It looks like the White House is done revising its account of the U.S. mission that killed Osama Bin Laden.
President Obama announced Wednesday that he would not sign off on the release of gory photographs of Bin Laden’s corpse, and White House officials said that they would give no new details about the raid on the al-Qaida leader's secret compound in Pakistan, the Washington Post reports.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether administration officials will be able to follow through on their vow to keep their lips sealed and, if they do, who will fill the information vacuum created by their silence.
Even if the White House is able to keep an official lid on the handful of officials who have been speaking to the media on and off-camera (something that is far from certain) they still run the risk of public slip-ups. The odds-on favorite for such gaffes is likely Vice President Joe Biden, who earlier this week accidentally let slip the fact that the mission was conducted by an elite team of Navy SEALs, something that had been widely reported but that the administration had taken great pains to avoid confirming.
Meanwhile, additional reporting will also likely continue to seep in from Pakistan. Reuters released a series of graphic photos Wednesday that the news agency says were taken inside the compound only hours after the raid. The photos, purchased from an unidentified Pakistani security official, show the bodies of three men believed to have been killed by U.S. forces, and the lack of weapons in the photos has raised additional questions about the resistance the U.S. team faced during the raid.
Pakistan has a number of Bin Laden’s family members in custody, including his young daughter who reportedly was an eyewitness to her father’s death. A story earlier this week in the Al Arabiya News reported that the daughter claims that Bin Laden was captured, and then killed by the U.S. assault team.
Back at home, meanwhile, the administration’s silence will push the armada of reporters who have been covering the story to look elsewhere for details of the classified specifics.
A number of lawmakers have been briefed on such details, and have already proven they’re willing to share with the media. It was Congress, and not the White House, who leaked the information Wednesday that Bin Laden had hundreds of euros and a pair of telephone numbers sewn into his clothing at the time of his death.
But just because there will be more voices telling the story does not mean it will necessarily be a more accurate one. A handful of lawmakers, for instance, described the goriness of the Bin Laden corpse photos to the press Wednesday, only to discover later that the pictures they had seen were actually Internet hoaxes.
UPDATED at 9:33 a.m.: Looks like telling U.S. officials to stay quiet is easier than making them stay quiet. The Associated Press, citing an unidentified Defense official “who was not authorized to speak on the record,” reports that only one of the five people killed in the raid was armed and ever fired a shot.