Two days after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, members of Congress are urging the Obama administration to pressure the Pakistani government to tell how much it knew about the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
“How is it possible that the Pakistan army, and the Pakistan police and the Pakistan intelligence did not know of the presence of bin Laden when it was in such a central place?” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked in an interview with National Public Radio that aired Tuesday morning.
“It was so distinct,” Levin said of the one-acre bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, one mile from the Pakistan Military Academy. “It’s been there five years, has almost no contact with the outside world, high walls, no wires, no satellite dish. It’s kind of hard to believe that the Pakistan army and the Pakistan intelligence did not know he was there.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta is scheduled to hold a Capitol briefing for House members on the bin Laden mission at 3 p.m. Tuesday. A briefing for senators is scheduled for 5 p.m.
At their weekly news conferences Tuesday morning, House Democratic and Republican leaders did not specifically mention Pakistan in their opening remarks, a sign that they may be holding off on pressing the issue until after Panetta fully briefs members.
But asked by reporters about whether they are satisfied with the information regarding Pakistan’s lack of knowledge about bin Laden’s whereabouts, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both said that there are important questions to be answered.
“We need to understand exactly what it is the Pakistanis knew or didn’t know as far as the situation that unfolded this weekend and then the years leading up to that,” Cantor told reporters after a closed-door House Republican conference meeting.
Hoyer suggested that if Pakistan does not respond to lawmakers’ questions, Congress may refuse to support legislation providing aid to the country.
“Look, I think the Pakistanis have a motivation to ensure that terrorists do not either reside in their midst,” Hoyer said. “I think they pose a danger to the Pakistanis, the Pakistani government, the Pakistani administration. To the extent that there is not full cooperation, I think we need to make a very strong position, and I frankly think if there’s not a strong response, it will undermine the Congress’s willingness to pursue policies that are of assistance to Pakistan itself.”
Hoyer said he wasn’t advocating for the United States to reconsider the billions of dollars of federal aid it sends to Pakistan, only that it’s one issue to consider as more details emerge about the bin Laden operation.
“I don’t know whether it would be effective or counterproductive. We’ll have to look at that. ... I am saying, though, that it raises questions that ought to be looked at with respect to that,” Hoyer said of U.S. aid to Pakistan.