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'Shop Talk': Ready For Bin Laden, The Movie?

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Now, normally we head to the Barbershop on Fridays, but given the events of the past week, we felt we had to get into the shop early. So the guys are sitting in their chairs for their shapeup. Author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Ron Christie and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey. Doing well.


IZRAEL: Well, I just got back from a trip to Pakistan. Anything - what's new anybody?

CHRISTIE: Nothing much.


CHRISTIE: Been a slow news day - news week.

NAVARRETTE: Nothing to see here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Well, coincidentally, as it turns out, the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden is now dead. Like many villains, his remains were committed to the sea. There's Captain Hook, Megatron and now bin Laden.

(Soundbite of laughter)


IZRAEL: The big question today is whether or not graphic photos confirming his death should be released. Now, Ron, RC.

CHRISTIE: That's me.

IZRAEL: My question is, what good could it possibly do?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think one of the things it would do, Jimi, is it would quell some of the Internet conspiracy theories that are already out there saying that the United States really didn't capture Osama bin Laden, that this is a manufactured event similar to we didn't really land on the moon. And I think that if you put a photo out - it doesn't have to be graphic, it doesn't have to be, you know, all of the nasty, gruesome things that we've heard, but just a shot to confirm his identity I think would do a lot to quell some of these conspiracy theorists.

IZRAEL: You know what? A-train - thanks for that RC - for me, the thing about releasing photos is, look, it's not like it's like Usher Fellig's photojournalism of the '30s and '40s, which was kind of - it was graphic, but it was photojournalism. This is closer to me like snuff photography. Like, you know, like the lynching postcard they used to sell in this country. So, I don't see what good it could possibly do and I don't know if I want to live in a country that's brokering in snuff photography. A-train, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: That's a good point, Jimi. You know, I'm still torn, to be honest with you. I can see the validity of both sides of the story. Obviously, you know, like Ron said, you want to quell the conspiracy theorists out there by, you know, just like we have proof of life, you know, show a proof of death. But, again, once you bring that out, then you're going to have the conspiracy theorist be like, oh, you know, it's Photoshopped.

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: You know, it's like the birther. It's like you give the long form, they're going to want to the longer form birth certificate. They're going to want the longest form birth certificate. The people who don't want to believe it are going to peddle in that conspiracy theory, you know, to no end. And on the flipside of that, Jimi, to, you know, echo your point, you know, I can also see the validity in not releasing it.

You know, President Obama said that there was a DNA match. If we can, you know, bring out the results of the scientific DNA match, I think that that would quell a lot of this talk as well. So, you know, it's going to be really interesting to see not only how the White House releases the photos, but when they release the photos. And obviously they're going to take into account, you know, sensitivities within the Muslim world and the Middle East, you know, in terms of, you know, cultural sensitivities and how that might play out, you know, for the future of global politics.

MARTIN: I confess that I think the media in the United States is far more sanitized than anywhere in the Middle East. I think that the images that people are routinely exposed to on Al-Jazeera are far more graphic than anything Americans are used to seeing.

IFTIKHAR: Right. But, also, Michel - and I completely take your point. But what I'm saying, if this image does come out, this will be the sort of definitive image that you're going to see on, you know, protest placards. You know, from now on they're going to show the bloodied face of Osama bin Laden, you know, as sort of the, you know, the rallying cry, if you will. And so, you know, it is a double-edged sword in many ways.

MARTIN: What does Ruben say?

IZRAEL: It's going to take, like, an hour for it to get to T-shirts in the hood. Yeah, Ruben, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: I say, release it. I am sensitive to the idea that we don't want to be seen as showing off a trophy, if you will. There's something grotesque about that concept. But we live in a different world, in a 24-hour media cycle on the Internet. We want transparency. People want to see and get a sense of closure on this chapter. And I think that this helps with that. The other thing I've heard on the other side isn't really so persuasive to me, the idea somehow that Muslims might be inflamed by this. I think Muslims are inflamed if they're so disposed. They're inflamed because Osama was killed, not because we show a picture of Osama after he was killed.

