Monday, May 09, 2011

Getting After The Widows


I must be missing something. The New York Times' David E. Sanger reports

President Obama’s national security adviser demanded Sunday that Pakistan let American investigators interview Osama bin Laden’s three widows, adding new pressure in a relationship now fraught over how Bin Laden could have been hiding near Islamabad for years before he was killed by commandos last week....

The United States government is demanding to know whether, and to what extent, Pakistani government, intelligence or military officials were complicit in hiding Bin Laden. His widows could be critical to that line of inquiry because they might have information about the comings and goings of people who were aiding him.

“We have asked for access,” Mr. Donilon said on the CNN program “State of the Union,” “including three wives who they now have in custody from the compound, as well as additional materials that they took from the compound.”


No doubt this is important information. While not excusing Islamabad's civilian leadership, Stephen Grey, one of the authors of the Frontline documentary The Secret War, maintains

I think there are some pretty clear 'Red Lines' in Pakistan politics that exclude civilians from getting involved in key issues - like policy to Kashmir, the ISI, and nuclear issues; frankly the civilian leadershp wants to be involved but there is mutual suspicion with the military. So I don't think the civiilan leadership is complicit....

The Administration is rightfully delighted at the intelligence trove uncovered in the raid in Abbottabad. Let's determine the nature of the relationship between Pakistan's civilian, and its intelligence/military, establishment and whatever role either is playing in harboring terrorists within its borders. But..... didn't U.S. commandos on May Day conduct an enormously successful raid on a home in which those ladies were living?

The raid resulted in the death of the primary target- Osama bin Laden- and of what was probably the secondary target, a son of his. No American was injured and there is little indication any was in danger of being injured. According to Slate's William Saletan on May 5, NBC reported

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden's sons on the way down. The Americans immediately shot and killed the son, who was also unarmed. Once on the third floor, the commandos threw open the door to bin Laden's bedroom. One of bin Laden's wives rushed toward the NAVY SEAL in the door, who shot her in the leg. Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fire two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head.

Saletan comments

Read that passage again. The SEALs encountered a man—bin Laden's son, who reportedly "lunged toward" them," according to the Times—and shot him dead. Next, a woman "rushed toward" them, but instead of killing her, they shot her in the leg. Then, "without hesitation," the guy who had just shot the woman in the leg turned and put two fatal bullets in a man standing in pajamas. No rule of perceived resistance can explain this sequence. It looks like a simple policy of neutralizing women but killing men.

On May 6 boston.com summarized

The Americans who raided Osama bin Laden’s lair met far less resistance than the Obama administration described in the immediate aftermath. The commandos encountered gunshots from only one man, whom they quickly killed, before sweeping the house and shooting others, who were unarmed, a senior defense official said in the latest account.

In yesterday’s revised telling, the Navy SEALs mounted a precision, floor-by-floor operation to find the Al Qaeda leader and his protectors, but without the prolonged, intense firefight officials had described for several days.


From available evidence, the SEALs had everything under control, though we presumably would know definitively if the White House were to deign to release the live video feed, as David Sirota persuasively argues it should. And now we're demanding return of individuals present at the compound? Perhaps- perhaps- the individuals now wanted for interrogation were not secured by the Americans because firefight officials in fact had expected greater resistance. But this may not have been the primary factor, and someone ought to be asking: why weren't these women, who might possess critical intelligence, placed into American custody at the time of the raid?



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