The official narrative on the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout has completely unraveled. First it was a hard-core firefight with precision Navy SEAL commandos encountering human shields and a hail of bullets, deftly avoiding harm and hitting their targets. Now this has devolved into a scene where the SEALs took the compound completely by surprise, and nobody had the opportunity to fight back. According to MSNBC only one man was armed in the entire compound, which was populated mostly by women and children.
According to the officials’ account, as the first SEAL team moved into the compound, they took small-arms fire from the guest house in the compound. The SEALs returned fire, killing bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s wife, who died in the crossfire.
The second SEAL team entered the first floor of the main residence and could see a man standing in the dark with one hand behind his back. Fearing he was hiding a weapon, the SEALs shot and killed the lone man, who turned out to be unarmed.
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.
There are some pictures of the dead left behind that have emerged.
Two things become clear. One, the SEALs were well-trained and had the element of surprise, and this overmatched their foes, who were not plentiful – there was not a phalanx of bodyguards protecting the Al Qaeda leader. Two, this was obviously a kill mission. There was no hesitation in the commando’s movements or actions. There were weapons in the room where bin Laden was found, and the SEALs claim that he reached for them, but he was unarmed and brought down quickly. About the only resistance they found was a brick wall blocking a door, which they had to blast out. These are the elite of the elite as far as assassination squads go, and they made it look easy.
Now, I’ve seen two schools of thought on this. One questions the legality of shooting unarmed enemy belligerents in a sovereign country against which we are not at war. I maintain that Pakistan, if not inviting us in, at least turned their back while we entered. And in the past, Pakistani leaders like former President Pervez Musharraf made handshake deals with the United States to allow special ops forces inside Pakistan to target Al Qaeda leaders. As for the rest, under the AUMF and perhaps the laws of war, it’s plausible that the man who directed the 9-11 attacks was considered a legitimate military target. It’s likely that there was a Presidential finding allowing for a raid like this. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was ranking member on the Intelligence Committee before becoming Democratic leader, said to me on a conference call yesterday that she was briefed on the intelligence that bin Laden was in Pakistan “at the end of last year,” but added that the Administration was clear that, if they had actionable intelligence, they would act. “This was public knowledge,” she said. This suggests that an additional Presidential finding was not needed, because of some executive order dating back to the Bush Administration authorizing missions to capture or kill terrorists.
The other school of thought looks at the complete reversal of the narrative and wonders what else has been left out or embellished. I understand those who say that thisbears little resemblance to the Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch cases, other examples of false military cover stories, but every misinterpretation or mistake saps at the credibility of a military which has proven with those other incidents the willingness to lie. It does the military and the Administration no favors to botch the telling of the tale so much on the first pass.
What should be the third school of thought is a deeper examination of Seal Team 6 (aka Devgru) and their superiors, the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, the black-ops crew that is slowly circumventing our conventional military force. Whatever the legalities of this particular mission, there’s definitely been a tendency over the past decade toward these types of off-the-book covert operations. They have in particular expanded under Obama: Jeremy Scahill’s report is very good on this. This rise of undeclared covert ops warrants a debate in full public view.