- Feb 12, 2007
What Really Happened in the Bin Laden Raid?Details of the story don't add up. Footage of the raid either exists or doesn't. The tale of that night in Abbottabad keeps getting more muddled.
By Mark Follman
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be still scratching your head about the end of Osama bin Laden. Between the Obama administration and major media reports, there have been multiple divergent accounts of the Navy SEALs' mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with the story seeming to be colored by politics, sensationalism, and outright fantasy. In some respects that's unsurprising for one of the most important and highly classified military missions in modern memory the outcome of which, many would argue, is all that really matters. But precisely because of its importance, it is worth considering how the tales have been told, and where history begins to bleed into mythology.
Lots of praise flowed in early August for Nicholas Schmidle's riveting story in The New Yorker of the SEALs' raid on bin Laden's compound. It added many vivid details to what was publicly known about the death of America's arch-nemesis in early May. But Schmidle's exquisitely crafted reconstruction also contradicted previous reporting elsewhere and sparked some intriguing questions of its own.
It underscored what we still don't really know about the operation. Schmidle's depiction of the tense scene in the White House situation room, as President Obama and his top advisers monitored the action with the help of a military drone, included a notable refutation. The SEALs converged at the ground floor of bin Laden's house and began to enter, Schmidle reported, but:
What happened next is not precisely clear. I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn't know just exactly what was going on, [CIA chief Leon] Panetta said later, on PBS NewsHour. Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone's video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS... read more