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National Security / National Security

Latest Developments: Osama bin Laden's Death

May 4, 2011

4:38 p.m. Congress can be a leaky faucet, but occasionally it can be helpful. It was Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who said the administration told him there was an AK47 and pistol in the room where bin Laden was killed. The administration admits that bin Laden was not armed when he was killed by U.S. forces, but if there were weapons in the room with him, it helps make the case for killing him because he would have resisted an invasion.

3:09 p.m. Once again, when asked about the role that enhanced interrogation techniques played in obtaining vital operation, Carney insisted that no single piece of information was “singularly vital.” Once again, he doesn’t denounce the use of those techniques – though he said yesterday that the Obama still opposes it – but rather sidestepped and asked reporters to focus on the “bigger picture” of the work of the U.S.’s intelligence professionals.

3:05 p.m. More from Graham: 

 

“The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden’s death.  I know bin Laden is dead.  But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world.

“I’m afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate.”

3:03 p.m.  Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has released a statement saying he "respectfully disagree[s] with President Obama’s decision not to release the photos. It’s a mistake."

3:00 p.m. Reuters has released a slideshow with new photos from inside the compound. See them here.

2:57 p.m. Carney reads a statement about the lawfulness of the operation:

“The team had the authority to kill Osama bin Laden unless he offered to surrender, in which case the team was required to accept his surrender if they could do safely. The operation was conducted in a manner consistent with laws of war. The operation was planned so that the team was prepared and had the means to take bin Laden into custody. There is simply no question that the operation was lawful. Bin Laden was the head of al-Qaida and the organization that conducted attacks of September 11, 2001 and al-Qaida and bin Laden himself continued to plot attacks against the United States. We acted in the nation's self-defense. The operation was conducted in a way designed to minimize and avoid altogether, if possible, civilian casualties. If I might add, that was done at great risk to Americans. Furthermore, consistent with the laws of war, bin laden's surrender would have been accepted if feasible.”

2:55 p.m. Another question is asked about providing photos to the families of 9/11 victims: would the administration be open to showing them photos in private if they requested it? Carney did not have an answer at the briefing.

2:43 p.m. Carney denies reports that members of Congress are being shown the bin Laden photos.

2:42 p.m. Remember that in the decision not to release photos, the concerns of people like Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton won out over the confidence CIA Chief Leon Panetta had Tuesday that the photos would be released. The decision will also probably be favorable for many members of Congress, who seemed more than happy to leave the decision to Obama.

2:41 p.m. At Ground Zero tomorrow, President Obama will lay a wreath on the 9/11 memorial, but has no plans to give a speech at the event. He is there to honor the victims and first responders, Carney said, and “I think the power of that requires no words.” But he will meet with some families in private.

2:40 p.m. To a question about whether the nature of bin Laden’s burial might undo some of Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, Carney stressed that the U.S. had gone to great lengths to follow Muslim rules and regulations of burial. But he added that, “the respect that was shown to him and his body was far greater than the respect that Osama bin Laden showed to the victims on 9/11 or any of his other victims. And that's because that's who we are. So we feel very comfortable with the fact that we took extraordinary measures to show that respect to the traditions of the Islamic faith.”

To a question about what the White House would say to the families of 9/11 victims who may have wanted closure through release of the photographs, Carney responded that there was no doubt about bin Laden’s identity, and that he thinks Americans feel a great sense of closure. But it seems clear that photographs are off the table.

The decision about not showing evidence applies to all visual evidence, he said.

2:34 p.m. Carney indicated in the press briefing that the release of details about the operation by the White House has come to an end. Asked about who the SEALS were exchanging fire with inside bin Laden’s compound, he said, “You know, we have gone to limit of our able to do that and still maintain some of the things we need to maintain and be kept secret. That's a long way of beginning my answer to say we've revealed a lot of information, we've been as forthcoming with fact as we can, a lot of information came out quickly when we needed to clarify the information that we had, as more information came in, we provided that. But in terms of further details of the operation, I don't have any for you.” 