And I think that I'm having a throwback to the 9/11 images. They used to say to us that they wanted to stop showing the towers falling on television and stop the video because, you know, stop replaying that video because it was going to inflame tensions. We were already inflamed. You know, you could take that video and put it in a vault. That didn't somehow erase our memory. We lived through that.

And so likewise, I think the people who are out there - and I think it's a small minority, a very small minority, would somehow be looking for retaliation against the United States. They don't need to be inflamed. They're already inflamed, and whether we release the picture or not is really irrelevant.

IFTIKHAR: Right. And also, you know, to reiterate something, you know, piggybacking off what Ruben said, you know, the vast majority of Muslims around the world, you know...


IFTIKHAR: ...expressed a great deal of relief at the death of Osama bin Laden.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I believe that. I believe that.

IFTIKHAR: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Academy showed that from 2006 to 2008, 98 percent of al-Qaida's victims worldwide were Muslims. And so, you know, they might show like 10 or 20 people protesting, you know, somewhere in the, you know, hinterlands of Pakistan, but, you know, the vast majority of Muslims - myself included - you know, exhaled a sigh of relief when we heard that bin Laden was gone.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about how the whole thing was accomplished and the whole - look, it's inevitable. We might find this distasteful, but then the whole question of who claims credit and to what we should attribute...


MARTIN: ...the success of this operation, this is being discussed. And, you know, some of that is politics. And some of that is, I think, you know, a typical after-action report, which is, you know, sort of recounting what were the factors that led to this success. And some of the question here is whether that, you know, is it President Obama? And some people are saying it's the Bush administration's authorization of what people - you know, some people prefer "enhanced interrogation techniques," other people just say is torture, to - that led to the win.

Now, the president is trying to strike the tone of make this a unifying moment. Let's just play a short clip of what he had to say during a bipartisan congressional dinner Monday night.

President BARACK OBAMA: You know, I think we experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. We were reminded again that there is a pride in what this nation stands for and what we can achieve that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics.

NAVARRETTE: Do you think it does? Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: I would agree. I'm...


IZRAEL: You know, this is - yeah. This is one of the few times that, yeah, I'm kind of - I kind of agree with the president on this point. But I wonder what Ron thinks. Ron, is this a major point for President Obama going into 2012?

CHRISTIE: Well, of course, it is. I mean, you know, you look at the fact that this is a political matter, as well as a military matter. Politically speaking, my old boss, George W. Bush, in eight years, was unable to capture Osama bin Laden. He wasn't. It was one of the things - he said he wanted him dead or alive. He wasn't able to do it. In this case, President Obama gave the order. President Obama is the commander-in-chief of the military, dispatched them, dispatched our intelligence agencies to carry out their jobs, and I think job well done.

But I would say, Jimi, this is one thing I think my former boss, Vice President Cheney, had the right tone yesterday. And he said this was an effort to get bin Laden that started with President Clinton, that was, you know, intensified during the Bush administration, that was finally carried out in the Obama administration.


CHRISTIE: And that's why it goes beyond parties. It goes to the fact that these are American folks that are elected to represent us.


CHRISTIE: And I think they all represented us well.

MARTIN: Ruben wrote about this.

IZRAEL: Ruben...

MARTIN: Yeah. Ruben wrote a column about this, so.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. It's really distasteful to me that we end up playing this game about credit and blame. But I think that the point is that you have, at the CIA and in the military, these lifers who serve one president after another and they never leave, right. And in order for you to believe somehow that President Obama deserves the credit as they've said in the simpleton network of MSNBC, for instance, that somehow, you know, he's able to do what Bush couldn't do, you have to believe that somehow when Obama came in, he got rid of all the military folks, the lifers and all the CIA folks and put in his own folks, and somehow they were more competent than Bush's folks.

It's the same folks, okay. It's the same people. And it does take a long time to do something like this. I like what Giuliani said - Rudy Giuliani - when he said, you know, you do murder cases that take 20 years sometimes. And so this was going to take a long time. It was going to take 10 years. I did find it a little distasteful that the Bush haters got out the long knives right away and started to try to poke the president.

I thought it was interesting that the conservatives seemed to want to share in that and say don't forget about Bush's role in all this. But, you know, I think it tells us a lot more about us than it does about our military and our leaders. I think that by and large, President Obama has handled it correctly. But a lot of people out there who support him, I think, have been really childish about this.

