Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) held a Capitol news conference Monday morning at which they relayed details about how they were informed that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden. They also discussed their outlook on the way forward following the death of the al-Qaeda leader.
“Today Americans across the country are welcoming the news that this awful man, this man who epitomized evil, has been brought to justice by American forces,” Reid said at the news conference in the Ohio Clock Corridor, the first official event on Capitol Hill following news of bin Laden’s death. “His death is the most significant victory in our fight against al-Qaeda and sends a strong message to terrorists around the world.”
Reid said that he got a call from White House staff at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, followed by a call from President Obama himself shortly thereafter.
“The president was very somber in his relating to me what took place,” Reid said.
Levin said he first received word from Defense Secretary Robert Gates at about 10 p.m. Sunday as he was waiting for a plane in the Detroit airport on his way back to Washington.
“My first reaction was great satisfaction and relief that a true mass murderer had been brought to justice,” Levin said. “I thought to myself that justice has a long memory. It has a long arm. ... I was also thinking about the mythology of bin Laden, how it’s been punctured, that he cannot escape justice and did not.”
Reid said that over the course of several months, he had sat down “fairly regularly” for one-on-one briefings on the bin Laden operation with CIA Director Leon Panetta, with whom Reid had served in the House during the 1980s.
Reid called the successful operation against bin Laden “a direct result of President Obama’s efforts to refocus on Afghanistan and Pakistan as a central battleground in our fight against terror.”
He added that he believed the news would not likely lead to a quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan, noting that Obama has established a timeline to begin withdrawal this summer.
“He has indicated that he’s going to stick with that,” Reid said. “I think that’s appropriate.”
One issue that’s likely to be raised by many lawmakers going forward is the role of Pakistan in the operation. Asked whether he had concerns about what Pakistani officials knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts leading up to Sunday’s shootout, Levin said that “the army and the intelligence of Pakistan have plenty of questions that they should be answering.”
Levin also called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s statement Monday on bin Laden’s death “a very reassuring statement, when he very specifically said that he thinks it’s a great victory.”
“But I must tell you, I hope that he will follow through ... and ask some very tough questions of his own military and his own intelligence,” Levin added. “They’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
Levin is slated to hold a conference call with reporters later Monday afternoon. A bipartisan Senate resolution on bin Laden’s death is also in the works, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.