The Day We Got Bin Laden

By Jefferson, David | Newsweek, September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Day We Got Bin Laden


Jefferson, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Jefferson

In their own words, the team in the Situation Room tells the story of America's ultimate act of vengeance.

It took 10 years, two wars, billions of dollars--and thousands of American lives. But finally, on May 1, 2011, the United States extracted sweet revenge for the deadly attacks on its soil. Cornered in the middle of the night in his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by a commando team of U.S. Navy SEALs, Osama bin Laden was finally brought down by bullets to the chest and head. Targeting Bin Laden, a new documentary airing Sept. 6 on the History channel, tells the story of the fight to find bin Laden, chronicling the anxiety surrounding the decision to raid the bin Laden compound and the tension in the White House as the men of Team Six carried out their life-or-death mission half a world away. Here, in their own words from the documentary, several of those who watched the drama unfold from inside the White House Situation Room recount the historic mission.

THE DECISION

Barack Obama: Some of our intelligence officers thought that it was only a 40 or 30 percent chance that bin Laden was in the compound. Others thought that it was as high as 80 or 90 percent. At the conclusion of a fairly lengthy discussion where everybody gave their assessments, I said, "This is basically 50-50-." It was circumstantial--we couldn't know for certain.

At the end of that meeting, which was fairly tense, I told folks I would sleep on it. And I would give an order in the morning. Ben Rhodes, deputy national-security adviser for strategic operations: We were all waiting with bated breath to get the final decision back from him.

John Brennan, assistant to the president for counter-terrorism and homeland security: The stakes were just too damn high.

Thomas Donilon, national-security adviser: He gathered us in a semicircle around him. And he said, "I've thought about the options. I've considered the decision and it's a go."

Obama: Even though I thought it was only 50-50 that bin Laden was there, I thought it was worth us taking a shot.

THE WAIT

Rhodes: I remember a feeling of trying to pass the time because these minutes felt like hours ... and you're really not in a state of excitement, but rather of extraordinary concern. …

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