Should Obama Get Credit for bin Laden’s Death?
Author Mark Bowden tells Alan how the decision was made to send Navy SEALs to get Osama bin Laden.
- Duration 19:54
- Date Oct 18, 2012
Author Mark Bowden tells Alan how the decision was made to send Navy SEALs to get Osama bin Laden.
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And -- it comes to welcome mark outdoor microphones every thought in his new -- -- -- to finish the killing of Osama bin Laden mark -- authored nine books including Blackhawk down.
Which you're probably best known killing Pablo guests of the Ayatollah you reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Or twenty years as well.
I thank you very much for being here tonight -- our pleasure what made you decide to go this route after Blackhawk down I guess this would be a natural follow up a -- a number of years later right.
Well you would think so but in truth you know in my career rarely gone after.
A story that everybody else in the world wants to get -- you look at Blackhawk -- honor.
Killing -- these are stories that I was the only reporter who was real interest there a couple of other books out about this and why did you decide to do you know I I did it because and -- -- in Hollywood producer who called me and asking if I'd be interest in researching and writing a screenplay and I said you know sure so I I called the White House -- emailed.
And said you know I'd like to -- analysts talked to the president.
Much to nice -- they came right back and said okay you know wolf seriously consider this.
And so actually what happened after that as the producer backed out and I ended up with us.
Potential access without any project so I -- my publisher and I said.
Would this interest you and then it -- and you had how much time in the Oval Office -- the president about an hour and a half that's really amazing isn't.
While I was grateful for death what did you -- busy guy what did you learn in that meeting well as my first chance to meet the president.
He is 1 of the central figures in the story without a doubt so the opportunity to pick his brain to think you know to ask -- you know what his.
How is how he.
Arrived at the decision to launch this vision what were the things that were on his mind I mean did you learn anything that -- that was it did not go with conventional wisdom more than all the -- to commence sense because.
Certainly the writers try to attack them on this of saying -- -- -- make the decision.
He just say Hillary really did it if he would have done attention Hillary not insisted and all kinds of stuff has come out what did you learn by talking to one and one.
Well it is definitely in control of the process from the very beginning.
From the grave and who.
Commanded the mission has called his handling of it magnificent.
You know I think you can be critical of the president for many things you can disagree with him.
About his political philosophy and his policies.
But I think anyone who looks as I have at this episode closely would be very hard pressed.
To criticize him in anyway in the way he handled this now he came into office he said this was a priority unity electors of the bush at various times -- different statements about it where should -- -- one point I don't think about them.
We don't know where he is right for this president really seem to make admission they want what was the lead up.
To this in terms of putting this on the radar.
Well you know.
It's and one of the things I learned in researching this book is how remarkably.
Consistent Obama has been about targeting Al qaeda's leaders back and I think it was 2003 before the invasion of Iraq he gave a speech -- speech which became famous in retrospect.
In Chicago where he opposed the invasion of Iraq and he said in that speech.
I am not against all wars I think that the right target for the United States is al-Qaeda and its leadership and he said.
If I could take up arms myself against al-Qaeda I would well little did he know.
How literally that would Hampshire and how much information -- they have going in and -- where there a couple of other false starts.
Word had been that there were two or three other times when he put a halt.
To the -- opportunity to go and can just completely false and untrue no basis in fact.
You know -- -- the CIA.
Eight or nine months after day -- first noticed the compound about a -- To try and gather enough intelligence.
To be able to tell the president that it was definitely -- line and -- and they never got to that point.
But they did get to a point where.
The president asked them to prepare options.
And he said to me that he had decided.
Fairly early on that this was basically -- 5050.
Proposition but given.
His determination to go after bin Laden he was inclined.
I think from fairly early on to act.
And the first time that he was presented with the seal mission where emigrate and had planned out what -- Could do general McGrady and said the earliest we could mount this mission is at the end of April early -- -- And that was when they conducted the mission so that we knows there are no he you've heard all the stories about it other opportunities and he didn't do -- he wouldn't act and finally.
