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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
CIA Release of bin Laden Photo Likely; New Details of Raid on Bin Laden Compound
Aired May 3, 2011 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
We are live tonight from Ground Zero, where as you can hear behind me, the work of rebuilding continues even late into the tonight.
We begin tonight with breaking news, extraordinary new details on the mission that killed the world's more notorious terrorist. President Obama is going to be coming here to Ground Zero on Thursday to meet with 9/11 families. And we've just learned tonight that President George W. Bush will not be here with him; President Obama, it turns out, had invited the former president.
In a statement, President Bush's spokesperson says he appreciated the invitation, but chooses to remain largely out of the spotlight after his presidency.
Meanwhile, the story of Osama bin Laden's death is changing by the hour. And we have brand-new information tonight about what really happened when an elite team of Navy Seals stormed the compound where he was hiding out and had been hiding out, apparently, for years.
This is new exclusive video from inside Osama bin Laden's compound. You can see blood on the floor. The video was taken right after bin Laden was killed.
Also breaking tonight, the photos showing a dead bin Laden will probably be released. And you heard Piers just mentioned that, according to CIA Director Leon Panetta. But the White House has to make the final call. There's apparently at least one photo that clearly shows bin Laden's face with a massive open head wound across both eyes. Debate is raging over whether any of them should be put out. And we'll get into that coming up later tonight.
First, though, the details about the operation itself are changing. We know that bin Laden was not armed during the raid. Here's the latest on what we know right now.
COOPER (voice-over): Exclusive video obtained by CNN from inside Osama bin Laden's compound gives us a look at his life and the moments before his death. A littered hallway led outside to a garden, with land sectioned off for plants or vegetables. This video from Pakistan's Geo TV shows a pair of slippers, a bookshelf full of books, a woman's passport and blood stains on the floor, evidence of a sequestered life behind the compound walls, which ended in a bloody fire fight after a team of Navy SEALs entered the compound.
There's also new information about the raid itself, the White House saying today there were actually two buildings on the bin Laden compound and the U.S. special operations SEAL teams split up to cover both of them.
A fire fight on the first floor of the building where bin Laden lived left two al Qaeda couriers dead, along with an unidentified woman who was caught in the crossfire.
The SEAL team then moved up room by room to the second and third floors. They found the room where bin Laden was hiding and here's another place where the story changes from some of the initial reports. It seems bin Laden was not using a woman as a human shield, but a woman believed to be his wife did charge one of the Navy SEALs. She was shot in the leg, but not killed.
Also new, bin Laden was found unarmed. Even so, officials say he was resisting, so Special Forces shot him once in the head and once in the chest, killing him.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We were prepared to capture him, if that was possible. We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance.
COOPER: During the fighting, U.S. forces also killed one of bin Laden's sons. It's unclear if one of the couriers, who was killed was the man key to the hunt who U.S. officials have been tracking since 2007. Diplomatic sources tell CNN the courier was a Kuwaiti named Abu Ahmad.
CBS News reports that Ahmad would routinely turn his cell phone off whenever he was close to the Abbottabad compound, which is why it took them so long to find it.
JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I can tell you that the intelligence was acquired over the last nine years or so, and there was some painstaking work done by some very, very dedicated analysts who were putting together the pieces of information.
COOPER: Officials are now giving specifics on information recovered from the compound as well -- 10 hard drives, they say, five computers, and over 100 disks, DVDs and thumb drives were confiscated.
BRENNAN: A lot of that is currently being exploited and reviewed. What we're most interested in is seeing if we can get any insight into any terrorist plot that might be under way, so that we can take the measures to stop any type of attack planning.
COOPER: Questions still remain over who might have known bin Laden was holed up in this compound. A senior Pakistani intelligence official telling CNN they were embarrassed they failed to locate bin Laden.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we have to know whether they knew, if the Pakistanis knew. If they didn't know, why didn't they know? Why didn't they pay more attention to it?
COOPER: Neighbors in Abbottabad say they were stunned to learn bin Laden had been living amongst them. One neighbor told CNN that local kids who kicked a ball into the walled compound were not allowed on the grounds to retrieve it and were instead given money for the ball.
The walled compound now sits empty, closed off to the public. The world's most wanted terrorist lived quietly behind these walls, but all that ended after a 40-minute capture-or-kill operation, the end of the hunt for bin Laden.