2:34 p.m. Carney offered further justification and explanation of the president’s decision:

“There are obviously arguments to be made on either side. The fact of the matter is, as the president described, these are graphic photographs of someone who was shot in the face -- the head, rather. It is not in our national security interests to allow those images, as has been in the past been the case, to become icons to rally opinion against the United States. The president's number one priority is the safety and security of American citizens at home and Americans abroad. There is no need to release these photographs to establish Osama bin Laden's identity. And he saw no other compelling reason to release them, given the potential for national security risks. And further, because he believes, as he said so clearly, this is not who we are.”

2:31 p.m. At the top of today’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney read the transcript from Obama’s 60 Minutes interview in which he said he would not release the photographs:

“The president was asked, he said that they were discussing when bin Laden's body was taken out of the compound, the President was asked about how they knew it was him and he said, ‘when they landed, we had very strong confirmation at that point that it was him. Photographs had been taken. Facial analysis indicated that, in fact, it was him. We hadn't yet done DNA testing but at that point we were 95% sure.’

Question: ‘Did you see the pictures?’

The president: ‘Yes.

Question: ‘What was your reaction when you saw them?’

The president: ‘It was him.’

Question: ‘Why didn't you release them?’

The president: ‘We discussed this internally. Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. It is important for us 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. That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies. 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 is gone. But we don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of the photos it would create some national security risk and I've discussed this with Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, and my intelligence teams, and they all agree.’

Question: ‘There are people in Pakistan, for example, who say, look, this is all a lie, Obama, this is another American trick, Osama is not dead.’

The president: ‘The truth is, that we were monitoring worldwide reaction. There is no doubt that bin Laden is dead. Certainly there is no doubt among al-Qaida members that he is dead. And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin laden walking on this earth again.’”

2:30 p.m. Carney is adamant that he "won't go further" than yesterday's account of the raid.

2:28 p.m. Carney: "The president never gets to make a decision that is 100 percent obvious." Carney said Obama's decision not to release the photos was "categorical."

2:24 p.m. WH spokesman Jay Carney, quoting Obama: "We don't need to spike the football."

2:18 p.m. Why didn’t Obama release photos of bin Laden’s body? No compelling reason came forth. NJ’s Matt Cooper and Marc Ambinder take you inside the decision.

2:10 p.m. Sarah Palin, potential 2012 presidential candidate, was pretty fast to react - negatively. "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it's part of the mission," she said in a tweet.

2:09 p.m. Here's more on Obama's decision not to release the photos.

1:40 p.m. While taping an interview for CBS's 60 Minutes, President Obama said he will not release the photos of bin Laden's body. More details soon.

1:21 p.m. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf spoke with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell a few moments ago, telling her that while he thought bin Laden’s death would appease the world, it was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

“It would have been better that we shared and we acted with Pakistan forces, they are capable. They can fly at night. They have helicopters that can fly at night. They have troops which can operate,” he told Mitchell. When she brought up the concern about leaks, he said it reflected a lack of trust in Pakistan – something that must be corrected for the two countries to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida.

But he cast doubts upon the abilities of his own military nonetheless by saying that he too was surprised to find that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, even though he insisted he was sure there was no complicity.

“I cannot imagine that ISI High Command or army were abetting or harboring Osama bin Laden there. That cannot be the case. However, it is a case of acute failure of intelligence, which I think needs to be investigated.”

11:55 a.m. Interesting tidbit, courtesy of the University of Texas-Austin's student newspaper, the Daily Texan: Apparently Vice Adm. William McRaven, the SEAL who headed the Joint Special Operations Command that killed bin Laden, earned a degree in journalism at UT Austin in 1977.

11:51 a.m. President Obama will particpate at a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 memorial when he travels to New York Thursday, the White House press office said. After the ceremony, he will also meet with families and first responders affected by the tragedy.

