Bin Laden Story Changes in Various Places

Dayen Tuesday May 3, 2011 6:10 am

The story of the frantic raid on the bin Laden 
compound in Abbottabad has evolved over the past 
24 hours. What was a very crisp narrative full of 
interesting details has not held up. Here are a few examples:

• Initially, the story went that a woman was used 
as a human shield and was killed in the 
firefight. Then counterterrorism aide John 
Brennan asserted that bin Laden was the one who 
held the woman, his wife, as a human shield. Now 
that story has 
The dead woman was not bin Laden’s wife, and he 
did not hold the woman in front of his body in a 
futile attempt to save his life. Bin Laden’s wife 
was on site, but she was merely injured in the raid.

• Initially, officials said bin Laden 
participated in the firefight. Now, they say that 
did not have a weapon in his hand, so he could 
not return fire. Also, the position of the 
bullets has moved; rather than two shots to the 
head, it was one to the head and another to the chest.

• Early reports stated that acts of torture 
yielded the key intelligence – the nom de guerre 
of the top bin Laden courier – that eventually 
led the Navy SEAL unit to Abbottabad. But 
Rumsfeld himself asserted that the information 
did not come from anything but normal 
interrogation, and if you don’t believe him, the 
timeline corroborates that the intel on the 
courier came well after Khalid Skeikh Mohammed 
and Abu Faraj al-Libi were subjected to torture. 
In fact, the CIA abandoned the torture techniques 
used before the courier information was elicited. 
And the New York Times says 
was not KSM and al-Libi who gave up the courier’s 
name, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan. Other prisoners 
told interrogators the name, and KSM and 
al-Libi’s denial of having heard of the name gave 
them confidence that it was correct. CBS says 
the opposite.

• Initially, the story was that one of the 
helicopters made a soft landing before the raid 
began, as it 
Now the story is that the helicopter 
the raid and could not take off. CBS’ report 
the difference – saying that the helicopter took 
fire after the SEALs rapelled into the compound, 
and then made a hard landing, from which it could 
not be resuscitated. No other story mentions incoming fire on the helicopters.

• The official story remains that, while Pakistan 
aided the US in the intelligence-gathering phase 
of the operation, they were not informed about 
the mission and the breach of their airspace. And 
President Asif Ali Zardari 
that in an op-ed in the Washington Post Monday. 
But other Pakistani sources 
the mission was a joint US-Pakistan operation, 
particularly with respect to the intelligence, 
casting doubt on the official story. The truth 
will be nearly impossible to determine on that one.

• The principals in the Situation Room did not 
watch video of the event as it unfolded. They 
Panetta narrating the events from CIA headquarters in Langley.

• For all the talk of the efficacy of torture or 
interrogation or NSA wiretapping, the fact that 
locals working for the CIA found the courier and 
got his license plate seems to have been the most 
crucial piece of information. However, other 
reports claim 
was satellite phone calls that drew the intelligence operatives to Abbottabad.

• While there was no phone or Internet in the 
compound, there apparently 
a satellite dish, and bin Laden had at least one satellite phone.

• Multiple reports say that bin Laden had 30 to 
40 bodyguards at his compound, yet the mission 
lasted just 40 minutes and only a handful of 
people were killed, with no bodyguards left behind.

I haven’t read every single account of the 
incident. And some of this is due to the filter 
of a human being reconstructing events and 
perhaps getting some things wrong. But on a 
number of fronts, some crucial pieces of 
information have varied. Whether or not bin Laden 
was armed matters to whether the SEALs actually 
had orders to bring him into custody if possible 
or not (that’s another piece of info that has 
varied). Whether or not Pakistan was involved and 
informed of the operation is crucial to the 
future of the US-Pakistan relationship (it makes 
no sense that they wouldn’t have known, as I have 
It makes the cover story about Pakistan 
scrambling fighter jets but the helicopters 
somehow getting away sound ludicrous. The 
different stories about interrogation play 
against a backdrop of a renewed – and ridiculous 
– debate about the efficacy of torture.

I don’t expect pinpoint accuracy on the narrative 
from everyone, but I expect a slightly better 
lining up of the stories than what we’ve seen. 
This doesn’t call into question the entire 
operation, but it does have implications across a wide range of issues.

Ring the bells that still can ring,  Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen