On Monday, the White House released this photo of the president's senior staff gathered in the Situation Room to monitor U.S. Special Forces as they brought down the world's most-wanted terrorist:
Granted not all witnesses in the room are captured in the photo, but it's sufficient to guess that only a handful of key players really know what went down -- all of them reporting to President Barack Obama. With such a tight circle of those in the know, why have there been so many mixed messages and fumbled facts?
Going back and retracing the flow of information on our live blog, you can see a definite evolution in the White House's story about what exactly took place at the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The first details were scarce, with some sources suggesting bin Laden was killed in a U.S. air strike rather than an on-the-ground shoot out. During his late-night live remarks, President Obama clarified some of the early discrepancies, including the apparent firefight that took place.
Many had long assumed bin Laden was armed, but the White House clarified just today that he did not have a firearm. Still, they insist, bin Laden "did resist the assault force" before being killed. What kind of resistance? The White House has not hinted, but CNN's Pam Benson reports that when asked, one U.S. official said only, "[bin Laden] didn't hold up his hands and surrender."
WH spokesman Jay Carney insisted today, "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that." This conflicts with earlier reports from Reuters quoting an unnamed "national security official" who said the strike force had orders to kill bin Laden, not capture him. "This was a kill operation," the official said.
CIA director Panetta also confirmed the "kill" order today. "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," he told NBC News.
The president's own deputy national security advisor, John Brennan, told the White House press corps yesterday that bin Laden had not only been armed, but he also used his own wife as a shield against a hailstorm of bullets. Carney denied both of these accounts today, saying bin Laden was not armed and that he wasn't sure if any woman had been used as a "human shield."
Meanwhile, according to Politico, the U.S. team found bin Laden in a room with one of his wives who reportedly "rushed" the commando team. She was shot in the leg and not killed. If she survived after trying to attack the SEALs, why was bin Laden killed? "I think resistance does not require a firearm," Carney responded today.
Brennan -- one of the people who sat in the Situation Room with President Obama and watched as Sunday evening's events unfold -- also named one of bin Laden's sons, Khalid, as among the dead at the compound. Yet the White House transcript of the briefing had the name as Hamza. In the end, bin Laden and four others were killed at the compound, Carney said today.
Carney also read a statement from the Department of Defense today that said the commando team "departed the scene via helicopter to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea” -- another contradiction from earlier reports that said the SEALs had flown their remaining helicopter (and bin Laden) to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Indeed, the White House is speculated to have pictures of OBL's corpse in a hanger at Bagram, yet the DoD timeline seems to exclude the trip altogether.
Are all of these criss-crossed details just a symptom of military and intelligence agencies working to get the facts straight after a chaotic 48 hours?
If the WikiLeaks information on a possible al-Qaeda nuke is accurate, shouldn't we have done all we could to keep bin Laden alive? And if we suspected Pakistan was harboring bin Laden, shouldn't we have used our intel to smoke out a possible double-cross? Why did we know bin Laden received appropriate Muslim burial rights before any of the above details were worked out? We're still waiting for the White House to decide whether they will release a single photograph of bin Laden, yet we already know Panetta wants Al Pacino to play him in the non-existent movie recount...?
There are many questions the American people need answered and while we can't know every detail of this very classified mission, the Obama administration is undermining many of our efforts in the War on Terror by not connecting all these dots for us -- and the world.