Journalism in the Public Interest

Your Weekend Wrap-up of the Doubts, Debates, and New Details of the Bin Laden Raid


Pakistani residents walk past a wall bearing the graffiti Bin Laden Town near the hideout house of the slain al Qaeda leader on May 6, 2011. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

More details, debates, and even doubts have continued to emerge about the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden this week.

We've been tracking the coverage with our reading guide. We're also got a weekend wrap-up for the major threads of this evolving story.

For the doubters (aka the Deathers)

In an online message that surfaced today, Al Qaeda  confirmed that its founder was killed and warned that his death would not be in vain: “We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.” U.S. analysts have yet to verify the authenticity of the message. 

The White House has announced it won’t be releasing photos of bin Laden’s body, citing the images’ potential to incite violence or to be used as propaganda. At least one watchdog group has put in filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the federal government and has said it’s prepared to sue for the photos.

Reuters, meanwhile, has bought several grisly photos of three of the other men who died in the raid at the compound. Beware: they’re bloody.

For those tracking the United States’ changing story of the raid—and questioning its legality

The White House didn’t offer any more updates on its narrative of the raid, though a piece in today’s Washington Post hashes out some details on how bin Laden was shot:

U.S. officials provided new details on bin Laden’s final moments, saying the al-Qaeda leader was first spotted by U.S. forces in the doorway of his room on the compound’s third floor. Bin Laden then turned and retreated into the room before being shot twice — in the head and in the chest. U.S. commandos later found an AK-47 and a pistol in the room.

“He was retreating,” a move that was regarded as resistance, a U.S. official briefed on the operation said. “You don’t know why he’s retreating, what he’s doing when he goes back in there. Is he getting a weapon? Does he have a [suicide] vest?”

The details are important for those still scrutinizing the mission’s legality. U.S. officials have maintained that the raid was legal, arguing that lethal force was authorized regardless of whether bin Laden was armed. 

The Post story also highlighted the role of the CIA, which had for months been monitoring the Abbottabad compound from a safe house in the city:

The effort was so extensive and costly that the CIA went to Congress in December to secure authority to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within assorted agency budgets to fund it, U.S. officials said.

Most of that surveillance capability remained in place until the execution of the raid by U.S. Navy SEALs shortly after 1 a.m. in Pakistan. The agency’s safe house did not play a role in the raid and has since been shut down, in part because of concerns about the safety of CIA assets in the aftermath, but also because the agency’s work was considered finished.

The CIA is still going through the material taken from the compound. Early reports indicate that Al Qaeda was considering plans to attack the U.S. by tampering with trains.

For those still wondering about Pakistan

As we noted yesterday, tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have grown since news of the raid first broke on Sunday night, with the initial congratulations giving way to sharp criticisms from both Pakistan's foreign ministry and army. Here’s what we wrote yesterday:

Comments from Pakistani agencies and officials have ranged from congratulations on a "great victory" to denunciation of a "cold-blooded" killing by the United States.

… The Pakistani Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. operation as an “unauthorized unilateral action” and warned the United States and other countries against taking it as precedent.

Pakistan’s top army official also responded yesterday, calling the raid a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan and warning that in the future such actions would “warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States.”

Pakistan has continually denied knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts but maintained that it helped provide intelligence that led to bin Laden.

In an interview with NPR, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged that bin Laden’s presence could only lead to one of two conclusions—Pakistan’s intelligence agencies either were complicit or incompetent. “I strongly believe in the latter,” Mushrraf said. “I cannot imagine there was complicity.”

For the torture debaters

For those who believe that torture is simply wrong, there’s no debate here.

But for others, there’s a lot to still puzzle over. Many proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” are still trying to make a case for why these techniques—banned by the Obama administration but approved under Bush—were useful and shouldn’t be ruled out in the future.

Several U.S. military interrogators released a statement on Wednesday pushing back against claims that torture was necessary to obtain the intelligence leading to bin Laden. From the Christian Science Monitor:

“We are concerned about the suggestion by some that the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques led US forces to Osama bin Laden’s compound,” reads the statement, signed by four former military and FBI interrogators.

