tonight on "nightline," 40 fatal minutes. new details of what happened during the navy s.e.a.l.s raid on osama bin laden's compound. what his last moments were like. and what we now know about that final showdown. home with bin laden. the wives, the kids, the living room. the medicine chest. what the neighbors saw and heard. a surprising look at daily life with the world's most wanted man. and, the toughest call. in the final moments, with the target in doubt and lives on the line, the go ahead decision came down to one man. so, how did he make the call? a special edition of "nightline," starts right now. >> announcer: from the global
resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," may 3rd, 2011. >> good evening, i'm terry moran. what did they know? was pakistan involved in harb harboring osama bin laden? quote, either they're involved or incompetent, cia director leon panetta reportedly told lawmakers today in a classified breeching. pakistan called the u.s. strike an unauthorized unilateral action. it's easy to forget, meanwhile that the navy s.e.a.l.s who carried out the mission did not know whether their intended target, osama bin laden, was really inside that compound, when they climbed the stairs and came face to face with him. here's jake tapper with new details. >> reporter: so many new details about the attack on the compound. the mission, called operation neptune spear, definitively, a kill mission.
in abbottabad, one s.e.a.l. team climbed to the third floor of the bin laden house and came face to face with public enemy number one. but today, we learned that osama bin laden was not armed. >> if he threw up his hands and didn't appear to represent any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. but they had full authority to kill him. >> reporter: cia director leon panetta said that bin laden was not shooting back, as the 25-man team attacked the compound. >> there were some threatening moves that were made that clearly represented a clear threat to our guys. and that's the reason they fired. >> reporter: this, of course, was not some poor defenseless man. he was a mass murderer who, for all anyone knew, was wearing a suicide vest. and it was not as if they were welcomed with tea. >> the resistance was consistent from the moment they landed until the end of the operation. >> reporter: back at the white house, the president and his team were monitoring the events in real time. this photograph so vividly
capturing the tension on secretary of state hillary clinton's face. panetta, at cia headquarters, was on a corner of the screen, explaining to the president and his team what they were watching. but when the s.e.a.l.s were inside, the president and his team had no idea what was going on and it was nerve wracking. >> there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we, you know, we really didn't know just exactly what was going on. >> reporter: eventually came news from the commander of special operations in afghanistan, he heard one of the s.e.a.l.s said geronimo. the code for the capture or killing of bin laden. today we learned from the cia that intelligence was only 60% to 80% sure that bin laden was in this pakistani enclave. but officials said the information was the most sal lid since bin laden evaded capture at tora bora, afghanistan, in 2001. bin laden was buried at sea. >> the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up and the deceased body eased into
the sea. >> reporter: the body now gone, many on capitol hill are now asking for photographic proof. >> the photos have to be released, to make sure we get rid of any conspiracy this here ipss who think we didn't take care of bin laden. >> reporter: panetta has made it clear he agrees. but the decision is the presidents. u.s. officials who have seen the photographs describe them as bloody with a massive gunshot wound to his froer head. >> it's fair to say it's a gruesome photograph. >> reporter: it could be inflammatory? >> it is certainly possible, and this is an issue that we are taking into consideration is that it could be inflammatory. >> reporter: a difficult decision. perhaps the last one about the monster who headed al qaeda that president obama will ever have to make. this is jake tapper for "nightline" at the white house. >> thanks to jake tapper. and we head now overseas, to abbottab abbottabad, the quiet pakistan city where bin laden lived an
died, and where new information is emerging about how he lived. here's nick schifrin. >> reporter: for years, osama bin laden was presumed to be hiding in a cave. but turns out, he was living in plain sight, in the middle class city just 90 miles from pakistan's capital. he and his family had the biggest house in the area, surrounded by massive 12 to 18-foot high walls, topped with barbed wire. you really get a sense of how imposing this boundary wall is, which is much higher than any of the walls around it. these people around this neighborhood said, when the children in this neighborhood were playing with balls and one of the balls went over one of these walls, it was never returned. it was a clear attempt for by everybody inside to keep everybody else out. outside those walls today, the compound became a tourist attraction. hundreds of kids came out. some found remnants of the u.s.