He finally -- -- you know there's this this narrative.
It seems to be among his detractors.
Who want to -- away any credit all I can say Allen is that I've talked to the president to.
Key participants throughout in both the White House depending on the CIA and not one person.
Contradicts -- -- version of the it's interesting point on the -- -- Joseph Biden did not want he didn't think this was a mission should he was the one person in the final decision meeting who was opposed.
To taking action and life -- because he.
I think understood the political consequences of failure and if anyone in the room was gonna offer the president political advice -- is running me.
And you know the secretary of defense is gonna.
Be concerned about military matters secretary of state is going to be concerned about dealing with Pakistan what does Joseph Biden gonna be concerned about.
He's his running mate for -- body's gonna say.
You know what you're gonna lose this election.
If this goes to hell probably gonna ensure that father and I think it would have been you said it was 5050 what made -- fifteen point although one that gave him the impetus to finally.
The think that's the reason was his confidence and admiral -- He had come to know him.
He had been president already for two years he had supervised.
-- missions in the past.
Including the mission to.
Somalia where they shot and killed those three hijackers who had taken the American captain hostage.
He had faith and admiral -- and when -- and said Mr.
We can do this he believed.
Let's limit the other -- brother taught in a -- doubt in his new book is told to finish the killing of Osama bin Laden.
-- go in the way they did was one option what -- some of the other plane and things they could have done and we're considering ball.
The -- you know initially of course they looked at the possibility of just bombing.
Compound to smithereens.
And to his credit I think the president ruled that out immediately because it would have meant.
A large number of casualties of innocent people including all the children.
Who lived in the compound what it boiled down to we're really too.
Options one was to -- mention.
And the other was to launch a very small missiles from a drone which was essentially.
I call it a sniper shot.
You know they had this guy who they observed walking around the compound they called -- the pacer they didn't know for sure whether it was bin Laden.
But the option was we can kill that person.
And you know adjusts -- take him out.
The president sided against that because there was too much of a chance that it would miss.
All are if they were successful and they kill this person they would never know.
Whether they and actually kill bin Laden.
So there were a lot of good reasons for going with the raid and so the raid though was a certain number of -- we know how many.
When -- in -- war and do you know how they allocated the responsibility during that.
During that while they had you know -- contingent of seals who were responsible for securing the perimeter.
But most of the seals who -- and were involved in rating the three story house where bin Laden lived.
And of course there were.
They took along with them translator in case any.
Pakistani citizens in the neighborhood came up to the company be able the warn them.
To get back.
You know that that was how they organize their wireless -- -- of your book is that the president and what would've liked the idea to put bin Laden on trial yeah so what it wasn't necessarily a shoot to kill.
Did you know wanted dead -- alive right I think the president.
What he told me was his ideal option was to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial he felt that.
He had made efforts in his first term here to put some of these big terrorists on trial like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed.
And had been and really lack the political muscle to make it happen and he felt that capturing Osama bin Laden might.
Give him the political capital he needed to what is up candidate that could they have captured him I think they could have you know but it's very hard -- To second guess men -- were going into of dark building at night and you know who have been shot at.
And say who you know they should have withheld fire they should've waited but the truth is that when they went into the compound.
When they've invaded the house they receive one versed in an accurate fire that killed the person who shot at them.
And it took fifteen more minutes before they got after the third floor that house no one shot at them so my feeling is if they had been.
Aggressively instructed to take him alive.
They could but that was not the mission to take -- -- -- I think that was what the president preferred that you know I'm guessing here because -- did not ask him and specifically about this but my -- He did not.
Aggressively instruct them.
Because he's concerned about these guys come and I think the guys say it was a made that that's the what I mean they are fifteen minutes ago.
The three -- big house that he proceed methodically.
They they know what they're doing the other trying to stay alive they're trying to accomplish the mission so they don't just rush in.
