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Questions for a Post-Bin Laden America

Every evening's news report reminds us that we know how to kill. But who's going to remind us how to live?

We let him define us for a decade, and now he's gone. After a very American party, the crowds have gone home. Here's one of the more printable Twitter quotes from an online news item entitled " Pornstars Respond to Bin Laden's Death": "Bin Laden is dead. @dirtjunior666 and I are celebrating with margaritas. My foot hurts. Thats my day in a nutshell."

"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear ..."

It's been a hell of a binge, hasn't it? I mean all ten years of it: the shock, the grief, the togetherness, the anger and political divisions, and finally the party. Now it's hangover time. When the hangover ends, that's when the questions usually begin:

Are we finally strong enough to keep our heads... and our values... under pressure?

It really was something, wasn't it? The way we came together after 9/11, before we let ourselves be manipulated and divided by cynics? Well, they're back. People are already writing pieces with titles like " Targeted Killing Justified." Rep. Peter King is claiming that the death of Bin Laden vindicates torture, although the experts say we probably would have found him sooner without it.

"Physicists ... discover things about a particular metal alloy when they subject it to extreme pressure ... under extreme pressure, people give you many more insights into their innermost being and tell us about who we really are." -- Werner Herzog

Rep. King asks: Wouldn't we have tortured Mohammad Atta on September 10 to save 3,000 lives? That's a foolish question, as interrogation experts already know. Atta would only have needed to confuse and delay us for twenty-four hours. Experts say that the quickest way to get information from a terrorist is by winning his sympathy. But sympathy doesn't provide the emotional satisfaction, or the electoral opportunities, soulless politicians like Peter King crave.

Advocates for torture and indiscriminate murder aren't just foolish, of course. They're also immoral. They wound our spirit, even as they weaken our national security. Would a peaceful, democratic uprising be sweeping the Middle East if we still advocated torture? Bin Laden's support in Egypt went from 61% in 2005 to 13% this year. That's a real national security victory. Think it would've happened if Peter King were president?

Other torture advocates were already trying to cover their tracks, even before the news came out. But whether they cower or bluster, it's too late for them. When it took courage to stand up for our values, they cut and run. Like a physicist's alloys, they revealed their true nature under pressure. A word to the wise from Walt Whitman: "Whoever degrades another degrades me, And whatever is done or said returns at last to me."

Will we finally ask questions about our invisible intelligence empire?

All those headline-grabbing, self-described "deficit hawks" have been quiet as church mice when it comes to the hundreds of billions, possibly more than a trillion in total, that we've spent building a secret, corporation-enriching intelligence empire. The Washington Post did a comprehensive, hard-hitting two-year study called " Top Secret America" -- and nobody read it. Their findings are staggering:

"1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence ... In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built - the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings ... (there is) redundancy and waste ... Analysts (publish) 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored."

We keeping hearing about those ultra-powerful satellites that can read the words on a printed page from their orbits in space. Apparently they didn't read a paper that some UCLA geography professors and grad students wrote in 2009. It predicted, with 88.9% certainty, that Bin Laden was in an urban area within 300 kilometers of Tora Bora. Hindsight's always 20/20, but with all the money we're spending, you'd think every plausible theory was being investigated.

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