11:31 a.m. Leaders united: NJ's Major Garrett reports that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is not taking a position about the release of the photo of a dead bin Laden and talks to him about his Sunday night phone call with the president.

11:29 a.m. NJ's Jamie Tarabay brings you more on bin Laden's alleged will - and his order to his children forbidding them from working for al-Qaida. Read it here.

10:45 a.m. Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff to Pres. George W. Bush, said on Fox that the “bottom line” is that the enhanced interrogation techniques “helped create an environment that gave rise to this information” that led to bin Laden.

On the issue of releasing the photos, Rove said “it’s a close call” but he would lean towards not releasing them.  “The reason being offered for why we need to put them out is because we have people who don’t believe he’s dead… I don’t think there’s a compelling need to release them,” he said, because bin Laden’s spokesman has already emerged, called him a martyr and said his death will be avenged.

10:21 a.m. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that bin Laden is still haunting Americans - as a source of malware.

The FBI released a warning today that hackers and spammers are sending emails that purport to have a link to photos of bin Laden's body. The sites can unleash malicious viruses onto users' computers if they click on the link, the Inquirer said.

10:07 a.m. A copy of bin Laden's alleged will was published in a Kuwaiti newspaper Wednesday. Among the instructions he leaves: an apology for not paying more attention to his children ("I apologize for giving you so little of my time because I responded to the need for jihad"), an instruction that they should not wage jihad, and a warning to his wives not to remarry. Read more at the Washington Post.

9:57 p.m. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., joined the calls of some of his fellow members who are trying to soothe some of the outrage at Pakistan over the fact that bin Laden was found to be hiding in a comfortable suburban area.

“Somebody may have known. It seems almost incomprehensible that someone couldn't know. However, I know our FBI...they've looked for people in our country and taken them years to find. I think the important thing is whether they knew or not, he's dead. We've accomplished that. It took a long time, but we've accomplished it,” he said on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown.

McKeon was also asked to weigh in on the debate over whether to release the photograph of bin Laden. He said he didn’t “see much to be gained by it,” but deferred to President Obama’s authority over the decision.

9:39 p.m. What do you think? Does the government need to release a photo to prove he’s dead? Weigh in here.

9:33 a.m. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tells ABC he does not believe, based on recent materials, that Pakistan withheld information or aided and abetted terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden as he hid in an affluent neighborhood just a half-mile from Pakistan's top military academy.

Rogers also reiterated his caution to congressional leaders calling to sever aid to Pakistan. “We still need them,” he said. “Has it been frustrating? Absolutely. Are they going to be the best partners we’ve ever had? No. Do we have to have them? I think we do.”

9:27 a.m. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that enhanced interrogation techniques that had been used for years under the George W. Bush administration to glean information from detainees helped lead to Osama bin Laden’s death -- putting him at odds with the committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein.

“We gleaned some very valuable information from prisoners at [Guantanamo Bay] or prisoners who may have been at a different location and interrogated and ultimately sent to Gitmo,” Chambliss said on Fox. “And certainly the enhanced interrogation techniques helped produce information that may have led to the takedown of bin Laden…. So there is no question of what the CIA interrogation techniques proved very, very valuable.”

On Tuesday, Feinstein, D-Calif., said that “to the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of [the information that led to finding bin Laden] came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,” To this difference in opinion, Chambliss said: “Obviously we may have a difference of opinion as to what is enhanced interrogation, and I will just say that based on the information that I have, the interrogation of Gitmo detainees did provide leads to bin Laden.”

9:26 a.m. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., attended the closed door briefing with lawmakers with CIA chief Leon Panetta Tuesday night. Corker, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said on Fox that there were 74 senators in attendance “which is rare for one of these briefings.” There was a “loud applause” and “tremendous pride” for the mission, Corker said, and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also there. The briefing was very candid, thorough, and ran “very, very late,” Corker said.

