Death by execution? The questions just keep on coming

Early on, it seemed as if the daring raid to “capture or kill” Osama bin Laden took place amidst a veritable explosion of gunfire, blood pouring everywhere. But the story keeps on a-changin’. Now The New York Times tells us this:

The new details suggested that the raid, though chaotic and bloody, was extremely one-sided, with a force of more than 20 Navy Seal members quickly dispatching the handful of men protecting Bin Laden.

Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.

After the Seal members shot and killed Mr. Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse, the Americans were never fired upon again.

(Bolded words mine.) MSNBC, likewise, casts doubt on the early official story:

As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s  sons on the way down. The Americans immediately shot and killed the son, who was also unarmed.

Once on the third floor, the commandos threw open the door to bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the NAVY SEAL in the door, who shot her in the leg.

Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fire two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, Bin Laden was also unarmed at the time he was shot.

Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.

In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al Qaeda operatives and potential operations worldwide.

(Bolded words mine again.) Two days ago, by the way, Ben Smith of Politico pointed out the nuance in President Obama’s speech announcing bin Laden’s death:

Obama said Sunday night:

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.

The key word there is “after,” not “during,” and it matches the revised White House account. You had to be listening extremely carefully the first night to catch that nuance.

In less formal remarks last night, Obama offered a similar sequence, describing “an operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.”

“Capture and death.”

Dave Weigel at Slate is similarly skeptical as to the government’s consistently inconsistent narrative (and provides a useful timeline of the administration’s shifting statements as well):

What changed in three days? It depends how you define the “firefight.” There was a firefight at the start, but the confrontation between the commandos and OBL was one-sided — they were shooting, OBL and the woman weren’t. The “weapon” part of the story has changed slightly, and if you graphed it it would be a sine wave. We went from no details about OBL, to a detail about OBL at least trying to get a gun, to a detail about OBL not having a gun, to a detail about OBL being within reach of a gun.

Alright, then. Everybody clear?

Finally, Michael Crowley at Time asks:

A major question lingers unanswered at the center of this story: Why was bin Laden killed? Michael Scherer has reported that the Navy Seals who landed at Osama bin Laden’s safehouse were not given orders specifically to kill, but were on a “kill or capture” mission. That implies they were prepared to accept bin Laden’s surrender. It didn’t work out that way. But despite earlier reports to the contrary, including from White House counter-terror adviser John Brennan, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that bin Laden was in fact unarmed. (“Resistance does not require a firearm,” he said.) So, what happened?

Indeed, what exactly did take place here? It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Obama administration took pains to cast the operation in a favorable light, and that this interpretation has steadily unraveled in the face of newly available evidence. What just days ago resulted in near-universal celebration (Osama bin Laden’s death) is now causing serious head-scratching. Did the United States execute bin Laden in cold blood? And if so, do we care?

I would argue that yes, we do. To execute someone (as opposed to shooting him in a firefight), regardless of the heinous nature of his crimes, is to run directly counter to well-established rules of engagement. In World War II, in the Persian Gulf War, and in countless other examples, when someone surrendered, he was taken prisoner and accorded humane treatment. Of course, we have no evidence that Osama bin Laden actually surrendered (even if he was unarmed, there are other ways his behavior could have been justifiably deemed threatening), but the initial stories as to his “resistance” have been almost entirely discredited now, leading one to wonder exactly what the Obama administration is trying to conceal.

Let’s have the real story, shall we?

P.S. As usual, MacLeod Cartoons gets it just right.


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