Everything you thought you knew about the killing of Osama bin Laden is wrong

The story of the killing of Osama bin Laden at the hands of Navy SEALS would have been compelling stuff in its own right. But it turns out the story ain't quite what it used to be.

Here are the big headlines you probably thought were true about bin Laden's killing -- but aren't -- and one that's up for debate. The 24-hour news cycle beast spat them out before journalists got down to the business of fact checking.

The Situation Room at the White House on Sunday.
The Situation Room at the White House on Sunday.

Bin Laden's death wasn't watched in real time at the White House

That picture the White House released of Obama, defense secretary Robert Gates, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and others watching a television monitor left the impression that they were able to watch the operation against bin Laden in real time.

The impression was deceiving. "Once those teams went into the compound, I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on," CIA director Leon Panetta told PBS on Tuesday. They could "monitor" the situation, but it probably wasn't as gripping as an episode of "24."

John Brennan, White House aide and fabulist.
John Brennan, White House aide and fabulist.

Bin Laden wasn't armed when he was shot dead

On Monday, White House adviser John Brennan got carried away in his description of the Navy SEALS operation when he told the press that bin Laden was "engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don't know. ... We were not going to give Bin Laden or any of his cohorts the opportunity to carry out lethal fire on our forces."

Bin Laden didn't get off any rounds because he wasn't holding a gun when the Navy SEALS burst into the room. He stood up. They shot him, possibly because they were worried that he might be wearing a suicide bomber's vest, or going for a gun, or maybe just because wanted him dead. Either way, "He was not armed."

Bin Laden in another hut, far, far away.
Bin Laden in another hut, far, far away.

Bin Laden wasn't using his wife as a human shield

"There was family at that compound and there was a female who was in fact in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield Bin Laden from the incoming fire," Brennan said. "Hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield -- I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years."

Trying to destroy bin Laden's preferred narrative about being a courageous jihadist by picturing him cowered behind a young woman in his final moments of desperation is understandable. But that's not what happened.

"In the room with Bin Laden, a woman - Bin Laden's - a woman, rather, Bin Laden's wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

Bin Laden's "mansion" featured peeling paint and no A/C

Reuters was hardly alone when it ran with this lead paragraph on Monday:

U.S. forces finally found al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden not in a mountain cave on Afghanistan's border, but with his youngest wife in a million-dollar compound in a summer resort just over an hour's drive from Pakistan's capital, U.S. officials said.

Not quite.

ABC News described the bin Laden compound as a shabby heap.
ABC News described the bin Laden compound as a shabby heap.

The Guardian's Declan Walsh got into the site of bin Laden's death and described it this way:

Up close, Bin Laden's house, a tall, unlovely piece of architecture, towering over the policemen guarding the gate, was not quite the million dollar mansion described by officials. The walls were high, certainly, but not unusually so for north-western Pakistan, where privacy is jealously guarded. The paint was peeling, there was no air conditioning.

There was no swimming pool, either. And a local real estate broker said the place was worth $250,000 tops. See it here.

Waterboarding didn't lead to bin Laden -- or did it? 

John Yoo, author of the infamous torture memos that urged the Bush administration to bypass the Geneva Conventions in the war against al Qaida, wasted no time crediting the "harsh interrogation" of Kahlid Sheik Mohammed for the discovery of bin Laden's lair, by way of the terrorist's courier. Former veep Dick Cheney suggested the same thing, as did others.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded more than 130 times.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded more than 130 times.

But while KSM was waterboarded more than 130 times, and gave up a lot of misinformation in the process, CIA sources told the New York Times he never gave up the name of bin Laden's courier.

Bush's former defense secretary Donald Rumseld also squashed the "waterboarding worked" narrative in an interview with the right wing site Newsmax:

It is true that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches at Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding."

But outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta opened up the possibility that waterboarding did indeed play a part in locating bin Laden in this interview with Brian Williams on NBC News.

"We had multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation... clearly some of it came from detainees [and] they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of those detainees," he told NBC anchor Brian Williams.

When asked by Williams if water-boarding was part of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," Panetta simply said "that's correct."

It will probably be months, if not years, before the final story of bin Laden's killing is written. But given the revisions to the story already, we expect the conspiracy theorists and "deathers" are already hard at work on their own version of events.

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