Who should get bin Laden bounty cash?

With no one qualifying for the $50 million bounty for tracking down Osama bin Laden, two New York congressmen propose giving it to 9/11 charity groups.

Richard Drew/AP
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) of New York (far right) waits for President Obama's arrival at the World Trade Center site in New York Thursday. He wants the bounty on Osama bin Laden's head to go to 9/11 charities.

For years the US government has had a bounty on Osama bin Laden – up to $50 million for information leading to his death or capture. But his location was ultimately unearthed, not from a secretive tip, but via a patient process in which US intelligence methodically stitched together bits of data. Thus it appears no single person is eligible to claim that cash.

So here’s a question: If it remains unclaimed, should the bounty money go to 9/11-related charities instead?

Two members of Congress from New York City believe it should. Democratic Reps. Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler say they are going to draft and promote legislation that would divert the $50 million payout to organizations that aid the first responders, victims’ families, and survivors of the 9/11 attacks.

“I urge the State Department to distribute the reward money to established organizations and institutions which provide services and programs to the 9/11 community,” said Congressman Nadler on Sunday.

The Obama administration, for its part, said Monday that no one is in line to receive the money. (In 2001, the State Department authorized a $25 million bounty on Mr. bin Laden. Congress upped that to $50 million in 2004, though the State Department never increased the official figure.)

No one intentionally gave direction to US officials to send them toward the Al Qaeda terror chief, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

“I mean, as far as I’m aware, no one knowledgeably said, 'Oh, Osama bin Laden’s over here in Abbottabad at 5703, you know, Green Avenue,' ” said Mr. Carney at his daily press briefing.

Congressman Weiner and Nadler have long been aggressive advocates for 9/11 victim groups. That’s unsurprising, given the amount of devastation the attacks caused in New York City.

The charities undoubtedly are worthy causes. Redirecting the money to them would fulfill the bounty’s original purpose, according to Nadler.

The reward money “was allocated for 9/11 victims in effect, and this is simply saying, use it more effectively for the purpose that it was set up in the first place,” he said at a May 8 press conference.

But if the money is redirected to 9/11-related charity, who would determine what groups are eligible for money? That could be a contentious process in itself.

Would there be other uses in keeping with the bounty’s original purpose? Other lawmakers have suggested using the money to increase bounties on other terrorist leaders, such as bin Laden’s probable replacement at the top of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Or it could be used to reward the special forces personnel who carried out the daring Abbottabad raid.

Plus, it is not as if the money is just sitting in a State Department bank account, moldering away. Given the state of the nation’s finances, payment of bounty money would add to the US deficit, as would any additional expenditure of $25 to $50 million. The bounty was, in essence, a promissory note.

What do you think? An unscientific survey on The Christian Science Monitor’s Facebook page currently has “yes – the money should go to 9/11 victims” in the lead. “No” is close behind, in second place. Further back in third is “It should be used to pay taxpayers for the amount of money spent to find him."

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