The White House has had to correct its facts about the killing of Osama bin Laden, and for some that has diminished the glow of success that has surrounded all those involved in the operation.
Claims that the al-Qaeda leader bin Laden had died while firing an automatic weapon at commandos were withdrawn, with US President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney admitting “he was unarmed.”
Carney said that bin Laden’s wife “rushed the U.S. assaulter” and was shot in the leg but not killed, contrary to what a White House official said on Monday, when reports said bin Laden used her as a “human shield.” The woman is alive and was taken into custody with several of the terrorist’s children.
White House press secretary Jay Carney admitted that the previous version of events – which came mostly from the chief US counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan – had been put out “with great haste.”
He said the decision to kill rather than capture bin Laden was made by forces on the ground, not by the White House, which earlier authorized the rehearsed raid that included contingencies for, but no expectations of, capture.
CIA Chief Leon Panetta said “The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed.”
The about-turn left the US open to accusations of a cover-up and led to calls for video footage of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and images of bin Laden’s body to be released to end conspiracy theories.
However, the White House suggested that pictures of bin Laden’s body were too “gruesome” to be made public because they could prove “inflammatory”.
Relations between the US and Pakistan, already strained by the fact that Pakistan was not told in advance about the raid, were put under renewed pressure by contradictory statements from Islamabad.
Asked whether officials had been caught in a “fog of war”, Mr Carne said: “We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you about the operation. Some of the information is being reviewed and updated.”
He then read out a new account of the assault, in which he said bin Laden was found on the top floor of a three-storey building, and as a US Navy Seal team entered: “His wife rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
“There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he resisted,” Carney said. After the firefight, he said, noncombatants were moved “to a safe location” as a damaged U.S. helicopter, one of two that landed at the compound, was destroyed.
In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed in the raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden’s wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said Monday. Also killed were bin Laden’s trusted personal courier Sheikh Abu Ahmed and his brother, both earlier identified as two of bin Laden’s al-Qaida facilitators, and an unidentified woman.
Twenty-three children and nine women were in the compound at the time of the assault and were turned over to Pakistani authorities, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss an intelligence matter. The SEAL team believes Bin Laden had lived at the compound for six years, the official said.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the White House to make public the “precise facts surrounding his killing” to ensure it adhered to international law. While the Taliban issued a statement in which it said the US “lacks strong evidence to prove its claim” that bin Laden was dead.
Mr Carney said the White House was still “reviewing” whether it was “appropriate” to release any of the images. He also appeared to cast doubt on suggestions that the US filmed bin Laden’s burial at sea by refusing to confirm that the video existed.
Mr Cameron said the Americans had already done enough to show “reasonable people that bin Laden was dead” before saying that the Pakistani authorities had serious questions to answer over whether bin Laden was being protected while living at his compound within walking distance of Pakistan’s main military academy.
“The fact that bin Laden was living in a large house in a populated area suggests that he must have had an extensive support network in Pakistan,” he said. “We don’t currently know the extent of that network, so it is right that we ask searching questions about it. And we will.” [via The Telegraph (UK), BBC and MSNBC]