Dramatic Osama Death Details May Be Bogus
Officials now say Bin Laden wasn’t armed, did not use wife as shield.| Posted Tuesday, May. 3, 2011, at 11:44 AM EDT
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan painted a stunning picture Monday of Osama Bin Laden’s final moments alive: the al-Qaida leader was armed and possibly firing at oncoming U.S. forces while using his own wife as a human shield.
The problem with that specific telling of the story, however, is that the White House is now saying, quietly, that that is not what happened.
Those key details are among those that have been quietly refuted by administration officials who are speaking to the press off-camera.
Politico reports that during an untelevised background briefing for television reporters Monday afternoon, a senior White House official said that Bin Laden was not armed when he was shot dead by the Navy SEAL assault team. A second unidentified official later confirmed the change to the White House’s account.
Another unidentified official, likewise, walked back public comments from Brennan that suggested Bin Laden used his wife as a shield. In fact, it now appears that Bin Laden’s wife wasn’t the woman killed during the raid at all, and instead was only injured during the firefight.
“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” the (also unidentified) official told Politico. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.”
Part of the problem appears to be how the White House is disseminating the highly-sought after details of the operation that killed its top terrorist target.
President Obama provided only a rough sketch of exactly what happened during his televised speech to the nation Sunday night, leaving it to a host of White House and military officials to color in the gaps, most of whom are speaking to reporters only “on background,” meaning they cannot be identified by name or specific position within the administration.
Further complicating matters is that Brennan, one of the few men who has been given permission by the White House to speak publicly about the details, is the one who has advanced many of statements that have been refuted behind the scenes.
From Monday’s press briefing: (emphasis added)
Q: You said that Osama bin Laden was actually involved in the firefight, and we had -- it has been reported that he reached for a weapon. Did he get his hand on a gun and did he fire himself?
BRENNAN: He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know.
Somewhere (and by that we mean just across the newsroom) Slate's Jack Shafer is saying "I told you so."