So no one misunderstands, let me make three points up front. First, President Obama did a top-notch job killing Osama bin Laden. Second, in the fog of war much misinformation is innocently relayed. Third, there is zero doubt, none, that bin Laden is dead. That said, is it too much to ask for the White House to get the facts straight nearly two days after the raid?
The Post reports:
Osama bin Laden was not armed when he was shot during a U.S. commando raid early Monday on his fortress-like compound in Pakistan, U.S. officials said Tuesday, contradicting initial accounts of the top-secret operation.
Officials also backed away further from initial suggestions that bin Laden and other men in the compound had used women as human shields as they battled the raiding force consisting of U.S. Navy SEALs.
We now hear:
In a White House news briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said bin Laden “resisted” when at least one member of the raiding party entered his third-floor room, but he declined to say how the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader had done so. . . . “The resistance was throughout,” Carney said. Pressed by reporters to specify how bin Laden resisted the assault, the spokesman said, “Resistance does not require a firearm.”
I have no idea what this means. He resisted by running? He resisted by throwing something at the SEALs? I can’t think of any reason why we shouldn’t get a specific accounting of what happened.
The fuzzy narrative is raising a legitimate question: Was this a kill mission from the get-go? As one former CIA intelligence officer put it, “that’s a waste,” meaning we lose whatever intelligence bin Laden might have that would not otherwise be found. And if it was a kill mission from the get-go, was the Obama team’s squeamishness about interrogation of terrorists a factor? (Goodness, imagine if Obama had to make the same decision on extraordinary interrogation measures that George W. Bush did with regard to Khalid Sheik Mohammed.)
Then there is this: “White House officials on Tuesday sought to correct the official account of the raid in Pakistan that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying that the Qaeda leader was not armed and that his wife was not killed.” So what happened to her? Did we allow her to escape with no questioning?
None of this detracts from the accomplishment of killing bin Laden. And none of it justifies releasing a gruesome photo to satisfy the “deathers.” What would be accomplished (convincing crazies he is actually dead doesn’t count) would be served other than increasing the chances of a retaliatory act?
The White House should get all the facts, get them right and get them out. Otherwise its newfound air of competence will begin to fade prematurely.