More than 2,700 CNN readers have shared what they think of Osama bin Laden's letters which were released Thursday.
Many who left comments said they were fascinated that bin Laden had apparently been strategizing about how to promote al Qaeda using media, and how his approach seems similar to as any marketing agency or political party. Others carefully read the full documents CNN posted and responded with a variety of theories about the papers.
The total pages released Thursday were a drop in the bucket compared to the trove the U.S. government says it confiscated from the Pakistan compound where bin Laden was killed in May 2011. Thursday's release included 17 letters totaling 175 pages. Officials said they would release the remaining documents later, but would not say when.
Bin Laden's marketing focus
Bin Laden's letter revealed him to be focused on how al Qaeda could use the media to attract more members. For example, he recommended to followers that al Qaeda consider reaching out to Al Jazeera and U.S. media to deliver the terror group's message on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden's writings also reveal he wanted to launch a publicity campaign to draw people to al Qaeda who "have not yet revolted" during the Arab Spring uprisings.
CNN reader Breck Archer said: "Interesting to see how much emphasis bin Laden placed on the media campaign. Crafting messages to incite revolt for the 10th anniversery of 9/11 and during the Arab spring seemed to be a priority of his while holed up in his compound. Trying to implement the media as a weapons system while popping Viagra and dying his beard as the fledgling Al Qaeda network crumbled around him."
Poster tinwatchman weighed in: "The war against al Qaeda has never really been just about the bombs and guns. It's been fought inside people's heads. We're not just fighting Bin Laden, we're fighting the story that he's telling people: that this war is against Islam and Muslims, that it's like the Crusades come all over again, and that any Muslim who wants dignity and freedom by definition must be against the United States, when the truth of the matter is -- at our best, anyway -- the United States really doesn't *care* what religion you are..."
ZerkWerk, another reader, thought about who might be listening to bin Laden's message. "I felt like a filthy devil just reading what little I did. Makes me sick to think that people read that tripe and believed it."
Rebranding al Qaeda
Other readers were intrigued by an al Qaeda memo discussing changing the group's name which means "The Base" and is associated with mujahedeen battles with the Russians in 1980s Afghanistan. Al Qaeda thought it might be better to go with, for example, "Jihad Group."
"Bin Laden was worried that the name made it too easy to disassociate Al-Qaeda from Islam -- and thus from Bin Laden's self-appointed position as Islam's representative. Doing so allowed Obama and the US to move away from the kind of 'cosmic war' between Christianity and Islam that Bush wound up falling into during the Iraq war," tinwatchman wrote.
"That holy war pattern is something that Bin Laden was entirely comfortable with -- something he thrived on. In a lot of ways, taking that story away from him is one of the most important moves Obama made."
Poster Payton Stone said it was "jarring" to hear the word "brand" used in reference to al Qaeda. "On one level, one could consider it an abomination to use this word so casually. A terrorist organization is far different than a toothpaste."
"I believe we should use language which draws distinctions between methods utilized by institutions of horrific violence and those deploying commonplace capitalist methodologies," Stone wrote. "While it may contribute to establishing a commentators cognoscenti credentials to re-purpose common words in this way, one should be ever vigilant in thinking carefully about how the use or words can positively or negatively impact our perceptions of the world."
Theorists and skeptics
Several commenters suspected the U.S. government fabricated or manipulated the letters or parts of them.
SamQuentin: "Are we to believe that NO DOCUMENTS in this 'treasure trove' have revealed exactly how OBL managed to end up hiding in that Pakistan compound, as well as EXACTLY WHO had been protecting him for all the time he was there?"
Where is the smoking gun, the poster asks. "Or will that information be 'strategically released' at an 'appropriate moment' to confirm Pakistan's complicity?"
Lt. Col. Liam Collins, director of the Combating Terrorism Center which published the documents, gave an advance quote to CNN prior to the Thursday release of the documents. The CTC published an analysis of the documents.
"As for Pakistan, the discussion in the documents is scarce and therefore inconclusive," Collins said. "There are no explicit references to any institutional Pakistani support for al-Qaeda or its operatives."
Europedude wrote: "How do we know the documents aren't just another made up lie? They've lied about everything else."
Establisher posted: "Obama has done well, at least tactically. Pulling out troops before further escalation of deaths, a successful raid or at least a drama that is convincing to many, except the Pakistanis themselves. And now the documents, even if forged, sends a clear message ... we are pulling out and our work is over."
"People actually trust that these documents are genuine and not manipulated for political means? Really? Revoke their voting cards," posted 55reasons.
"This is all such timely horse s****. Obama flies to Afghanistan to tell the US stormtroopers their liberation is near. Suddenly we hear about Osama's remorse for his failures and misdeeds. Give me a break. Those documents in US hands....We are to believe that they are telling us HIS truth. Yeah, right the check is in the mail..."
Finding the humor