Was Osama bin Laden sheltered by Pakistan regime?

President Barack Obama went on national TV late on May 1 to announce that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in a US raid on a "compound deep inside Pakistan." Media reports indicated the target was a mansion in the Bilal area of Abbottabad, about 100 kilometers north of Islamabad. What Obama called "a small team of Americans"—presumably Special Forces troops—was apparently flown to the site in four helicopters. In a brief firefight, bin Laden was shot in the head, and his body in said to be in US custody. Three others were reportedly killed, including a son of the al-Qaeda leader. Also killed, according to unnamed Pakistani officials, was a woman who was being used as a human shield. Obama said there were no US casualties. However, an anonymous Pakistani intelligence official said one of the helicopters crashed after it was hit by fire from the ground. Another anonymous Pakistani security official told AFP: "Yes, I can confirm that he was killed in a highly sensitive intelligence operation." Asked whether Pakistani intelligence participated in the operation he would only reiterate: "It was a highly sensitive intelligence operation." (AFP, AP, Radio Australia, BBC World Service, May 2; VOA, May 1)

Bin Laden was widely believed to be in Pakistan's remote tribal territories along the Afghan border. Instead, he was apparently in Abbottabad, a military garrison town in the country's administrative center. Ironically, just a week earlier, a regional army chief had spoken in Abbottabad to boast that his forces had "broken the back" of Islamist militants in response to US criticisms of Pakistan's efforts to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked rebels. "The terrorists' backbone has been broken and God willing we will soon prevail," Gen. Ashfaq Kayani said at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, had accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of having ties to the Taliban. (AFP, April 23)

See our last post on the politics of the GWOT.

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More details emerge on Osama hit

The intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden apparently first emerged from detainees at Guantánamo Bay, who provided the alias for one of bin Laden's couriers, through whom he communicated with his followers (as the mansion apparently had no telephone or Internet access to prevent surveillance). Four years ago, intelligence agencies uncovered the courier's real identity, and last year he was traced to the Abbottabad mansion. In Washington, President Obama led five National Security Council meetings on the information in March and April. Last week, he gave the final go-ahead for the "surgical" attack, which was carried out by the Navy's SEAL Team 6. (NJ Star-Ledger, AP, May 2)

Bin Laden was buried at sea from the deck of a US aircraft carrier. A Department of Defense official said: "When there is no land alternative, Islamic law dictates that the body be buried within 24 hours, and that was the basis." Another defense official said says there was no country willing or able to accept the body for burial, and US forces "took pains to observe Muslim law." Koranic verses were read in Arabic at the brief ceremony. (CNN, May 2)

Reports are not making explicitly clear that an effort was made to take bin Laden alive—or what are the implications under international law if he was not. Bin Laden's handlers offered resistance, although reports have not made clear that bin Laden himself handled a weapon in the firefight. "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that," said John Brennan, the top White House counter-terrorism official, in a slightly equivocal statement. (WSJ, May 2)

Did waterboarding make Osama stool-pigeons sing?

The Miami Herald on May 2, citing a "secret Guantánamo assessment file" (that the newspaper gained access to thanks to WikiLeaks), names Abu Faraj al-Libi as the al-Qaeda operative whose interrogation yielded the information that led the US to Osama bin Laden:

According to the assessment, al Libi was in contact with a man identified as bin Laden's "designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan," in July 2003. The assessment was one of more than 750 obtained by the WikiLeaks website and given to McClatchy and other media organizations.

Britain's right-wing Telegraph meanwhile names Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—and implicitly loans legitimacy to the practice of "waterboarding":

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who was repeatedly subjected to methods including "waterboarding" and stress positions, provided the CIA with the name of bin Laden's personal courier, according to US officials.

However, the Telegraph also notes that "The courier's name does not appear in KSM's Guantanamo file." Both KSM and al-Libi were apparently subject to waterboarding, in any case. The account states (with a barely concealed sneer): "Amnesty International has already warned that the killing of bin Laden must not be used as evidence that torture is 'justifiable'."

