In the days following the death of Osama bin Laden, the White House’s narrative on the basic facts of the missions evolved and along with it, the news reports. Three days after President Obama confirmed that U.S. forces killed the al-Qaeda leader, there have been numerous accounts and inconsistencies. Below are some of the most glaring.
In a conference call with reporters late Sunday night, senior administration officials mentioned that one unidentified woman living in the compound was used as a human shield and killed in crossfire.
Then in Monday’s press briefing, John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, said that Osama used one of his wives as a human shield during the raid.
Later that day, however, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney revised Brennan’s earlier statement, and said that Bin Laden did not, in fact, use one of his wives as a shield.
On Tuesday, Carney revised the story about the mystery woman again, telling reporters during a briefing that Bin Laden’s wife “rushed” U.S. forces when they approached the terrorist leader. The woman, however, was shot in the leg – not killed.
On Monday, the New York Times published a story titled “Obama Calls World ‘Safer’ After Pakistan Raid”. The article stated that the raid consisted of two helicopters, two backups, 79 commandos and a dog.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press ran a story – “Phone Call by Kuwaiti Courier Led to Bin Laden” – that contained a different account of the raid. “Obama tapped two dozen members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six to carry out a raid with surgical accuracy,” it reads. The AP story cited Brennan as its source.
Also on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the mission had been carried out with two Black Hawks and a third helicopter only for emergency support.
Was he armed?
The White House also had to backtrack on early reports that Bin Laden was armed and engaged in combat when U.S. forces swept the compound. On Monday, a senior official at a Pentagon briefing said that Osama used his wife as a shield and “was firing behind her.”
Brennan also said at his briefing Monday that the terrorist leader joined in the fight when the raid was underway. “He [bin Laden] 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,” he said.
In Tuesday narrative change, however, Carney told reporters that Bin Laden was actually not armed during the raid.
Other relatively minor details in news accounts of the killing of Osama bin Laden have remained inconsistent. For example, there seems to be several theories as to the exact height of the walls that surrounded the compound in Pakistan.
In the late-night press briefing Sunday, senior officials called the security measures “extraordinary” – one of them being 12-foot walls with barbed wire. Since then, however, news accounts have described the walls as being 7 feet or even as high as 18 feet.
That press reports have evolved in the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden is not surprising. News often changes as more details come in, or reporters rush details to print that aren’t exactly accurate.
In the two or three hours following the Tucson shooting earlier this year, for example, many news organizations reported that Congresswoman Gabby Giffords had died from her injury. That, of course, turned out to be false.
Information about the raid that led to Osama bin Laden’s death, however, is being controlled through one source – the Obama Administration. It is fair to say even more clarifications or corrections will be made in the coming days that will possibly contribute to the confusing narrative.
“Even I’m getting confused,” Carney quipped during his briefing Tuesday.