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May 4, 2011 / J. Shaw

SLATE:Officials now say Bin Laden wasn’t armed, did not use wife as shield.

By Josh Voorhees…..UPDATED at 5:44 p.m.: CIA director Leon Panetta says that U.S. officials assumed “from the beginning” that the raid would ultimately result in Osama Bin Laden’s death.

“We always assume from the beginning that the likelihood was that he was going to be killed,” Panetta said in an interview with CBS News.

HOW the STORY Changes

UPDATED at 3:01 p.m.: White House spokesman Jay Carney went on the record Tuesday and said that Osama Bin Laden was not armed when U.S. forces stormed his compound. He said that Bin Laden did, however, resist before being shot.

“We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance,” Carney said. “There were many other people who were armed in the compound.”

And what about Bin Laden’s wife?

Reuters: “Carney said Bin Laden’s wife ‘rushed the U.S. assaulter’ and was shot in the leg but not killed, contrary to what a White House official said on Monday.”

Original post at 11:44 a.m.: White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan painted a stunning picture Monday of Osama Bin Laden’s final moments alive: the al-Qaida leader was armed and possibly firing at oncoming U.S. forces while using his own wife as a human shield.

The problem with that specific telling of the story, however, is that the White House is now saying, quietly, that that is not what happened.

Those key details are among those that have been quietly refuted by administration officials who are speaking to the press off-camera.

Politico reports that during an untelevised background briefing for television reporters Monday afternoon, a senior White House official said that Bin Laden was not armed when he was shot dead by the Navy SEAL assault team. A second unidentified official later confirmed the change to the White House’s account.

Another unidentified official, likewise, walked back public comments from Brennan that suggested Bin Laden used his wife as a shield. In fact, it now appears that Bin Laden’s wife wasn’t the woman killed during the raid at all, and instead was only injured during the firefight.

“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” the (also unidentified) official told Politico. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.”

Part of the problem appears to be how the White House is disseminating the highly-sought after details of the operation that killed its top terrorist target.

President Obama provided only a rough sketch of exactly what happened during his televised speech to the nation Sunday night, leaving it to a host of White House and military officials to color in the gaps, most of whom are speaking to reporters only “on background,” meaning they cannot be identified by name or specific position within the administration.

Further complicating matters is that Brennan, one of the few men who has been given permission by the White House to speak publicly about the details, is the one who has advanced many of statements that have been refuted behind the scenes.

From Monday’s press briefing: (emphasis added)

Q: You said that Osama bin Laden was actually involved in the firefight, and we had — it has been reported that he reached for a weapon.  Did he get his hand on a gun and did he fire himself?

BRENNAN:  He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in.  And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know.

Somewhere (and by that we mean just across the newsroom) Slate‘s Jack Shafer is saying “I told you so.”


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