Daily Kos blogger by Joan McCarter meanwhile asserts "Waterboarding did not reveal Osama bin Laden trail," noting that KSM or al-Libi, or whoever it was, only revealed a "nickname" (probably better rendered "alias"). McCarter also notes that Dick Cheney told Fox News: "I would assume the enhanced interrogation program we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden's ultimate capture... We need to keep in place those policies that made it possible for us to succeed in this case." But McCarter states:

The torture of al Libi happened in early 2002, after his November, 2001 capture... KSM was waterboarded 183 times, presumably without revealing the name of the courier. And, since it took 183 tries, the efficacy of the whole enterprise can only be questioned.

McCarter further notes that al-Libi's interrogations also divulged the completely fictitious tale that Saddam Hussein had offered to train al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons—later recanted by al-Libi, but only after it had made its way into Colin Powell's UN address making the case for war. Concludes McCarter: "What torture got us, in practical terms, was the Iraq debacle. And the complete and well-deserved debasement of our international standing. And a hell of a lot more anti-American terrorists."

Did WikiLeaks prompt Osama raid?

From The Guardian, May 3. Note the last sentence.

US may have got Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad clue in 2008 – WikiLeaks
The US may have obtained a clue three years ago that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, according to information gathered by interrogators at Guantánamo.

Buried in a document from 2008 released by WikiLeaks last week are notes from the interrogation of a Libyan, Abu al-Libi, who had apparently been with Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

According to the document, Libi fled to Peshawar in Pakistan and was living there in 2003 when he was asked to become one of Bin Laden's messengers. The document says: "In July 2003, detainee received a letter from [Bin Laden's] designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organising travel and distributing funds for families in Pakistan. [Bin Laden] stated detainee would be the official messenger between [Bin Laden] and others in Pakistan. In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad (Pakistan) and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar."

[...]

WikiLeaks released the report last week, prompting speculation that the US, afraid that its planned raid might be pre-empted, brought forward its attack.

WikiLeaks: Pakistan "protected" Osama

From The Telegraph, May 2:

American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban...

In December 2009, the government of Tajikistan warned the United States that efforts to catch bin Laden were being thwarted by corrupt Pakistani spies.

According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that "many" inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.

The document stated: "In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces."

Intelligence gathered from detainees at Guantanamo Bay may also have made the Americans wary of sharing their operational plans with the Pakistani government.

One detainee, Saber Lal Melma, an Afghan whom the US described as a probable facilitator for al-Qaeda, allegedly worked with the ISID to help members flee Afghanistan after the American bombing began in October 2001.

His US military Guantanamo Bay detainee file, obtained by Wikileaks and seen by The Daily Telegraph, claims he allegedly passed the al-Qaeda Arabs to Pakistani security forces who then smuggled them across the border into Pakistan.

He was also overheard "bragging about a time when the ISID sent a military unit into Afghanistan, posing as civilians to fight along side the Taliban against US forces".

He also allegedly detailed "ISID's protection of Al-Qaida members at Pakistan airports. The ISID members diverted Al-Qaida members through unofficial channels to avoid detection from officials in search of terrorists,” the file claims.

Did Osama sea burial really "observe Muslim law"?

From The Guardian, May 2:

In terms of the basic requirements for Muslim burials, standard practice involves placing the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca. Burial at sea is rare in Islam, though Muslim websites say it is permitted in certain circumstances. One is during a long voyage where the body may decompose and pose a health hazard to a ship's passengers, an exception noted on Monday by Tunisian scholar Ahmed al-Gharbi. Another is if there is a risk of enemies digging up a and grave and exhuming or mutilating the body.

Dr Saud al-Fanisan, former dean of the faculty of sharia law in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said that if a body was buried at sea it should be protected from fish. In the words of alislam.org, the body should be lowered into the water "in a vessel of clay or with a weight tied to its feet".

Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai's grand mufti, said of Bin Laden's burial: "They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say they did it according to Islam. Sea burials are permissible for Muslims in extraordinary circumstances. This is not one of them."

Abdul-Sattar al-Janabi, who preaches at Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque, said: "What was done by the Americans is forbidden by Islam and might provoke some Muslims.

"It is not acceptable and it is almost a crime to throw the body of a Muslim man into the sea. The body of Bin Laden should have been handed over to his family to look for a country to bury him."

The radical Lebanon-based cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed said: "The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don't think this is in the interest of the US administration."

The Egyptian analyst and lawyer Montasser el-Zayat said Bin Laden's sea burial was designed to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine. But an option was an unmarked grave. "They don't want to see him become a symbol," he said. "But he is already a symbol in people's hearts."

White House changes story on Osama hit?

From The Guardian, May 3:

The US has backed away from its initial account of the killing of Osama bin Laden, which claimed that the al-Qaida leader was carrying a weapon and fired at US troops before he was shot dead.

On Monday, John Brennan, a counterterrorism adviser to Barack Obama, said Bin Laden was "engaged in a firefight" with his assailants and he did not know if he "got off any rounds". Other US officials briefed that he was firing at members of the US navy's elite Seal Team Six.

However, subsequent briefings by US officials suggest that, when confronted at the high-security complex in Abbottabad, Bin Laden did not have a weapon and did not fire at his assailants. With some questions being raised as to why Bin Laden was shot dead, and whether he was executed, rather than taken into custody, Brennan said: "If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that."

Officials have continued to imply he offered resistance before he was shot but have not clarified the extent of that resistance, given that he apparently did not have a weapon. Bin Laden was shot once above the left eye and once in the chest. The Obama administration is considering whether to release photographs of his burial at sea.

There were additional changes to the original narrative offered by US officials. Reporters were initially told that one of Bin Laden's wives was killed while he was using her as a human shield, prompting headlines such as "Osama bin Laden killed cowering behind his 'human shield' wife". But it has since been clarified that Bin Laden's wife was shot in the calf and did not die in the assault, although another woman was killed. This change of account has also raised questions over whether Bin Laden's wife—or anyone else—was being used as a human shield.

Pakistan (semi-)protests raid on Osama

From AP, May 3:

In a statement, the Pakistani government said "this event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule."

"The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the U.S.," it said, calling such actions a "threat to international peace and security."

Zardari equivocates on Pakistan role in sheltering Osama

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has an op-ed in the Washington Post May 2, in which he states:

Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s. And though it may have started with bin Laden, the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.

Note that this actually falls short of a flat denial that Pakistan was sheltering bin Laden.

Where did the helicopters take off from?

The New York Times on May 2 quotes John Brennan on the operations—saying one of the helicopters "stalled" in the operation, but not that it crashed:

The tensest moment for those watching, he said, came when one of two helicopters that flew the American troops into the compound broke down, stalling as it flew over the 18-foot wall of the compound and prepared to land. After the raid, the team blew up the helicopter and called in one of two backups. In all, 79 commandos and a dog were involved.

No mention is made of where the helicopters actually took off from. Information on this has been vague and sketchy at best. Typical is this bit from Radio Australia, heavy on drama and light on facts:

In the darkness of Sunday morning four US helicopters took off from their base in Pakistan and headed across the countryside.

The operation, reportedly codenamed 'Geronimo' was underway.

Meanwhile Pakistan's Daily Times reports:

The Foreign Ministry denied that Pakistan had any prior knowledge of the operation and said there was no question of US helicopters taking off from Pakistani bases, despite strenuously pointing out past intelligence cooperation.

"Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations over the manner in which the government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorisation from the government of Pakistan," it said.

It said such "unauthorised unilateral action" could not be taken as a rule and said it should not become "a future precedent’ for any country.

"Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometimes constitute threat to international peace and security," it said, adding, “As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI has been sharing information with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009.”

The statement said the flow of intelligence, indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad, continued till mid April 2011. "It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama Bin Ladin," the statement added.

The FO statement also rejected reports suggesting that the US helicopters took off from the Ghazi Airbase terming them as "absolutely false and incorrect."

"Neither any base or facility inside Pakistan was used by the US forces, nor Pakistan Army provided any operational or logistical assistance to these operations conducted by the US forces," the statement asserted.

According to the statement, "US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters' undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and 'nap of the earth' flying techniques."

"On receipt of information regarding the incident, PAF scrambled its jets within minutes," it said, adding, "This has been corroborated by the White House Adviser John Brennan, who while replying to a question said, "We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircrafts, were out of the Pakistani airspace."

