US Account Of Bin Laden Assassination Frays Around Edges – OpEd


The Obama administration admitted that it killed an unarmed Osama bin Laden in the attack on his compound after it had falsely claimed he had resisted in its original account.  Now, the government has backed away from its claim that there was a massive firefight and that Bin Laden was killed in the “fog of war.”  In fact, only one figure in the compound fired at the U.S. attackers, though a total of five individuals were killed including one woman:

The new details suggested that the raid, though chaotic and bloody, was extremely one-sided, with a force of more than 20 Navy Seal members quickly dispatching the handful of men protecting Bin Laden.

Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.

After the Seal members shot and killed Mr. Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse, the Americans were never fired upon again.

This account differs from an official version of events issued by the Pentagon on Tuesday, and read by the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, which said the Seal members “were engaged in a firefight throughout the operation.”

An administration representative finessed Carney’s statement with this:

“They were in a threatening and hostile environment the entire time,” one American official said.

Howso?  When one man fires on you at the very beginning of an operation and no one else fires on you until the end, yet your forces kill a total of five individuals (only one of whom appears to have been armed), who is threatened and who is hostile?  Let’s be clear: the threat and hostility were virtually all on the American side and not on the residents side.

The officials had said the Al Qaeda leader was killed not because he fired at anyone, but because he “resisted” in some unspecified way.  At other junctures, they said he would not have been killed had he surrendered in a demonstrable way.

Now in the latest version, they claim that Bin Laden was armed (was he or wasn’t he?):

When the commandos reached the top floor, they entered a room and saw Osama bin Laden with an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol in arm’s reach. They shot and killed him, as well as wounding a woman with him.

Yet strangely they don’t indicate that he fired at them.  So we now have three different versions of Bin Laden’s status.  At first, he was armed and fired at the attackers using his wife as a shield.  Then, he was unarmed, but hadn’t surrendered.  Now, he’s gone back to being armed.  It reminds me of John Kerry’s campaign claim that he for the legislation before he was against it.  Again, the video of the encounter is the only evidence that will prove the truth of their claim.  It will clearly show whether Bin Laden had a weapon in his hand or not.

This latest adumbration of the story indicates to me that, as I wrote previously, there likely was a shoot to kill order that did not include apprehending Bin Laden.  Note that when Bin Laden’s wife rushed at the attackers they had the presence of mind, despite the “chaotic bloody” situation, to shoot her in the leg, while they placed one neatly targeted bullet in his head.  I have very little doubt that this was a kill shot and that it was what was the goal of the entire operation.

Obama and his national security team intended to kill, rather than capture Bin Laden.  Frankly, as my wife says, no American will care about any of this.  But not only do I care, I think that history will care.  Perhaps an expedient politician like Obama can make calculations that he can obscure the facts enough that he will not pay a price.  But I hope and believe that history will make him pay a price if he has lied.

I remind him that at one time George Bush bestrode the world like a Colossus invading Middle Eastern countries right and left, threatening enemies and allies alike, making claims that were virtually unquestioned except by a few unpersuaded reporters.  Look at his reputation now.

Eric Holder is also making highly specious claims concerning the legality of the assassination:

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the U.S. military mission that killed Osama bin Laden “was justified as an act of national self-defense” and that Navy SEALs would have had good grounds to shoot bin Laden even if he sought to surrender. The White House later Wednesday called the operation “fully consistent with the laws of war.”

“It’s lawful to target an enemy commander in the field. We did so for instance with regard to [Japanese Admiral Isoroku] Yamamoto in World War II. He was shot down in an airplane. [Bin Laden] was by my estimation and the estimation of the Justice Department a lawful military target and the operation was conducted in a way that was consistent with our law, with our values.”

He might have been an enemy commander, but when he’s holed up in a compound outside a war zone (such as Afghanistan), and within which it’s impossible for him to play much of a role in the field, how do you argue he’s a “commander in the field?”  Killing a Japanese admiral flying in a war plane in the middle of a declared war is, it seems to me, quite different from what the Navy SEALS did to Bin Laden.

Also, killing a figure who killed your citizens is an act of retaliation but not self-defense.  The latter happens when you are protecting your country from attack.  Bin Laden had already attacked America and every reasonable expert concedes he wasn’t playing an operational role in anything now given his extreme seclusion.  Claiming that killing him would somehow prevent future attacks on America is dubious.  I would have no problem describing this operation as a response to 9/11, but self-defense is not part of that.

Given this statement by Holder during Congressional testimony, it seems likely, as I state above, that the SEALS were there neither to have tea with Bin Laden nor accept his surrender:

…The attorney general said there’d have been a “good basis” for the SEALs to have killed the Al Qaeda leader even if he gave some indication of giving up.

I’m touched also by Sen. Lindsay Graham’s solicitousness for the nine children who lived in the compound.  According to him, the SEALS were only protecting the kids when they put a bullet through Osama’s brain:

…Shooting him as soon as possible probably protected everybody, including the SEALs and women and children.”

Regarding the alleged brouhaha over the Bin Laden photos, the question is not whether to release them.  That will tell us little.  We need to see what happened inside the compound, specifically in Bin Laden’s quarters.  My hunch is that the video will not confirm the account peddled by the administration.  If it does, then it should release it.  If it doesn’t, we’ll know why.

This article first appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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