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No grave for Osama bin Laden, just like Che Guevara four decades earlier


Osama bin Laden is finally captured then killed with bullets to the head and chest.

Now, what do you do with his body?

The United States struggled with the thorny dilemma on Sunday in the hours after Bin Laden was captured in his compound in Pakistan. Ultimately, it was decided to wrap him in a white sheet and bury him at sea, even before news of his death had been fully confirmed with DNA comparisons.

"We made sure that the burial at sea was the most appropriate thing to do,’’ Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan explained Monday to reporters, adding the action was quick but followed proper Islamic laws.

Other officials admitted they did not want to create "a shrine" for Al-Qaida hosted by Bin Laden’s grave.

But by Monday afternoon, some social media circles where questioning whether Bin Laden was really dead. Clerics were criticizing the watery burial and conspiracy theories were sprouting as the U.S. began to be pressured to release photographs of a dead Bin Laden.

"The lack of public proof will fuel these conspiracies,’’ said Russell Lucas, a Florida International University Political Science and International Relations professor.

It’s not the first time the United States or other countries struggled with the thorny issue of what to do with the remains of well-known nemesis who has met a violent end but is viewed as a martyr by some, evil by others.

Forty-four years ago, Miami-Dade resident Gustavo Villoldo found himself in a similar predicament while charged with disposing of the body of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Part of a team of CIA-operatives from Miami, Villoldo and fellow Cuban exile Felix Rodriguez, went to Bolivia to track down the Cuba revolutionary hiding in the mountains, where he was leading another communist uprising.

The Argentine-born Guevara was captured in October 1967. Rodriguez, today president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, remained with him until Bolivian soldiers received orders to execute the long-haired rebel inside a small school house.

How to dispose of Guevara’s body, who status as a romantic rebel had swept across some parts of Latin America and the U.S., became Villoldo’s problem back at base camp in Vallegrande, Bolivia. Villoldo believes he set the precedent used this weekend by the Obama administration to dispose of Bin Laden’s corpse quickly, robbing Al-Quaida of a chance to turn its spiritual leader’s grave into a memorial, just like Villoldo robbed Castro of the same.

"I think what happened with Che Guevara was brought up as an example by those making the decison about Bin Laden in the White House. They wanted a similar resolution,’’ Villoldo said on Monday. "At the time, I did not want Castro to turn Guevara’s burial site into a shrine against his enemies. I think that’s what President Obama succeeded in doing here. It was a masterful move."

In Guevara’s case, the international press was allowed to photograph his body. Bolivian officials wanted to cremate Guevara, but Villoldo, who was to make the decision on Guevara’s final resting place,refused.

At 2 a.m. on an October 1967 night, as visiting reporters slept, Villoldo and helpers secretly buried the rebel leader. Guevara, accused of killing hundreds of Cubans on the island in firing squads, remained in his unmarked grave until 1997, when Castro claimed to have found his remains.

By then, Guevara had been dead for 30 years.

In recent decades, controversies have sparked over the burial of other political leaders who have met violent deaths.

In 2006, Iranian leader Saddam Hussein body was hung on television, leaving no doubt of his demise.

In 1945, the body of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini was also hung from a meat hook in public as a warning to his followers. His remains were later robbed, recovered and held by the Italian government for 10 years.

An example that the lack of a body as evidence leads to conspiracy theories is true in the case of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who committed suicide in his bunker in Germany as World War II ended. His body and that of his mistress, Eva Braun, were said to have been set on fire. But with no remains, there is speculation even today that Hitler survived.

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