Is the Obama administration setting up to toss the SEALs under the bus?
That is one way, though surely not the only way, to read this story. The gist: the administration is now admitting that it had no video feed during the most crucial 20-25 minutes of the bin Laden raid. But take note of a detail that's hanging in the new new new version of events.
A photograph released by the White House appeared to show the President and his aides in the situation room watching the action as it unfolded. In fact they had little knowledge of what was happening in the compound.
Mr Panetta also told the network that the US Navy Seals made the final decision to kill bin Laden rather than the president.
In an interview with PBS, Mr Panetta said: "Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn't know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.
"We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound."
Mr Panetta also told the network that the US Navy Seals made the final decision to kill bin Laden rather than the president. (emphasis mine)
It's that last line that puts some distance now between the White House and the raid. The WH wasn't actually watching, and the SEALs made the call to kill. Put that together with the information that came out yesterday about the disposition of the enemy within the compound.
Several other details from the raid support the narrative that bin Laden felt a certain sense of security in his walled compound in northern Pakistan—there were no guards on site, and he was unarmed when the CIA-led Navy SEALs team dropped in Sunday to capture or kill him.
The circumstances surrounding his final minutes are still a bit blurry. A senior U.S. official said that while he was unarmed, he appeared to be reaching for a weapon before being fatally shot.
Other accounts said one of the guards was armed, but the others and bin Laden were not. Of course, we'll never see the actual order that sent the SEAL team in, so we'll never know if it truly was a kill order. Most Americans wouldn't care either way -- bin Laden was one of that rare breed of thug who just needs killlin'. But this administration isn't composed of "most Americans," it's composed of people who hold a skeptical view of American power, to say the least. And it's not as if Obama hasn't made a habit of throwing anyone and everyone under the bus as soon as they become inconvenient to him. And let's face it: Obama's voting base hates the military and has spent the entire war decrying every tactic the military and our intel agencies have used over the course of the war.
The Obama administration would be making a colossal mistake if it goes anywhere near turning on the SEALs who got bin Laden. But they have been making mistake after mistake since the successful raid. So I'm no longer confident they can manage to dodge making this one. And if your agenda of frittering away American power and influence remains in place, it's not a mistake at all.
Plus: The New York Times Magazine suffers from a case of bad timing...and worse judgment.