6 Things We Thought We Knew about the Killing of Osama bin Laden That Turned out to be Wrong

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
(graphic: FBI)
The story of how the United States took down Osama bin Laden has already taken on mythical details, forcing the White House and other administration officials to publicly correct some of the oft-repeated inaccuracies.
A misleading version of how Navy SEALs got the world’s most-wanted terrorist goes like this:
1) Aided by intelligence gathered from tortured detainees,
2) American commandoes found an armed bin Laden
3) using one of his wives as a human shield.
4) Because the al-Qaeda leader fired at the Americans, they shot back
5) and bin Laden and his spouse were killed,
6) all while President Barack Obama watched the raid unfold in real time from thousands of miles away.
Pretty much everything in the previous two sentences is either false or an exaggeration, except for the part about bin Laden being dead.
White House officials admitted on Tuesday that
1) the al-Qaeda leader was not armed when he was gunned down. They have insisted bin Laden resisted capture, although it is still not clear how he did so without a weapon.
2) He did not use his wife to protect himself.
3) According to CIA director Leon Panetta, the commandoes went in with orders to kill Osama bin Laden.
4) His wife was wounded in the leg after she charged the Special Forces team while on the third floor of the residence where bin Laden died, but she was not killed.
5) Obama and his national security team did not view the entire raid as it took place. They received regular “real time” updates that day from overseas, but once the commando team dropped into the bin Laden compound, “there was a time period of almost 20 to 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on, and there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information,” Panetta told “Newshour” on PBS.
Another key misleading detail involves how the operation got started.
6) Contrary to what former Vice President Dick Cheney’s supporters have claimed, it is not clear whether the intelligence that led the CIA to identify a key bin Laden courier was obtained through waterboarding or other forms of torture. In an interview with Brian Williams Tuesday night on NBC’s “Nightly News,” CIA director Panetta used words that could be used to support both sides of the argument over the use of torture:
“We had … a multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to the situation. Clearly some of it came from…the interrogation of detainees, but we also had information from other sources as well: from Sigint intelligence [wiretapping and other communications surveillance], from imagery, from other sources that we had—assets on the ground. And it was a combination of all of that that ultimately we were able to put together that led us to that compound….” He then acknowledged that detainees had been waterboarded (which was not news), but the closest he came to saying that information derived from torture was useful was to say that “the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.”
There is a saying in the world of journalism that breaking news appears on the front page, while the corrections are relegated to page 15. For this reason, politicians and others try to control the first version of a story, and it is quite possible that millions of Americans will remember the original incorrect version of the killing of Osama bin Laden rather than the one that will appear in history books.
It’s easy to see why pro-torture advocates would want to say that “enhanced interrogation” techniques worked, but it is unclear why the Obama administration got so many of the other details wrong, considering that the revised version does not detract from the dramatic heroism of the special ops team.
Of course, it is possible that the real real version has still not been made public….
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
White House Corrects Bin Laden Narrative (by Michael Shear, New York Times)
White House Changes Osama bin Laden Account (by Josh Gerstein and Matt Negrin, Politico)
Bin Laden Dead, Torture Debate Lives On (by Jane Mayer, New Yorker)


Peter Brock 10 years ago
Bin Laden died years ago. Yes, Seal Team 6 went in an assassinated somebody, but since there is no proof of who it was we'll not know until the truth is divulged. Bin Laden required constant dialysis as was given in various places around the middle east while we were trying to capture him...but not in Tora Bora or Pakistan. Was there a dialysis equipment in his compound? No. so obviously the man living there wasn't Bin Laden.
Fred Holmes 13 years ago
if there is any truth coming out of washington d.c. other than the time of day, i have yet to detect it. if bin laden is dead, what does it profit this nation? the nation which has expended untold billions of dollars to track him, trace him, analyze his movements and habits, zero in on his hidey-hole, confirm his presence, launch an assault and allegedly expunge him. what is our roi? how many of our dead have been resurrected? how many world trade centers could we have built for an equivalent expenditure? ultimately, how does this event alleviate the nearly universal disdain under which the united states is regarded in the islamic jihadist communities around the world? seems to me like a useless exercise in hubris.

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