So Islamabad seems to be having it both ways: stating (to appease opinion in the US) that it provided "intelligence leads" that led to bin Laden, but denying (to appease domestic opinion) that it actually cooperated in the raid. So we want to know: Where did the helicopters take off from?

More of the Brennan quote is given in KOL News:

President Barack Obama's chief counter terrorism advisor said the US was now in talks with Pakistan to find answers to certain questions. "But they at least in our discussions with them seemed as surprised as we were initially that bin Laden was holding out in this area," he said.

"At least in our discussions with them." More equivocation, as well as slightly garbled syntax.

White House won't release bin Laden photos

Suitably gruesome but fairly transparent photo-shopped images of bin Laden with gunshot wounds to the head are circulating on the Web and have even taken in some media outlets—despite the fact that they are apparently more than two years old! (AP, May 3) The Internet conspiracy set is also assuming the photos were actually released by the White House, and breathlessly announcing that they have been photo-shopped. The bogus photos themselves were probably produced by smart-aleck Internet reality-hackers. What a house of mirrors.

Now, just to add to the confusion (and fuel endless speculation as to whether they really got Osama), the White House has announced that it won't be releasing any photos—while disavowing the bogus images. From the LA Times:

The Obama administration will not release photos showing Osama bin Laden after he was killed by U.S. forces, the president has told CBS News in an interview to air Sunday on "60 Minutes."

Obama said that after seeing the photos himself, and based on DNA testing, he is "absolutely certain" that Bin Laden is dead. But releasing the photo could pose a national security risk.

"It is 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 or as a propaganda tool. That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies," he told CBS' Steve Kroft, according to a transcript read by White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Now watch the same Internet conspiranoids who were just a moment ago pontificating about the how the photos were forged switch to fulminating about how the White House's refusal to release the photos means bin Laden isn't really dead (or never really existed, or whatever...) Meanwhile The Hill's Twitter Room blog informs us that Sarah Palin helpfully tweeted:

Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it's part of the mission

Poor punctuation in original.

Osama daughter says father was assassinated

From The Guardian, May 4:

Osama bin Laden's 12-year-old daughter watched as her father was shot dead by American special forces, a senior Pakistani intelligence official has told the Guardian.

The girl, who was found at the scene of the raid by Pakistani security services, is being cared for at a military hospital having been wounded in the attack. She has been questioned about the sequence of events during the raid last weekend.

The official said Pakistani intelligence services, who are holding 11 other survivors of the deadly raid on Bin Laden's Pakistani hiding place, would not allow their interrogation by US officials...

At least 10 people were left alive at the end of the attack, which saw Bin Laden killed in an upstairs room of the three-storey house where he had been living. Hamza, one of the al-Qaida leader's sons, was killed. His body was removed with that of his father by the assault teams.

The survivors include eight children and two adults, both women. One is Bin Laden's fifth wife, a 29-year-old Yemeni, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah who married the al-Qaida leader around 11 years ago in Afghanistan. The other is understood to be a Yemeni doctor in her 30s whose passport indicates that she arrived by legal means in the region sometime between 2000 and 2006, when the document expired.

Paksistan is "holding 11 other survivors" (plus the daughter), yet "at least 10 people" survived the raid? By my math, that makes at least 12. Now this, from al-Arabiya News, May 4:

Senior Pakistani security officials said Osama bin Laden’s daughter had confirmed her father was captured alive and shot dead by the US Special Forces during the first few minutes of the operation carried out at the huge compound in Bilal Town, Abbottabad. 



Besides recovering four bullet-riddled bodies from the compound, Pakistani security agencies also arrested two women and six children, aged between 2 and 12 years, after American forces flew toward Afghanistan. Some reports suggest 16 people, including women and children, were arrested from the house, most of them Arab nationals.

A Pakistani security source told Al Arabiya that Bin Laden family members had been transported to Rawalpindi, which is near Islamabad. He added, “They are now under treatment in the military hospital of Rawalpindi, where they have been transported in an helicopter.” A source told Al Arabiya that Bin Laden’s wife had been injured either in her leg or her shoulder.

So does this imply that the helicopters came from Afghanistan?