COOPER: A lot of new details tonight.
Joining us live from Washington is senior White House correspondent Ed Henry; also John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA"; and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
Ed, you're getting some breaking news out of the White House now regarding President Obama's visit here to Ground Zero. Why isn't former President George W. Bush going to come with him?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I spoke tonight to an aide to former President Bush who says he did get an invite to join President Obama Thursday, but in keeping with what President Bush has been doing in his post-presidency life, he wants to stay out of the spotlight.
And he said -- the staffer said, look, he's celebrating with all Americans right now in what he called -- quote -- "an important victory on the war of terror," a phrase this White House, as you know, does not use. And an aide to President Obama told me, look, the invite was extended and we understand that President Bush is staying out of the spotlight. No harm here and no foul.
But let's face it. President Obama on Sunday night said this was an occasion for both parties to come together, that it was time to do some healing, et cetera. There's got to be some disappointment in the White House tonight that both sides here are not coming together.
And there's politics out there. Let's face it, the fact of the matter is, an election is coming up. There have been Republicans beating up on this president in recent days for not thanking former President Bush in his remarks on Sunday night for years of trying to chase down bin Laden.
There are some raw feelings out there. And it kind of reminds me of what happened after Tucson, when a lot of people were saying after that terrible tragedy, both parties are going to put their arms down, they're going to come together, the rhetoric -- the rhetoric won't be so tough. And we may say here -- see here, after some time passes, that we may go right back to where we were before -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, there's no doubt that we're going to go back where we were before, unfortunately. But it's sad that it may be happening so quickly.
John King, what do you make of the changes to the official version of what happened inside that compound to Osama bin Laden? The White House now saying in fact he was not armed, so that the idea that he was shooting in a fire fight was not true, as initially they indicated. And the idea that there was a woman used as a human shield, which, frankly, I think we cast doubt on yesterday, because it did seem a little too convenient or a kind of narrative that was used -- that might be used to put Osama bin Laden -- to kind of destroy his reputation among those who still follow him.
What do you make of these changes?
JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Well, they don't surprise me, number one.
The question is, how important are the details going forward? If you go back to the morning of 9/11, if you go back to the Tucson shooting Ed Henry just mentioned, if you go back to most terrific accidents in the United States, Anderson, the initial witness reports almost always turn out to be not exactly correct.
In this case, you're talking about what the military would call the fog of war, adrenaline from the SEALs, some video feed and audio feeds back to the CIA and back to the White House Situation Room.
But as the SEALs then are debriefed after the mission, it is inevitable that some of the details are going to change. Now, the important detail that has changed today is that Osama bin Laden was not armed. I spoke to several former Navy SEALs today. They say, in the chaos of such an operation, if he moved at all, it is no surprise at all that the SEAL chose the option of shooting him.
The question is how does this now play out on the Arab street? How does this now play out with al Qaeda sympathizers around the world? Do they try to use the fact that bin Laden was not armed as a propaganda tool? That is one of the calculations and the factors at the White House tonight, as it debates whether to release the photos, as it studies the evidence it sees from the compound, and as it listens, importantly, to all of the intelligence chatter around the world to see what is being said by terrorist cells around the world about the possibility of retaliatory strikes.
COOPER: And Gloria, CIA Director Leon Panetta says he has no doubt that a photo of bin Laden's corpse will be released eventually. He says final decision, though is up to the -- to the White House. There's a lot of different schools of thought about whether this should be released or not.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's, of course, up to the White House, but I was told today by a senior administration official that -- that the national security team will be a large part of deciding what to do with the pictures of Osama bin Laden.
I spoke with a senior administration official who is clearly opposed to releasing the pictures. And he said to me, look, it's obvious, it's got to be obvious to the world that we got Osama bin Laden. And if the point is to have some shock value out there or just gloat, why do it?
The flip side to that is that there are the doubters out there, and that perhaps there's some reason to put that to rest. And also there's also -- there's the question of whether these photographs will, in fact, leak on their own.
We know that some people on the Hill have been shown some of these photographs. When things like that happen, you know, they -- they tend to get out. So, wouldn't the White House rather control it, rather than have it leaked and not on their watch?
COOPER: Ed, what are you hearing out of the White House about these pictures? I'm also curious, is there video of the actual raid that that they may release at some point?
