Humiliation Counterterrorism

The spate of Bin Laden home videos the White House released last week–which Jack Shafer over at Slate aptly calls “the putz videos“–show the Al Qaeda mastermind wearing a dyed beard and scrolling through TV channels looking for himself on the news. The obvious propaganda takeaway, in Shafer’s estimation, is that “Bin Laden had so lost his mojo that he was just an old man freezing in a dump watching television.”

Max Boot at Commentary described the videos as an attempt at “breaking the spell” that Bin Laden had cast over the universe of aspirational jihadists. If this was indeed the administration’s purpose–and it seems pretty clear that it was–then they can only hope to be as successful as the Peruvian government was after staging this unveiling of the captured leader of the Maoist Shining Path guerillas, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. Behold the Citizen Kane of terrorist putz videos:

The propaganda come-on here isn’t exactly subtle, with Peruvian policeman pulling back a curtain from Guzman’s cage as if he were Dumbo the flying elephant. But the image of Guzman–whose insurgency had succeeded in seizing large parts of Peru–standing plumply in a cage and dressed in candy stripes is credited with playing a huge role in the demise of the Shining Path. Will a few Bin Laden outtakes do the same to Al Qaeda? We should be so lucky.

John Gravois

John Gravois is an editor of the Washington Monthly.