While he can’t disclose details from the briefing, Corker said that: “Either the Pakistani military and intelligence was either in cahoots, or incompetent, and I think that’s clear.”

9:19 a.m. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. called the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden a “great measure of justice for the American people” and said the U.S. needs to be concerned about the impact of releasing any photos of his body. “I share the concern that we have to make sure that the safety of the troops are paramount. We have to make sure the families are safe and that the operations were highly confidential operations,” she said on Fox.

Meanwhile, ranking member of the Intelligence Committee Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said that it’s “likely” the photos will be released even with all the deliberations over their impact. “It's likely to happen at some point in time anyway. This city is known for its leaks,” Chambliss said on Fox. “Somehow that photograph will ultimately get out. We need to consult with our military personnel, our intelligence community to see what damage might accrue if the photographs are released. If they make a decision that it won't have much effect, then I suspect they'll be released.”

9:15 a.m. The debate of the day, of course, is whether the administration will release photos of a dead bin Laden. Pros: it would really prove we killed him. Cons: the images are quite graphic, and could inflame extremists around the world. CIA Director Leon Panetta told NBC's Brian Williams he thinks the photos will be released. According to ABC's Jake Tapper, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are telling Obama that releasing the photo could provoke a backlash against the U.S. for killing bin Laden. The Atlantic Wire has a good roundup of where the decision makers stand on the debate.

9:05 a.m. In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds across the globe lit up with a very timely quote from civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that urged readers not to rejoice in the death of an enemy. There was just one small problem: some of those words weren't his.

It turns out the first part of the quote widely attributed to King -- "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy" -- came not from the legendary preacher's pen but from a 24-year-old English teacher in Kobe, Japan. The error stemmed from a Facebook post in which Jessica Dovey, the teacher, listed a famous quote of King's alongside a few words of her own. At some point along the way, the two became conjoined in a spectacular example of digital telephone.

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal tracked down Dovey to ask about the experience of finding herself -- abruptly and unexpectedly -- "the epicenter of an Internet-wide discussion about the nature of quotation, attribution, and Osama bin Laden."

8:50 a.m. TIME's Massimo Calabresi, who yesterday scored the first post-raid interview with CIA director Leon Panetta, sat down with former CIA counterterrroism head Jose Rodriguez for his first public interview (Rodriguez was investigated last year by the Justice Department for the destruction of videos showing senior al-Qaeda officials being interrogatedand ultimately cleared).

Rodriguez says the CIA’s information from top al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Faraj al-Libbi obtained during “enhanced interrogation techniques” at secret black site prisons overseas, "was the lead information that eventually led to the location of [bin Laden’s] compound and the operation that led to his death.”

The White House pushed back with a statement from national security spokesman Tommy Vietor, who said, "“There is no way that information obtained by [enhanced interrogation techniques] was the decisive intelligence that led us directly to bin Laden. It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case that enabled us to identify this compound, and reach a judgment that bin Laden was likely to be living there." But it sounds like they aren't denying that some information used to locate bin Laden was obtained by enhanced interrogation techniques.

8:39 a.m. NJ’s Michael Hirsh reports that the CIA is now closely examining the computer hard drives and documents taken from the compound to determine whether any of the information on them gives clues as to the last whereabouts of bin Laden’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaida operatives as well as Mullah Omar, along with their contact personnel, according to an administration official.”

8:32 a.m. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised the mission that killed Osama bin Laden -- not only as a justified act of vengeance for his terrorist attacks, but because the Obama administration would have not been able to successfully glean any intelligence information from him had he been captured.

“It is probably a good thing that he's been killed. Certainly, even if he'd been captured, some people are suggesting that there would have been considerable intelligence information that could have been gained by interrogating him,” Rumsfeld said on Fox. “But the interrogation policies of this administration, I think, would be unlikely to produce much intelligence from Osama bin Laden.”

