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Conflicting stories

Posted by Richard on May 3, 2011

Last night, I cheered the President. First, because he authorized the mission to get bin Laden and it was a success. Second, because he informed the nation in a speech that was commendably short, to the point, and non-professorial. He even graciously acknowledged the role of his predecessor. Granted, there were an inordinate number of references to "I," "me," "my," and "mine" — but I can forgive that. He's had a rough year, and wanting to crow about this success is understandable.

But today, we've been treated to conflicting stories about one of the important aspects of the mission and the President's authorization of it. First, there was this (emphasis added): 

May 2 (Reuters) – The U.S. special forces team that hunted down Osama bin Laden was under orders to kill the al Qaeda mastermind, not capture him, a U.S. national security official told Reuters.

"This was a kill operation," the official said, making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.

And that account was echoed in many places. India's NDTV had the timeline: 

On April 29, 2011, Obama signed the "Kill Osama bin Laden order." He gave the final go ahead for the secret operation at 8.20 am that day.

Slate's John Dickerson informed us that not only was it a kill operation (a.k.a. "targeted assassination"), but that critical information came from those infamous Gitmo interrogations (emphasis added): 

Detainees being held at Guantanamo provided some of the strongest information about those who were trusted by Bin Laden. They identified a courier and his brother who lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an affluent suburb where a lot of retired Pakistani military officers live.

Early Friday morning before departing to view tornado damage in Alabama, the president gave the order to initiate the operation to kill Bin Laden. On Sunday, he met throughout the day in the Situation Room, making final preparations and receiving updates.

HuffPo's Earl Ofari Hutchison crowed that this "shattered the myth" that Obama and the Democrats are soft on terrorism (emphasis added): 

… He refused to soften any of the provisions of the Patriot Act, promptly issued a shoot-to-kill order against the Somali pirates to free American hostages, stepped up the drone attacks on the Taliban in Pakistan, and approved the massive expansion of troops, bases, and spending on the Afghan War. But most importantly, he issued tough and secret orders to the CIA to continue to do everything to destroy and disrupt l Qaeda and to take out the one man that Americans most wanted dead, and that was bin Laden. Obama's order to the CIA and military counter-terror teams hunting bin Laden was clear; do not capture, but kill.

But at some point, administration officials had second thoughts about going with the "orders to kill" narrative. Time's Michael Scherer quoted an unnamed source as denying the Reuters account: 

“No U.S. forces go in and, if someone surrenders to them, will kill them,” the official says. “There was a presumption that it would likely end in a kill,” the official continued, citing the U.S. government’s expectation that Bin Laden would resist capture. “But to say that it was a kill mission is wrong.”

And he later updated with a named source (emphasis added):

As expected, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan confirmed that this was not a kill-only mission at the White House briefing. ” We certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote,” Brennan said of capturing Bin Laden alive. ” If we had the opportunity to take him alive we would have done that.”

After that, things got even murkier, with multiple conflicting stories.

— Bin Laden was using a wife as a human shield. No, the woman was just caught in the crossfire. And it may have been a different woman in a different place.

— Bin Laden was shooting at the SEALs with an AK47. No, he was unarmed.

— He was given a chance to surrender, and shot when he didn't. Wait, is that narrative part of the "he was unarmed" story or part of the "he was resisting" story?

Maybe the chance to surrender was like on the cop shows, when they shout "Police, open up!" approximately 3/10ths of a second before smashing in the door. "Osama, surrender!" Bang! Bang! Bang!

The administration is apparently trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, they want to portray the President as a strong, no-nonsense leader who's prepared to kill the bad guys and keep America safe (hey, there's an election in the offing).

On the other hand, they don't want him to appear to be a cowboy who ignored Reagan's 1981 executive order prohibiting assassinations and trampled on international law.

Personally, I've got no problem with the initial story. In any reasonably free and rational society, you could shoot bin Laden, claim the old Texas affirmative defense that "he needed killin'," and be confident that no jury would convict.

With the exception of whack-jobs like Cindy Sheehan and her ilk, I don't think the court of American public opinion has any problems with an order to take out this enemy of mankind. Like me, most people heartily agree with the President: "The world is safer: it is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden."

International public opinion is another matter.

But then, President Obama has always seemed more concerned about the latter than the former.

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3 Responses to “Conflicting stories”

  1. Rick Shultz said

    I will believe absolutely NOTHING till I see DNA edvidence confirmed by at least a dozen of Obama’s WORST enemies. And I’m talking people who would just as soon see OBAMA dead as Bin Laden. And photographs. Closeup graphic photographs of the body!! And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never heard of ANY Muslim buried at SEA. That corpse should have hung upside down like IL DUCE, and then been dumped in a hole and covered with pig guts.

  2. David Aitken said

    I’d rather see him (or his body) brought back here, then hang a sheet on a wall, stuff him in a pig’s carcass, and run the pig’s carcass through one of those wood chippers that does a very fine job on trees, and then deliver the bloody sheet to the Saudis. If he’s alive, send him through feet first, set on extra slow. Don’t forget the video, and post it on youtube.

  3. rgcombs said

    Barring any even more over the top entries, I think David wins for most bloodthirsty. That makes Chad at work seem downright reasonable and restrained. He just wanted bin Laden’s head on a pike in front of the White House.

    Hey, I’ll settle for seeing a picture of his lifeless corpse with a big hole in the forehead. 🙂

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