The account of what went down when a team of elite Navy SEALs attacked Osama bin Laden's compound Sunday happened a little differently than the White House narrative disseminated yesterday. Such are the perils of reporting the results of a covert operation from halfway around the globe. As national security adviser John Brennan noted, some of the information came from live video feeds of the raid. “I wasn’t there."
Brennan had said the woman killed during the raid was presumed to be bin Laden's wife and was used, perhaps voluntarily, as a human shield. At a Pentagon briefing, a defense official concurred, saying, “He was firing behind her." But last night, Politico reported that another official corrected that version of events, saying, "A different guy’s wife was killed,” and that bin Laden’s wife was “injured but not killed." The human-shield bit? Not quite right, either. Yet another official familiar with the operation said that both the woman killed and the one injured were hurt in the crossfire. Although the source did say it was possible that the human-shield incident happened elsewhere in the compound.
“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” said the U.S. official. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.”
During yesterday's on-the-record briefing, Brennan said that bin Laden's son Khalid had been killed in the attack. But according to the official White House transcript, it was another son, Hamza, who died in the raid.
Bin Laden Himself
Reports from yesterday said bin Laden was shot twice in the left side of his face and fought back during the firefight. "Whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know,” Brennan acknowledged during the briefing. A White House official later amended the story, saying that bin Laden was shot once in the head and once in the chest and that he did not return fire: “I’m not aware of him having a weapon.” Another source told Politico, “The bottom line is the team that entered that room was met with resistance and took appropriate action."
But it wasn't just government officials disseminating false information. Overcome with emotion at the news of bid Laden's death, the people of the Internet sought solace in the words of scribes like Mark Twain and Martin Luther King Jr., even if they didn't actually say the words they were quoting. The following Twain quote was being retweeted and liked around Twitter and Facebook, "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." Unfortunately it was civil rights hero Clarence Darrow that actually said it.
As for this passage from Martin Luther King Jr., the first sentence was suddenly ubiquitous yesterday. But although it neatly fit the day's events, it also turned out to be entirely made up.
I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
We hope there's no such correction in the works for the 99.9 percent DNA match that confirmed bin Laden's death.
White House modifies Osama bin Laden account [Politico]
Osama Bin Laden's Wife Not Killed In Raid: U.S. Official [Reuters via HuffPo]
Giving our feelings a name [Kottke]
Update: At a press conference this afternoon, Press Secretary Jay Carney officially confirmed that some of the facts reported yesterday were erroneous. Carney said bin Laden wasn't armed during the raid. But added: "I think resistance does not require a firearm."
Carney also said:
"We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance. There were many other people who were armed in the compound."
According to Carney, the team of elite Navy SEALs went floor-to-floor clearing the three-story compound where bin Laden's family lived with another family. Three people were killed on the first floor, including a woman, and then the U.S. forces moved upstairs where they found bin Laden.
As for the human-shield speculation, Carney said that was still unclear. One of the five compound inhabitants killed was a woman. According to Reuters, Carney said bin Laden's wife was shot in the leg, but not killed, when she "rushed the U.S. assaulter."