Was Bin Laden’s Capture Then Death a Straight-Up Execution?

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Photo: AFP/Getty Images

During an exchange with reporters about Osama bin Laden's death, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said on Monday, "If we had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have done that." But like other corrections to the administration's initial statements, evidence is mounting to the contrary, drastically changing the narrative about how bin Laden died.

Officials are now saying that the rules of engagement "all but assured his death," reports the Los Angeles Times. SEAL Team Six was told to accept surrender only "if he did not pose any type of threat whatsoever," and if troops "were confident of that in terms of his not having an IED [improvised explosives device] on his body, his not having some type of hidden weapon or whatever," Brennan told Fox News on Tuesday. A senior congressional aide spelled it out more explicitly:

"He would have had to have been naked for them to allow him to surrender."

Looking back at Obama's speech and subsequent comments on the raid, Politico finds that the president subtly made it clear that the Al Qaeda leader was not killed during the shootout. In his public address Sunday night, Obama said:

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

Monday night, the president made the same distinction, describing it as "an operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden."

That sequence of events is also corroborated by statements from Osama bin Laden's daughter and senior Pakistani security officials. In light of the White House's revised description, at least parts of a report from Al Arabiya seem increasingly plausible. According to the paper, bin Laden's daughter told investigators that U.S. forces captured her father alive, then shot him dead in front of family members during the first few minutes of the raid on his Abbottabad compound.

But the U.S. is strongly defending the decision to shoot. A special-forces officer spoke anonymously to the L.A. Times:

"The right of self-defense is never denied. If anyone feels in any way that there is a hostile threat in a case like this — it can be a movement, or a failure to follow commands — deadly force will be authorized. It's a judgment call. And these assaulters are some of the finest, most highly trained in discriminate shooting. They train for hostage rescue."

For all the backtracking and flubs in the White House's version of events, no one has yet described bin Laden's death as an execution. But it's starting to look like one.

After, not during [Politico]
Bin Laden’s daughter confirms her father shot dead by US Special Forces in Pakistan [Al Arabiya]
Osama bin Laden: day two and a new version of how events unfolded [Telegraph UK]
Osama bin Laden's surrender wasn't a likely outcome in raid, officials say [LAT]
Earlier: The Story of What Happened at the Compound Has Changed, Starting With Bin Laden’s Wife