Stop Digging! Please!

Someone needs to explain the First Rule of Holes to the Obama administration. Military and intelligence professionals executed an important mission brilliantly, carrying out their assigned task of killing Osama bin Laden and dumping his body into the ocean. Ever since, the administration has undercut the professionals’ achievement with a succession of now-inoperative accounts of the raid’s climactic moments.
First we had John Brennan spinning a tale about bin Laden blazing away at the SEALs while using his wife–now deceased–as a human shield. Every detail of that story turned out to be false. Then the administration claimed that it looked as though Osama was reaching for a gun, so the SEALs had to shoot him. Next, the theory was that Osama was clothed, not naked, so he could have had a bomb under his clothes and had to be shot. Another iteration emerged this afternoon, as an administration official told AFP that guns were found in the room where Obama was shot, so he was a threat to the SEALs:

US Navy SEALs who led a raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound found an AK-47 and a pistol in his room, a US official told AFP Thursday, offering more details about the operation.
“He had weapons in his room, more than one,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He was not compliant. He did not surrender,” the official said. …
Given the possible threats, the gunfire from the courier and Bin Laden’s reputation, “the team made the right decision.”

All of these narratives–apart from the disadvantage, in some instances, of being untrue–share a common defect. They assume that the SEALs are in the dock as accused murderers, and need to be seen as acting in self-defense. This is ridiculous. The SEALs may have acted in “national self defense,” the doctrine that Eric Holder articulated to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the immediate context of the raid on bin Laden’s compound, the SEALs were not defending themselves. They were on the attack, as they needed to be to carry out their orders. Whether bin Laden was shooting at them, reaching for a gun, clothed or naked, or in the same room with a weapon is irrelevant. The SEALs went into Pakistan to kill bin Laden, and succeeded brilliantly. The administration needs to forget about self-defense and stand behind the orders it gave the military.

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