bin Laden is dead! (Pay no attention to those crippled children)


Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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58 Responses

  1. Avatar Angela says:

    I’ll look for the links later, but my recollection at the time was that the vaccines were being given, but the DNA samples were also taken. So, the patients would have been protected from the disease (as advertised) but the Doctor violated medical ethics because he also collected DNA. And his actions tainted the vaccination project in general.Report

    • Based on the phraseology of the Times article (which reads “rather than…”), I assumed no vaccines were administered. If the vaccines were being administered, that mutes my objection to a modest degree.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

        I’ve been trying to figure this out, and have had no luck. I can’t find a solid statement of fact either way. Logically, there’s no reason not to vaccinate: money wasn’t an issue, and there’s no reason to risk another doctor discovering that the vaccination hadn’t taken place.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “Since the cost in lost faith by rightly suspicious Pakistanis”

    Pakistan is free to spend a little less money* on nuclear weapons and training terrorists and a little more on funding it’s own rural health care system.

    (Everything I read has indicated that all the medical care was legit except for the non-consented DNA samples).

    *a little less of *our* money, mind you, esp in the fungible sense.Report

    • Again, if the vaccines were administered, then my concern is slightly lessened.

      How Pakistan spends its money, or “our” money, isn’t really the point. The point is that, for a population of people who have grown particularly suspicious of any supposedly well-intentioned interventions on their behalf (and in an area of the world where we are all too happy to fly unmanned drones to drop bombs on them), this will only make them more wary of something they’re told will “help” them.Report

    • Avatar Mo says:

      (Everything I read has indicated that all the medical care was legit except for the non-consented DNA samples).

      Except for the fact that, at least according to the CDC, the Hep B vaccine takes multiple treatments, and I don’t believe the good doctor went back for the subsequent ones. It would be like saying that I set up the home theater system in your house after I installed a single speaker.Report

      • Except for the fact that, at least according to the CDC, the Hep B vaccine takes multiple treatments, and I don’t believe the good doctor went back for the subsequent ones

        That is my understanding, as well. If this is the case, then the vaccine was not administered in a manner sufficient to create an adequate immune response, and thus the full objection I state in the OP stands.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      “Pakistan is free to spend a little less money on nuclear weapons and training terrorists and a little more on funding it’s own rural health care system. ”

      So says the citizen of a nation that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, AND seems unable to enact universal health care.

      I wonder if there is a Pakistani version of Fox News, to guide their politicians on the proper allocation of the federal budget.

      Mote, meet beam.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Now if only some OTHER country would give US money so we could implement universal health care.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:


        Pakistan is free to spend their money on healthcare for their people and if they don’t then we can allsee what their priorities are. We, the US aren’t at fault for their poor choices. Neither you nor Russell can change that.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          That’s just what a wise cab driver in Canada told me!

          “America is free to spend their money on healthcare for their people and if they don’t then we can all see what their priorities are.”Report

  3. Avatar Angela says:

    The earliest link I could find was for The Guardian.
    The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. … Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children.

    In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.
    There was a fair amount of outrage at the time about how this would taint vaccination programs in general, and that the ultimate death count (from lack of vaccinations) could dwarf the lives destroyed on 9/11.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Way back when I was a kid in Africa, the Islamic preachers would go around from village to village after my parents, preaching that polio and smallpox vaccinations would make children into Christians.

    It’s often been said Christianity has been unscientific and oppressed freethinkers and it has. No denying it. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Islamic anti-science. You may have heard of the Boko Haram in Nigeria. The word “Boko” comes from the English word “book”. Boko means western education, western values but especially western medicine. “Haram” means un-Islamic. They’re terrorising Northern Nigeria just now.

    Want an Islamic cure for smallpox? Write a verse from the Qu’ran, tie it into a small leather pouch and wear it around your neck.Report

    • The complicity of the local religious leaders, whatever it may be, in no way mitigates that of our government or its agents.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        I supported an eye hospital in Gilgit, Pakistan for years. The eye surgeon who ran it, a childhood friend, has been forced out of Pakistan. He wasn’t political.

