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Vermonters react to bin Laden’s death

May 2, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Local residents terrorized by al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden’s Sept. 11 plot — and the U.S. response to it — expressed myriad emotions Monday at the news of his bloody death at the hands of U.S. special forces.

The world’s most notorious terrorist was killed by a shot to the head Sunday at his heavily secured compound in the northeast Pakistani town of Abbottabad. A team of two dozen of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six swooped in by helicopter and killed bin Laden during a firefight, according to government officials.

News of bin Laden’s death began to emerge late Sunday night and was later confirmed by President Barack Obama in a White House address to the nation.

Donald Goodrich and his late wife Sarah “Sally” Wales Goodrich

Donald Goodrich, whose son Peter was aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when it was flown by bin Laden’s followers into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, was already asleep, however. He learned of the U.S. mission early Monday morning, after he woke and read his usual newspapers.

There was one immediate, overriding emotion, Goodrich said. “I woke up sad because it invoked memories of my son’s death and my wife’s death. I woke up further saddened by the cheers and joy I heard expressed on the radio and read about in the paper,” he said.

Goodrich and his wife, Sarah “Sally” Wales Goodrich, who died last year after a battle with cancer, founded the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation to honor their son after his death. It has raised money and constructed schools in Afghanistan’s Logar Province.

For Goodrich, unlike many others, the terrorist leader’s death has brought no sense of relief or closure. “I don’t feel relief that’s he’s dead. I just feel sadness at the continuing violence,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bennington Gold Star Mother Dorothy Halvorsen said she was “happy” that justice has been served.

Halvorsen’s son, Erik Halvorsen, a helicopter pilot, was among the first U.S. casualties of the Iraq war when his helicopter crashed just two weeks into that mission.

“I think it was a sense of relief that we didn’t have to wonder where he was hiding and what plans he was coming up with for more terrorist attacks,” Halvorsen said. “It was kind of good news tinged with sadness over losing so many soldiers because of this one person’s role in terrorism.”

Halvorsen said she watched the story unfold Monday night.

Dorothy Halvorsen wipes her eyes after the funeral of her son, Chief Warrant Officer 4th Class Erik Halvorsen, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq on April 2, 2003. (Associated Press)

“It was impressive, and I was so grateful that our men were able to get in there and to actually kill him. It seems amazing to me. I thought if my son were alive he would be so happy to hear that news,” she said. “I thought, too, that justice was served. So much of what has happened was because of (bin Laden). I thought about my son.”

Halvorsen said her son was moved after visiting Ground Zero in New York City following the 2001 attacks.

“We couldn’t get him to leave. He was just so angry that this had happened. He was propelled, in a way, in what he did after that to make things right again,” she said.

Vermont’s congressional delegation also had swift reactions to the bin Laden’s death. On a per capita basis, Vermont has lost more soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other state.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch noted Vermonters’ sacrifice and how they “responded to their commander in chief” when asked to carry out their missions. He said bin Laden’s death is serving as an “emotional catharsis.”

Vermonters and people across the country are relieved “that finally the person who is the architect of this diabolical act has been brought to justice,” Welch said.

“Even if Osama bin Laden was not on our minds each and every day, it was very frustrating that we were not able to determine his status. Was he alive or dead? It was as though that lack of resolution was taunting  us,” he said.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy hailed the secret mission that killed bin Laden.

“President Obama pledged that we would bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and last night we learned that bin Laden has suffered the consequences of his atrocities. Justice has been served,” Leahy said.

But Leahy also cautioned that such missions will not end the threat against U.S. interests.

“We must also remember that the use of military force, while at times necessary as it was in the operation against Osama bin Laden, is not a counter-terrorism strategy,” he said. “We have seen how, nearly 10 years after 9/11, and after spending hundreds of billions of dollars to combat terrorism, the recruitment of terrorists among disaffected youth continues apace around the world, including in our own country.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the mission “a historic moment in our fight against international terrorism.” He urged people to not forget “the American men and women from Vermont and around the country whose service and sacrifice in the struggle to defend our country has made us safer.”

Welch, who has been critical of Pakistan’s role in fighting terrorism alongside the U.S., said the predominantly Muslim nation “is a friend of convenience.”

Diagram of the compound where U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden

Questions began to emerge Monday about what Pakistani government officials knew, or should have known, about bin Laden’s whereabouts. The compound in which he was killed is close to an elite military academy and surrounded by military installations.

“It’s pretty clear that Pakistan and the U.S. have a very complicated relationship. Pakistan plays both ends against the middle … and they go their own way when that suits their interest,” Welch said. “Their agenda is different than the U.S.’s agenda.”

Goodrich said the reactions of many of his fellow countrymen as the news broke is troubling. Violent encounters related to terrorism should not be celebrated, he said.

“I was extremely disheartened to hear news and to actually hear on the radio some videotapes of the kind of cheering and raucous exuberance exhibited by Americans over the killing of Osama bin Laden. Terrorism and its implementation, or in the confrontation of it, is simply not a laughing matter. It is not and never should be anything that anyone should take any joy in.

“Although it is necessary to confront terrorism with violence, terrorism is the use of violence to send the message that violence works. It’s really just a form of speech, and what that speech conveys is that we can kill you, we will kill you. You are at our mercy because we have the capacity to, and will, brutalize you. And any response that can be interpreted as containing the same message perpetuates the violence. So, I do not see the killing of Osama Bin Laden as reason for raucous outbursts of joy,” Goodrich said.

Still, Goodrich said he understands a “violent response” by the U.S. was “necessary and we must do it.” But Goodrich said he worries that attention “will be on Osama bin Laden and he’s not worthy of that
attention.”

Halvorsen sounded a hopeful tone that bin Laden’s death could lessen the terrorist threat.

“I know that Erik was on his way to killing Saddam Hussein, and he was very much dedicated to that mission. But, somehow, that seems minor to what we’ve accomplished here, to me. This seems a much bigger event. If the commentators are right, it’s supposed to be an end to terrorism but I will wait to see,” she said.

For Goodrich, however, the sadness persists. He said he believes there is a growing sense among Muslims “that the prophet Mohammed did not have in mind the kind of behaviors that Sept. 11 spawned.” But the end of terrorism is nowhere in sight, he said.

“There never can be closure, that’s for sure. Sense of closure? Not even that, because until terrorism is squeezed out of the arsenal of war the continuing sense of loss will be there. I’m not going to see it in my lifetime. Terrorism has been around for centuries, millennia, actually, and it will always be around,” Goodrich said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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