The Guardian

Now kids, help us to kill Bin Laden! The dark side of Washington's spy museum

The bugged shoes and poison brollies are fun and fascinating. But why are the sections about state-sponsored torture and assassination so uncritical?
‘We need to show the president our results’ … the interactive exhibit about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, at the International Spy Museum. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Sitting in a glass case, standing out against a backdrop of deep red, there’s an ice axe that still bears a rust mark, the consequence of a bloody fingerprint left on it decades ago. One day in 1940, this axe was hidden inside Ramón Mercader’s suit jacket, suspended by a string, as he walked into the office of Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary living in exile in Mexico, having been sentenced to death as an “enemy of the people” in his home country.

Mercader slipped behind Trotsky’s desk and brought the axe down with tremendous force, penetrating two-and-three-quarter inches into his skull. Trotsky died 26 hours later. Mercader served 20 years in prison then returned to a hero’s welcome in Moscow. On his deathbed in 1978, his last words were: “I hear it always. I hear the scream. I know he’s waiting for me on the other side.”

The Mexican police department kept the axe as evidence, later putting it on display. When its

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