According to The Politico, the White House has a couple revisions to the story it told us yesterday of what happened inside Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. The most notable change thus far to the story we heard yesterday from Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan and the Pentagon is that bin Laden didn’t pick up a gun and join the fighting.
However, during a background, off-camera briefing for television reporters later Monday, a senior White House official said bin Laden was not armed when he was killed, apparently by the U.S. raid team.
Another White House official familiar with the TV briefing confirmed the change to POLITICO, adding, “I’m not aware of him having a weapon.”
“The bottom line is the team that entered that room was met with resistance and took appropriate action,” said a third American official.
And that’s fine. I don’t think most Americans care if bin Laden was holding a gun when the SEALs dropped him or not. I certainly don’t. I might care a little bit that the woman killed in the raid wasn’t actually bin Laden’s wife, but only a little bit. It’s obvious to me that part of his strategy for fighting the free world has involved hiding behind women and children at every turn, so I’m not shocked to learn that he found a few who were more than willing to hang out at Chez Osama to serve as potential battle furniture when the inevitable reckoning time came.
However, these new revelations might just cause the President a little bit of woe. Already, there is a growing rumble of discontent that the President gave a “kill order” and not the lesser-used “treat pleasantly and invite back for a little brunch followed by a gentle Q&A session order”. While the big guns like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch have yet to weigh in, there’s no doubt that these revisions to the official account could give them more than sufficient reason to do so, given how quickly they’ve done so in the past. I can’t imagine that the anti-war left will stand quietly for much longer while President Obama does a victory lap for snuffing an unarmed old man no matter how much they may want him re-elected. If you’re looking for a sinister reason for why the administration might have put out bad information, that’s about the best one I can imagine.
I’m sure we’ll get the full and accurate story in time; a story this momentous simply must be told. Perhaps by then John Brennan will have had time to get his part of the story straight. I hope he does, considering that he had one of the dozen best views of the entire situation (excluding, of course, the SEALs themselves) and access to the after-action briefing reports.
UPDATE: Jay Carney is in the middle of a press briefing right now (which I can’t see because I don’t have access to a television) with a revised raid timeline. Accorind to the Twitter feed of CNN’s National Security Desk, bin Laden’s wife “rushed” the SEAL and was shot and wounded. After that, bin Laden himself resisted then in some way and they shot him dead. If the White House puts up a transcript in a timely fashion, I’ll post the link here so you can see the narrative for yourself.
One last thing, which is more or less a speculative editorial comment. I think today’s awkward and late in the day adjustments to the official story will feed a “deather” conspiracy theory the White House really doesn’t want to get any larger than it is right now. Stacy McCain doesn’t think it’s that big a deal and he may well be right, at least right now. But given that the White House just last week had to deal publicly, and with not very good grace, with a Birther conspiracy theory that started with a small fringe group, I would think the President would be careful not to hand a new cause du jour to a new small fringe group.