Getting Bin Laden: Who Cares If He Fought Back?

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Warrick Page / Getty Images

Room Service: A Pakistani policeman stands outside bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, two days after Navy SEALs killed him on that top floor.

So this is what it comes down to: a former SEAL who participated in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden charges in his new book that the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people was simply killed when he stuck his head out of his bedroom door. He allegedly didn’t resist, as White House and Pentagon officials said he had in the hours and days following the May 2, 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The press goes wild:

SEAL’s book: Bin Laden shot on sight, the Washington Post says.

Osama bin Laden was killed by bullet to the brain before Navy SEALs arrived, book reveals, says the New York Daily News.

SEAL book raises questions about bin Laden’s death, Businessweek says.

They’re all reacting to stories by the Associated Press and the Huffington Post, who bought copies of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden at local bookstores. Ex-SEAL Matt Bissonnette has written the book, published by Dutton, under the pseudonym Mark Owen. Its official release date was moved from Sept. 11 to Sept. 4 on Tuesday.

Bissonnette says he was right behind the “point man” as the SEAL team climbed the stairs in the bin Laden compound leading to his bedroom when he heard the muffled pops of a silencer equipped firearm. The point man, Bissonnette reports, fired when he spied a “man peeking out of the door” at the top of the stairs. The man – bin Laden – toppled back into the room. By the time the SEALs got to him, he had fallen to the floor with a bullet wound to the right side of his head. The SEALs trained their guns on the still-alive bin Laden and fired into him several times until they were sure he was dead.

Whether or not bin Laden was armed is irrelevant. The U.S. military considered bombing his compound to smithereens with him and his family inside it, and whether or not he was armed at the time would have been moot. But the U.S., to put it bluntly, wanted proof of bin Laden’s demise that a bombing could not guarantee. They wanted his corpse.

(PHOTOS: Navy SEALs in Action)

Most Americans cheered bin Laden’s death, and will probably cheer louder once they know how he died: as a cowering coward, with two women in his bed chamber.

The problem with the story as it is now being told is a problem we have lived with since the dawn of government: governments often fudge the truth. In fact, sometimes they lie. It appears that may have happened in this case.

Here’s what Battleland reported less than 24 hours after bin Laden’s death, based on background briefings and interviews with military officers:

The SEALs fired hundreds of rounds as they blasted their way through the compound, clearing it room by room, until the top two floors of the main three-story building — where bin Laden was living with his family — were the only things left to be cleared. Bin Laden was killed near the end of the U.S. troops’ 40 minutes inside the compound, which was filled almost the entire time with gunfire. “The bin Laden family was on the second and third floor,” a senior Pentagon official said. “And so, without getting into operational details, those areas were cleared last.”

[White House anti-terror chief John] Brennan said the U.S. was prepared to take bin Laden alive, but that possibility ended when he fought the SEALs. “He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in,” Brennan said. “Whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know.”

A woman, in some accounts believed to be one of bin Laden’s wives, perished in the endgame. “She fought back when there was the opportunity to get to bin Laden,” Brennan said of the lone woman who died in the raid. “She was positioned in a way that indicated that she was being used as a shield, whether or not bin Laden or the son or whatever put her there or she put herself there…she met her demise, and my understanding is that she was one of bin Laden’s wives.”

We don’t yet know the full story. It’s coming out, as military accounts usually do, in bits and pieces. It does appear that the original, official account may have taken, shall we say, liberties with the truth. Like the blind men feeling the elephant, the more accounts of bin Laden’s takedown we get, the closer we will come to an approximation of what really happened.

But just as the White House can be criticized for hyping the drama inherent in bin Laden’s death, so too can Bissonnette be criticized for turning the SEALs into just another partisan faction.

“Bissonnette writes disparagingly that none of the SEALs were fans of President Barack Obama and knew that his administration would take credit for ordering the May 2011 raid,” the AP’s Kimberly Dozier writes. “One of the SEALs said after the mission that they had just gotten Obama re-elected by carrying out the raid.”

Having the nation’s most esteemed warriors broadcasting their political views does a disservice to them, the taxpayers who paid — and are still paying — their salaries and pensions, and the nation they pledged to serve.

MORE: Photos Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden