Dershowitz: We need to see the Bin Laden photos to be sure of how he died; Update: New report claims Bin Laden was "scared, confused"

I left this reason out of yesterday’s post addressing arguments for why the photos should be released because I didn’t think we’d reach the point where forensics might be needed to confirm the White House’s account of what happened.

But after yet another narrative sprang forth last night in the Times and Panetta copped to a curious 25-minute blackout in the video stream during the raid, maybe we’ve reached that point after all.

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…

Administration officials said the official account of events has changed over the course of the week because it has taken time to get thorough after-action reports from the Seal team. And, they added, because the Special Operations troops had been fired upon as soon as they touched down in the compound, they were under the assumption that everyone inside was armed…

When the commandos reached the top floor, they entered a room and saw Osama bin Laden with an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol in arm’s reach. They shot and killed him, as well as wounding a woman with him.

Clear enough now? Hold on — William Saletan of Slate compared it to details of the raid provided to NBC News and found it confusing.

The new accounts specify weapons near Bin Laden. ABC News says “at least one AK-47 was found in bin Laden’s room.” The Times says the SEALs killed him after they entered the room and saw him “with an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol in arm’s reach.” But recall the NBC News report: After shooting Bin Laden’s onrushing wife in the calf, “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.” It’s hard to imagine how this commando, who must have been focusing entirely on the charging woman until he pivoted to Bin Laden, had time to notice anything about weapons lying around before he put the two fatal bullets in the guy in the pajamas. Commandos are trained to focus on people and whether they’re armed, not on unaccompanied objects. I doubt the inventory of weapons in the room was taken until later.

Help me figure this out. Presumably, even the SEALs’ stealth helicopter made enough noise to wake Bin Laden up when it landed right in his backyard. Even if it didn’t, the resulting gunfire must have woken him: It could be that the SEALs had silencers on their weapons, but the courier who fired at them from the guest house probably didn’t. (Why would he need one?) Once he was dead, the SEALs broke into the main house and started clearing rooms; there must have been a hellacious racket, replete with women screaming, troops yelling commands, doors being kicked open, furniture being tossed around, boots in the hallways, etc etc. All of which is to say that Bin Laden must have been awake right after the raid began; and even if they reached his room within five minutes (according to the Post, it was more like 30 minutes), that was plenty of time for him to grab the AK-47 or set a bomb. And yet … he didn’t. Is there any way to explain the fact that he was willingly unarmed besides either (a) he was utterly terrified and trying to surrender or (b) he was too ill to use a weapon? The latter seems unlikely since apparently he was well enough to stand, but I don’t know how to rule out the former aside from half-assed “well, that doesn’t sound like a jihadi, does it?” speculation. In fact, KSM surrendered, as have a bunch of other Al Qaeda honchos. So did Saddam, who, while not a jihadi, was a megalomaniac with a body count bigger than Bin Laden’s. If they could put martial pride aside and give up, why couldn’t Osama?

Problem is, even if he did want to surrender, unless he made that unambiguously clear, the SEALs would be forced to err on the side of caution and interpret any movement as an attempt to activate a booby trap. Presumably the only way we’ll know if it happened that way or if they grabbed him and executed him is if … we see the photos, which is precisely Dershowitz’s point. No doubt a trained eye can tell a lot from the wound about whether he was shot from across a room or popped in the temple at close range. There’ll be no sympathy for Bin Laden either way, but if he was executed people will want to know (a) whether that’s routine practice or special treatment for the man behind 9/11, (b) why the White House tried to cover it up, and (c) why O would deny the CIA an opportunity to interrogate Al Qaeda’s supreme leader given the information he might have. (For more on that last point, read Michael Barone.) No wonder the White House has suddenly decided to go silent.

Update: And so we come almost full circle to the original WH account. According to Fox News, Bin Laden didn’t use his wife as a human shield, he just sort of … shoved her in front of him:

Sources involved in the operation that took down Usama bin Laden told Fox News the terrorist leader acted “scared” and “completely confused” in his final moments, “shoving his wife” at the Navy SEAL who ultimately shot him.

The information helps clarify the conflicting details about what exactly happened toward the end of the 40-minute raid on bin Laden’s northern Pakistan compound. Sources who were part of the mission said bin Laden acted in a “cowardly manner” when confronted. Fox News has also learned that while bin Laden was unarmed, he was standing near the door within reach of two weapons — an AK-47 and a Makarov handgun that are now in U.S. custody. The handgun is a 9mm semi-automatic Russian pistol, standard issue in the Russian military until 1991…

“When the SEALs reached the third floor, after resistance and physical barricades, Usama bin Laden did not immediately surrender. When someone like UBL who has said he wants to kill as many Americans as possible, doesn’t 150 percent surrender, you have to assess as a threat.”

If he was willing to shove his wife at the SEALs to try to stop them but not to grab the machine gun nearby, maybe he really was so terrified that he wasn’t thinking clearly. In that case, with his actions ambiguous, they erred on the side of caution.