HENRY: Well, they could release that at some point. There has to be -- based on other signals we've gotten from senior officials, there was some sort of a live video feed, at least a component -- that was coming into the White House Situation Room, coming in to the CIA as they monitored that.
Just based on the official White House photos that were released in the last 24 hours showing President Obama looking very concerned, grim as this played out, he was looking at something. Officials are being coy about exactly how it was happening in real time and exactly what he was seeing, but you would presume that the U.S. military has some kind of video.
They would probably keep that under wraps as long as they can, though, simply for what John and Gloria have been referring to, the kind of methods that they use, the kind of classified nature of how they go about all this. Well, we know the broad outlines. There's a lot of specific details we do not know, and also the identities of these Navy SEALs, who obviously already are now targets from al Qaeda and whatnot. They're going to be extra careful with a video like that.
COOPER: And John, any more word on Pakistan's response to all of this and any explanation from them about how it's possible that Osama bin Laden could have been living in this house for years?
KING: This is a fascinating dynamic going forward. Senator Charles Schumer of New York telling me tonight he considers them a half- partner in the war on terrorism.
Anderson, the fact that Leon Panetta told "Time" magazine today flat out, we didn't tell the Pakistanis because we didn't trust that they wouldn't tip bin Laden off is stunning. This is a country on which we need their help in counterterrorism efforts. We need their help in enforcing along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It's a nuclear nation that has tensions with India.
It is incredibly important, terrorism issue aside, in that part of the world. And yet you have clearly now a total lack of trust: president to president, security services to security services, military to military. The ramifications of that could be quite dangerous, which is -- which is why the administration is saying, as mad as it is, it believes at least in the short term, you have to continue the funding.
COOPER: Right. And billions of dollars is what we're talking about.
Ed Henry, I appreciate it. John King, Gloria Borger, thank you.
Let us know what you think at home. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper.
Coming up: inside bin Laden's compound; CNN's Nic Robertson has been in Abbottabad with an up-close look at where bin Laden lived and died and the people who live nearby, who apparently never knew their neighbor was the most wanted terrorist in the world. We'll take you to the scene.
And later, did some of the information that led to bin Laden's death come from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? And if so, was it a result of waterboarding?
I'll talk with former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here on the streets of Pakistan, the reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden is pretty muted. There are no jubilations, no outpouring of anger either. Instead, there's a sense of complete disbelief. Many people here don't believe he's dead. They want to see evidence, pictures that he has indeed been killed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If you claim to kill a person who does not exist, then it's like a fake movie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I believe this is all fake. He's alive. Wherever he is, he's alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is a big lie. If Osama bin Laden was there, how could he be living next to a military base?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, questions from some people in Pakistan about whether Osama bin Laden is really even dead. These are pictures from inside the compound where he was killed, CNN exclusive video.
The skepticism in Pakistan stems from how unlikely it seems bin Laden could have been living at this compound for years without anyone knowing about it, even the people who live nearby or the authorities. Apparently, that's exactly what happened.
Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson talked to some of the neighbors and got an up-close look at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Take a look.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It's just across the fields here, about 100 yards away. There is already a big crowd of people gathering around there. I can see some soldiers. There's one soldier walking in across the field.
But when you look at this building, look at it there, it's different from all the other buildings around it. It's taller. And it's got a higher wall. The compound starts right here. You can see how high the wall is.
Look at this. Ok. I'm 6 foot. My arms may be another two feet. And that gives you an idea of just how tall the wall is. Of course, there is razor wire at the top of it as well. And if you come back over here, come and stand up over here, we can take a look here.
And you can get to see the high part of the compound building here. It was up there on the second and third floor where bin Laden was killed, two shots, one to the head, one to the chest.
Well, it's becoming already a tourist attraction in of itself. I mean, look at the all the people that are gathered here right now. People got have their cell phones out, taking pictures, professional journalists down here, but a lot of people just coming to take a look.
And the door here -- soldiers guarding the door.
Salaam alaikum. How are you?
You see the doors are sealed, these pink labels here and here. No, no, no. They are sealing the doors to the compound.
(voice-over): Behind the doors, blood on the floor. This video was taken just after the fight finished. Now all that damage is off limits.
(on camera): As you walk around the compound, there is nothing to give away that the world's most wanted terrorist was living inside here, but this is incredibly ironic, painted on the outside, an advert for a girls college on the wall of the compound where the world's most wanted terrorist lived.