        Pakistan sheltered and protected Osama bin Ladin within eye contact of Pakistan’s version of West Point. And you don’t think it mitigates what we did to find him.Report

        • To you, the death of this one man is worth the ongoing presence of an otherwise eradicable disease and the potential sickness, disability or death of hundreds or thousands of children. To me, it is less so.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            I am exquisitely aware of what goes on in Pakistan. I have put two years of my life into Pashtun refugees and almost two decades into supporting an eye hospital in Gilgit. I will not be told about what I think anything is worth. I am not holding the balances in which these things are weighed. That would be the Pakistani regime which connived with Osama bin Ladin, with the Taliban.

            It does not matter what you or I think. It seems to me you are quite willing to allow the Pakistani regime to hold children’s lives hostage to their own political ends. Not that I would put such words in your mouth but you seem to have enough to put in mine.Report

            • Blaise, my friend, I am not going to get into an outrage-a-thon with you. You hold the Pakistani regime primarily responsible for the welfare of its people? Good. So do I. But insofar as the actions of my government have undermined the ongoing efforts to rid the world of a devastating and wholly preventable disease (which seems evident from my reading of the facts as I understand them), then I am going to object to those actions. The costs of ridding the world of bin Laden are, at very least, greater than many people in this country seem keen to admit or acknowledge, and without an honest accounting for the costs there can be no sound conversation about the morality of the actions as undertaken.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I do hold the Pakistani regimes, (there have been half-a-dozen since I first got off the plane there) responsible for the systematic oppression of the Pashtun people (and many other tribes), the reduction of Afghanistan to a nightmarish wasteland, the oppression of Christians and Sufis and Shiites and Baha’i and the murder of many thousands of people, including the dead of 9/11. This is a mighty toll. If it does not outrage you, well, then let it pass. Mine is, at least, an honest accounting.

                Yet again, I would like to make the point that Pakistan’s government holds the handle of the scales here. We do not. Those who would speak of eliminating devastating and preventable diseases ought to recognise who is preventing them. It is not the Pakistani government.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Pakistan did not hold the children hostage. Had they known that this is what the US honestly intended to do, I’d venture to guess they might have chosen another path. They didn’t realize the children were at risk because we were deliberately surreptitious in putting them at risk. Pakistan certainly bears a certain responsibility, but nothing they did mitigates us of our own.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        I’m not sure this is true.

        Given that the complicity of local religious leaders AND political leaders is what leads to the excess influence of Bin Laden and his cohort, and that such ideology is a strong driver for this sort of pre-modern archaic mysticism, then perhaps ridding the world of him will in the longer run lead to better results.Report

        • Well, I think it’s very difficult to argue about intangible ramifications. Perhaps bin Laden himself was such an epochal figure in the region that, all else being equal, his demise would have effected a sea change in attitudes and cooperation with NGO vaccination programs.

          I am skeptical, myself.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I share Russ’s outrage, even if vaccines were properly administered. Folks in this country hold conspiracy theories that vaccines are being used to sterilize populations or implant microchips or gather information. And that is with little reason to think so and everything that happens here generally being overseen by our own government. Now the citizens of a country that was likely already suspicious of America (amongst other things, like modern medicine) have had their suspicions confirmed. Game, set, match.

    If we found out this was being done in America, what would the outrage be? If we found out this was being done in America by agents of a foreign government, what would the outrage be? We don’t get to pretend that outrage shouldn’t exist because the shoe was on the other foot. That simply doesn’t fly. We would have done to a foreign spy what they did to our spy if roles were reversed, if not worse. Even if our goal of seeking Bin Laden was pure as the driven snow, it doesn’t justify such actions.

    Was the doctor acting under specific orders of our government? Or did he develop the scheme on his own?Report

  6. Avatar Chris says:

    I personally like to refer to them as “robot death planes“.Report

  7. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    I’ve heard you mention that you are fond vaccinating children a few times. Did you ever do a post on why this is so important to you? I’m just interested in hearing more.Report

  8. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    The ethical calculus would run something like this, I believe: If this phony vaccination program took the place of a genuine program, big problem. If the phony program had the same result as doing nothing—IOW that there was no program anyway, no harm no foul.