That hasn’t stopped torture defenders from continuing to make the argument. In an opinion column published today, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques.” Others have pointed out that KSM in fact misled interrogators when asked about bin Laden’s courier, according to official accounts of the intelligence trail.

Dana Visalli

May 6, 2011, 8:01 p.m.

You missed a subtle little point in the “Al Qaeda says” article, and that is “The origin of the message posted Friday is unclear.”

The origin of the message is unclear, the facts about the raid are unclear, why the body was dumped is unclear, the daughter says so-and-so but who has seen her?  The American people are fools.  When they are done celebrating in the street for a fairytale they will go home and find foreclosure notices on their homes, and they certainly deserve nothing less.

Michael Batcher

May 7, 2011, 9:31 a.m.

As I understand, torture ended in 2004 or 2005. Given six years have passed since such techniques were used, how could one argue that they were effective in this case? Why does the media not note the fact that the use of torture ended 5-6 years ago?

Carol Van Strum

May 7, 2011, 12:34 p.m.

I hope someone can satisfy my morbid curiosity: how is it possible to shoot in the chest a person who has “turned and retreated?”

Curt Donaldson

May 8, 2011, 12:11 a.m.

Perhaps the wound in BinLaden’s face was so grisly
because it was an exit wound, and he was shot in the back
of the head.  In addition, there was a report from Pakistan
that at the beginning of the raid, local power and cell service
went out, and returned afterwards. If that is correct, the
U.S. has technology far in advance of stealth helicopters.

The power didnt go out…. the neighbor was on twitter the entire raid , describing it. Dana Visalli , I hope 3,000 of your countrymen never die in an attack like the one Bin Laden took credit for , you would cheer as well.

Jonah Elijah Brown

May 10, 2011, 1:26 a.m.

Then why the changes in the story? The propaganda had it that he was holding a woman hostage, as a shield, but without a gun…
other propaganda has it that he was begging for his life, in other words, surrendering.
Apparently to a certain Fascist Mindset we’re supposed to surrender to them but it’s cowardice to do so?

If they killed him while he was surrendering they committed a war crime. Killing a Prisoner is murder and those who do such are the actual COWARDS. There’s actually a long history of such crimes committed by American soldiers, the Lakota shaman Crazy Horse was bayoneted in the kidneys, Stabbed in the Back, while shackled hand and foot..
General Nathan Bedford Forrest,  West Point graduate and commander of the Confederate forces at Ft Pillow, murdered American POWs because they were black. Rather than being hanged for his treason and murder he was pardoned and went on to command the Ku Klux Klan, and the Heritage Foundation, one of those who like Chad Smith advocate continued wars of revenge, celebrated him as a hero by proposing Mississippi state License Plates commemorating him. Three Months Ago. Dangerous crowd you’re hanging with, buddy.
Chad, George Bush killed nearly 3 times as many Americans with his wars of conquest based on LIES, one of those placed in danger by this asinine war crime, IF IT WAS bin Laden they murdered, is my nephew. Fighting in Afghanistan in YOUR wars.

If it’s somehow Okey Dokey for Americans to kill POWs, that begets OTHER Killings when it’s Americans who are surrendering.

There are really good reasons for whatever actual rules of war and the treatment of humane treatment of prisoners are so rigorous.
The gander won’t taste nearly as good with goose sauce on it.

Jonah Elijah Brown

May 10, 2011, 1:43 a.m.

And the intelligence that says Usama bin Laden even claimed responsibility for the Twin Towers comes from the same sources which said he was hiding in Iraq and provided the claims of the weapons of mass destruction, and deny that the wars are being fought for the benefit of the Oil Industry.

So, Chad, amigo, are we to believe proven liars without question?

If 9/11 was his doing, and it was him killed, then a trial of a LIVE Usama bin Laden before an International Tribunal would have been a much better option.
Instead, so far we’ve got 8,000+ Americans dead and a literally uncounted number of “enemies”.

And the demotion of those “enemies” to Sub-Human Unlawful Combatant status, even the children, whose deaths are so unimportant that “we” don’t even count them as actual casualties, was from that “9/11 justifies any crimes America wanted to commit even before 9/11” mentality.

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