Aspenites react to bin Laden’s death |

Aspenites react to bin Laden’s death

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces on Sunday and buried in a watery grave on Monday. Many Aspenites – some of them former New Yorkers with personal connections to the Sept. 11 attacks nearly 10 years ago – are just fine with that.

Ali Phillips, who lived in the Tribeca area of Lower Manhattan at the time of the terrorist operations against the United States, said she learned of the al-Qaida leader’s death while watching television Sunday night and was “amazed and intrigued” by the development.

“I’m glad to see it happened, but like everyone else, I wish it hadn’t taken so long,” said Phillips, who moved to Aspen with her husband in the summer of 2004.

“I think it closes a chapter on something,” she said. “I’m proud of the fact that they were able to find him. [The news analysts] are focusing on how it’s a significant and changing development. I think it’s something very positive, but certainly there are still a lot of issues out there.”

Steve Goldenberg, a former New Yorker who with others in the Aspen area hosted a few of the firefighters involved in World Trade Center rescue efforts, and their families, not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, joked that the conspiracy theorist in him doesn’t think bin Laden is dead.

“When I heard that they deep-sixed the body in the ocean so quickly, I thought I was surely right,” Goldenberg said, laughing. “I thought it was part of a cover-up. Then someone explained to me a few reasons why doing that eliminates a lot of problems.”

Kidding aside, he said he was living in Aspen on that fateful day but deeply moved by the tragedies. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C.

He and his wife, Cheryl, were married at the center 30 years ago. “I walked by there every day on my way to work, I walked by there every day when they were building it,” he said. “I have an emotional attachment to it.”

Goldenberg noted that Aspen residents identify strongly with the tragic event, as is evidenced not only by the outpouring of support for surviving firefighters and the families of those who lost loved ones, but by tangible reminders within the city. A wooden shrine dedicated in 2002 to those who died on Sept. 11 sits on Aspen Mountain not far from Bonnie’s restaurant. A steel sculpture made from a piece of World Trade Center debris was dedicated last year and sits in front of the Aspen Fire Station on East Hopkins Avenue.

Former Fire Department New York battalion commander Richard Picciotto was Goldenberg’s guest in Aspen a few months after the Sept. 11 horrors he experienced personally. He was managing one area of rescue operations at the center’s North Tower when the stairwell he was in suddenly collapsed, and he and others were buried alive.

He was rescued and ended up walking away from the site, relatively unscathed. The events are recalled in Picciotto’s best-selling book, “Last Man Down,” which has been criticized as self-serving by some of the firefighters with whom he served.

Picciotto, reached by telephone Monday night shortly before he was to be interviewed live on CNN by former New York governor turned talk-show host Eliot Spitzer, said he was glad bin Laden was finally hunted down and killed. But the process took too long, he said.

“I think it’s long overdue,” he said. “I guess I could say I’m happy. I’m glad he’s dead and I’m glad he won’t hurt anyone else. But I don’t think America can forget that the terrorists are still out there and they have a vow to destroy this country.”

Rasol Noori, owner of the local Persian rug outlet Noori’s Collection and an Afghanistan native, said bin Laden got what he deserved “because he killed a lot of innocent people.” Long before the Sept. 11 event, bin Laden was making trouble in Asia, actively oppressing many who didn’t subscribe to his ideals.

Noori, a U.S. citizen who has lived in America since 1979, said his wife is in Iran attending to an ailing family member, and he would be curious to learn from her how the Iranians are responding to bin Laden’s death.

He noted that the U.S. military assisted bin Laden in the fight against the Russians in the early 1980s in Afghanistan and then ended up killing him, an action President Barack Obama described as an act of justice.

“You killed the monster you created also,” he said.

His son, a student at Penn State University, called Noori after seeing Sunday night media reports. “I was shocked, but I said, ‘That’s good news,'” Noori said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, former Aspen Mayor John Bennett co-founded the nonprofit Cordoba Initiative, a nonprofit promoting positive relations between the Islamic world and those of different faiths. Now the executive director of For the Forest, Bennett said the United States got bin Laden at a time when bin Laden was not nearly as relevant as he had been.

“I think that the fact that Osama bin Laden is now disappeared from the scene is probably a very good thing for efforts to build peace in the world,” Bennett said.

“For a long time he was viewed by radicals in the Middle East as the great leader who was going to bring change to the Arab world, and of course that didn’t happen at all. The only change he brought was violence and it didn’t lead anywhere,” Bennett continued.

“He really has been made much more irrelevant in the last two or three years as a whole new phenomenon has taken place in the Middle East, and that’s the growth of these youth-driven democracy movements that are popping up all over the place. They’ve renounced violence, which is definitely why they’re so successful. I think that’s more important than the fact that he’s been killed, in a way.”

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