WASHINGTON - (AP) - Osama bin Laden was unarmed when Navy SEALsburst into his room and shot him to death, the White House saidTuesday, a change in the official account that raised questionsabout whether the U.S. ever planned to capture the terrorist leaderalive. The Obama administration was still debating whether to releasegruesome images of bin Laden's corpse, balancing efforts todemonstrate to the world that he was dead against the risk that theimages could provoke further anti-U.S. sentiment. But CIA DirectorLeon Panetta said a photograph would be released. "I don't think there was any question that ultimately aphotograph would be presented to the public," Panetta said in aninterview with "NBC Nightly News." Asked again later by TheAssociated Press, he said, "I think it will." Asked about the final confrontation with bin Laden, Panettasaid: "I don't think he had a lot of time to say anything." TheCIA chief told PBS NewsHour, "It was a firefight going up thatcompound. ... I think it - this was all split-second action on thepart of the SEALs." Panetta said that bin Laden made "some threatening moves thatwere made that clearly represented a clear threat to our guys. Andthat's the reason they fired." The question of how to present bin Laden's death to the world isa difficult balancing act for the White House. President BarackObama told Americans that justice had been done, but the WhiteHouse also declared that bin Laden's body was treated respectfullyand sent to rest in a somber ceremony at sea. Panetta underscored on Tuesday that Obama had given permissionto kill the terror leader: "The authority here was to kill binLaden," he said. "And obviously, under the rules of engagement,if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn'tappear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were tocapture him. But they had full authority to kill him." For the long-term legacy of the most successful counterterrorismoperation in U.S. history, the fact that bin Laden was unarmed isunlikely to matter much to the Americans he declared war against.President George W. Bush famously said he wanted bin Laden "deador alive," and the CIA's top counterterrorism official oncepromised to bring bin Laden's head back on a stake. Yet just 24 hours before the White House acknowledged that binLaden had been unarmed, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser,John Brennan, said: "If we had the opportunity to take bin Ladenalive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involvedwere able and prepared to do that." Will it matter around the world? Some may try to make much of itin Pakistan and elsewhere. "This country has gone through a lot of trauma in terms ofviolence, and whether or not he was armed is not going to make adifference to people who were happy to see the back of him," saidMosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and columnist in Pakistan."The majority have a mistrust of America and this will reinforcetheir mistrust of America." Others may not even believe it. "I think he was definitely armed and he was firing on U.S.commandos," said Hamid Mir, an anchor for Geo Television. "Osamatold me many times that he will not surrender; he claimed that hewill fight and I think he was fighting." In Washington, the issue will become part of the politicaldebate over Obama's terror policies. His national security team hadoffered differing accounts of what would happen if the U.S. everhad a chance to kill or capture bin Laden. And Republicans havecriticized the president for shutting down the CIA's controversialnetwork of overseas prisons and trying to close Guantanamo Bay,moves they say have left the U.S. with few options forinterrogating terrorists. On Monday, the White House said bin Laden was involved in afirefight, which is why the SEALs killed rather than captured him.On Tuesday, however, White House press secretary Jay Carney saidbin Laden did not fire on the SEALs. He said bin Laden resisted butoffered no specifics. Bin Laden's wife rushed the SEALs when theystormed the room, Carney said, and was shot in the calf "Bin Laden was then shot and killed," Carney said. "He wasnot armed." That was one of many official details that have changed in thetwo days since bin Laden was killed. A White House transcriptmisidentified which of bin Laden's sons was killed - it was Khalid,not Hamza. Officials incorrectly said bin Laden's wife died ingunfire while serving as his human shield. That was actually binLaden's aide's wife, and she was just caught in cross fire, theWhite House said Tuesday. Carney attributed those discrepancies to the fog of war, sayingthe information was coming in bit by bit and was still beingreviewed.
U.S. holds photos of slain bin Laden, weighs release