Osama daughter says father was assassinated: reports mount

From Lebanon's Daily Star, May 4:

Daughter says bin Laden captured alive then killed: report
Osama bin Laden was killed at close range after he had been captured alive by U.S. commandos, one of the al-Qaeda leader’s daughters told investigators, reported a pan-Arab newspaper Thursday.

Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper said Saffia, bin Laden’s daughter who is believed to be 12 years old, told Pakistani security intelligence while under interrogation that she had witnessed the demise of her father at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals at a compound near the Pakistani capital Islamabad...

Saffia, who was one of several of bin Laden’s family members to survive the May 2 operation, said her father's killing had taken place on the ground floor of the complex, the paper said.

"She saw the Americans capture her father alive, then they shot him at point-blank range in a room at the ground floor," Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat said. "Bin Laden's [body] was dragged toward a helicopter hovering over the compound," it said.

The newspaper said Pakistani authorities had also arrested a woman among the survivors of the commando operation who claimed to be one of bin Laden’s wives.

Speaking to investigators, the woman who identified herself as Amal Ahmad Abul-Fateh, said she had passed out when U.S. forces stormed the compound.

Abul-Fateh, who was wounded in the commando operation, told Pakistani authorities that she was a Yemeni national, the newspaper added.

Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted Pakistani authorities as saying that two other of bin Laden's daughters—Aman, 22 and Mariam, 26—had been slightly wounded during the 40-minute operation that killed the United States' most-wanted man.

After medical treatment, the two women were taken to a "secure location," the daily added.

Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat said Pakistani authorities were facing legal problems in indentifying survivors of bin Laden’s family because they do not have any papers on them, except for bin Laden's wife, who was carrying a passport issued by the Yemeni government.

It said the Pakistani government announced it would deport bin Laden's family members to their countries of origin. A Pakistani official, however, said that this measure would be difficult to implement given that the family members do not have any travel documents.

Only one of five killed in bin Laden raid was armed

From USA Today, May 5:

WASHINGTON — Only one of the five people shot and killed during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound was armed, the head of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday as officials revised the tale of the al-Qaeda leader's takedown for the third day in a row.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said White House officials "got a little ahead of themselves" earlier in the week when they mistakenly described a sustained firefight between Navy SEALs and those in bin Laden's compound and said bin Laden tried to fight back and one of his wives, used to shield him, was killed.

Rogers said that when the team reached bin Laden's room, he was not armed but there was a gun there, similar to the rifle he has carried in photographs since the 9/11 attack.

"Maybe they should have waited" until the SEAL team was fully debriefed, Rogers said of the White House officials.

On Thursday, the White House declined to explain why White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan and others had gotten key elements of the story wrong. "I don't have any updates on the narrative," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with President Obama to Ground Zero in New York City.

Al-Qaeda confirms Osama death

From NPR, May 6:

Al-Qaida has confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden in a fiery, four-page screed that vows revenge.

The message, dated May 3 and signed by "the general leadership" of al-Qaida, was just released on Islamic and other websites and warned Americans that their "happiness will turn into sadness." It is the first word from the group since bin Laden's death Monday in Pakistan, and analysts say it clears the way for succession.

"We stress that the blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is precious to us and to all Muslims and will not go in vain," read the statement, which was translated and posted overnight on the SITE Intelligence Group's website.

"We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following there outside and inside their countries. Soon, God willing, their happiness will turn to sadness and their blood will be mingled with their tears."

The message also called on the people of Pakistan "where Sheik Osama was killed" to rise up against its leaders and to stay tuned because a message that bin Laden had recorded a week before his death would soon be released.

Talban confirm Osama death

From AFP, May 6:

KABUL — The killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces will give "a new impetus" to the fight against foreign "invaders" in Afghanistan, the Taliban said in a statement issued on Friday.

In their first substantive reaction to this week's assassination of bin Laden in Pakistan, the Taliban said his death would "lead hundreds more to the field of martyrdom and sacrifice".

They had previously only said it was "premature" to comment on the death in a statement on Tuesday which seemed to cast doubt on whether bin Laden had been killed.

The Taliban comments came as Al-Qaeda confirmed bin Laden's death but warned that those celebrating his killing would have their "blood mixed with tears" and vowed the movement would live on.