But think about it. More than that, this man, Osama bin Laden, denied women access to education. His view of Islam denied women the opportunity to progress in life. And here it is on the outside of the place he was hiding, an advert for girls to get an education.
Looking in, you can see it's -- all the mud is churned up, but I can see the building as well. And there is very little damage that I can actually see even -- even squinting in and taking a look from here. The building is just up there and I can't see any signs of heavy explosions or even sort of pockmarks from gunfire. He couldn't have been hiding in any more plain sight than this; around three sides of the compound, a farmer's fields, cabbages down here, potatoes back there, marijuana plants right up to the side of the compound, plain sight. The farmers were working these fields and he was just over the wall.
Are you surprised now to know who it was that was there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am surprised. I am never know that it was Osama bin Laden or any other people. I know today, the before, one day before.
ROBERTSON: Are you happy that he has been killed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am happy because the peace is very important for us.
ROBERTSON: The lasting impression I have of bin Laden's compound here is how little damage there is, how few bullet marks we can see and shell blasts. It's clear the main battle took place right inside there.
COOPER: We are waiting to hear from the White House about whether pictures of bin Laden's dead body will be released. As we mentioned, CIA Director Leon Panetta said today he thinks photos will be released. The White House needs to make the final call.
Here's what Panetta told Katie Couric on "The CBS Evening News" tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I'm sure the concern is that just the nature of the photos themselves are such that it could, in fact, be used to try to develop the revengeful nature of what al Qaeda is all about and try to inspire them to take even further action against us. And I think that's -- that's the concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, at least one photo is said to be very graphic, very gruesome. And not everyone is convinced the photos should be released.
Joining me here at Ground Zero, New York writer Philip Gourevitch; he writes for "The New Yorker." He is also the co-author of "The Ballad of Abu Ghraib"; and in Washington, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen joins me.
So, Philip, I read your article in "The New Yorker" online today. You don't believe the photos should be released. Why?
PHILIP GOUREVITCH, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I don't think that they should be released immediately.
I should say that I assume that they will come out. But to make it an official White House release, when you put out photographs like that of the violence that you have done, it's an image how you're projecting your force.
And one of the things about this raid is that it took us from this whole period of cowboy swagger, we're going to get them, we're going to smoke him out, but then bumbling or not managing to do it, to a place where a very cool, very effective operation was done, that was gruesome, that was hard. It was cold. It was relentless. But it was managed without swagger and it was managed without gloating.
And it doesn't seem to me that anybody can give a real positive advantage to putting these photographs out there at this point. They will rile a lot of people up, and it seems to me that there's no great merit in our taking this and saying, this is what we want you to see. It will eclipse -- a photograph like that eclipses.
COOPER: And you were saying that the narrative or kind of the image people now have in their mind is the celebration outside the White House or the celebration at Ground Zero. And if the photo is released, that will change?
GOUREVITCH: Not so much. What struck me about those celebrations, which I thought were quite unseemly in some ways at the time of somebody's death, at the same time, what struck me is they didn't have a kind of blood lust quality to them.
They seemed to be a kind of expression -- to my surprise, once one started listening to the people, they were holding signs saying, "Can we have peace now? Can we stop being afraid now? Is this over a little bit more now? Can we move on a little bit now?"
And that's very different. And it seems to me that what happens when you put those photographs out is that's what is going to have in our -- is going to be the total story. And we're now being told, well, you know, a lot of people doubt that he's even dead and seeing is believing.
But that's really not true. We know that believing is believing. You look at what happened with the birth certificate. People will believe what they want to believe. And it's been enough time now that anybody who wants to can say, oh, that's PhotoShopped; that's a propaganda trick.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, you disagree. You believe these photos should be released. Why?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think what Mr. Gourevitch says all makes a lot sense.
But I think kind of the objections to it are, one, the photographs exist and it's widely -- now widely known, which raises the question, why aren't we releasing them, if we don't? Two, there are conspiracy theories around the world about all sorts of things. And of course, some people will never be persuaded.
But there are people on the fence who, shown photographic evidence, are going to say, ok, well, Osama bin Laden is dead. And, finally, you know, releasing the photographs, there's a lingering sort of heroism or regard for bin Laden in some parts of the world. And I think to show him actually dead I think will puncture what remains of his heroic glow, and would be useful.
