White House: Bin Laden unarmed during assault
WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was confronted by U.S. commandos at his Pakistani hideout but tried to resist the assault, the White House said Tuesday as new details emerged about the audacious raid that killed the world's most wanted terrorist.
The White House said it was considering whether to release photos that were taken of bin Laden after he was killed but was concerned that the photos were "gruesome" and could be inflammatory.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gestures during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday.
Other details that emerged on Tuesday, according to U.S. officials: One of bin Laden's wives tried to rush the commandos and was shot in the leg. High temperatures caused a lumbering helicopter carrying the raiders to make a hard landing. And as Navy SEALs swept through the compound, they handcuffed those they encountered with plastic zip ties and pressed on in pursuit of their target, code-named "Geronimo." Geronimo was a famously elusive Native American chief.
Once bin Laden had been shot, the raiders doubled back to move the prisoners away from the compound before blowing up the downed helicopter.
The fuller picture of the high-stakes assault emerged as U.S. officials weighed whether to release video and photos of bin Laden, who was killed with a shot above his left eye.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and revealed some of the new details about the raid, said she'd known about the suspected bin Laden compound since last December — offering rare evidence that Washington can indeed keep a blockbuster secret.
President Barack Obama made plans to go to the World Trade Center site in New York on Thursday to mark the milestone of bin Laden's demise and to remember the dead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that were blamed on his al-Qaida militant group.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the U.S. was scouring items seized in the raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — said to include hard drives, DVDs, a pile of documents and more — that might tip U.S. intelligence to al Qaida's operational details and perhaps lead to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
As for publicly releasing photos and video, Brennan said in a series of appearances on morning television that "this needs to be done thoughtfully," with careful consideration given to what kind of reaction the images might provoke.
At issue were photos of bin Laden's corpse and video of his swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also anxious to address the stories already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.
In a move that could increase pressure for the release of photos, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said talk of bin Laden's death was "premature," adding that the U.S. had not presented "convincing evidence," the SITE Intelligence Group reported.
Obama, who approved the extraordinarily risky operation and witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room, his face heavy with tension, reaped accolades from world leaders he'd kept in the dark as well as from political opponents at home.
Pakistan, however, called the raid "unauthorized" Tuesday and said it shouldn't serve as a precedent for future actions.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, in interviews with Time and PBS' "Newshour," sketched the scene in the Situation Room as the tense final minutes of the raid played out.
Once those teams went into the compound," he told PBS, "I can tell you there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on."
Then, Panetta told Time, when Adm. William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, reported that the commandos had identified "Geronimo" — the code name for bin Laden — "all the air we were holding came out."
And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, Panetta said, the room broke into applause.
Carney filled in details about the assault, saying that bin Laden did resist the commandos, although he was not armed. One of bin Laden's wives, Carney said, was in the room and tried to charge at the U.S. assaulters.
Monday night, Republican and Democratic leaders gave Obama a standing ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before the raid but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step away from the fractious political climate.
The episode was an embarrassment, at best, for Pakistani authorities as bin Laden's presence was revealed in their midst. The stealth U.S. operation played out in a city with a strong Pakistani military presence and without advance notice from Washington.
AP writers Chris Brummitt in Islamabad and Darlene Superville, Ben Feller, Matt Apuzzo, Erica Werner, Pauline Jelinek, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Eileen Sullivan and Calvin Woodward in Washington contributed to this story.