The Last Days of Osama bin Laden

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B.K.Bangash / AP

Local residents gather outside a house where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 3, 2011.

As U.S. Navy Seals burst into his fortress-like compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, nearly one year ago, Osama bin Laden turned to the youngest of his four wives and said his last words: “Don’t turn on the light.”

That detail and a number of exclusive insights into bin Laden’s life and death in Abbottabad are contained in our cover story this week by Peter Bergen, which marks the anniversary of the raid. We also have an extraordinary behind-the-scenes report authored by Harvard professor Graham Allison analyzing the months of deliberation that went into President Barack Obama’s decision to launch the raid. Both provide new and important details of the final days of bin Laden.

Bergen traveled to Pakistan and toured the compound just days before it was destroyed by Pakistani officials. He got access to previously unreleased letters written by bin Laden to his deputies and allies. And Bergen paints a detailed picture of the squalid circumstances in which the al-Qaeda leader was living when he was killed.

Allison got access to top decision makers in over 100 hours of interviews and reveals that then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden both voted against the raid, and explains why Obama overruled them. He also uncovers some fascinating details of how the CIA labored to confirm Osama Bin Laden was actually in the compound.

We also have a copy of the memo then-CIA chief Leon Panetta jotted down moments after receiving the President’s orders to launch the raid, memorializing for the record the action orders:

MEMO FOR THE RECORD Apr. 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m.

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault. The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.

The stories by Bergen and Allison are now available online to subscribers, and hit newsstands Friday. Both are well-worth reading.