“It’s important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” Obama said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
The move appeared to contradict CIA Director Leon Panetta’s assertion Tuesday that the photos would eventually be made public, suggesting a split among the president’s top aides, and it drew swift criticism from some Republicans. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called withholding the photographs a “mistake,” saying it will “unnecessarily prolong” questions about whether the al-Qaeda founder really died.
Just days after one of the most heralded covert actions in U.S. history, the White House found itself struggling to tell the story of the dramatic raid and having to justify the legal basis for it.
The conundrum mirrored problems that the Obama administration has had communicating its national security approach in the past. From the immediate aftermath of an attempted airliner bombing on Dec. 25, 2009, to the early management of the H1N1 flu crisis, the White House has repeatedly labored to prove its command of inflammatory facts during fast-moving events.
This time, officials backed away from several of the most provocative elements disclosed in the first 24 hours. Bin Laden was not “killed in a firefight,” and he did not use his wife as a “human shield,” as originally claimed. White House officials volunteered the corrections, saying the errors were caused by haste as investigators debriefed the Navy SEALs thousands of miles away and officials attempted to brief reporters in real time.
A $1 million compound?
Further questions about the original story surfaced as well. A White House claim that the compound was worth $1 million appeared to be contradicted by property records showing that the land was worth $48,000 when it was purchased in stages in 2004 and 2005, according to the Associated Press.
Administration officials insisted that the $1 million price tag was arrived at through careful analysis and was not inflated. “Abbottabad is a relatively affluent city in Pakistan, and the value of the compound was determined after thorough and rigorous analysis of real estate values there,” a U.S. intelligence official said, referring to the military city where the hideout is situated. “The compound sits on a large plot of land, which also adds to the compound’s value.”
Another official said the three-story structure where bin Laden lived should be included as part of the price estimate, although videos of the building have not indicated that there was anything lavish about it, beyond its extensive security. Nonetheless, White House officials maintained that it is best described as a “mansion” and said the underlying facts about bin Laden’s lifestyle remained true.