    EXCEPT, as a number of commenters have pointed out, making a suspicious populace even more suspicious of vaccination programs in general.

    Hard to quantify, and sometimes the requirements of justice [getting bin Laden] are going to have possible, unknown, or unquantifiable consequences. The only solution to such a moral dilemma is to do nothing, but it’s no slam dunk that doing nothing in the face of a dilemma is the most moral course. Although it’s the easiest and least morally complicated, this is not everyone’s measure of virtue or morality:

    When you come to a fork in the road, don’t.Report

  9. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I would note that if certain people that were supposed to keep their mouths shut kept their mouths shut, it would have been just another failed program (or not) in an area where poverty and corruption are the real killers.

    I would also note that Dr. Afridi got thirty years for his treason against Pakistan, while Dr. Khan, who sold nuclear secrets for fun and profit, got house arrest and then a full pardon for his treason against Pakistan. (I would last note that Afridi was actually not convicted of treason in conspiring with the United States, but treason in conspiring with a (globally acknowledged) Pakistan based terrorist group. In a weird trial procedure left over from colonial days unique to FATA. Pakistan is more fished up than you imagine, it’s more fished up than you can imagine.)Report

    • I would note that if certain people that were supposed to keep their mouths shut kept their mouths shut, it would have been just another failed program (or not) in an area where poverty and corruption are the real killers.

      And so that makes it… OK?

      It doesn’t matter what Afridi got compared to Khan. Those issues are wholly irrelevant to the substance of my concern.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        You say it’s a very real tragedy what happened. I’m saying that in the full context, the tragedy that is South West Asia, this is pedestrian stuff.Report

        • That the region as a whole is rife with misery does not in any way lessen our complicity in keeping it just a little more miserable. And the ongoing reservoir of otherwise eradicable infectious disease isn’t just Pakistan’s problem, it is a problem for the world as a whole.Report

  10. Avatar Heading Out says:

    From a BBC report in February. it would appear that there have been no polio cases in India since January 2011, leaving only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria where it remains endemic. However because of this China, which had been free for ten years, saw the disease in 2011 due to importation from Pakistan.

    And to quote from the article

    Prof Nicholas Grassly, a vaccine epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said: “The major hurdles are now political. A key problem is that last year Pakistan abolished its federal ministry of health so there are concerns about disease surveillance, and organising vaccine programmes like polio.”


  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Here is a broader question: We punish folks who spy on us. Which indicates we think it wrong. Yet we engage in it. My question: Is spying moral/ethical?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments

      It is the height of inhumanity.

      Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results.

      -Sun Tzu, 13 “On Spies”

      The height of inhumanity. Allowing our nation to be attacked and innocent people to die, all the while spending billions on weapons systems, that’s inhuman. If we are to question the morality of spying, we might similarly question the need for a military. Many ethical people would agree with conjoining those questions.

      Is is moral for a nation to allow its enemies to strike at innocent civilians because our scruples were too fine to learn the enemy’s intentions?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I’m not necessarily objecting to spying. Or punishing spies. I’m objecting to the MORAL OUTRAGE that folks muster up when our spies are punished AND when someone spies on us.

        I’m mad I can’t remember enough details to do a successful Google search, but back in high school there was an exhibit in our Community Center about war. Or something. I don’t even remember that.

        One exhibit was a letter written by an American soldier. It was written to an enemy soldier he killed at close range. So close that after killing him, he searched the body and found a family photograph in his pocket. The letter detailed the conflicted feelings the soldier had. On the one hand, the guy wasn’t much different than him. A dad, a family man, and someone who probably would have preferred to be elsewhere that day. Also like him, he was prepared to kill. The soldier hated the man. But also hated what he did to him. The letter was written to the man, though obviously never delivered. It was a really powerful experience. At that moment, those guys weren’t an army or a nation… they were two men in a jungle in a be-or-be-killed situation neither one of them had a hand in creating. The American’s actions were no more or less moral or right or good than the other guy’s would have been had he pulled the trigger first. I’ll have to keep digging and see what I can find. I don’t even remember which war it was… pretty sure it was Vietnam, but might have been Korea.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The most damaging spies are our supposed friends. The Israelis, the British, everyone spies on everyone. Industrial spying is big business.