helicopter that was left behind during the raid and scuttled. the locals came hoping for a look at the man's life. "if bin laden was living here," this man tells me, "he never went out." we got the glimpse that are by hoping for, in this exclusive video from inside the home, where the world's most wanted man lived and died. the house is sprawling, eight rooms. signs of the fire fight are still very visible. glass on the floor, blood stains throughout. but even more interesting, the signs of life. of family life. in a first floor room, two small beds, likely for mother and child. the u.s. says the bin laden's lived here with two other families. on the second floor, the nicest room in the house, the only one with a carpet and a queen size bed. it was probably bin laden's own room. on a shelf in the corner, medicine that anyone might have, me trel yum jelly, eye drops, anti-septic ointment, nasal
spray. outside, more signs of those children. a red wagon, abandoned in the backyard. at least two kids lived here. they survived the raid and are now in custody in islamabad, according to a pakistani intelligence official. and while there's no internet or phone service here, the family reportedly received daily newspapers. abbottabad is a city tourists used to visit by the thousands. noenl for its beautiful views and the pakistan military academy. but the soldiers here apparently had no clue bin laden was living about 1,000 feet from their base. the compound is only 500 feet behind me, beyond this wall and those trees. but take a look at how close it is to a pakistani army base, which is right there at those trees. it's pakistan's preeminent military institution. and back inside the house, a pantry, where eggs sit neatly on the shelves. enough food to last for weeks. they never had to leave. nick schifrin, abc news,
abbottabad, pakistan. >> and our thanks to nick for thatter t terrific reporting fr osama bin laden's last hometown. just ahead, the wife, who was with bin laden during his last stand. his family. and the question -- was he still actively running al qaeda? [ male announcer ] finally. the place they've been searching for. staples. the one place that makes it easy to buy a new laptop. ♪ or get one fixed. ♪ with highly trained tech experts, staples makes trouble-shooting and repairing technology just the way you want it -- easy. easy to buy. easy to fix. easy to save. staples. that was easy. ♪ introducing crest 3d white
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sources of intelligence. they made off with a trove of material. and here's brian ross to tell us about it. >> reporter: terry, u.s. intelligence officials have been forced to reconsider many of their assumptions of bin laden and his terror network with a discovery he was living in relative luxury in a house full of children. by the time bin laden moved to this sprawling compound in pakistan, he was down to only one of his five wives. he had divorced one of them and three others had moved to syria. >> he married very young. first, a cousin from syria, then a couple of very well-educated women from saudi arabia. >> reporter: the youngest and his favorite stayed with him, amal ahmed. her passport was found in the compound this week. she had been given to bin laden as a gift when she was only a teenager. >> she was a very young woman by the account of the bodyguard who brought her to meet bin laden from the tribal family that had
presented her for marriage. >> reporter: amal and bin laden and their young children lived on the second and third floors of the hideout. bin laden apparently felt safe enough here to keep his family with him, living in relative luxury. >> i think it was always mistaken to believe he was in a cave and nobody on the inside ever thought that. >> reporter: on sunday, when the navy s.e.a.l.s moved in, amal was in the bedroom with bin laden where she reacted with apparent fury. >> in the room with bin laden was bin laden's wife. she rushed one of the u.s. assaulters and was shot in the leg, but not killed. a woman on the first floor was killed in the cross fire. >> and bin laden's wife was unarmed, as well? >> that is my understanding. >> reporter: people who study bin laden say his wives are devoted to him. >> he is in the al qaeda context an honorable man. he's viewed as a statesman. i would be surprised in this guy would sacrifice a wife.
but i'm sure she was prepared to get in front of a bullet for him. >> reporter: amal's injury is not considered serious. buzz his son khaleed from a different wife was killed in the raid. bin laden is survived by at least 11 other sons, including hamza, seen here as a young teen, supposedly training to become an al qaeda fighter. but none of the bin laden sons are considered to be in line to succeed their father. >> the sons have never played a real operational role in any significance. they did not appear to be being groomed for leadership roles in al qaeda. >> reporter: in addition to taking out bin laden, the u.s. mission here produced an unexpected intelligence disdiscovery what is described as a boat load of documents, computer discs and laptops whose harddrives were removed by the navy s.e.a.l.s and arrived in washington, d.c. today, where all the material is being studied by the fbi and the cia. >> the first thing they're looking for is attack plans,
because we know in the past, bin laden personally went over attack plans including the 9/11 plan, which he rejected and said it needed further work before he finally approved it. so, number one is attack plans. >> reporter: number two is information that might lead the u.s. to the location of bin laden's deputies, including the egyptian doctor, ahmad al zawahiri. >> they're looking for where the money is and how big is al qaeda central these days? is it really an organization anymore at all? >> reporter: answers to all those questions may soon come from the material found here. a place where it now appears bin laden felt safe enough to live for five or six years as the world's most wanted man. u.s. officials say they may begin to get a readout on some of the seized documents as soon as tomorrow, terry. >> brian, it's an amazing story and it sounds like they're
learning that osama bin laden might have still really been in the game as it were, might have still been very active in al qaeda's operations. >> reporter: very much so. they thought they isolated him, he wasn't able to do anything. now they're rethinking that whole arrangement, with all the documents they found suggesting he was very much running things. >> much more than a symbol, then. and the other key part of this is the money, and funding, of the compound and bin laden. what do they hope to find around the funding issue? >> reporter: they believe that the people behind helping him build that compound were major money changers in pakistan and they believe this may leave a trail to people who continued to provide funding for al qaeda, all the way back to saudi arabia, bin laden's home. >> so, a hugely significant operation. not just in getting bin laden, but in getting all this information. >> reporter: much more to come, terry. >> brian, thank you for that reporting. we're going to take a break,
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booby traps. a helicopter crash. the arrival on the scene of the pakistani military. it is easy to think of what might have gone wrong. what if one or more navy s.e.a.l.s were killed and bin lad p wasn't even there? any way you cut this, the president faced a tough call sunday. and he made it. for every president, they are the toughest calls. sending young americans into harm's way on dangerous missions where the outcome is uncertain, the stakes enormous. >> today, at my direction, the
united states launched a targeted operation against that compound in abbottabad, pakistan. >> usa! usa! >> reporter: this time, it was a triumph. and the cheers echoed from the streets through the corners of the president's home. but look again at the photographs from the situation sunday afternoon. look at his face. >> ultimately, there is a point of no return. ultimately there's a point where you've launched the helicopters, you've launched the missiles and you can't turn them around. >> reporter: richard clarke served three presidents in the white house as a counter-terrorism professional. he knows what it takes. >> i think presidents make these decisions best when they ask a lot of questions. when they know the people who are making the calls, but that's not enough. they go beyond that and they ask, what if? how do you know? double check, go back, do it again. >> reporter: this time, for president obama, history weighed
on his decision, because other presidents have made similar bold calls and reaped calamity instead of cheers. somalia, 1993. u.s. special forces conduct a raid on the hideout of a powerful militia leader. it all goes terribly wrong. two helicopters are shot down by rocket-propelled grenades. the bodies of several soldiers are dragged through the streets by mobs. 19 americans are killed. >> that was a terrible day. and bill clinton said, look, we are not going to cut and run. but we're also not going to have a witch hunt. not now. right now, nobody's getting fired, nobody's quitting. and we're not cutting and running. he was the most steely eyed, most determined person in the room. >> our rescue team knew and i knew that the operation was certain to be difficult. and it was certain to be dangerous. >> reporter: in april 1980,
president jimmy carter gave the order for a complicated high risk rescue mission to free the 52 american hostages being held by iran. it was a debacle. two helicopters crashed, eight americans died and carter aborted the mission. he never recovered politically. they are the toughest calls. >> it's trust, it's judgment, it's knowing what kind of questions to ask and persisting in verifying the answers to those questions. if at all possible. >> reporter: and it's guts. because in the end, as jimmy carter found when those choppers crashed in the desert, as bill clinton found as the agony unfolded, and as barack obama found in that situation room, when you're the president, it's your decision, and your decision alo alone. he's the decider. and we hope you check in for "good morning america," they'll have new developments on this story. we're always online at