After two days of administration officials offering up conflicting details and accounts of the intense U.S. assault-team raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and his subsequent killing, the White House has completely shut down press attempts to get a full accounting of what transpired.
White House spokesman Jay Carney Wednesday referred all questions about operational aspects of the mission to the Defense Department, even refusing to say who, if anyone, was shooting back at the Navy Seals during the “firefight” that Carney and other administration officials earlier in the week has said took place during the 40-minute raid Sunday night.
Instead, Carney focused on the courage and professionalism the Seals displayed in carrying out their mission, which killed the country’s most wanted enemy for more than 10 years.
“I’m not going to get into operational details…,” he told reporters at a briefing. “What happened on Sunday night was an incredibly courageous team of U.S. personnel entered a foreign country in darkness and executed — at great risk to their own personal safety — executed that mission with great professionalism and accomplished a goal that this country has sought in 10 years.”
Carney repeatedly refused to answer basic operational questions about the sequence of events that occurred inside the compound Sunday night, at times appearing petulant when reporters persisted.
The administration has reached the point in which sharing any more information about covert mission could hinder future operations against “bad guys,” Carney remarked.
“We have, as you know, since the moment this operation has become public, have been as helpful as we can be to provide as much information as we can…,” he said. “We cannot cross lines because of the necessity for preserving the method and operational techniques … and we’ve gone to the limit of our ability to do that.”
Carney on Tuesday dialed back and corrected statements from John Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism aide, and others who were overflowing with details Monday and said that bin Laden was armed and “resisted” the U.S. assault team before being killed and had used a woman, most likely his wife, as a human shield.
According to the Pentagon’s Tuesday narrative, as relayed by Carney, Osama was unarmed, and a woman, Osama’s wife, in the room with him rushed the U.S. “assaulter” and was shot in the leg but not killed. Another woman was killed on a different floor when she was caught in “crossfire,” Carney said.
The new, tight-lipped strategy came at the same time the White House announced that the President would not release photos of Osama bin Laden’s slain body out of concern that the photos could incite violence and be used propaganda tools.
“We’ve done DNA sampling and testing and so there was no doubt we had killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, according to an excerpt released by the White House. “The fact is you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.”
“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” Obama added. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
Carney said Obama opposed the photos release since the successful Sunday raid but had held off in making a final decision until he had a chance to weigh the opinions of the rest of his national security team. CIA Director Leon Panetta was among those advocating for the release of the photos as a way to quell any conspiracy theories that bin Laden was still alive. Panetta told a closed-door Congressional briefing Tuesday that releasing the photos was just a matter of time.
When asked about Panetta’s views, Carney would only acknowledge a difference of opinion among leaders, but said the majority of the team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, share Obama’s view not to release.