WASHINGTON - Osama bin Laden wasn't armed when U.S. forces hunted him down and killed him, the chief White House spokesman said Tuesday.
That was but one of several details that press secretary Jay Carney corrected in the public account of Monday’s breathtaking raid on a compound in Pakistan where the long-sought leader of the terrorist group al-Qaida was hiding.
The initial accounts of the raid released by administration officials, including counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan in an on-camera White House briefing Monday, were made in “great haste,” Carney said, in an effort to tell Americans quickly as much as possible as details came in.
Obama did see photos confirming bin Laden’s death, a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday night. A decision on whether to make any photo public is expected in “several days” said the official, who couldn’t be named as a matter of policy.
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Separately, Pakistani officials in Abbottabad, the site of the raid, said Tuesday that bin Laden’s young daughter, age 12 or 13, saw him being killed. She was one of eight or nine children and two women in the compound who were left behind after the raid, said an official with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. He spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“We have no independent confirmation of Osama bin Laden being there or dying there, except what we got from the daughter,” the official said, adding that those left behind said that bin Laden had been there for some months.
Carney, relying on a written narrative from the Department of Defense to set the record straight, said that:
• Bin Laden wasn’t armed when he was shot.
• A wife of his was shot in the leg, not killed as originally reported.
• Bin Laden didn’t use her as a shield before he was shot. She rushed at a U.S. attacker, but she wasn’t armed.
• Two helicopters were used in the raid.
• The raid lasted 40 minutes.
• In addition to bin Laden and some of his family members, two other families were at the compound in Abbottabad, about 35 miles from the capital of Islamabad. One family was in a separate structure. Another was on the first floor of the main building.
• On the first floor, two al-Qaida couriers were killed, as well as a woman who wasn’t bin Laden’s wife and who apparently was caught in the crossfire.
• Bin Laden and his family were on the second and third floors. His wife was in the room with him. She was shot first, then he was shot and killed.
• U.S. forces were operating under a “capture or kill” order for bin Laden, not shoot-to-kill, according to Carney and the Defense Department narrative.
Carney said bin Laden resisted capture, but he declined to specify how. He said “resistance does not require a firearm” and that others in the compound were armed, and there was a firefight.
Carney said the U.S. assault and killing of bin Laden was appropriate.
“He was enemy No. 1 for this country and killed many, many innocent civilians,” he said. “No apologies.”
Whether to make photographic evidence of bin Laden’s death public is under review. Carney said officials were weighing whether it would serve or harm U.S. interests to release the photographs, given their “gruesome” nature and the prospect that they “could be inflammatory” in the Muslim world.
Carney wouldn’t discuss which officials have reviewed the photos nor confirm that the president had reviewed them.
Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, told NBC anchor Brian Williams that some photographic evidence of bin Laden’s death will be made public.
“The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don’t think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public,” Panetta said in an interview broadcast Tuesday night.
As for the “kill or capture” question, Panetta said that “the authorities we have on bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed.”
Although the White House was connected to real-time information during the raid, neither President Barack Obama nor Panetta saw bin Laden’s shooting as it happened, Panetta told PBS in a separate interview taped Tuesday.
Instead, Panetta said, there was a 20- to 25-minute period as the raid was under way in which it was impossible to follow the exact developments. Not until Vice Adm. William McRaven, the head of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, notified Washington that he had heard the code word “Geronimo” did they know the forces had gotten to bin Laden.
According to the narrative made public Tuesday, the U.S. forces flew in a helicopter to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.
Bin Laden’s body was washed and placed in a white sheet, following Islamic custom. The body was then put in a weighted bag. A military official read religious remarks that were translated into Arabic. The body was placed on a board that was then tipped, and the body was “eased into the sea.”