which as a blanket statement has a rather accusatory connotation?

Edited by Greg P, 03 May 2011 - 12:03 PM.


#54 tenpenny

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 12:24 PM

First, fate (I'll refrain from calling it justice, that word's denotation being so vexed on A&F) catches up with the Suggs brothers and Jake in Lonesome Dove (the hangings themselves aren't realistically gruesome - nor should they be - but the scene is quite powerful nonetheless) :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E44VYR3tTE8

* * * * * * *
Next, fate catches up with Blue Duck (who may be the better parallel to Osama bin Laden anyway, in terms of Lonesome Dove villains, in that Blue Duck's killings had a quasi-terroristic component to them, i.e. they could conceivably be viewed as a tit-for-tat response by native Americans against the white man's violent usurpation). Note the public jubilation in anticipation of Blue Duck's hanging. Is the celebratory applause in the U.S. after the news about OBL the modern-day equivalent? Is the current desire, on the part of many, to see photos of OBL's corpse a regression back to days when public acts of vengeance, seen with one's own eyes, were accepted? There does seem to be something primitive at work here, and it's troubling, even if it may be understandable. One thing's for sure. Woodrow F. Call doesn't know how to be jubilant, about anything, as we learned early on:

Woodrow Call: We come to this place to make money. They wasn't nothin' about fun in the deal.
Gus McCrae: What are you talkin' about? You don't even like money. You like money even less than you like fun, if that's possible.

Call stays to see justice done... oh, I mean, Call stays to see fate catch up with Blue Duck, but he ain't gloatin' about it. And neither should we, about killing OBL.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a1QcWDpdNw

Edited by tenpenny, 03 May 2011 - 04:43 PM.


#55 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 04:28 PM

Does the filmed cheering of folks like those in the stands at the Phillies game Sunday night suggest that christians cheered OBL's killing? I'm not so sure. I'm having trouble with the recruiting value angle as well. Sadly, what I read today by Reuel Marc Gerecht requires registration and subscription (I found it on the op-ed page of WSJ). He implies that al Queda has lost some of its luster with the constant killing of Shi'ites in Iraq during the mid-aughts. Bombing mosques, etc. Al-Queda has adapted and its most magnetic and telegenic spokesman has been killed as well. How does this event compete, or compare with "The Arab Spring"? How will this look a month hence if things keep escalating in Syria? Let's see how this plays out, rather than expecting 2002 all over again.

Mike: if violence is always seen as the failure of more proper means of the resolution of conflict, what about the violence as an initial act in a conflict? Is the pressure only on the respondent if the initiator sees the encounter differently? If the conflict ends in the demise of the respondent (who, it is here assumed, is not responding in kind), is this also failure?

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 03 May 2011 - 04:30 PM.


#56 Ryan H.

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 05:39 PM


. . . waterboarding . . . which apparently led to some of the information that resulted in bin Laden's demise.

Source? Admittedly, I've been out of the loop on this thing. I haven't watched any TV coverage of Bin Laden's death. I heard an NPR report this morning and that's the extent of it. But it was my understanding that the Obama administration had ordered the end of waterboarding.

Nothing definitive, but here's what a friend wrote on Facebook:

I just heard for the 2nd time today U.S. Congressman Peter King (NY) explain that we obtained the "courier information" (leading to Obama via a multi year investigation) initially from Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed and then it was subsequently confirmed by Al Libby both under "strong interrogation" but clearly stated "water boarding" in Guantanamo in context of Mohammed.

FWIW, on my ride home from work, NPR had a report that suggested that reports that any information leading to Bin Laden's arrest came from waterboarding may be erroneous. All details are not clearly known yet, but it seems there's no reason to think this is the case at this time, and that the five-year ban on waterboarding is still very much in place.

#57 Pax (unregistered)

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 06:21 PM

If Jim Wallis is an "armchair Christian," then may God grant me the grace to aspire even to be a matching Ottoman. (Seconday pun unintended.)

#58 David Smedberg

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 06:22 PM

I just caught up with Seth Myers' speech at the WH Correspondents' Dinner, and it was interesting to see him make a joke about Bin Laden's hiding place and then to cut to Obama's face wearing this incredible forced smile. Man his face muscles must have hurt after that one.

(Link -- 1:55 to 2:10.)

#59 tenpenny

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 06:33 PM



. . . waterboarding . . . which apparently led to some of the information that resulted in bin Laden's demise.

Source? Admittedly, I've been out of the loop on this thing. I haven't watched any TV coverage of Bin Laden's death. I heard an NPR report this morning and that's the extent of it. But it was my understanding that the Obama administration had ordered the end of waterboarding.

Nothing definitive, but here's what a friend wrote on Facebook:

I just heard for the 2nd time today U.S. Congressman Peter King (NY) explain that we obtained the "courier information" (leading to Obama via a multi year investigation) initially from Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed and then it was subsequently confirmed by Al Libby both under "strong interrogation" but clearly stated "water boarding" in Guantanamo in context of Mohammed.

FWIW, on my ride home from work, NPR had a report that suggested that reports that any information leading to Bin Laden's arrest came from waterboarding may be erroneous. All details are not clearly known yet, but it seems there's no reason to think this is the case at this time, and that the five-year ban on waterboarding is still very much in place.

Dianne Feinstein and Donald Rumsfeld (!) are both on the record (I just heard each of them say it) that the actionable intelligence leading to our knowing OBL's whereabouts did not come through any enhanced interrogation techniques (being pols, of course they won't call it what it really is).

In my opinion torture cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Torture is morally indefensible, even if it "works." End of discussion, full stop. Okay, just one sentence more, and then I'm done. I'm as opposed to torture as Michael is opposed to violence - torture is evil no matter how creatively one tries to justify it, so spare me (not directed at anyone here) the ticking-time-bomb arguments and Saw-like scenarios - and not only because of what it does to the tortured, but as much because of how utterly corrosive it is to the torturers - it's sulfuric acid applied directly to the souls of the people who participate in it, and it spreads out from there, albeit in a diluted form, to the rest of the society that tortures.

Edited by tenpenny, 03 May 2011 - 08:02 PM.


#60 Greg P

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 07:11 PM

If Jim Wallis is an "armchair Christian," then may God grant me the grace to aspire even to be a matching Ottoman. (Seconday pun unintended.)

For the record, Jim Wallis is one of the few modern christian thinkers I enjoy reading so I certainly respect the man and what he stands for in our culture. However, I think his statement that ALL violence represents some fundamental human failure, is at best woefully incomplete. I did read into his statement, along with others made that day, a sanctimonious air that seemed to be scolding people for daring to be joyful over the human justice exacted. I think such responses in wartime are entirely natural and not worthy of censure or condemnation. I think the range of emotions people felt, from celebratory to melancholy to anger are all healthy.

There are times when an act of violence can be perfectly fitting, good, heroic and life-giving. I'm not sure if the death of OBL fits this description, but it felt like it to me at the time. Wallis obviously disagrees.

Even though I found myself unashamedly glad for bin Laden's demise and inspired by the heroism of the men involved in the operation, I do agree with Wallis and the Vatican's call for Christians to reflect on this event soberly. I think the death photos-- which apparently are quite ghastly-- will instantly help many people come to grips with the gravity of this conflict.

Edited by Greg P, 03 May 2011 - 07:39 PM.