The Obama administration presented new details Monday about the death of Osama bin Laden, portraying the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda as a reclusive figure who had lived in relative luxury and whose final moments had finally exposed his cowardice.
As Americans solemnly remembered those killed at bin Laden’s command, senior administration officials sought to turn their tactical military victory into a moral one by undermining the heroic image he had long cultivated among his followers. They stressed that he had been discovered not in a remote cave, but in a mansion in a wealthy Pakistani city. They also sought to suggest that, as he tried to escape U.S. Special Operations forces, he may have used one of his wives as a shield.
Kathy Dillaber, who worked at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, survived the attacks by terrorists that day but her sister, Patricia Mickley, did not. Dillaber remembers 9/11 and reflects on what Osama bin Laden's death means for her.
“Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” John O. Brennan, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, told reporters at the White House. “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”
Administration officials continued releasing select details of the raid that killed bin Laden — conducted in the pre-dawn hours Monday in Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistan — as part of their argument that U.S. forces had acted appropriately in violating an ally’s sovereignty in pursuit of the al-Qaeda leader, something Obama had warned he would do even before taking office.
The operation drew praise from across the political spectrum, as Republicans and Democrats hailed bin Laden’s killing as a fitting coda to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Even the administration’s harshest critics, including former vice president Richard B. Cheney, offered their congratulations.
After flying bin Laden’s body to the USS Carl Vinson, U.S. officials performed the rituals of Islamic burial, including wrapping it in a white shroud, before tipping it into the Arabian Sea. Officials said the decision was made to comply with the Islamic mandate to bury a body within 24 hours after death. A burial at sea also ensured that bin Laden would have no grave site for his followers to use as a shrine.
U.S. officials said DNA tests performed Monday confirmed with 99.9 percent certainty that the body removed from the one-acre compound in Abbottabad was bin Laden’s, although the administration has yet to release evidence that he is dead.
“We are going to continue to look at the information that we have and make sure that we’re able to share what we can, because we want to make sure that not only the American people but the world understand exactly what happened and the confidence that we have that it was conducted in accordance with the mission design,” Brennan said. “At the same time, we don’t want to do anything that’s going to compromise our ability to be as successful the next time we get one of these guys and take them off the battlefield.”