And, after all, we have released pictures of people that we have killed -- the United States has killed in the past. Two -- three that leap to mind are the two sons of Saddam Hussein and also Abu Musab al Zarqawi. And we released them without incident in Iraq. And, of course, Abu Musab al Zarqawi was the leader of arguably the most violent of all the al Qaeda affiliates.
COOPER: A new poll said 56 percent of Americans say they would like to see these photos released. But do you think it will increase anger toward the United States?
GOUREVITCH: I am incapable of measuring that. I know that the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs did. And that's a very different case, because there a public service was being performed by journalists who said, here is information we don't have that is being suppressed, that these photographs tell us a story about ourselves and what we are doing. And those photographs came out.
But one of the things that's important is, very quickly, those photographs distracted us from the underlying story that they revealed, which was the story of a policy of prisoner abuse and prisoner torture in American prisons during the war on terror.
And, instead, we started to look only at what was in the frame. And I think that one of the real risks is, yes, it will -- it will inflame people. I don't see how not releasing them will inflame anybody.
COOPER: What about -- what about if there's pictures of the burial at sea? Would you recommend those be released?
GOUREVITCH: I have no problem with that. And, as I say, I assume these pictures will come out. I don't see the merit at this moment in changing the tone of the official story to show that and to say, this is what we want you to see.
I mean, what I couldn't help thinking is, yes, we have released such pictures in the past. They haven't changed the belief system of those who are our most sworn enemies. And they haven't really altered the picture. But it becomes the story that you're telling.
GOUREVITCH: It's not -- it's not that I'm for in any way hiding that a gruesome killing took place or that this happened. It happened. We know that it happened. It's out there, but I think, is this what we want now to be so focused on. COOPER: Right.
GOUREVITCH: Look at how much we are talking about it even before we have seen it.
Peter, do you worry, though, if they're released? Do you have any concerns about it inflaming anger toward the United States or Europe?
BERGEN: Well, I mean, I think that's a legitimate concern.
I mean, the nearest analog that I can think of -- and it's not an exact one -- is the release that the United States made of Saddam Hussein after his capture. And the pictures of him having his head searched for lice did a tremendous amount to kind of puncture his mythic persona in Iraq.
And so, you know, you have got to balance several different things here. There might be a public good in finally putting the nail into the coffin of bin Laden's sort of heroic image. After all, these pictures will show him dead. Sure, he will be a martyr to some, but martyrs are, by definition, dead people and less effective than alive people. And just proving that to the kind of naysayers and conspiracists around the globe may be useful.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, I appreciate your time.
Philip Gourevitch, I appreciate you being on the program. Thank you. I'm a big fan of your writing.
COOPER: Still ahead tonight; the courier who led the U.S. to Osama bin Laden, unknowingly, was a protege of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Did Mohammed give up the first (AUDIO GAP)
COOPER: Well, tonight, we know a new name in the war on terror: Abu Ahmad. He's the courier who U.S. officials say eventually led them to Osama bin Laden. Ahmad was a protege of this man, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Who can forget the picture taken after his capture in 2003 during a raid in Pakistan?
U.S. officials say they didn't learn about Abu Ahmad's identity until 2007. They say the long path to him began with a nickname given up by post-9/11 detainees during interrogations. They haven't said exactly who gave up the information or what it took to get it out of them.
The House Homeland Security chairman, Peter King, a New York Republican, said this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: I've spoken to people who are very close to the situation who said initial information came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded, directly relating to the courier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you describe your source? Is it somebody in the CIA?
KING: Somebody who was, somebody who's very familiar with what happened at the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Those interrogations were conducted during the Bush administration and today former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shot down the idea that waterboarding was used.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY (via phone): The United States Department of Defense did not do waterboarding for interrogation purposes to anyone.
And it is true, as I understand it, that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches in Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment, and it was not waterboarding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining me now is Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense for President Bush and former president of the World Bank. He's currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Secretary Wolfowitz, I apologize for the noise. I'm at Ground Zero, where thankfully, construction is going on all night long. So that's what the jack-hammering is behind me.
