First aired on The Current (01/05/12)
For the past decade, perhaps no man in the world had a bigger target on his back than al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The mastermind behind the September 11 attacks on the U.S. had consistently eluded capture and was deep in hiding.
Then last year on May 1, news broke that after years of chasing Bin Laden, a team of Navy SEALs raided his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed the world's most wanted man.
Journalist and CNN security analyst Peter Bergen had spent years chronicling the hunt for Bin Laden and studying the man. He was also one of the very few Western reporters to interview him. But when Bergen heard the news that Bin Laden was dead, his reaction was muted.
"My reaction was sort of, nothing. To be honest, it was kind of the same reaction I had when I went inside the compound," he told The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti during a recent interview.
Bergen was the only "outside observer" allowed into the place where Bin Laden was killed, and has written about the experience in his new book Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad
"When I went into Bin Laden's bedroom, where he lived with his much younger Yemini wife for the last six years, more or less, of his life, I expected it would maybe feel like visiting Hitler's bunker at the end of World War II. But instead I just didn't really feel anything."
It became clear to Bergen that Bin Laden's last days were not spent in luxury. The lifestyle appeared to be a mix of makeshift camping and suburban squalor. The journalist had been half-expecting some sort of lair like a "Doctor No or Doctor Evil type" would have had.
"I looked around the room --
this is where he was killed --
[and] I could see on the ceiling the blood marks where the U.S. Navy SEAL had shot him in the head and blood had spurted up on the ceiling."
Bergen also observed the quotidian details of what Bin Laden's life had become.
"I looked around and saw that he had Just For Men hair dye as part of his stuff that he kept in his bedroom. So you know, at age 54, he was quite vain and dying his hair and beard jet black. I looked into his tiny bathroom about the size of a closet. I looked at the toilet, it was sort of one of those squat toilets that you sort of have to squat over to do your business. And it's not the image you think of with the world's most wanted man doing his business over a squat toilet."