IZRAEL: A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, I think that this is something that, you know, transcends - or at least should transcend partisanship. You know, you have people like Sarah Palin, who didn't even mention President Obama's name, you know, when talking about this. So, you know, you are going to find people who are going to try to, you know, play and - play to get a few cheap political points. But I think that this is a victory for America. You know, at the end of the day, we Americans got him. You know, and I agree with Ron. You know, if Ronald McDonald were president when - you know, on the watch of getting Osama bin Laden, then he'd get a bump in the polls, also.

MARTIN: I was struck by the fact that - this fact that, yes, it is true that at least one woman was critically injured in this.


MARTIN: But that there could've been so much more. There were children in that compound.


MARTIN: None of them were injured. They...

NAVARRETTE: The SEALs were very good.

MARTIN: You know, easily, the easier course of action could have been to just level the whole place.

IFTIKHAR: Right. And...

MARTIN: They could easily have done that with minimizing any risk to American forces.


MARTIN: And they chose not to do it. They chose to do the harder thing. Now, in the course of doing that, they were obviously able to gather other, you know, intelligence and so forth and - but, you know, I think...

NAVARRETTE: That was Obama's call. We know that it was his call. His decision.

MARTIN: That was his call. And I do find I have to ask though Ron, though, the fact that Sarah Palin couldn't even bring herself to acknowledge that.

IFTIKHAR: Mention his name.

MARTIN: I have to ask, you know, how you - what is that?

CHRISTIE: I just - you know, that's just pathetic. I mean, I think as my friend A-Train over here just said a moment ago, this was Americans going in to kill Osama bin Laden. This should not be a political thing, and Sarah Palin needs to grow up and get over it. I mean, if she can't - as many issues that I have with President Obama, I say job well done, Mr. President. Thank you for having the courage. Thank you for having the integrity to give the order to go get those folks and do it safely and all of our men, and women came home who had completed this mission. Job well done.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're having this a little early. We normally have the Barbershop on Friday, but given all the events this week, we thought we'd better get into that shop a little early and hear what the guys have to say.

We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Republican strategist Ron Christie. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Okay. Well, President Obama does seem to be on a roll - winning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: He had a lot of fun at Donald Trump's expense during the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, you know, it's so funny how, like, the world changes. Because, you know, on Saturday, this was, like, the big news is that, you know, the president just said that he was going to do a major smackdown on Donald Trump, aided by Seth Meyers, the "Saturday Night Live" head writer.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And I'll just play, you know, just a clip from that, just for the fun of it. Here it is.

OBAMA: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.

(Soundbite of laughter)

OBAMA: And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

OBAMA: What really happened in Roswell?

(Soundbite of laughter)

OBAMA: And where are Biggie and Tupac?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: That right. Where's Biggie and Tupac?

MARTIN: I want to know myself. That's what I want to know. I know I was worried about that myself. So the question I have is does it actually - does this actually - not - the combination of putting the birth certificate out, but also the fact that, like, real stuff happened. Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, you know, when President Obama came out on Sunday night and, you know, announced the death of Osama bin Laden, like, I was waiting for that last line of his speech to be, hey, Donald Trump. I got some dirt on my shoulder. Could you brush it off for me? You know, it was definitely a how-you-like-me-now moment. And...

NAVARRETTE: I got to say - this is Ruben. I got to say, the Republicans, I thought, did a really good job. Dick Cheney, Donald Trump all congratulated President Obama. They all said he'd done a good job, and they appreciated that. And as I said, they were a lot more magnanimous than folks on the left. But here's why, because the dirty little secret here is that President Obama has used and maintained a lot of, if not all, of President Bush's anti-terror policies.


NAVARRETTE: And so the Republicans really see this as an opportunity to vindicate themselves, to vindicate the old Bush team in terms of these kinds of policies. This is not something we - is a secret. We've known this for some time. The Bush people have actually gone - I'm sorry. The Obama people have actually gone to court to defend, in court, the Obama - the Bush policies, to say we want to keep those policies and those procedures for fighting terrorism. So it has caused civil libertarians, I think, some really nervous moments over the last few years, that Obama has been, like, morphing into Bush on this very issue of anti-terror. But this provides a chance for Republicans to crow, and boy, are they crowing.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, but Ruben, the flip side of that is, you know, you do have a lot of Republicans using this as a, you know, a political way to try to, you know, springboard the waterboarding thing when, you know, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said that all of the intelligence gleaned about the courier that led them to bin Laden at Abbottabad came well after any of the waterboarding ever occurred.

