When Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday, the transmission came, simply, “Geronimo, EKIA.”
That the United States military used Geronimo as the code-name for bin Laden in the raid has left a sour taste in the mouth for American Indians.
Posted 5/4/11 @ 11:01 AM
“I was celebrating that we had gotten this guy and feeling so much a part of America,” Tom Holm, a former Marine, a member of the Creek/Cherokee Nations and a retired professor of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, said by phone Tuesday. “And then this ‘Geronimo EKIA’ thing comes up. I just said, ‘Why pick on us?’ Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Geronimo ever did, and Hitler would seem to be evil personified, but the code name for bin Laden is Geronimo?”
Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group based in Washington, has long fought against the use of Indian imagery in American life (including as the mascot of the Washington Redskins).
She sighed when asked about the latest iteration of Geronimo.
“It’s how deeply embedded the ‘Indian as enemy’ is in the collective mind of America,” she said. “To this day, when soldiers are going into enemy territory, it’s common for it to be called ‘Indian country.’ ”
It isn’t clear yet which branch of the military came up with the nickname — the Army, Navy, CIA or any of the anti-terror special forces groups involved in planning the raid — but it apparently wasn’t bin Laden’s nickname for very long.
A database search of news stories shows that, while military leaders sometimes compared bin Laden’s elusiveness to Geronimo’s, there is no news account of calling the al-Qaeda leader “Geronimo” until this past weekend.
Time magazine has a great behind-the-scenes story on what happened Sunday in the Situation Room with President Barack Obama and his national security team.* The team was in the unenviable position of watching the action but not being able to intervene — not even to contact the commanders in the mission.
Time has more:
The President sat stone-faced through much of the events. Several of his aides, however, were pacing. For long periods of time, nobody said a thing, as everyone waited for the next update. In the modern age, Presidents can experience their own military actions like a video game, except that they have no control over the events. They cannot, and would not, intervene to contact the commanders running the operation. So when word came that a helicopter had been grounded, a sign that the plan was already off course, the tension increased.
Minutes later, more word came over the transom. “We’ve IDed Geronimo,” said a disembodied voice, using the agreed-upon code name for America’s most wanted enemy, Osama bin Laden. Word then came that Geronimo had been killed. Only when the last helicopter lifted off some minutes later did the President know that his forces had sustained no casualties.
The decision to attack had been made days earlier by the President. He gathered his senior intelligence, military and diplomatic team together in the Situation Room on Thursday afternoon to hear his options. There were already concerns about operational security. At that point, hundreds of people had already been read into the potential whereabouts of bin Laden. Any leak would have ruined the entire mission.
It’s a fascinating read. Go read the whole thing.
* Some the scenes pictures were released by the White House Monday afternoon.
Note: Title updated, post slightly updated for accuracy.
Posted 5/2/11 @ 4:57 PM