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CNN Fact Check: Obama, Romney and Osama bin Laden

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Fri September 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden came up prominently at the Democratic convention
  • Joe Biden and John Kerry used the raid to criticize Republican challenger Mitt Romney
  • Romney criticized Obama's 2007 pledge to strike inside Pakistan
  • But Biden and Kerry left some context out of their remarks

(CNN) -- It may have been Barack Obama's most dramatic moment as president so far, and it certainly didn't go unmentioned as he accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term Thursday night.

Speaker after speaker reminded the audience in the convention hall and beyond that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- the mastermind of 9/11, public enemy No. 1 for a decade -- had been gunned down by American commandos in Pakistan 16 months ago.

They reminded everyone that it was Obama who had given the order.

Some of them also used the opportunity to question whether Obama's challenger, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would have made the same call.

Kerry accuses Romney of flip-flopping

"After more than 10 years without justice for thousands of Americans murdered on 9/11 -- after Mitt Romney said it would be 'naive' to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists -- it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts. "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."

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Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, recounted the day in the White House when Obama made the decision to launch the raid, "and justice was done."

"Folks, Governor Romney didn't see things that way. When he was asked about bin Laden in 2007, he said, and I quote, 'It's not worth moving heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just to catch one person,' " Biden said to boos from the audience.

The facts:

In August 2007, Obama explicitly warned that if U.S. authorities identify a "high-value" target like bin Laden in Pakistan, and if Pakistan's government doesn't act, "we will."

Romney, then mounting his first White House bid, criticized Obama's speech a few days later.

"I mean, in one week, he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies," Romney said during a GOP debate. "I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week."

He added, "We don't say those things. We keep our options quiet. We do not go out and say to a nation which is working with us, where we have collaborated and they are our friend and we're trying to support Musharraf and strengthen him and his nation, that instead that we intend to go in there and potentially bring out a unilateral attack."

Romney already had been pressed by his Republican rivals to clarify remarks he'd made about bin Laden that April, when he told The Associated Press that "It's not worth moving heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." But he also said that he would target the entire al Qaeda terror network, not just its leader.

He defended the comments at another GOP presidential debate, saying the movement was "more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he is going to die."

This May, a year after the raid, Romney complained that the Obama administration was politicizing the raid when it cited those comments. In defending his position again, Romney said it wasn't the idea of striking at bin Laden on the territory of an ally that bothered him -- it was that Obama said publicly that he would do so.

"There are many people who believed as I did that it was naive on the part of the president, at the time as a candidate, to say he would go into Pakistan," Romney said. "It was a very -- if you will -- a fragile and flammable time in Pakistan, and I thought it was a mistake of him as a candidate for the presidency of the United States to announce that he would go in."

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During the 2008 campaign, Romney wasn't the only one critical of Obama, who had been elected to the Senate only four years earlier. Among those who called his position "naive" were Obama's eventual GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain; and Biden, then one of his Democratic rivals. Both used the term "naive" to describe Obama's counterterrorism speech.

When Obama did order the raid, he did it against the advice of some of his top aides. Then-Defense Secretary Bill Gates has said he wanted to hit the compound where bin Laden was holed up from the air rather than dispatch a U.S. Navy SEAL team, while Biden said in January that he advised Obama that more details needed to be checked before sending in troops.

Conclusion:

Romney was critical of Obama's position in the days following the future president's August 2007 speech. Biden's speech Thursday night left out some context about Romney's remarks, and Kerry mischaracterized Romney's comments -- Romney didn't say attacking targets in Pakistan was naive but talking about it publicly was. Also, Biden himself once characterized Obama's comments as naive.

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CNN's Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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