"The Islamic emirate believes the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden will give a new impetus to the current jihad against the invaders in this critical phase of jihad," an email statement released on Friday by Taliban spokesman Tariq Ghazniwal said.

The Taliban admitted for the first time in its statement that bin Laden had died, or "embraced martyrdom as per the will of the almighty Allah", during a raid by US commandos on his heavily-fortified compound on Sunday.

But the statement warned that the United States and other Western countries with troops in Afghanistan should not "wallow in this optimism" created by bin Laden's death.

"The sapling of jihad has always grown, spruced and reached fructification through irrigation by pure blood," the statement said.

"The martyrdom of a martyr leads to hundreds more to head to the field of martyrdom and sacrifice."

US releases bin Laden videos

From the Wall Street Journal, May 7:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. government released five video clips of Osama bin Laden that were seized by Navy SEALs during the raid on his compound, providing the first photographic evidence of what officials described as the al Qaeda leader's "active command-and-control center" in Pakistan.

The videos, one of which shows bin Laden as recently as Nov. 5, were part of what a senior U.S. intelligence official called "the single-largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever" obtained by the U.S.

A preliminary review of the handwritten, digital, audio, video and print materials found in the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound "clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group," the official said. "He was far from a figurehead. He was an active player."

In a written statement issued after the video clips were released Saturday, Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said: "The material found in the compound only further confirms how important it was to go after bin Laden."

Materials discovered so far by analysts include internal communications between al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its far-flung affiliates. Al Qaeda has branches in Yemen and North Africa...

One of the videos, titled "Message to the American People," features bin Laden, his beard dyed black, condemning U.S. policy and criticizing capitalism, the senior intelligence official said. The U.S. released the videos without their soundtracks, making it impossible to confirm what bin Laden was saying.

Officials said the U.S. decided to release the five video clips to show the world that it had killed bin Laden. The decision was made to remove the audio because the U.S. didn't want to propagate bin Laden's anti-U.S. messages.

The senior intelligence official said the U.S. believes the "Message to the American People" video was produced sometime between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2010. The official said it was unclear why the video wasn't distributed or posted on the Internet.

Pakistan in "secret deal" to kill bin Laden

From The Guardian, May 9:

Osama bin Laden mission agreed in secret 10 years ago by US and Pakistan
The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week's raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

"There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him," said a former senior US official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations. "The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn't stop us."

Bin Laden family doubts he's really dead

From the New York Times, May 10:

Statement From the Family of Osama bin Laden

Statement from the family of Sheikh Osama bin Laden

I Omar Ossama Binladin and my brothers the lawful children and heirs of the Ossama Binladin (OBL) have noted wide coverage of the news of the death of our father, but we are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead. Therefore, with this press statement, we seek such conclusive evidence to believe the stories published in relation to 2 May 2011 operation Geronimo as declared by the President of United States Barrack Hussein Obama in his speech that he authorized the said operation and killing of OBL and later confirmed his death.

If OBL has been killed in that operation as President of United States has claimed then we are just in questioning as per media reports that why an unarmed man was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world. If he has been summarily executed then, we question the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated but USA has set a very different example whereby right to have a fair trial, and presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court of law has been sacrificed on which western society is built and is standing when a trial of OBL was possible for any wrongdoing as that of Iraqi President Sadam Hussein and Serbian President Slobodan Miloševic'. We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems and crime's adjudication as Justice must be seen to be done.

It is also unworthy of the special forces to shoot unarmed female family members of Binladen killing a female and that of one of his son.

Most importantly, when it is a common knowledge that OBL's family is residing at one place outside KSA, why they were not contacted to receive his dead body. His sudden and un witnessed burial at sea has deprived the family of performing religious rights of a Muslim man.

Finally, now that the operation is concluded we wish the Government of Pakistan to release and hand over all minors of the family and all the family members are reunited at one place and are repatriated to their country of origin, especially female members of the family to avoid further oppression and we seek international support to that effect.

