Nightly News   |  May 03, 2011

Burden of proof

The White House is facing tough questions about why some details have changed from the original account of the raid on Osama bin Laden, and why they have not yet shown photographs of bin Laden's remains. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. it started with the news of the death of osama bin laden . then we learned how he died, at the hands of u.s. special forces by order of the president. it was and will always be an extraordinary, high-stakes raid staged by americans who were willing to die for the cause. but starting today, some of the details started to change. some aspects of the storyline involving bin laden 's wife, bin laden himself, and a lot of people are waiting for a very big piece of evidence, a postmortem photograph of bin laden . in a moment you will hear the cia director confirm to us a photo will ultimately be released. potentially the most widely viewed photograph in the world. but the question is when? so again tonight we have comprehensive coverage of this story, starting with our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd . and chuck, there seems to be a little tug, a little disagreement between branches of the obama government over whether or not or when to release this photo.

>> reporter: well, brian, let's make this clear. this is the president's decision. this is a white house decision. this is not the decision that should be made by leon panetta . and that's what folks here tell me. and that's why that decision hasn't been made. and in fact many senior aides here are arguing against ultimately ever releasing a photo. it's one of many questions facing the white house today. proof of death. one reason president obama chose the risky navy s.e.a.l.s operation rather than bombing the compound was to make sure there would be evidence the u.s. got osama bin laden . and now they have it. dna, photos, even videos. all of bin laden dead at the compound and on the aircraft carrier that was used for his burial at sea. but so far senior aides to the president do not see much need to release the photographic evidence.

>> i'll be candid, that there are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of osama bin laden and in the aftermath of this firefight, and we're making an evaluation about the need to do that.

>> reporter: it was a sentiment echoed by some on capitol hill today.

>> i just don't see a need to do it. the dna has been dispositive.

>> i personally think it's morbid.

>> reporter: others think the white house needs to provide the proof.

>> let's not have conspiracy theories develop. from what i've heard of the pictures, they're not ghoulish.

>> reporter: meanwhile, some details of the government's official story have changed, raising some eyebrows. yesterday john brennan implied bin laden participated in the firefight.

>> the concern was that bin laden would oppose any type of capture operation. indeed he did. it was a firefight. he therefore was killed in that firefight. and that's when the remains were removed.

>> reporter: brennan also said bin laden used his wife as a human shield .

>> she served as a shield. again, this is my understanding. and we're still getting the reports of exactly what happened at particular moments.

>> reporter: today, press secretary jay carney read an updated version of events, provided by the department of defense .

>> in the room with bin laden a woman, bin laden 's -- a woman, rather, bin laden 's wife, rushed the u.s. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. bin laden was then shot and killed. he was not armed.

>> reporter: so brian, the reason for the change, right now all of those navy s.e.a.l.s that participated in this fight are doing after-action debriefings at a base in afghanistan. and as they get more information, the story does change, and as somebody at the white house said to me, this is something that happens regularly under military operations, the fog of war .

>> all right. chuck todd from the white house , starting us off on, what as you heard, is still a movable