THE BLOG
08/31/2012 12:50 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

Does It Matter Whether Osama bin Laden Was Armed?

If the soon-to-be-published, firsthand account of the Navy SEAL operation to kill Osama bin Laden is true, then the government lied to us all again. But why?

Hitting store shelves next week, "No Easy Day" paints a much different picture than government officials did regarding the late-night raid in Abbottobad, Pakistan last year to kill America's greatest enemy. Published under the pseudonym Mark Owen, the book claims bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot in the head and killed last May.

The portrait starkly contrasts that of the Obama Administration, which described a 40-minute firefight and an armed bin Laden using his nearby wife as a human shield.

Regardless of the details, the terrorist leader was killed and, in turn, Americans would have rejoiced. So - if the new account is the true story - why lie about it?

Whether bin Laden even had weapons at the time is of little consequence, according to the Small Wars Journal. The kill was legal. Al-Qaida's then leader signed his death warrant on Sept. 11, 2001. Military experts, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the SEALs "made the right call to open fire."

Why then, would government officials feel the need to create a tale fit for The Expendables 3? Rules of engagement haven't stopped this administration before - it takes out many of its high-profile terrorist targets using unmanned drones - so perceptions that the Abbottobad raid was an assassination can't be a factor.

Media coverage of bin Laden's death, meanwhile, was going to be overwhelmingly positive irrespective of its backstory. Instead of fabricating an entire narrative, why not just release fewer, or more watered-down - but true - details?

The Obama Administration is famous for maintaining a stranglehold on national security information. Since 2009, the Department of Justice's six leak-related criminal cases are "more than all previous cases in U.S. history," according to POLITICO. The administration in other situations has leaked select information to the press - much to the chagrin of Sen. John McCain - though it's unclear whether this has actually impacted national security.

But pure fabrication isn't usually in its repertoire. It's hard to say whose story is correct or, perhaps, more correct. And few will ever know the absolute facts. It's hard to guess Owen's motive, however, to manufacture an entirely different, less sexy account of May 2. Nevertheless, as Austin Wright of POLITICO writes, "the defense and [intelligence] communities might quietly welcome the way Owen has once again muddied the waters."

To be sure, Obama pulled the trigger on an operation for which many other leaders would've gotten cold feet. And it was carried out in the most respectable way possible: Bin Laden's body was quietly buried at sea in accordance to Islamic law.

Assassination or not, bin Laden was never going to be taken alive. He couldn't be. His capture - a major moral victory in the War on Terror - would've then turned into one of the most divisive issues of our time. Various groups' arguments as to his punishment would have collided: a lifetime prison sentence, a quick execution or - it's not out of the question - torture.

If Owen's account - to be released on Sept. 4 - is true, it really doesn't change anything. All it does, on the other hand, is show that the administration doesn't trust its own public to digest the truth, even with something as easy to swallow as the death of its greatest enemy.