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U.S. seeks access to Bin Laden widows in Pakistan

The Obama administration hopes to talk with the three women and review materials taken from the Abbottabad compound after the U.S. raid.

May 08, 2011|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration Sunday pressed Pakistan to grant the United States access to Osama bin Laden's three widows as part of an investigation into the Al Qaeda leader's life leading up to his killing by American forces inside a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad a week ago.

President Obama's national security advisor Tom Donilon said the U.S. seeks to speak with the women and review materials taken from the compound after the U.S. raid. U.S. officials say Bin Laden lived in the compound, about 35 miles from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, for at least five years.

Donilon, appearing on television news shows, said U.S. intelligence officers are poring over information "the size of a small college library" taken by commandos from the compound for clues to such things as other terrorist threats and the whereabouts of other terrorists.

Photos: The death of Osama bin Laden

Although members of Congress from both parties have called for the U.S. to get tough with Pakistan and perhaps cut off foreign aid, Donilon urged a "calm and cool" assessment that takes into account that Pakistan is a "very important partner" in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

Obama, appearing on CBS' "60 Minutes," said there must have been some sort of support system for Bin Laden inside Pakistan.

"We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government," Obama said, "and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate."

Pakistan is conducting an investigation of what its government knew about Bin Laden's presence in the country, its ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told ABC's "This Week." Pakistani army commanders last week acknowledged their country's failure in detecting Bin Laden's presence but also were upset by the United States' unauthorized raid inside Pakistan.

"Pakistan wants to put to rest any misgivings the world has about our role," Haqqani said. "Be clear, we have been victims of terrorism, and we will see this through, and we will share our intelligence with everyone that we have to share this intelligence with."

But he also said his country was "offended" by what it views as a violation of its sovereignty by the U.S. raid.

"America has a selling job to do in Pakistan," the ambassador said.

Obama described the decision to authorize the raid as one of the toughest of his presidency.

"There were risks involved, geopolitically, in making the decision. But my No. 1 concern was, can our guys get in and get out safely?" he said. "I said to myself that if we have a good chance of not completely defeating but badly disabling Al Qaeda then it was worth both the political risks as well as the risks to our men."

He defended the decision not to tell the Pakistani government of the raid in advance, saying, "It was that important for us to maintain operational security."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, while praising Obama for launching the raid, sought to use Bin Laden's killing to validate the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques used by the George W. Bush administration.

Cheney told "Fox News Sunday" that he is "concerned about the fact that, I think a lot of the techniques that we had used to keep the country safe for more than seven years are no longer available."

Photos: The death of Osama bin Laden

But Donilon told "Fox News Sunday" that techniques such as waterboarding are "not consistent with our values ... and not necessary in terms of getting the kind of intelligence that we need."

richard.simon@latimes.com

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