-- -- everywhere they move in in groups -- You know methodically take down the house this was a three story house -- they encountered -- steel door that there was a barrier to the upper floors they had to blow that off its hinges and -- up the stairs so it took time.
I bet they're guesses but it's gonna finish the killing -- -- -- the -- unlike the other books.
And to -- -- out Peter -- is where I think you've been complimented him on his book but -- the of all the book through the aluminum lead and now -- You know facetime with the president to talk about those.
An hour and a half in the Oval Office among your other research for this book did you talk to the president and all about Pakistan and what the fallout he thought might be in.
How we protect our relationship -- country's pursuit of time we have troops in Afghanistan.
Well I did and clearly you know -- one of the huge risks of sending the seals then.
Was the implications for our relationship with Pakistan and -- it.
Very difficult subject matter because we absolutely depend.
On some measure of cooperation from Pakistan to go after.
The terrorists who are in the tribal territories.
And you know any hope that we have of routing.
These groups depends to a large extent on.
Their cooperation but on the other hand you know they have elements within their own.
Military and intelligence community who are supportive.
These groups so you know to invade their sovereignty to risk.
Getting into a shooting war which the president did -- they seal team if the seal team had been discovered.
I mean we had we were fully prepared.
To fight our way out of Pakistan he actually said during the campaign he had actionable intelligence he -- to go and he said that.
When he was running for -- did say that when he ran for president -- was criticized by.
Everyone including -- included in the New York Times to Rush Limbaugh.
Everyone criticized that including Mitt Romney.
You know sent in and Hillary Clinton for that matter.
They all jumped on him -- you know what a stupid comment that was in his reaction to that criticism was.
I meant it I am not backing away from that this I'd totally.
Believe in what I said he never did back then what are communities are the prison massage the faxed him magnify his role.
While he didn't I don't think I think that that staff of -- president.
And appeal White House -- it not the White House did it and I don't think it was a conspiracy I think it was a cumulative.
And there -- -- lots of different reasons for instance John Brennan who is the president's counterterrorism advisor.
You know got up and said some things in the day after bin Laden was killed -- -- wrong.
But you know he was motivated by this.
Passion he had.
I think really -- hatred of bin Laden he had been involved in hunting bin Laden since the Clinton administration.
Brennan had and so.
To him you know initial reports that bin Laden used women as a shield that.
You know that there and in this intense firefight in the house he believed those things when he said them it turned out that he hadn't been very.
Fully briefed and they backtracked from that later what do we know though haven't announced we started talk about how it took about -- minute to get the first -- there was a shot fired on the first floor.
Right when man in the house the the guy they called -- cook the kuwaitis the career.
He bring him -- -- houses and design and yes he he fired on the seals and I am told it was inaccurate fire.
And he was immediately killed seals don't.
Yeah do inaccurate fire and after that there was not a single shot fired that was not fired by the seals and when they found in -- -- they know it was him.
That course they didn't know until they killed.
But they've you know they -- going through that house and they were killing every adult -- they -- not female.
No they did it accidentally I think inadvertently shoot.
One of the women.
But they only -- the only other people shot were.
Bin Laden's son.
The -- our -- brother.
And bin Laden and they'll -- those people they were all killed.
There was been laden arm he was not.
If we heard different stories about that while I mean I'm on the Alastair I've heard is that there were arms.
But I've not heard any account that bin Laden was armed and resisting anyway wars so he had resisted all of when he knew his number was up at that point.
You know the -- sent upstairs for fifteen minutes listening to the seals make their way up through his house.
He had to know something bad was coming up stairs -- that you just say okay this is and I'm done and I'm gonna accept this and I -- who knows what he was thinking rosary -- thinking you know it's it's his chance he didn't understand what was going on.
I don't know all I know is he poked his head out the door he got shot he was either hit immediately -- he might have been hit.
You know when the seals entered the room.
That no account has him resisting -- anyway and how long after that shot that killed him -- they know that was in line.
While the guy any according to.
