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Obama scraps plan to release Osama pix

/ 05:37 AM May 06, 2011

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama decided on Wednesday not to release graphic photographs of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, as new details emerged about the raid on Bin Laden’s fortified compound that differed from the administration’s initial account of the 40-minute operation.

Obama, after a brief but intense debate within his war council, concluded that making the images of Bin Laden public could incite violence against Americans and would do little to persuade skeptics that the founder of al-Qaida had been killed, White House officials said.

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The new details suggested that the raid, though chaotic and bloody, was extremely one-sided, with a force of more than 20 Navy SEAL members quickly dispatching the handful of men protecting Bin Laden.

No firefight

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Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.

After the SEAL members shot and killed Al-Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse, the Americans were never fired upon again.

This account differs from an official version of events issued by the Pentagon on Tuesday and read by the White House spokesperson, Jay Carney, which said the SEAL members “were engaged in a firefight throughout the operation.”

In a television interview on PBS on Tuesday, Leon E. Panetta, the director of the CIA, said, “There were some firefights that were going on as these guys were making their way up the staircase of that compound.”

Hostile environment

Administration officials said the official account of events has changed over the course of the week because it has taken time to get thorough after-action reports from the SEAL team. And, they added, because the Special Operations troops had been fired upon as soon as they touched down in the compound, they were under the assumption that everyone inside was armed.

“They were in a threatening and hostile environment the entire time,” one US official said.

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When the commandos moved into the main house, they saw the courier’s brother, who they believed was preparing to fire a weapon. They shot and killed him. Then, as they made their way up the stairs of the house, officials said, they killed Bin Laden’s son Khalid as he lunged toward the SEAL team.

When the commandos reached the top floor, they entered a room and saw Osama bin Laden with an AK-47 and a pistol in arm’s reach. They shot and killed him, as well as wounding a woman with him.

Trove of information

The firefight over and Bin Laden dead, the team found a trove of information and had the time to remove much of it: about 100 thumb drives, DVDs and computer disks, along with 10 computer hard drives and five computers. There were also piles of paper documents in the house.

The White House declined to release any additional details about the operation, saying that further information would jeopardize the military’s ability to conduct future clandestine operations. The administration’s reticence came after it was forced on Tuesday to correct parts of its initial account of the raid, including assertions that Bin Laden had used his wife as a “human shield.”

“We’ve revealed a lot of information; we’ve been as forthcoming with facts as we can be,” Carney said.

Carney said the president expressed doubts early on about releasing the photos but consulted his senior advisers. All of them, Carney said, voiced concerns about the risks.

Photo could incite violence

Obama was direct in an interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” to be broadcast on Sunday, according to a transcript released by the network.

“It is very important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence—as a propaganda tool.

“That’s not who we are,” the president added. “You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.

“Certainly there’s no doubt among al-Qaida members that he is dead,” Obama said. “And so we don’t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see Bin Laden walking on this earth again.”

Ground Zero

The White House said Obama would take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Sept. 11 memorial in Lower Manhattan on Thursday. He is also scheduled to meet with relatives of the victims of the terrorist attacks but will not make a speech. The next day, he is to travel to Fort Campbell, Ky., to speak to troops returning from Afghanistan.

Violation of international law

Seeking to quell any legal questions about the raid, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “It was justified as an act of national self-defense,” citing Bin Laden’s role as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

US acknowledgment on Tuesday that Bin Laden held no weapon when shot dead had raised accusations Washington had breached international law.

Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt called the killing “quite clearly a violation of international law.”

Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent London-based human rights lawyer, said the killing “may well have been a cold-blooded assassination” that risked making Bin Laden a martyr.

Not Islamic

Husayn al-Sawaf, 25, a playwright, said in Cairo: “The Americans behaved in the same way as Bin Laden: with treachery and baseness. They should’ve tried him in a court. As for his burial, that’s not Islamic. He should’ve been buried in soil.”

But there has been no sign of mass protests or violent reaction on the streets in south Asia or the Middle East. Reports from New York Times News Service and Reuters

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