The White House backtracks on Bin Laden
The White House has had to correct its facts about the killing of Bin Laden, and for some that has diminished the glow of success that has surrounded all those involved in the operation.
Bin Laden wasn't armed when he was shot. It raises suspicions that this was indeed a deliberate shoot-to-kill operation.
Here are the inaccuracies in the first version. The woman killed was not his wife. No woman was used as a human shield. And he was not armed.
The president's press secretary Jay Carney suggested this was the result of trying to provide a great deal of information in a great deal of haste.
I can largely accept that. There is no mileage in misleading people and then correcting yourself. But the president's assistant national security advisor John Brennan had used the facts he was giving out to add a moral message - this was the sort of man Bin Laden was, cowering behind his wife, using her as a shield. Nice narrative. Not true. In fact, according to Carney this unarmed woman tried to attack the heavily armed Navy Seal. In another circumstance that might even be described as brave.
Jay Carney said that Bin Laden didn't have to have a gun to be resisting. He said there was a great deal of resistance in general and a highly volatile fire fight. The latest version says Bin Laden's wife charged at the US commando and was shot in the leg, but not killed. The two brothers, the couriers and owners of the compound, and a woman were killed on the ground floor of the main building. This version doesn't mention Bin Laden's son, who also died.
By this count only three men, at the most, were armed. I do wonder how much fight they could put up against two helicopters' worth of Navy Seals.
Does any of this matter? Well, getting the fact right is always important. You can't make a judgment without them. We all make mistakes, and journalists hate doing so because it makes people trust us less. For those involved an operation like this, time must go past in a confused and noisy instant, and they aren't taking notes. Confusion is very understandable. But you start to wonder how much the facts are being massaged now, to gloss over the less appealing parts of the operation.
And of course there is the suspicion that the US never wanted to take Bin Laden alive. Here at least many see a trial as inconvenient, awkward - a chance for terrorists to grandstand. Look at all the fuss about the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
In the confusion of a raid it's hard to see how the Seals could be sure that Bin Laden wasn't armed, didn't have his finger on the trigger of a bomb, wasn't about to pull a nasty surprise. If he had his hands in the air shouting "don't shoot" he might have lived, but anything short of that seems to have ensured his death.
I suspect there will be more worry about this in Britain and Europe than in the US. That doesn't mean we are right or wrong. It is a cultural difference. We are less comfortable about frontier justice, less forgiving about even police shooting people who turn out to be unarmed, perhaps less inculcated with the Dirty Harry message that arresting villains is for wimps, and real justice grows from the barrel of a gun. Many in America won't be in the slightest bit bothered that a mass murderer got what was coming to him swiftly, whether he was trying to kill anyone in that instant or not.