-- this and at the ceiling is written them about this.
He was he basically clean the blood off the face.
And tried to take pictures and figure out who that just killed and it looked like bin Laden to him.
And then what happened to the other people in the house who survived we know whatever happened to them.
Yeah they were all herded up by the seals they were.
Sequestered -- in corner of the compounds they wouldn't be hurt.
When they blew up the downed Blackhawk.
And they left them there in the Pakistani authorities took them into custody.
The women were held for.
Nearly a year there were questioned extensively.
And Pakistan released them earlier this year do we have any other information -- -- discovered -- has I heard it was a porn stash and events during.
You know that's probably not true and again you know it's -- the desire that people have to smear the reputation of someone whose reputation is already.
So -- it doesn't need to be smeared -- you know what the truth is Alan every every computer in the world probably has.
Some porn you know deep buried on -- hard drive.
The issue of not just bin Laden but getting.
No other top al-Qaeda leaders and then.
Recently -- been Ghazi.
We found out that yes there are people calling themselves on Qaeda we don't a -- is not a centralized group as I understand it but.
Different cells and of course those who oppose the president will say.
What you see I guess he -- -- such a great job getting a cut of the conflict which is -- you know I've been Gaza to what do we know about.
Ben and al-Qaeda how decimated its been.
It certainly in relation to the fact that we still haven't ambassadors and embassies.
Being hit upon by groups calling themselves al-Qaeda.
Well there's a very important distinction that people need to make.
Al-Qaeda that launched the attacks on 9/11.
Was a very sophisticated international network with.
They spent a quarter million dollars on that they recruited people from around the world they move them from country to country they train them.
They put them in position in this country to -- -- a -- that was -- highly sophisticated international.
That organization that launch those attacks is defunct.
With the death of Osama bin Laden it is all but dead and it was all but dead.
Before they killed -- -- now you have local.
In various parts of the Middle East to wolf fly that al-Qaeda flag.
Two grand -- themselves to attract recruits they are no more capable.
Of putting together an attack like 9/11 then.
The hell's angels are in San Francisco I mean -- -- real and -- threat locally wherever they are there were enough for the threatened in -- to kill.
What you know our our our ambassador yeah but as far as there's a big difference between that little group in that.
In Libya and the al-Qaeda that the Obama administration as big -- those who want to use this against Obama please say al-Qaeda is still around you can't look what government does a he didn't get al-Qaeda like he said he now we're saying that's not the same on I think American politics muddies the waters and it's all about.
You know the narrative it's all about whatever story you can sell.
What do you want people take away from your book you call it the most important story perhaps of our time.
What I need to -- Alan you know that in -- as much as I I think the Obama administration deserves a lot of credit.
For the way they handled this the real story is.
The evolution of this capability of tracing these planned -- time.
International terrorist networks the use of -- -- reconstituting human spy networks the use of drones.
The use of supercomputers.
The innovative technology -- sartorial torture and all complicit in Pennington in -- It was a part of the story without a doubt because if you pieced together the various interrogations that led the CIA.
To about -- A number of those key.
Involved coercive interrogation methods some of them the initial want -- place in Mauritania.
That was done and viewed by foreign authorities and there was almost certainly torture including waterboarding in and -- but having said that -- I'm not saying.
The torture produce the result we don't know if those same results might not have been produced.
-- them more subtle method of questioning.
And in fact Khalid Sheikh Mohamed who is definitely water boarded -- -- 183 times -- -- like that he gave false information.
An effect in the context of the whole story of how they found in law and the fact that.
Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and minimize the importance.
-- -- this courier they were asking about actually -- the CIA's interest in him because is that how could.
Khalid Sheikh -- not know this person if everyone else we've talked to says he was terribly important and that made them think -- -- must be.
Really important because he's trying to protect.
The voters go to finish the killing of a summit in London Mark Bowden who also wrote black hawk down by the way thank you very much of being here tonight -- I've enjoyed the company so much.