Wednesday, May 4, 2011

White House Gang Can't Shoot Straight

Descriptions of the raid that killed Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden, as provided by President Barack Obama and senior members of his administration, have been changing day by day. That's not good, because the various descriptions contradict each other. And it's not just people mis-speaking, either — the official White House story of the raid has been changing. For example, Obama and administration officials said Osama bin Laden

  • was part of the firefight
  • used a woman as a human shield, and
  • was shooting from behind his human shield
Later, administration officials were saying bin Laden
  • wasn't shooting
  • wasn't armed, and
  • didn't use a human shield.
Contradictions like these simply had to be addressed:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday publicly revised the administration’s account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, telling reporters that the Al Qaeda leader wasn’t armed during the assault and didn’t use one of his wives as a shield.
Carney tried to explain:
“What is true,” Carney said, is that “we provided a great deal of information with great haste.”

“Obviously, some of the information was — came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated upon,” he said.

The Associated Press story, as printed in the Albuquerque Journal (apparently not available online) had a somewhat extended version of the same statement, saying
"We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you, and through you the American public, about the operation and how it transpired and the events that took place there in Pakistan," Carney told reporters Tuesday. "And obviously some of the information came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on."
It seems to me that Carney and the White House have embarrassed themselves here. This explanation is simply not believable. After all, Obama and the senior administration folks monitored the raid's progress in real time. In other words “Barack Obama watched US special forces' raid in 'real time'”. Another account put it this way
WASHINGTON -- From halfway around the world, President Barack Obama and his national security team monitored the strike on Osama bin Laden's compound in real time, watching and listening to the firefight that killed the terrorist leader.
The White House even released a photo taken during the raid.

The Situation Room: Obama and his National Security Team watching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (White House photo)

So the White House didn't have to wait for information on the raid, its progress, and its results to come in "piece by piece" and get assembled. They heard and saw it happen. Under these circumstances, the narrative contradictions that have come out of the White House and the administration are — at best — extremely unlikely to have occurred by accident.

At the very least, the White House has a lot of explaining to do.

The White House did something good in giving the raid task to a highly competent military organization to carry out. But in its information handling since that time, this White House has demonstrated the level of competence we have come to expect.

UPDATE: Now CIA director Leon Panetta claims there was no live video feed during the raid. In an interview with PBS, as reported in the London Telegraph, Panetta said,

"Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn't know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

"We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.

The sequence and timing of the claims/admissions raises more questions, the most important of which is this: Are they slow (etc.) in getting actual information out, or is this another cover-up? (Some folks are fairly clear what they think the answer is.)

No comments: