Lawmakers never gave up hope

Lawmakers never gave up hope that the U.S. would capture or kill Osama bin Laden. 

In a series of interviews over the past several months, a dozen key members of Congress told The Hill that while they didn’t know when or how the former al Qaeda leader’s reign would come to an end, they were certain the U.S. would get him eventually. 

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“We’ve done a huge amount [to track down bin Laden],” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) earlier this year. “One day, he’ll be captured or killed. One day.” 

The search for bin Laden, which began before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, exasperated and frustrated members of Congress for more than a decade. During the George W. Bush administration, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) issued a press release titled, “Why don’t we just go get him?”

The issue is especially personal for members who represented constituents killed in the attacks. Lawmakers have also noted that if not for the brave actions of passengers on 

United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., could have slammed into the Capitol. The 9/11 Commission report concluded that United 93 was headed for the White House or the Capitol.

In 2004, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) raised some eyebrows by predicting that the terrorist mastermind would be caught or killed before that year’s election. That comment intensified conspiracy theories that Bush had captured bin Laden and would announce it right before the election.

In the two presidential elections since Sept. 11, White House candidates stressed that if elected, they would bring bin Laden to justice.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously vowed during the 2008 presidential race that he would follow bin Laden to the “gates of hell.”

And three years after Bush said that bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive,” Kerry pointed out in a debate with the president that the Saudi was still on the loose. 

But days before the 2004 election, bin Laden released a video message that many political analysts say might have cost Kerry the presidency. Bush supporters seized on the video, saying it proved that bin Laden wanted Kerry to become commander in chief. 

In 2006, then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), at the time the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used Bush’s failure to capture bin Laden as political ammunition. 

As Obama’s chief of staff years later, Emanuel was “astounded” that no one in the intelligence community had “a clue” of where bin Laden was hiding, according to Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars.

When the bin Laden trail grew cold, lawmakers invoked his name with less frequency on Capitol Hill. 

For example, bin Laden’s name was mentioned 391 times in the Congressional Record and in 33 pieces of legislation during 2001 and 2002.

In the last Congress, bin Laden’s name showed up 126 times in the Congressional Record and only appeared in a dozen pieces of legislation.

But legislators didn’t give up hope.

“A huge effort is being made,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in a March interview. “It may work someday, hopefully sooner rather than later. 

“I don’t think that the Pakistanis are making the kind of effort that would help us succeed,” he said. “Pakistan looks the other way when there are people who don’t threaten them but who threaten others. I don’t know of anything more that we can do.” 

McCain, the committee’s ranking Republican, echoed his counterpart’s comments, saying, “Everybody says he’s got people who are his supporters who are an alert system. Chairman Mao said, ‘The guerrilla is to the people as the fish is to the water.’ And [bin Laden’s] clearly got a lot of water around him.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, noted that bin Laden “knows not to use technologies where he knows we can find him.”

The comments proved prophetic, as bin Laden was found and killed on Sunday in a Pakistan compound bereft of phone and Internet lines.