You said this operation rested heavily on some of the more controversial policies of the Bush administration, like Guantanamo. Does that include what, in the Bush administration, they used to call enhanced interrogation techniques?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: No, that's not the exact quote. What I said -- and I think this is a fact -- is that we -- despite all the fancy, technical intelligence that we have and it's quite impressive and the things that we can photograph in space, and the messages we can intercept; at the end of the day, a lot of the most valuable intelligence is what's in people's heads. And in particular, in the heads of enemies that we have captured, and that includes people we've detained at Guantanamo.
I -- remember, I've been out of government for a long time, and even when I was there, there was a very big difference between what was done in the Defense Department and what was done in special circumstances by the CIA.
But I think one thing that seems rather clear in this case is that information from detainees was critical, that it took many years to develop that information into something that was actually actionable. But how we got that information is something I certainly don't know. It would be interesting to learn at some point, but I don't think it's the critical fact.
COOPER: I mean what Secretary Rumsfeld was saying about no -- he was careful to say no member of the Defense Department was waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Obviously, there are other groups who could have been: the CIA, other groups, as well.
But do you think President Obama, though, deserves the credit he's been getting for this? Or do you give the credit to the Bush administration or both?
WOLFOWITZ: Look, I think President Obama deserves enormous credit. It was a tough decision. It landed on his desk. As Harry Truman famously said, "The buck stops here."
There were risks in this operation. Americans could have been killed. It might have been that nobody was there. It might have been that we would have a terrible rupture in relations with Pakistan. I imagine there were people arguing both sides of it.
He made the call. It turns out that it was the right call. I think he gets the credit for it. He certainly would have gotten an enormous amount of criticism if it had gone bad.
But let's also be clear: this didn't start yesterday; it didn't start in 2009. It is the product of a long process of pursuing Osama bin Laden that started under President Bush and continued under President Obama.
And I think President Obama struck the right note in saying this is a time to come together, particularly in this fight against terrorism.
COOPER: Given the remarkable changes we're seeing throughout the Middle East, the uprisings throughout -- in a number of countries: in Egypt, in Yemen, in Libya -- each country very different, obviously. But given that, and given the death of Osama bin Laden, do you think al Qaeda has been dealt a death blow?
WOLFOWITZ: Death blow I think is too strong to keep that metaphor. Creatures like this have a way of coming back from the grave. But certainly, they've been severely damaged.
I think it is so striking that this man, who sent other people to commit suicide to kill innocent people, was caught in hiding while we have brave civilians in Libya who are risking their lives, not to kill people but to set people free.
On one of bin Laden's Web sites at one point some years ago, I remember hearing that someone -- one of his followers had written, "The danger of democracy is that people will come to love life too much and fear death and be afraid to perform jihad."
People like bin Laden don't understand that there are people who love life but who love freedom enough to risk their lives for freedom. And what we're seeing now is that there are thousands, indeed millions of Arabs who feel that way. And I think that's a remarkable development.
COOPER: We're waiting to see if the White House is going to release a photo of bin Laden after his death. Do you think they should?
WOLFOWITZ: No. This is another one of those things that you can argue both sides of it and that somebody at a pretty high level has to make a decision. I guess it seems to me that probably it's inevitable they'll be released at some point. So it may be better to get it done with.
COOPER: Secretary Wolfowitz, where were you when you heard the news, and what was your immediate thought?
WOLFOWITZ: Well, first news I heard was the President is going to make some big announcement. And my first thought was, "Uh-oh, maybe something bad has happened." And then it occurred to me, well, wait a minute. If it's good news, what could it be? And I immediately thought what it was, that he was either killed or captured.
And it's a very big deal. And I think it's not surprising that the whole country, indeed the whole world has been electrified by it.
COOPER: Yes. Secretary Wolfowitz, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
WOLFOWITZ: Thank you.
COOPER: The elite team -- the elite team of Navy SEALs that stormed bin Laden's compound, we're learning a lot more about them. It's not just Navy SEALs; it's the Navy SEAL Team Six, what they used to call them. We'll talk to a former member of the Navy SEAL Team Six who tells us what it was like to be part of the elite of the elite.
And later, remembering the victims of 9/11 right here at Ground Zero.
COOPER: And welcome back.
We're coming to you live from Ground Zero. A remarkable vantage point we have from the penthouse of the World Center Hotel, which is right on Washington Street overlooking Ground Zero.
