President Obama gave his first interview since announcing Osama bin Laden's death to Steve Kroft for "60 Minutes" on Wednesday, which was aired Sunday night. The interview was crisp and efficient, as there was a great deal of ground to cover -- bin Laden's death has given rise to numerous questions and even conspiracies, and both Obama and Kroft seemed intent on furnishing a statement for every one.
Kill or Capture. If there was no other way to get bin Laden, Obama said he was "fine" with killing him.
"Keep in mind that every time i make a decision about launching a missile or sending troops into battle, I understand that this will result in people being killed. That is a sobering fact, but one that comes with the job... As nervous as I was about this process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was served. Anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what they got needs to have their head examined."
The Burial at Sea. "Frankly, we took more care on this than, obviously, bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people," Obama said. Nonetheless, bin Laden's burial at sea came out of a joint decision by the president and his team to deal with the body in an appropriate manner:
"We thought it was important to think through ahead of time how we would dispose of the body if he were killed in the compound. And I think that what we tried to do was - consulting with experts in Islamic law and ritual - to find something that was appropriate, that was, respectful of the body."
The Death Photos. As to why Obama decided against releasing bin Laden's death photos, which he had seen himself, the president said it was a national security issue:
"Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing... It is 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. As a propaganda tool. You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk."
Pakistan's Involvement. Obama said he didn't tell the Pakistani government about the operation simply because he hardly told anyone about the operation, including his top aides and his family. When Kroft asked him whether people in the Pakistani government or intelligence agencies knew bin Laden was in Pakistan, Obama said he believed bin Laden had help, which Pakistan should investigate:
"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate. And we've already communicated to them, and they have indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had."
Nonetheless, Obama maintained that "Pakistan since 9/11 has been a strong counter-terrorism partner with us."
Continued U.S. Presence in the Middle East. Obama stressed the focus on following up with the intelligence gathered from bin Laden's compound, and the serious power it would provide for taking down al-Qaeda. However, he said, "We can focus on al-Qaeda, but we don't need to have the kind of permanent footprint that we have now."
Some Personal Details. In the days leading up to the raid, Obama said it weighed heavily on his mind, though no one who saw his stand-up act at the White House Correspondents' Dinner could have known, as he behaved with his usual almost preternatural composure. He described the raid as "the longest 40 minutes of my life, with the exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three." When he heard that bin Laden had been killed, he said he was "relieved" and "deeply proud and deeply satisfied with his team."
A brief clip from CBS on the subject of Pakistani involvement is below.
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