One year ago, a team of Navy SEALS flew into Pakistan under cover of darkness, penetrated the compound of the most wanted man on earth, and shot him dead. Twice. Thus ended the story of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks and subject of many fine feature-length stories.
John Miller was the last U.S. journalist to interview bin Laden before 9/11. "The American imposes himself on everyone," Miller quoted bin Laden as saying in 1999. "Americans accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists—those children, who have no weapons and have not even reached maturity. At the same time, Americans defend a country, the state of the Jews, that has a policy to destroy the future of these children. We are sure of our victory against the Americans and the Jews as promised by the Prophet: Judgment day shall not come until the Muslim fights the Jew, where the Jew will hide behind trees and stones, and the tree and the stone will speak and say, 'Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.' "
Three years after the attacks, Peter Bergen went in search of bin Laden. "In the past year I traveled twice to Afghanistan and Pakistan to find out how the hunt for bin Laden was progressing. While in Kabul I stayed at a comfortable guesthouse owned by a British combat cameraman—a spacious villa that is reportedly the former residence of one of Osama bin Laden's four wives. After the fall of the Taliban the villa was converted to its present use," he wrote. "For a hundred dollars and change it's now possible to have the ambiguous pleasure of sleeping in what may once have been the marital chamber of the world's most wanted man; for me, it was an appropriate place to begin an investigation into what became of bin Laden after 9/11. My investigation included more than two dozen interviews with American, Afghan, and Pakistani officials, and discussions with several people who have met with bin Laden over the years." But still he remained at large.
In 2007, Ian Frazier went hunting again—online. "Sometimes when I'm wondering what bin Laden is up to today, I go to Google Earth and take a look at Afghanistan and Pakistan. I zoom in on Kandahar, where he used to live, and then go up to Kabul and see what the downtown traffic congestion is like there," Frazier wrote. "From Kabul I go north into the Hindu Kush Mountains, and then southeastward to Paktia province, where bin Laden supposedly fought hand to hand with a Russian during the Afghan resistance and captured an AK-47, and then I go north again to the Tora Bora hills, where bin Laden and associates escaped from American and other forces in December of '01. Those sure are some bleak and stony and dusty mountains they've got in that part of the world!"
Nicholas Schmidle reconstructed the raid that killed bin Laden after interviewing sources close to the men who conducted it. "Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid," Schmidle wrote. "He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him."
And Richard Beck reflected on the celebrations that immediately followed news of bin Laden's death. "I have no memories of being frightened or angered by the attacks. My family had no close New York ties, and everything looked so much like a movie, and at 14 I was too young to imagine the grief of others and turn it into my own," he wrote about a gathering lower Manhattan. "But I am glad that this man, this TV character dressed up like a thirteenth-century shepherd with a prop AK-47, is dead. I am glad he is dead I am glad he is dead. At Ground Zero, when people began to chant 'Fuck Bin La-den' and sing songs they learned at NFL halftimes, I hated it, but what else were they going to do?"