Rumsfeld’s roundabout reference to the policies put in place during his tenure on the Bush administration is the latest in a lineup of former officials looking to seize what they believe to be their rightful piece of Obama’s kudos pie. NJ’s Lindsey Boerma reports on the amazing resurgence of the Bush administration.

8:29 a.m. In case you missed it, CIA Director Leon Panetta, speaking on NBC Nightly News Tuesday night, said that the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s location in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and the deadly raid came from multiple sources – likely including enhanced interrogation techniques. “Clearly, some of it came from detainees in the interrogation of detainees, but we had information from other sources as well,” Panetta said. “I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees.”

"But I'm also saying that the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches, I think is always going to be an open question," Panetta said.

As the New York Times wrote Tuesday, bin Laden's death has reopened a debate about the use of torture. In Tuesday's press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama still opposes the so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques, but the White House isn't making an overt attempt to fight reports that such techniques were used to obtain information from detainees that was crucial in finding bin Laden.

8:28 a.m. There has been a considerable amount of changing information surround how bin Laden was killed in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, ranging from whether he was armed to whether he used his wife as a human shield. The White House said yesterday that he was not armed, but that he resisted U.S. forces and was therefore killed.

But bin Laden’s 12- or 13-year-old daughter, who was in the compound during the raid, told Pakistani officials that her father was captured alive and then shot to death, according to an Al Arabiya report that was confirmed by MSNBC. We’ll keep track of whether that rumor makes it to the briefing room, and how press secretary Jay Carney responds if it does.

8:18 a.m. What do Americans think about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, and who should get the credit? The results are in: 93 percent of Americans said they approve of the action that killed bin Laden, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll.

The poll, conducted May 2 after a day of overwhelming news coverage, revealed that results are more mixed for President Obama himself. Even as onlookers praised the daring operation that sent covert U.S. troops to raid bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, only 35 percent of respondents said that Obama deserved a great deal of credit. Another 36 percent said he deserved a “moderate” amount of credit. By contrast, a whopping 89 percent said that the U.S. military deserves “a great deal of credit,” and 62 percent said the same about the CIA’s role in the mission.

A separate New York Times/CBS News poll concludes that “the glow of national pride” over the bin Laden raid “seemed to rise above partisan politics.”  Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they now approved of the president’s job performance -- up 11 percentage points since last month.

About one of three respondents to the Gallup poll said that it would have been better to have captured bin Laden alive, with 60 percent saying that killing him was the best strategy.  National Journal reports that the administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, likely for practical and moral reasons. Capturing him alive would have presented an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges: where to imprison him, how harshly to interrogate him, and how -- and when --  to put him on trial for past atrocities.

7:59 a.m. Appearing on MSNBC’s  Morning Joe a few minutes ago, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., warned people against being too hasty to call on the U.S. to cut ties with Pakistan because the country is a strategic necessity to wage the war in Afghanistan.

“We need the routes to our troops through Pakistan. We need their airspace for our predator program – it’s been very effective wiping out terrorists. We have to use this as leverage point in our relationship with Pakistan and not begin spouting off we need to cut off Pakistan, because If we cut off Pakistan, we may have problems getting supplies to our troops that are in Afghanistan and harm's way,” McCaskill said.

7:55 a.m. As we reported earlier, President Bush has declined President Obama's invitation to travel to Ground Zero with him Thursday because he wants to stay out of the spotlight. He will be attending the ten-year anniversary at the site in September.

7:45 a.m. Good morning. As we have all week, National Journal will be bringing you live updates on Osama bin Laden's death. The big news of the day we'll be watching for is whether the administration decides to release a photograph of the dead bin Laden. There are concerns that the photos -- which have been described as "gruesome" -- may be inflammatory and help fuel bin Laden's supporters to build a shrine to the terrorist leader.

Also, if you tuned out of the news on the earlier side yesterday, be sure to check out this excellent piece by the all-star team of Yochi J. Dreazen, Aamer Madhani, and Marc Ambinder on how President Obama's goal was to kill, not capture, bin Laden.

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