If you come and stay at this hotel, there's just a remarkable view of the construction, which you can hear going on right now, even at this late hour, and it goes well into the night. They're busy trying to rebuild the number of buildings at Ground Zero.
About two dozen Navy SEAL commandos were involved in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. All, of course, were members of SEAL Team Six, which is a very secret branch of the SEAL team. They trained extensively for the high-profile mission, we learned. We have new details on that tonight.
Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence joins me now. Chris, you recently got new information about the planning behind -- behind this operation.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. The team that eventually went in there and killed Osama bin Laden, for a time during their training, they didn't know who their target was. It only was until later in the training process that they found out that the man they were going to be going after was Osama bin Laden.
We've also learned that, at some point in the training, they did go through a scenario in which Osama bin Laden would simply throw up his hands and surrender to them on the spot. U.S. officials, of course, say he did not.
And we're also learning that during this, they practiced on a mock-up, a replica of that compound that was so detailed. I'm told they knew exactly where every window was, every gate. They knew the height of every wall.
And they had been through this mock-up so many times under so many different scenarios that by the time they actually carried Osama bin Laden's body out of that compound, they knew exactly how many steps it would take to get to the helicopter waiting outside.
COOPER: I mean there are a lot of elite units that the U.S. has under the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC. There's Delta Force, there's other super-secret units. Why did they pick this one?
LAWRENCE: Anderson, an official told me basically the White House left the selection of the actual team up to the military. And basically, he said the question that we asked ourselves was how much force do we need for this mission? They looked at a lot of scenarios and said, "Look, this mission to storm this compound, how kinetic could it be?"
And they said well, a 12-man Green Beret outfit team, it's very stealthy and small, but it might be too small to storm a compound this size. Whereas we knew we didn't need an entire battalion of Army Rangers.
He said this naval special warfare development group, Dev Group, that's the name they call SEAL Team Six now. He said this group was available because, you know, you've got a lot of Special Ops forces that are currently engaged in operations. And they had just the right size and capability to complete this particular mission -- Anderson.
COOPER: I don't know -- I don't know if this is a secret, and if you can say or can't, but do we know how many members actually took part in this operation? Because I've seen different numbers.
LAWRENCE: Yes. We've seen everything from -- a normal platoon would be about 40, Anderson. We've seen the number at about two dozen. That could be a breakdown into how many people were actually dropped on the ground and how many were up in the air.
Another key point we found out was they were originally all supposed to fast-drop down those ropes into the compound, but when one of the helicopters had mechanical trouble and had to land, that made the other helicopter have to land, too, and they had to scramble the plan immediately right on the spot. So the SEALs were scrambling out of the helicopters instead of coming down that rope.
COOPER: All right, Chris. Thanks very much.
Becoming a SEAL is obviously incredibly difficult. Even more difficult: making the cut for SEAL Team Six; the vast majority who try fail. We talked to a man, Howard Watson; he made the cut. He's the author of "SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper." I talked to him earlier about what it takes to do the job.
COOPER: So Howard, when you heard that Navy SEALs were involved in this, you instantly knew that it would be Navy SEAL Team Six?
HOWARD WATSON, AUTHOR, "SEAL TEAM SIX": I highly suspected it.
WATSON: This is their type of op. An extremist op, close-quarters battle which is what SEAL Team Six is best in.
COOPER: What's the difference between Navy SEAL Team Six and other Navy SEAL Teams?
WATSON: All SEALs are special. Let me say that. When you go to SEAL Team Six, you develop another unique skill set. Close-quarters battle, as I mentioned. The -- you take that to the next level; the breaching, the runs in the kill house.
COOPER: When you say breaching, you mean --
WATSON: Breaching the doors to get in.
WATSON: The demolitions, explosives, mechanical breaching. Just basically being able to get into anywhere, fight your way up multi- levels, down multi-levels and clear a building and get out.
So when I -- when I heard that, there was no doubt in my military mind it was SEAL Team Six.
COOPER: And it's handpicked from other SEAL Teams. I mean, you get into the SEALs first, and then they select from various SEAL teams people for SEAL Team Six?
WATSON: That's exactly right. I was with SEAL Team Two. After Desert Storm, I put in my application to SEAL Team Six. You go in front of a review board, and they evaluate you, ask you questions. And then you go to Six but you're still not there to stay.