          The smartest thing to do with a spy is first to put him in a little box where he can’t lie down and can’t stand up. Leave him there for a few days. He will go crazy. He will tell you everything. Then you double him.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Punishing folks who spy on us actually has relatively little to do with morality. It’s more of a common defense sort of thing. The act of spying is morally neutral. We assume that spying against us is “wrong” because we define right and wrong by our own collective interests. That’s not really right and wrong, though. It’s just our interests. But if we don’t defend our own interests, nobody else will. So you have to treat the other guy who is acting in the other guy’s interest as the enemy. Or, absent that, just settle for criminal. But it’s all part of the fiction of the morality of nationhood. But it’s a fiction you kind of have to go with.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        That makes a lot of sense, Will. And I suppose I can make my peace with it.

        But I struggle to make peace with folks who insist it is an outrage that our spies are punished when they are caught. I mean, obviously, we’d prefer it not to happen. But some folks seem to really think it is a MORAL outrage. While also insisting that spying on us is a MORAL outrage. And that is where I get lost.

        The logic really seems to go…
        “How can they jail our spy?!?!”
        “Well, he was spying on them. And we’d likely jail or kill their spies.”
        “Yea, but we’re the good guys!”

        I’m quickly losing much interest in nationhood (while likely completely disregarding so many of the benefits that I, generally and uniquely, derive from it)…Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I went to a college with a decent, but not spectacular football team. Because we don’t run with the big boys the way we once did, it can be a bit of a challenge to get people interested. Even when we’re going reasonably well.

          I actually don’t hang around my school’s message board all that much. I mean, I’m a fan. I want my team to win. But I also like the game as a game and so I will say things like “You know, we should be grateful to be ranked #19 right now, considering our game against so-and-so and that the toughest games on our schedule are yet to come.”

          To which they respond, “What are you talking about! There is a conspiracy! We should at least be #6. We only have one loss! Look at #7! We’re better than them! This is all about the vendetta that ESPN has with us! If we got more publicity, we’d be #6. Or at least in the top 10. WE ARE AWESOME!!”

          I find it kind of irritating. So I tend to read a lot, but participate little. But as irritating as those fans are, I am so glad that we have them. Because they’re the ones out in the stands when we’re 2-6. They carry the banner of martyrdom that is, if not accurate, makes people believe that we are more than we are. It’s good for the school and good for the problem.

          And okay, with actual nation-states, it’s problematic. Because, you know, it can give us the more unction to do things we shouldn’t do. But just as we have guys like that on our team, the other guys do, too. It would be better if nobody thought like that, but since they have them, we need them. And beyond that, places that don’t have them are often in a lot of trouble internally. The most available alternative isn’t actually being more likely to look at our opponents as being just like us, but looking at our countrymen as foreigners. We have our fair share of that, but not the solidarity break-down of Mexico.

          (This was longer and more rambling than I had intended.)Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

        And much of “spying” means doing targeted research using perfectly legal and ethical means and drawing conclusions from the results. (When a private organization is accused of “spying” on its enemies, this is almost always the case.)Report

  12. Avatar Hagbard Celine says:

    Honestly, who cares about Pakistan these days? I have also stopped caring about Afghanistam as well even though I was early on a supporter of driving out the Taliban and trying to help the Afghans build a strong, somewhat democratic government. Alas, I could not care less anymore.

    these are a midieval, intolerant, close minded and xenophobic lot. Let them kill each other off in the name of Allah and Mohammed and whichever “descendeant” of old Mo they think is the legitimate one. The world will be a better place once they have ALL eradicated themselves.

    Unfortunately, they are bringing their conflict and hatred to us. So we best get used to the idea of a lot of low intensity warfare until such time arises as we figure out we need to eradicate Islam in ALL its forms.

    See ya, you bunch of pussified beta males.Report

  13. Avatar Scott says:


    Apparently the Taliban have gotten into the act. They are stopping polio vaccinations in the area they control unless we stop drone strikes. That will teach the US a lesson!