Osama bin Laden speaks during an interview at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan in 1998.
Osama bin Laden speaks during an interview at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan in 1998.

Why can’t the US get its facts straight?

By Sam Greenhill Time of article published May 5, 2011

Share this article:

The raid on Osama Bin Laden’s lair was filmed on two dozen “helmet cams” worn by commandos, yet the White House has been unable to get its story straight.

Contradictory versions of events were blamed on the “great haste” with which information about Operation Geronimo had been gathered. But the ever-changing story has forced the official spokesman Jay Carney to admit: “Even I’m getting confused.”

The changing picture of what happened during the raid has already spawned conspiracy theories that the “fog of war” was a deliberate tactic by the US. Here, SAM GREENHILL examines the claims and discrepancies.

* “Wife was human shield”

The powerful image of Bin Laden trying to cheat death by cowering behind his defenceless wife was painted by Obama”s counter-terrorism chief John Brennan. He stated on Monday: “There was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire. She was positioned in a way that she was being used as a human shield. She met her demise and my understanding is that she was one of Bin Laden”s wives.”

An unnamed official later added the terror leader had been “firing behind” his youngest wife, 27-year-old Amal Al Sadah.

On Tuesday, this version changed in two significant ways: firstly, the wife did not die, and secondly, he had not used her as a shield.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “In the room with Bin Laden, a woman - Bin Laden”s wife - rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed.”

An even more extraordinary version was put out by the infamous National Enquirer magazine, which claimed that when commandos found Bin Laden he was “high on heroin” and “blubbering like a baby, crying and c***ing his pants before he was shot”.

* “He was shooting an AK47”

The Al-Qaeda kingpin went down in a blaze of bullets as he blasted away on an AK47 rifle as the US commandos closed in, according to the first version of events put out by the White House.

Bin Laden picked up a gun and was “engaged in a firefight”, said John Brennan on Monday.

Another official said the terror leader “participated” in a gun battle and was “armed with an AK47”, while another said Bin Laden had been “firing behind” his wife.

In a separate background briefing, another source claimed: “He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.”

A massive U-turn was performed on Tuesday, with White House spokesman Jay Carney stating: “Bin Laden was not armed.”

However, Carney insisted the terror mastermind “did resist”. Asked how he had resisted if he was not carrying his AK47, he said: “Resistance does not require a firearm”, but refused to elaborate.

* “Commandos wanted to take him alive”

Bin Laden”s daughter”s claim that he was executed after being captured further muddies the already-murky waters.

On Monday, John Brennan insisted the commandos were under orders to capture Bin Laden alive, saying: “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.”

Spokesman Jay Carney added on Tuesday: “We were prepared to capture him if that was possible.” But the Navy Seals killed Bin Laden “because of the resistance that they met”, said Carney. “There was concern that Bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he did resist. There were many other people who were armed in the compound. There was a firefight - it was a highly volatile firefight.”

However, given that Bin Laden was not himself armed, no one has explained why the Navy Seals decided to shoot him.

On Tuesday night, CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an interview that Bin Laden “made some threatening moves” that “represented a clear threat to our guys”.

He added: “Under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered, and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.

“To be frank, I don”t think he had a lot of time to say anything.” Several US national security officials have privately said there was never any intention to capture Bin Laden alive, with one saying: “This was a kill operation.” Retired Navy Seals said if the plan had been to capture, a stealth ground operation would have been used rather than noisy helicopters.

* The wrong wife

The death of Bin Laden”s wife was announced by John Brennan, but in fact she had suffered only a wounded leg after being shot in the calf.

Another woman did die, believed to be the wife of Bin Laden”s courier Sheikh Abu Ahmed, who was also gunned down along with his brother.

She was “killed in crossfire” on the ground floor as the troops stormed the compound, said the White House on Tuesday.

An official admitted: “A different guy’s wife was killed. Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up.”

* The wrong son

A White House transcript said it was Bin Laden’s youngest son Hamza, 20, who was killed in the raid, but this later changed to another son, Khalid.

The discrepancy could be put down to John Brennan accidentally mixing up the names, or it could be a genuine misidentification on the ground. The mistake has not been clarified.

* The faulty helicopter

On the night of the raid, administration officials claimed in a telephone briefing for reporters: “We lost one helicopter due to mechanical failure.” Later in the same call, another official contradicted that: “We didn’t say it was mechanical.” Other reports claimed the Sea Hawk had been shot down, or its rear rotor blade had struck the wall of the compound.

Then yesterday it was claimed that the excessively hot night had caused the machine to suffer a “loss of lift”. - Daily Mail

Share this article: