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THE SITUATION ROOM
Secrets Inside bin Laden's Hideout; Interview with Denis McDonough; What Led to Bin Laden's Capture?; Fears Bin Laden Would Be Tipped Off; Window Into Special Operations; Correcting Misstatements About Osama bin Laden Raid; Growing Calls to End Afghan War
Aired May 3, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.
Happening now, the secrets inside Osama bin Laden's hideout -- new information about the slain terrorist's million dollar fortress, who helped him and the clues that could prevent a revenge attack on the United States.
How far will the Obama administration go to prove to the world that bin Laden is dead?
Officials are debating whether to release gruesome photos of his body, possibly -- possibly as soon as today.
Plus, we learn what it was really like in the White House Situation Room when the bin Laden raid was going down. I'll ask the deputy national security adviser to the president, Denis McDonough, exactly what President Obama and his team were seeing and thinking during those heart-pounding minutes.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The White House is calling it the most classified U.S. operation in many, many years. And that's what it took to find the world's most wanted terrorist, who was effectively hiding in plain sight.
CNN now has been able to get inside the walled compound where Osama bin Laden lived and died. We also have new details about his final days and minutes and the clues to future terror plots he may have left behind.
Let's bring our covering this hour with our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.
He's in Abbottabad, Pakistan -- Nic, you've spent all day around bin Laden's compound there.
What struck you the most?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That there wasn't a huge amount of destruction of the compound building itself, the three story, hard concrete reinforced with metal rebar rods. It doesn't show many signs of bullet holes or sort of explosions. The compound next to it, where they burnt the trash, the women did the cooking and the washing, that area you can see where the burn marks, scorch marks where the helicopter had been burnt inside of there. But for the most part, the buildings, from the outside, look very much intact -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the neighbors, the people you've been speaking to in Abbottabad?
What are they saying?
What are they saying to you about the fact that bin Laden was living, presumably for several years, in this compound?
ROBERTSON: They're all amazed. They're surprised. I -- I talked to a man whose compound is 50 yards away from where -- from bin Laden's compound. And it overlooks that compound. And he said, well, we'd come to the conclusion that they were rich, that there were probably gold merchants, there would be SUVs pulling up there late at night occasionally, he said, but the word was that they were just rich businessmen, perhaps slightly shady business. And he said one other thing that was really strange. He said when children's balls got kicked over the wall of the compound, the bin Ladens, rather than let the children go in and retrieve the balls themselves, would give the children money and tell them just to go buy another ball. And he said that struck people there as strange, that the family didn't come out very much, they were very secretive.
But in this area, custom and tradition is you don't look in somebody else's compound. You don't -- you don't sort of invade their privacy, if you will, if you're not invited.
So there -- there's a real sense here that these were just rich people. And here you just leave your neighbors alone if they don't invite you in. And that seemed to be working for bin Laden with all the people we talked to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, a lot of our viewers will remember, on 9/11, you were in Afghanistan. You've been covering the war on terror from day one.
Were you surprised that bin Laden was hiding almost in plain sight in a major Pakistani city, about 60 miles or 100 kilometers outside of the capital of Islamabad?
ROBERTSON: I think it's incredible that he was able to get away with it so long. What it took to sustain him there, the food -- the -- the medicine, whatever the family needed in terms of medicine if the children got ill or one of the wives got ill, how they managed to pull that off for so long I find absolutely incredible. I can understand how the local people didn't figure out who it was, but this really was hiding in absolute plain sight. This is not an out of the way town. There's half a million people lived here. He was close to a military base. I find it very surprising -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nic, we're going to check back with you.
Nic Robertson is on the scene for us in Abbottabad, Pakistan. That's where bin Laden's compound was.
This warning today that the photographs of bin Laden's corpse, those photographs, White House officials say, are gruesome. The administration is debating whether to release any of the images today or in the future and whether that might inflame the al Qaeda leader's followers.
And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, Denis McDonough, the president's deputy national security adviser.
Denis, thanks very much for coming in.
DENIS MCDONOUGH, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
It's always really good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
We know you have pictures of a dead bin Laden.
Have you personally seen the picture of -- of bin Laden dead?
MCDONOUGH: I've seen different pictures here since Sunday, Wolf. I'm not sure that you and I are talking about the exact same ones. But I have seen those.
BLITZER: You've seen a picture of bin -- Osama bin Laden dead?
I mean I haven't seen any of those pictures, but I assume you have.
MCDONOUGH: That is correct.
BLITZER: Describe what -- if you release them -- I don't know if you are going to release them at this point, but describe in general what we would see.
MCDONOUGH: I'm not going to get into a description of the pictures, Wolf. I think it's pretty straightforward, which is that as consistent with all the published reports that you've seen and some of which you've published, he obviously met justice in a firefight on Sunday evening. And I think the pictures will reflect that.
BLITZER: Do you think the pictures will be released?
MCDONOUGH: I don't know. That's a question that's being worked through at the moment. I think it is important to note, Wolf, that over the course of the last 36 hours, we have made public a lot of very important details -- the DNA analysis, the facial recognition analysis, obviously, a lot of intelligence that went into supporting the -- the case against the compound, but also that came out of the operation itself.
So we'll make a determination as to whether it would be consistent with national security interests to add additional information to the -- to the public case, to make sure that would add to people's understanding of an already quite full picture of exactly what happened on Sunday.
But we'll make that determination in the coming days.
BLITZER: What's the down side of releasing the picture of bin Laden dead?
MCDONOUGH: Well, the down side is to add another image to a public -- an international public debate that is obviously, as you know, Wolf, quite volatile and quite subject to misuse and propagandization by our enemies.
So we're not going to add to the public record here anything that puts at risk our troops, puts at risk our intelligence personnel, puts at risk our diplomats or even private Americans overseas.
So those are exactly the ramifications we're considering. But it is important to keep in mind just how much we've added to the public record since Sunday.
BLITZER: It's a very, very sensitive decision and I know you guys are working on it.
Is there video or still pictures of bin Laden being buried at sea?
MCDONOUGH: I'm told there is, Wolf, but I don't know that for certain.
BLITZER: And are you thinking, also, about releasing that?
Is that a similar category?
MCDONOUGH: I think that -- those we'll make similar types of decisions about any such video that exists.
BLITZER: Was there video at -- I'm going to move on from the video -- but was there video of the actual operation unfolding?
In other words, the Navy SEALS, the other special operators who went inside and killed bin Laden, is there video of that, still pictures of that?
MCDONOUGH: You know, I am also under the impression that there is, Wolf, but that's not because of anything that I've seen or can confirm myself. But I am aware that there has been published reports suggesting that there is.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the treasure trove of information -- computer disks, hard drives, documents -- that you guys picked up at the compound in Pakistan.
How valuable is this information, based on your initial assessment? MCDONOUGH: Well, I'll leave that to the intel professionals to -- to get their assessment out of just how important it is. I think what the CIA director said earlier today is that he characterized it as impressive. I think it is probably going to be impressive. I think what's particularly impressive is not just the takeout of the site as a result of this operation, Wolf, but the unbelievably good work that went in on the intelligence side of this from the bin Laden team, from NSA, from NGA.
You know, the president had an opportunity, on a very grandular (ph) basis, to work with those guys every day, particularly the leaders of the bin Laden team, two very impressive guys. And the president came away very impressed. And it was their information that allowed him to make this gutsy call.
BLITZER: Well, you raise that issue, what about the enhanced interrogation techniques that were used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others at Guantanamo Bay?
Knowing now what you know now, were those techniques useful?
Did they provide some of the important information, inclu -- including the name of this courier who apparently played such a significant role in finding bin Laden?
MCDONOUGH: I think that's not right, in fact. And I think that, obviously, what's the real story here, Wolf, is the unbelievable work done by hundreds, if not thousands, of analysts over the course of the last 10 years piecing together very minute pieces of intelligence that allowed them to build this mosaic that empowered the president to make the decision that he made, a very gusty decision that he made against the compound the other day.
This whole idea about somehow whether EIT has played into that, I think, is just not consistent with the facts and, also, a little bit of a sideshow, as far as I'm concerned.
BLITZER: The EIT is the enhanced interrogation techniques, like waterboarding --
MCDONOUGH: That's correct.
BLITZER: So let's just end this.
You're not going to change the Obama administration's decision to -- to walk away from those kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques?
That's still history?
