Joe Biden Reveals Why He Questioned the Osama bin Laden Raid
In this exclusive clip from the new CNN documentary “President in Waiting,” President-elect Joe Biden opens up about his decision-making during the raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
The raid to take out 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden will forever remain a subject of fascination—owed in part to former President Barack Obama’s refusal to release any footage of the mission or photos of the al Qaeda terrorist’s body, and on a more comical level, the fact that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson somehow knew about it before any other U.S. civilian.
“It’s important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” Obama explained to 60 Minutes. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.’’
Here’s what we do know: On May 2, 2011, a covert mission—code-named Operation Neptune Spear—saw SEAL Team Six, the CIA, and “Night Stalker” helicopters work in conjunction to assassinate the al Qaeda founder at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Then Vice President Joe Biden’s role in the raid, however, has repeatedly come under question, with Trump accusing Biden of opposing the mission during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and Biden himself offering differing takes as to whether he told President Obama to go after OBL or not. In Obama’s new memoir A Promised Land, the ex-president writes that Biden “weighed in against the raid.” In a new documentary, however, Biden offers a slightly different interpretation.
WATCH JOE BIDEN WEIGH IN ON THE BIN LADEN RAID:
Directed by Jeffrey Roth, President in Waiting—premiering Dec. 5 on CNN—sees the filmmaker corral all five living former vice presidents (Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden), along with Mike Pence, to discuss how the role of vice president has evolved over the years. It all changed with Jimmy Carter, who delegated more authority to Mondale than any prior president.
“I think that all circles back to the Carter/Mondale plan, because prior to that the office was inconsequential, and the presidents wouldn’t treat the vice presidents so well,” Roth tells The Daily Beast.
It took Roth a year and a half to round up all the VPs and film them—as well as all the living presidents. The only holdout was Trump. “There were requests,” Roth says, with a chuckle.
In the film, Biden attempts to clear the air regarding the bin Laden raid, recalling how he told then President Obama to “wait” and do one more flyover with helicopters to see if they could confirm that bin Laden was in fact inside the Pakistani compound.
“I said, ‘I think you should wait, and do one more pass’—knowing that if you made a lower pass, they might observe it and he’d flee,” Biden says in the film. “But then I walked out as I always did after every meeting with the Security Council, and I walked up to the office with [Obama] and we’d have a private discussion. And I said to him, ‘Mr. President—follow your instincts on this one.’”
WATCH OBAMA REFLECT ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH BIDEN:
According to Biden, he was “trying to preserve space” for Obama to make a decision that “risked an entire presidency.”
Later on in President in Waiting, Obama lends the OBL episode some context in expounding on his working relationship with VP Biden.
“Joe could be the foil and create a debate—in some cases might make an argument just to see what kind of responses you’d get around the table, and allowed me to sit back and listen without tipping my hand about which way I was going,” says Obama. “He could advance an argument, see what kind of pushback there was, or he might go after somebody else’s argument and try to punch holes in it.”
Of all the VPs and presidents in the film, Roth believes that Biden and Obama were the “tightest pairing,” spending a great deal of time together and leaning on one another.
“President Obama did give Vice President Biden more responsibility,” says Roth. “He needed that help because Obama, being a one-term senator coming into Washington, needed that experience—and brought Biden in because of that.”