Without agreeing to the ways of OBL as to how he professed, believed and operated, We Omar Ossama Binladin, and my brothers, the lawful children of the Ossama Binladin (OBL) herewith demand an inquiry under UNO to reach to the accuracy of the facts as stated by United States into the fundamental question as to why our father was not arrested and tried but summarily executed without a court of law. We are putting these questions to the United Nations, OIC, President of United States that a necessary evidence is presented to the family in private and or public to make us believe what they claim, and all the remaining family members are repatriated and united after necessary initial investigation.

In making this statement, we want to remind the world that Omar Ossam Binladin, the fourth-born son of our father, always disagreed with our father regarding any violence and always sent messages to our father, that he must change his ways and that no civilians should be attacked under any circumstances. Despite the difficulty of publicly disagreeing with our father, he [we?] never hesitated to condemn any violent attacks made by anyone, and expressed sorrow for the victims of any and all attacks. As he [we?] condemned our father, we now condemn the president of the United States for ordering the execution of unarmed men and women.

Failure to answer these questions will force us to go to International forum for justice such as International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice and UN must take notice of the violation of international law and assist us to have answers for which we are lawful in seeking them. A panel of eminent British and international lawyers is being constituted and a necessary action may be taken if no answers are furnished within 30 days of this statement.

KSA presumably stands for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UNO for United Nations Organization, and OIC for Organization of the Islamic Conference.

US official: bin Laden hit was "kill mission"

We missed this one—which is both a virtual admission of an extrajudicial execution, and one of the first switches in reportage from the controversial "Operation Geronimo" to "Operation Neptune Spear." From ABC's Political Punch blog, May 4:

A senior US official, hoping to offer clarity on the nature of Operation Neptune Spear, tells ABC News that "this was a kill mission."

Yesterday White House press secretary James Carney said that "on orders of the President, a small U.S. team assaulted a secure compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad to capture or kill Osama bin Laden."

The senior US official says there was no expectation that bin Laden would be taken alive.

As CIA director Leon Panetta explained to PBS yesterday, “the authority here was to kill bin Laden. And obviously under the rules of engagement, if he in fact had thrown up his hands and surrendered and didn’t appear to represent any kind of threat then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

And they did. He was unarmed, but he resisted capture, his wife rushed a Navy SEAL, and there was no way the SEALs could have known in that split second whether bin Laden or the room was booby-trapped in any way.

Gates, Mullen: no more bin Laden details

From the Washington Post, May 18:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reiterated Wednesday his plea for an end to the release of information about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, arguing that the disclosure would compromise future missions.

He quickly got backup from Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We are close to jeopardizing this precious capability that we have, and we can’t afford to do that," Mullen said. "From my perspective it is time to stop talking. We have talked far too much about this. . . We need to move on."

Chechen "ex-CIA agent": bin Laden dead since 2006

From Russia's RT TV, May 17:

"Bin Laden died of disease in 2006" – former CIA agent
Osama Bin Laden cheated the gallows and died five years before US security forces officially announced he was killed, says a former CIA agent, currently living in Turkey.

"I knew Bin Laden’s Chechen guards very well," Berkan Yashar, himself an ethnic Chechen, told the Russian TV station, Channel One. "Samy, Ayub and Mahmud were with him right to the end. I remember well this date as there were three sixes in it— June 26, 2006. Those three men, as well as two Muslims from London and two from the US saw Bin Laden dead.He was seriously ill before his death. He faded away to skin and bone. The three Chechens washed his body before burying it."

Yashar also said that on the eve of May 2, when President Obama announced that Bin Laden had been killed, the Americans found only Bin Laden’s grave near the Afghan-Pakistani border and staged an operation.

According to Yashar, US special forces started hunting Bin Laden’s Chechen guards after Bin Laden’s death was first announced at a conference in Washington in November 2008. The last of them, Samy, was taken by the American special forces a few days before Bin Laden was officially pronounced dead. Berkan Yashar believes Samy could have told them the exact place of burial.

Answering why he had decided to speak to the Russian channel, Berkan Yashar said that after all the recent developments he feared for his life.

Um, if he fears for his life, why isn't he keeping his head down instead of attracting attention to himself with these claims? And bin Laden's death was "announced at a press conference" in 2008? Huh? Did we miss that? And what exactly does it mean that this Berkan Yashar was a "CIA agent"? And why should we believe a word he says?

Just asking.