Did Obama Also Not Want to Kill Bin Laden?

President Barack Obama edits his remarks in the Oval Office prior to making a televised statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden
Photo: The White House/2011 The White House

With the Obama campaign assailing Mitt Romney for having scoffed at the value of killing Osama bin Laden in 2007, Buzzfeed has one of its trademark scoops. Obama, in 2008, said the same thing! Sort of! Maybe!

But in 2008 Obama likewise thought killing the 9/11 mastermind wasn’t the central goal, saying the top priority should be capturing the leader alive.

“What would be important would be for us to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr, and to assure that the United States government is abiding by basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism," Obama said as he unveiled his new national security team in June 2008.

Obama later concluded that killing Bin Laden, and dumping his body at sea, were the best ways to deprive his followers of a focal point. But the comments reflect a possible flaw in attacking Mitt Romney’s statement on Bin Laden. While there is a degree of uncertainty to what Romney would have done, the same could be said for candidate Obama in 2008.

Is there uncertainty about Obama's position on killing bin Laden, circa 2008? Possibly, if you just read the line quoted by Buzzfeed. Not so much, if you read the rest of what Obama said in those same remarks, such as: "If I'm president, and we have the opportunity to capture him, we may not be able to capture him alive."

Not making bin Laden a martyr is sort of vague, and it could mean "let's not kill him." But it obviously didn't mean that.