You're not planning on changing that, right?
MCDONOUGH: Oh, that's correct, Wolf. I think that what we've seen over the course of the last several years is unbelievably capable intelligence work by that team I talked about at the CIA, by the NGA, by the NSA, by many others in the intelligence community. And I think it is an unbelievable testament to their work, the decision that the president made the other day and the fact, obviously, that it was a successful operation.
BLITZER: Let's get to that iconic photo of you and others in the White House Situation Room. All of you were looking at a screen. And we're showing it to our viewers right now. We see you sitting in the blue shirt right behind the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. She's got her hand over her mouth. And we see the president really gazing.
That -- that's you right -- right there.
What were you looking at, at that moment, if you could recall?
MCDONOUGH: Well, I don't recall exactly, but we were getting pretty regular real time updates on the situation on the ground. And we were obviously in pretty constant contact with others in the inter- agency, as we were getting updates off the ground.
So I don't know exactly what people were looking at at that moment. But it was quite a team effort over the course of this. The president obviously leading that team. And throughout the course of the day on Sunday, they worked through a lot of difficult issues, with the president in the chair, driving that effort.
But it was also true, of course -- frankly, over the course of the last seven or eight, nine months, since this intelligence first came to light late last year -- or late last summer, Wolf.
So I think that what strikes me about the picture more than anything is the fact that it speaks to the teamwork that was emblematic of the broader teamwork from the IAC, the intelligence community, from the military, from our diplomats, to make sure that this happened in the successful way that it did.
BLITZER: What -- now when you say you were getting information in real time in the White House Situation Room, what does that mean?
Were you hearing audio?
Were you seeing video?
Describe what you were seeing during those nearly 40 minutes that this operation was going on.
MCDONOUGH: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to get into exact images or anything like that. But, as you know, with digitized information, you can get it in a lot of different forms -- e-mails, constant chatter and chats across the government. And then, obviously, with CIVIS (ph) capability to allow us to stay in touch with others in the interagency and around the world.
So there's a variety of different means -- audio, visual and updates otherwise. So there's getting a lot of important information to inform the decisions that the president and his principals in the war cabinet were making.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: All right, there's much more ahead on this interview the president's deputy national security adviser.
Later, I'll ask him why did the United States shoot -- shoot bin Laden if he wasn't armed?
The answer -- you'll be interested. That's coming up later, part two of the interview.
Plus, the real danger that Navy SEALS raiding bin Laden's compound could have been shot by America's own ally, Pakistan -- the risks and the controversy surrounding the secret mission into Pakistani airspace without permission.
Plus, the public looks at President Obama through new eyes, less than 48 hours after he announced bin Laden's death. Stand by for our new poll numbers. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: A picture of bin Laden's dead body is on Jack Cafferty's mind. Jack is here, he has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The White House has pictures of Osama bin Laden's body. We're not sure when or even if we will see them.
A senior U.S. official told CNN the White House got three sets of pictures yesterday; one set of bin Laden's body at a hanger in Afghanistan where it flown after he was killed, one set from bin Laden's burial at sea aboard the USS Carl Vinson, and one set from the raid in which he was killed showing the compound and several corpses, including one of his sons, but no pictures of bin Laden there at the scene where he was gunned down.
The tricky part for the White House is that the picture that includes the most recognizable image of bin Laden's face has been described as extremely gruesome and graph. It reportedly shows a massive open bullet wound across both of his eyes, very bloody, and not exactly acceptable for the front page of a family newspaper or a morning television show.
But whether to show it is a decision to be made by the newspaper editor or the morning show producer. Most Americans want to see the pictures. Fifty-six percent of Americans say the U.S. should release the picture of Osama bin Laden's body, according to a new CNN Opinion research Corporation poll, 39 percent say it should not be released.
The other consideration is whether releasing the photograph would further inflame Muslim extremists and members of al Qaeda. It probably would, but then how much madder can they get? Bin Laden is dead, gunned down in his house by United States Navy SEALs. Chances are they are probably already pretty steamed.
A final decision on the photographs has not been made but there's a growing consensus to release them and a decision, we're told, could come as early as today.
The question is this: Should the White House release a photo of Osama bin Laden's body?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: It's a good question, Jack. Thank you.
Growing questions over whether the use of the controversial enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding may have aided bin Laden's capture. Today the White House is pushing back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact is that no single piece of information led to the successful mission that occurred on Sunday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Gloria Borger is here, our senior political analyst.
A lot of folks called the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques torture. Do we know for sure whether any of those techniques like waterboarding did in fact lead to the discovery of --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, we don't. We know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, OK. But here is what we know about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he lied to the CIA.
They gave him the name of this courier who was known to them previously and he was kind of dismissive about this courier, implying that this person wasn't important.
The CIA, through other sources, knew that his career had been a protoge to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and so the lie, as one source said to me, was alerting to them.
So do we know whether any waterboarding at any point made Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lie to them? We don't know. We know that he lied.
So what you'll hear from the White House and what you'll hear from other administration officials is that there was no ah-ha moment after which he was waterboarded and spilled the beans on this courier.
This is a very complicated issue; there are arguments on both sides. But according to my sources, there is no way to say that waterboarding affected Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in this particular instance because, of course, he lied to them and it was the lie that gave the courier away. BLITZER: That's a good point you make. You know, Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, he says he has information, he's not revealing from where, that the enhanced interrogation techniques did in fact lead to the discovery of this courier.
BORGER: Well, that's not coming from my sources.
Look, this is an argument, and by the way, it's an argument that goes inside the CIA as well, but from what I know, it's impossible to know what led to this. And by the way, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lied.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the politics for a minute about the fallout. We have a brand-new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll that was done after everyone knew that bin Laden had been killed, and we asked how the folks thought that the president was doing on specific issues.
But look first at his overall job approval number. These are the specifics. Let's go to the other graphic first which shows that right now after we knew that bin Laden had been killed, his job approval number was at 52 percent. It only went up over the weekend before we knew about this from 51 percent a month ago or so, not even 48 percent. So he really did not get much of a bounce on this.
And here is why, now let's go to the other graphic and I'll show you why. He does get a nice bounce on how he's handling the issue of terrorism. Back in January, 60 percent approved, now 67 percent approve. On Afghanistan, 51 to 58 they now approve.
But look at issue number one, the economy. January, 45 percent said they approved of the job he's doing, it's now gone down to 42 percent. On the deficit, dealing with the deficit, it has gone down, it was low to begin with, 38 percent, and now only 35 percent approve of the way he's dealing with the deficit.
So it shows that he's not getting much of a bounce right now.
BORGER: When the concern in the country was post 9/11, are we safe, how can we make ourselves safer, the president probably would have gotten a huge bounce out of the capture of Osama bin Laden, and I bet his numbers will continue to go up the more people hear about the raid and how it was conducted and the president's decision making.
But people care, as you point out, right now about themselves, the economy, the jobless rate. So they are judging him by very different standard from which he would have judged a president post 9/11. So it's very clear that this is what is important to the American people now, which is their economic future.
BLITZER: And our viewers can go to CNNPolitics.com and they can see a whole bunch of other questions and poll numbers as well related to the death of bin Laden.
Gloria, thank you. New intelligence seized from bin Laden's compound. We're just getting it and we're going to tell you what U.S. officials are likely doing with all of that new intelligence, all of the computer disks, hard drives, documents. Stand by, you're going to want to hear this.
And now that bin Laden is dead, who are the next most wanted terrorists in the world? Could they also be in Pakistan?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: U.S. officials are driving home why the mission to get bin Laden had to stay top secret to the very end. CIA Chief Leon Panetta acknowledging fears that bin Laden would be tipped off if Pakistani officials knew about the raid in advance.
Today, the White House says it's working on its complicated relationship with Pakistan -- complicated, a direct quote -- but the death of bin Laden clearly is making that relationship even more complicated.
Lisa Sylvester is joining us now for more on this part of the story.
It's a very critically important relationship, but the White House is right, very complicated.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are walking that fine line. And you know, Wolf, this mission took place with surgical precision. The team left Jalalabad in Afghanistan and entered Pakistani air space without notifying or receiving permission from the Pakistani government. This was a risk because one of the concerns was that the Pakistani military not knowing about the operation in advance could have fired upon the Navy SEALs.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): The U.S. team entered into Pakistan's air space undetected using sophisticated technology and aided by the area's mountainous terrain. Only a small circle of people knew about the operation ahead of time; the government of Pakistan left completely in the dark.
JOHN BRENNAN, W.H. SENIOR ADVISER ON COUNTERTERRORISM: We made a decision early on not to share with any other foreign government, including Pakistan, because we wanted to make sure we maintained the operational security.
SYLVESTER: The mission has been universally called a success, but did the U.S. incursion violate international law and Pakistani sovereignty? Attorney General Eric Holder --
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the acts that we held were both lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way. The people who were responsible for that action, both in the decision making and the effecting of that decision, handled themselves, I think, quite well.
SYLVESTER: In an op-ed in "The Washington Post," Pakistan's president applauded the death of Osama bin Laden, but his government issued a statement expressing, quote, "deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorization."
Adding, quote, "such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometime constitute a threat to international peace and security."
The U.S. Government notified Pakistan after the operation had ended. David Caron is the president of the American Society of International Law, he says that while Pakistan may object to what happened, he doubts it will lodge any kind of formal complaint.
DAVID CARON, PRESIDENT, SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW: They are not raising it as a violation, just something that they are concerned about and that perhaps it makes sense in this case, but should not be taken as some sort of precedent in the future.
SYLVESTER: Now Pakistan's government cannot accept this type of unilateral action and that it should not serve as a president for future action by the United States or any other country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Success of presidents have made clear, if they have actionable intelligence where bin Laden is, I remember interviewing former President Bush, Pakistani sovereignty would have to suffer.
SYLVESTER: He did say that time and time again.
BLITZER: President Bush said it and President Obama before and after he became president made that clear as well. So should not have come as a surprise to the Pakistani government.
Thanks very much, Lisa.
We're also getting a fascinating window into the world of special operations and one of the most important secret U.S. missions ever.
Let's bring in CNN's national security contributor, Fran Townsend, and our national security analyst, Peter Bergen. We should note, Fran is a member of both the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security External Advisory Board.
Fran, let me start with you.
You've sent four helicopters over Pakistani airspace for a long time to get to this compound. How do you do it without Pakistani radar, Pakistani intelligence finding out what is going on?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Wolf, you remember when President Obama was asked about what support we were providing to the Libyan NATO mission? He said there were unique American capabilities. This would fall in that category, Wolf. It's all classified. But it is true. In Lisa's report, it's aided by the terrain, the mountainous terrain which breaks up the signal, is a huge advantage for the Special Operations community. But the technology they use obviously is classified.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this -- and if it's too classified, don't tell us. But we know there are stealth fighters and technology. Are there stealth helicopters?
TOWNSEND: A lot of the technology you're thinking about, Wolf, does apply. It applies all across aviation platforms. And so much of that technology is relevant to the helicopter platform.
BLITZER: Peter, you've studied terrorism now for a long time, al Qaeda. Now that bin Laden is dead, who's the number one terrorist in the world?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think there's a lot of number threes and number fours and number fives. I don't think there's any number ones. There's no one of bin Laden's -- no one has bin Laden's ability to lay out a narrative that a number of people sign up for. But Islam and the West are at war, a war led by the United States.
No one can kind of create that framing. Bin Laden organized a pan-global jihadist, terrorist organization, in addition to laying out this ideology. And there is just really no one who can do that. There are, of course, other dangerous people, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two in al Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, the guy from New Mexico who lives in Yemen who is playing an operational role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But, I mean, I think these people are relatively small fry compared to bin Laden.
BLITZER: What about the former leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Omar? What about him?
BERGEN: Mullah Omar has sort of been on ice for a long time. I mean, U.S. intelligence officials that I speak to say that he's either in Quetta, a town in southwest Pakistan, or in Karachi, or moving between both. Karachi, being a large city in southern Pakistan, though it's consensus in the U.S., the Intelligence Committee, that he's under the control of the Pakistanis.
Evidence for that is the fact that they were able to arrest Mullah Baradar, the number two in the Taliban, when they wanted to, and the time that he was doing sort of unilateral negotiations on peace reconciliation with the Afghan government. So he is not, I think, able -- he's not in operational control of the Taliban at the moment. He's not engaged in sort of attacks against the United States, other elements of the Pakistani Taliban, as we've seen with the Times Square plot of May 1, 2010, involving somebody trained by the Pakistani Taliban have been involved in plans for the United States. But Mullah Omar doesn't have much operational control of those elements. BLITZER: We've learned, Fran, that the Navy SEALs brought out of that compound in Pakistan a lot of documents, computer disk drives, hard drives. Talk a little bit about what the U.S. intelligence community is now doing with all of that information. Take us behind the scenes.
TOWNSEND: Sure. Well, Wolf, I think people would be surprised, because there was no connection to the Internet. People have questioned this notion that we seized computers. They didn't just seize computers, it was 10 computers -- five computers, 10 hard drives, and more than 100 DVDs and thumb drives and removable disks.
And so they put together a task force. Peter and I were in a briefing talking to a senior counterterrorism official. There is an interagency task force put together with more than a dozen people, Wolf, and that interagency task force is going through and they're doing a triage.
They're looking, first and foremost, for are there any immediate in-train (ph) threats to the United States or U.S. interests around the world? Because, of course, you would want to take that information and act on it immediately.
Second, they are looking to see some of the people that you and Peter were speaking of. Is there actionable intelligence to try and capture or kill any of the other al Qaeda leaders -- Ayman al- Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and the Taliban? Those sorts of folks, they are looking to see if there is actionable intelligence.
They use a bunch -- there's a couple of different ways you go about this, Wolf. You break the teams up into sort of the type of media that you're trying to exploit. If it's susceptible to running it against a program for keywords and terms, you do that. You load a dictionary and you bounce this data that you've collected against this computerized dictionary in order so that analysts can then focus their attention on the most likely important pieces.
After you go through this immediate triage, Wolf, they will spend weeks and months going through absolutely every document and every photo and every map and every picture that is contained in there to look at both what's in there and what may be hidden in there.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Fran, why would they not bring out the other individuals who were in this compound and bring them back to the United States for questioning? They were left behind. The Pakistanis, presumably, can question them.
TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. But when you go in here, you have a mission. And your mission is to capture or kill bin Laden and to get out safely, and you're trying to beat the clock here because Pakistanis don't know and they're going to put aviation assets in the air and potentially try and shoot at you. So it's a matter of priorities, Wolf. What they did was they put them to the side, they kept them safe while they destroyed the helicopter, and they left them in a safe place, unharmed when they left. BLITZER: You know, Peter, if it would have been me, I would have been greedy. I want it all. I would have taken those guys back and questioned, find out some more information, maybe not use enhanced interrogation techniques. But I don't know about you. How would you feel about that?
BERGEN: Well, you know, the United States -- this is just an observation, not necessarily my own opinion -- has actually been avoiding taking prisoners related to al Qaeda and other groups in the form of the drone campaign, which, after all, drones kill people. You can't interrogate dead people. And so this is a matter of policy.
The United States has moved away from imprisoning people which has the incidental side benefit for the Obama administration that you don't have people going into the legal morass of Guantanamo, and we've seen what a problem that is. So the U.S. government has moved away from taking prisoners that are related to al Qaeda just -- that's a fact.
BLITZER: Yes. And I suspect that U.S. officials are grateful. They say that bin Laden resisted, so they could kill him, as opposed to having to bring him back to Guantanamo, the headaches potentially that could have caused down the road.
Guys, we'll continue this conversation. Thank you.
It was a long and painstaking process to track down bin Laden's hideout and then plan this very risky mission to capture or kill him. U.S. officials are now revealing how they connected the dots coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- ours.
And the White House is trying to set the record straight about some key facts about bin Laden's death.
BLITZER: We'll get right back to our coverage of bin Laden's death in a moment. New information coming in. But I want to bring in Lisa Sylvester once again.
Some other important stories you're following right now. What else is going on?
SYLVESTER: Wolf, you know, the cockpit voice recorder from that Air France plane that mysteriously plunged into the Atlantic almost two years ago has been found. The announcement comes only hours after the recovery of the flight data recorder's memory unit.
Search teams located the tail section of the aircraft several weeks ago. Two hundred twenty-eight people were killed in that crash.
A series of dramatic blasts and bright lights over the skies of Missouri as the Army Corps of Engineers began blowing up a Mississippi River levee to reduce record flood levels and to spare the city of Cairo, Illinois. Officials took the corps to court over the controversial breach, which floods about 200 square miles of farmland. The corps says the procedure appears to be working.
And Prince Charles. He is here in Washington, D.C., just days after the wedding of his eldest son, Prince William, to Kate Middleton. The prince of Wales is expected to meet with President Obama during the three-day trip. He's also visiting the U.S. Supreme Court and making several agricultural-related stops.
This is his first trip to the United States since 2007. So maybe we'll see him around town.
BLITZER: Maybe he'll come visit us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You never know.
SYLVESTER: Let's send an invitation to him.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.
There have been conflicting reports about whether bin Laden shot back during the firefight at his compound. The White House is now trying to set the record straight. We've got new information. Stand by.
And the U.S. turned to its all-star team to carry out one of the most important secret missions ever. We're about to take you inside training for U.S. Navy SEALs.
BLITZER: The president and his national security team watched the raid on bin Laden's hideout with their own eyes, but some key facts about the operation apparently got confused in all the fog of combat.
Let's turn to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
Ed, the White House is now trying to set the record straight on precisely what happened in this dramatic operation. What is going on, first of all, with the release of the photo of a dead bin Laden?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what's very interesting is there is a big debate going on behind the scenes here at the White House right now. In fact, the president has been meeting in the Oval Office. He has a regular meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but along those lines, this is a big topic for him to discuss with the defense secretary.
Officials here say that Bob Gates is somebody who is very sensitive on these big issues and somebody the president can rely on for good advice. There are some officials here saying privately, look, why not just release this photo of bin Laden after he was killed by these Navy SEALs in the interest of transparency? It might leak out eventually anyway, let the government put it out on its own terms.
But there are others here saying in private, look, why release it? Nobody has come out with credible evidence suggesting that bin Laden is not dead. So you don't need to prove it, number one. And number two, we're told these photos are quite gruesome. They show bin Laden after he was shot in the head, and there are people here at the White House that wonder, is that really the kind of photo that we want to have kids seeing on the front page of newspapers in this country?
And that's what Jay Carney said they were wrestling with. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of this firefight, and we're making an evaluation about the need to do that because of the sensitivities involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now, beyond just the gruesome nature of the photos, the other sensitivity, of course, is internationally, and making sure that a photo like this does not inflame the Muslim world -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the conspiracy buffs out there, the conspiracy theorists, will always say that photo was Photoshopped to begin with. So they are not going to believe, no matter how good the picture is, they're not going to believe it.
The White House had an extraordinary development today. They are walking back some of the initial information that was provided yesterday about the nature of the operation. What changes are they making?
HENRY: Well, some of the big changes -- John Brennan, as you know, yesterday suggested that maybe bin Laden had a weapon. I mean, he hedged it, but he said maybe he had a weapon, or was reaching for a weapon, and that may have been why these Navy SEALs killed him rather than capture him.
Now the White House is saying, well, actually, it's clear that bin Laden did not have a weapon. They are also pulling back on what Brennan suggested yesterday when he said here in the briefing room that maybe bin Laden used one of his wives as a human shield. They are saying, no, actually, bin Laden's wife, who was there, survived and was not used as a human shield, and that there was another woman who was killed.
And so they are revising some of the details. They say that look, there is nothing nefarious here. That the bottom line is that this is the fog of war. And they're interviewing all of these Navy SEALs, and various people have different accounts. This was a fast and furious firefight, and it's probably not unusual that some of the accounts are going to be slightly different -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And there's probably going to be some more revisions in the days and weeks to come as well, as more information comes in. Appreciate it.
Ed Henry, at the White House.
Bin Laden's capture in Pakistan is leading some lawmakers to now ask, is it time to get out of Afghanistan? CNN goes "In Depth." That's coming up next.
BLITZER: After the death of bin Laden, CNN is now taking an in- depth look at the war in Afghanistan, a war that some U.S. lawmakers are now saying should end quickly.
Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is joining us now with some of the details.
Kate, what's going on here?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the death of Osama bin Laden has renewed the debate here on Capitol Hill, as well as elsewhere, about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It's also renewed the push by some liberal Democrats and some fiscal conservatives calling for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan altogether, and do that sooner rather than later.
North Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones and Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, they both have been long opposed to the war in Afghanistan. They are rolling out a bill come Thursday that would require the White House provide a concrete timeline and specific dates for the U.S. to pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. The administration now, their timeline is to begin the withdrawal in July and finish up in 2014.
I spoke with Congressman Jones earlier today about what he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden should mean for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERGEN: So, when you talk about the news of Osama bin Laden being killed, how does that change in your view as you are looking for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan? How do you think that changes the debate up here on Capitol Hill?
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, it should change the debate because we were saying that al Qaeda, bin Laden are responsible for 9/11, which is true. Where we have driven the al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and now bin Laden, who leaves al Qaeda, he is gone. So, therefore, what are we trying to achieve there? The Taliban have -- the Taliban we supported when they were fighting the Russians.
BOLDUAN: But some of your colleagues, including Speaker Boehner, even, saying just yesterday, they think an accelerated drawdown, an accelerated pullout would be a mistake, would be dangerous at this point. Speaker Boehner even said that this reinforces, this makes our mission in Afghanistan more important, not less.
JONES: I would say to the Speaker, what do you want to accomplish? You want Karzai to be your friend when he tells you half the time that he supports the enemy that's killing our kids?
I mean, my -- in fact, I have been very disappointed in my party, quite frankly, because why are we -- we are up here cutting Medicare, but we are spending $8 billion a month in Afghanistan, borrowing money. But, yet, we're saying to children and senior citizens in America, we can't help you. Well, it's ironic to me that you want to help Karzai remain in power in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Now, the bill that Jones and McGovern will be unveiling Thursday would require that President Obama provide a concrete timeline with specific dates that they will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and also provide regular updates and reports to Congress about how much the continued fight there is costing and how much they could be saving if they had accelerated the withdrawal.
Now, this is likely to be a tough sell up here, as well as with the White House. When the White House spokesperson was asked just today if the -- if bin Laden's death will impact the withdrawal and plans there, he said flatly no, that the withdrawal of troops will be based on conditions on the ground -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect though this legislation will get some momentum, especially as the congressman points out the enormous cost to U.S. taxpayers of maintaining those troops in Afghanistan.
BOLDUAN: That's what he is hoping.
BLITZER: About $2 billion a week, as he says.
All right. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is going to be back with your e-mail. And what U.S. Navy SEALs go through to be ready for a once-in-a-lifetime mission like the killing of bin Laden.
BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Should the White House release a photo of Osama bin Laden's body?
Tom writes from Florida, "I paid a trillion dollars to have bin Laden killed. To have the will of the American people overridden by the whims of radical Muslims would be a disgrace. Osama bin Laden deserves less than nothing. Publish the photos as testament to the will of the American people. We all saw the disgraceful images of 2,900 who died on 9/11 as Arabs cheered in the streets."
Bob in Missouri says, "Yes, release them. Let the rest of his minions see what their ultimate fate should be when justice comes calling. What goes around comes around."
Matt in Illinois, "No. He had his 10 years of fame. Let it be so as not to keep his name and image out there for him to be seen as some kind of a martyr."
Joe writes, "I would like to suggest a compromise. They ought to show the photos and videos to Senate and congressional leaders who can then report back to their constituents on their authenticity and hopefully squash any conspiracy theories."
Preston writes from Washington, "Remember the gruesome images the world endured on 9/11 of people jumping to their deaths from the twin towers? Those were some of the first images of 9/11 that started all of this. Go ahead and show his dead body and close the 9/11 chapter."
A.J. in Missouri says, "They released photos of the Hussein brothers after the firefight that led to their deaths. What's the problem? Osama bin Laden will end up a martyr in the radical Muslim world regardless of whether the photos are released or not."
Ghias writes, "I think they should, but they should take time before releasing anything. We are dealing with a world where our troops are still out there and most of those people are ignorant. Osama's supporters' emotion is running high now. What's the point of fueling it and putting our troops in additional danger?"
"We wanted bin Laden dead. He's dead. Mission accomplished."
And Tim in Florida says, "No. We don't need to convince anybody who will only claim that the photos are fake anyway. Don't be tricked into giving propaganda to the enemy for their recurring efforts. He is dead. Enough said."
You want to see more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.