White House officials can’t get their story straight about what happened in the Pakistani compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed. Though officials have clarified that he was shot twice — in the head and in the chest — reports from Monday that Bin Laden was using a woman, probably his wife, as a human shield so he could fire back at U.S. troops are now being backpedaled on, horrifying and villainous as they are. “He was firing behind her,” an anonymous official said Monday morning. Later on Monday, an official told Politico, “I’m not aware of him having a weapon.” Another official gave conflicting information that, “A different guy’s wife was killed, while Bin Laden’s wife was “injured but not killed.” A separate official said no woman was used as a human shield.
“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” an anonymous official explained. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.”
Bin Laden’s son Khalid was said to have been killed in the raid, but maybe it was Hamza, according to an official transcript. Based on what Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan has said, it seems that the important people watched a live feed of the raid and then read reports afterward to flesh out what they saw, though confirmation about the existence of a video feed has been hard to come by, too.
From the White House’s point of view, what should probably happen is that officials should shut their mouths about what happened if they’re going to conflict one another because rumors are spreading like crazy in this case. That said, as journalists, getting anyone and everyone who knows anything to talk, even if they’re contradicting one another, is a victory because the only way we’ll ever settle on a truth is if those with doubts and eyes and ears for detail keep asking questions and comparing answers.
As far as basic confirmation of what happened in that house, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that President Obama and the White House are considering releasing a “bloody and gruesome” photograph today of Bin Laden’s corpse, “with a bullet wound to his head above his left eye,” in order to “put to rest any skepticism about the death of this nation’s public enemy number one.”
UPDATE: In a White House press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, official spokesman Jay Carney clarifies that on the first floor of the compound was one family and on the second was Bin Laden and his family. While Bin Laden was “not armed,” his wife did rush a U.S. soldier and was shot in the leg, but not killed. Osama rushed his attackers too and was shot dead. Carney confirmed that another woman was killed in the crossfire.
“The team methodically cleared the compound in an operation lasting 40 minutes with a firefight throughout,” Carney said. “The resistance was consistent from the moment they landed until the end of the operation.”
When pressed later about the resistance the U.S. special forces met, Carney said, “I don’t have a detail on the shots and who fired them.” When asked again by the reporter Mark Knoller exactly how Bin Laden resisted, Carney countered, “Ask the Pentagon.”
For a good rundown of the other discrepancies reported yesterday about the raid, many of which remain unchecked or unconfirmed, check out Jack Shafer’s “How To Read the Bin Laden Coverage” at Slate.
As for the death photo, Carney said that visuals are “being reviewed” and “decisions are being made if it will be released,” but he declined to “get into specifics.” Tuesday morning, Drudge Report said that President Obama had indeed decided to make photographic proof public, but was still working out the details of the release.
This post was originally published on May 3, 2011, at 8:57 am ET.