You go through what's called a Green Team. It's a selection course. You go through a Green Team, and when you make it through that, which is more highly intensified training then you actually get to become a SEAL Team Six member.
COOPER: How tough is the training? It's got to --
WATSON: Well, we have a saying on the team, "You don't have to be crazy, but it helps." It's -- it's tough. I mean, physically -- physically tough is one thing, but it's mentally tough, day in and day out grind. It's tough on your family, your personal life. But you know, it's something you've got to want. It's a desire to be a member of something very special, and that's our motto, someone special.
COOPER: And the fact that so few people know about it, do you guys take pride in that, in that sort of doing your jobs without recognition from a larger public?
WATSON: Sure. Nobody does it for the accolades or whatever. I think a lot of people know about SEAL Team Six or I wouldn't have written my book.
COOPER: I found it interesting even in your book, you have pictures of all, you know, your brothers in arms, but you have to black out all their faces.
WATSON: Sure. I don't know if some of them are still active or whatever. And I'm not going to give them up, their faces or whatever. So that's why I did that.
COOPER: All right.
What -- what was the hardest part about being in the SEALs?
WATSON: Being able to try to manage time between two masters, between family and life and, you know, the SEAL Team that you belong to, which you can be called out on in a minute's notice and be gone for months at a time.
COOPER: Thank you so much. We appreciate it.
WATSON: God bless our troops.
COOPER: God bless them, indeed. Coming up, we'll have more on the operation against bin Laden. Stay tuned.
COOPER: Normally we end our broadcast with our "RidicuList", something to kind of make you smile before going to bed, but it didn't seem appropriate this week. So tonight, just a personal thought as we end.
It's understandable that in the hours with Osama bin Laden's killing there would be so much talk about him, so much coverage. After nearly ten years of waiting, ten years of imagining where he was, what his life was like, wondering if he would strike again, it is a relief to know he's gone. It's like inhaling after holding one's breath for a painfully long time. We all want to hear as much detail as we can, and that's natural and understandable. Someday, however, in the not too distant future, I hope we no longer give bin Laden the satisfaction of ever speaking his name or even remembering him in our nightmares.
I keep thinking of him now, buried at sea, wrapped in a white cloth in a weighted bag, slid into the icy ocean. They say it was done according to Islamic tradition. That upset some people and I understand why.
But the message it sends is that we are a country that does not drag the bodies of our enemies through the streets. We do not behead them for the entertainment of others. We do not mutilate their corpses.
I think of his body sinking into the sea, disappearing into the dark depths of the ocean. This man who terrorized so many for so long has simply disappeared. The ocean is a very big place and in the end, Osama bin Laden was a very small man.
There will be no grave marker for him. No place for a fanatical follower to come and pay their twisted respect. He's gone. We cannot, nor should we ever forget the horror that he unleashed, but as the months and years pass, I hope that his name is hardly ever uttered and I hope his picture disappears, as well.
As the years pass in the years ahead, I hope it's not the wasted life of this mass murderer we remember. I hope instead we recall the lives of those we lost.
I hope we remember Leon Smith Jr., one of the brave New York City firefighters who rushed into the burning Twin Towers. Being a firefighter was his dream. His fellow firefighters told the "New York Times" he was known for fixing the cars of just about anyone in the firehouse, as well as the cars of their wives and girlfriends. Here's a man making those repairs after coming off a 24-hour shirt. Leon was 48 years old and left three daughters behind.
I hope we remember Samantha Lightbourn-Allen, a budget analyst at the Pentagon. She was 36, a mother of 16 -- of a 16-year-old son, a 12- year-old daughter, a born-again Christian. Friends say she spent all of her spare time with her kids and in her church. Samantha also left behind a twin sister.
And Craig Damian Lilore; he was just 30, working finance for Cantor- Fitzgerald high up in the north tower. The "Times" said he also had a law degree. Craig was a husband and a father to a newborn son, Joseph Craig. You see him there in the photo. Craig had recently bought a boat but had never had a chance to name it. His brother-in-law told the "Times" they'd given it a name and call it Craiger.
In the years ahead, I hope it is their names we speak, not bin Laden's. I hope it's how they lived their lives we remember in addition to how those lives ended. I hope we remember all that they did and all that they never lived to do. If you'd like to take a few moments tonight to learn more about those who died on 9/11, you can go to our Web site, AC360.com, where we have a list of remembrances. Good night.