Osama Bin Laden dead:
White House backtracks on how bin Laden died*
The White House admitted last night that its initial account of the way Osama bin Laden died
at the hands of US forces had been riddled with errors.
By Gordon Rayner, and Toby Harnden
Washington, 03 May 2011
Claims that the al-Qaeda leader had died while firing an automatic weapon at commandos were withdrawn, with President Barack Obama’s spokesman admitting “he was unarmed”. A dramatic description of bin Laden using his wife as a “human shield” and forcing her to sacrifice her life also proved to be false. The woman was still alive and was taken into custody with several of the terrorist’s children.
In an embarrassing climb-down, Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, admitted that the previous version of events — which came mostly from the chief US counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan — had been put out “with great haste”.
The about-turn left the US open to accusations of a cover-up and led to calls for video footage of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and images of bin Laden’s body to be released to end conspiracy theories.
However, the White House suggested that pictures of bin Laden’s body were too “gruesome” to be made public because they could prove “inflammatory”.
Relations between the US and Pakistan, already strained by the fact that Pakistan was not told in advance about the raid, were put under renewed pressure by contradictory statements from Islamabad. It came as:
* David Cameron said bin Laden “must have had an extensive support network in Pakistan”, leaving the country with “searching questions” to answer.
* Five men of Asian origin were arrested after being seen filming at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria.
* The CIA director, Leon Panetta, said they had been only “60 to 80 per cent sure” that bin Laden was living at the compound.
* Mr Panetta also disclosed that the US was concerned that the Pakistani authorities would alert bin Laden if they told them about the operation.
* Material from the hard drive of bin Laden’s computer, described as “the mother lode of intelligence”, was being analysed.
On a day of claim and counter-claim, Mr Carney gave a briefing in which he knocked down a series of statements made on Monday by Mr Brennan and other government sources. Asked whether officials had been caught in a “fog of war”, he said: “We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you about the operation. Some of the information is being reviewed and updated.”
He then read out a new account of the assault, in which he said bin Laden was found on the top floor of a three-storey building, and as a US Navy Seal team entered: “His wife rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the White House to make public the “precise facts surrounding his killing” to ensure it adhered to international law.
The Taliban issued a statement in which it said the US “lacks strong evidence to prove its claim” that bin Laden was dead.
Ron Paul, a congressman and Republican presidential candidate, said “confusion” in the White House accounts of events in Abbottabad was fuelling doubts. “The question I have is why does our government invite conspiracy theories all the time? Why don’t they show a picture?” he said.
Mr Carney said the White House was still “reviewing” whether it was “appropriate” to release any of the images. He also appeared to cast doubt on suggestions that the US filmed bin Laden’s burial at sea by refusing to confirm that the video existed.
Mr Cameron said the Americans had already done enough to show “reasonable people that bin Laden was dead” before saying that the Pakistani authorities had serious questions to answer over whether bin Laden was being protected while living at his compound within walking distance of Pakistan’s main military academy.
“The fact that bin Laden was living in a large house in a populated area suggests that he must have had an extensive support network in Pakistan,” he said. “We don’t currently know the extent of that network, so it is right that we ask searching questions about it. And we will.”
Mr Panetta confirmed that the Pakistani authorities were not told in advance of the audacious helicopter assault because of fears that the information would be leaked.
He also said the US had been unable to spot bin Laden in his compound from satellite images, meaning the CIA was only “60 to 80 per cent sure” they would find him there.
In Islamabad, the authorities said they had co-operated with the US and had kept the building under surveillance since 2009, contradicting Mr Obama’s account of a four-year CIA operation to identify bin Laden’s hiding place. They also suggested that their soldiers had raided the building in 2003 — two years before the building was even built, according to the US — looking for another senior al-Qaeda operative.
As the men arrested outside the Sellafield plant were being questioned, Mr Cameron said Britain must be “more vigilant than ever” against the threat of terrorism.