NAVARRETTE: I disagree about waterboarding. You know this, Arsalan, because you studied this stuff. You know the civil libertarians have been very disappointed in Obama because...

IFTIKHAR: Sure. No, but what I'm saying is, you know...

IZRAEL: Okay. Wait a second.

IFTIKHAR: They haven't been...

NAVARRETTE: The Republicans see this as an opportunity to...

IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on a second. Hold on a second. Ya'll are going to have to grease up and fight this stuff out back because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: We told you so. We told you so.

MARTIN: Well, what about...

IZRAEL: Okay. Well...

MARTIN: Why don't we ask Ron? Ron, do you think that that--?

IZRAEL: Yeah, check in, man.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Well, I - the quiet one of the bunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRISTIE: Look, I think, frankly, this is, again, a case where it shouldn't be partisan. And Ruben, it goes to your point that you said a few moments ago: The intelligence community, you have people who were there when we had that botched attempt to get our hostages back in 1979. These people have been there 20, 30 years.


CHRISTIE: The people who have the expertise have been doing this for a long time. And for Democrats or Republicans to say our guy did it better or these folks did it worse, it's a mistake. This is a time we come together as a country. And for goodness sakes, for once, can't we just put our partisan labels down and say, good job for the intelligence agencies and the military? Can't we just do it once?

IZRAEL: Yeah. Really.

MARTIN: Okay. Really. Before we let you go, though, I have to - forgive me - is this cheap of me to ask you about the movie, the Osama movie? You know they're talking about...


MARTIN: Ron's saying, yes, it is cheap. Forgive me. Ron is nodding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: You got to ask.

IZRAEL: You got to ask.

MARTIN: Yes, it is cheap of you. I'm sorry. I'll just go there for just a second.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: They're talking about Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, director of 'The Hurt Locker," was already working on a film about a failed attempt to find bin Laden.


MARTIN: Now it looks like they're - obviously, the ending has to change. Would you go see that movie?

IFTIKHAR: Hell yeah, I would.

MARTIN: Ron, are you going?


IZRAEL: I mean, I don't know. I mean...

IFTIKHAR: Opening night.

IZRAEL: ...what I'm thinking. Here's what I'm thinking: Who's going to play Osama? You got, look, you got Jeremy Irons.

IFTIKHAR: I got it. I got.

IZRAEL: You got Jeremy Irons. You got Antoine Dotson.


IZRAEL: Maybe Lindsay Lohan. I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Jimi, Jimi, I got it. Listen. Okay now...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: First of all, as a six-foot-four, brown Muslim dude, you know, I'll stand in as his body double. But seriously...

IZRAEL: Good luck with that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, that's wrong. That's just wrong. If we had said that - if we had said that, right?

IFTIKHAR: Listen. Listen. I know.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Exactly.

IFTIKHAR: I got two words: Jeff Goldblum, six-foot-four, skinny...

IZRAEL: Yeah. You're right. Yeah, you nailed. You nailed it.

IFTIKHAR: ...olive-skinned. And if any of the Hollywood studios are listening right now and you pick Jeff Goldblum, you need to make it rain here in the Barbershop.



(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Wait, who said that...

NAVARRETTE: If he was, in fact, six-foot-four, I can see why Pakistan missed him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So who said they weren't going? Ron, you said you aren't going.

CHRISTIE: I'm not going.

MARTIN: You ain't going.

CHRISTIE: If I'm going to see the movie, I want to see the Navy SEAL footage. That's the movie I want to see.

MARTIN: All right. That's what's up. All right. Jimi Izrael's a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. Ron Christie is a Republican strategist. He's a former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and managing editor of the Crescent Post. And Arsalan and Ron were here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio for this special Barbershop. Thank you all so much.


NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible)


IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.