Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

CNN Fact Check: Obama, Romney and Osama bin Laden

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Fri September 7, 2012
  • 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."

Fact Check: The not-so-empty factory

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."

Fact Check: Clinton arithmetic holds up on jobs

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.


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.

Fact Check: Would Romney bankrupt Medicare by 2016?

CNN's Matt Smith contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Although it has been over for nearly a year now, the war in Iraq continued to be a flash point in the final debate.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama made the case that al Qaeda in Pakistan is decimated while Mitt Romney argued they are on the rise in other countries.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
The contention that President Obama apologized to other nations for American behavior has been mentioned repeatedly by his critics, including Mitt Romney.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama asserted that it cost the United States less to help oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi than it did to run two weeks of the 2003-2011 war in Iraq.
updated 5:58 PM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama said Gov. Mitt Romney had criticized his administration for being too tough against China, and bringing a protectionist case at the World Trade Organization.
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Sat October 20, 2012
Conservative critics launched an attack on moderator Candy Crowley after she corrected Romney's claim that Obama did not refer to the consulate attack in Benghazi as an "act of terror."
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Romney highlighted the number of women in the unemployment lines during President Barack Obama's term.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama said he identified the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a terrorist attack within a day; Romney said it took two weeks.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama touted his administration's support for the federal Pell Grant program and other aid for college students.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama boasted that the Affordable Care Act gives insured women free contraception coverage, and said Romney thinks employers should decide whether women can get contraception through insurance.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Fears of a possibly nuclear-armed Iran took center stage early in the vice presidential debate between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The September attack that killed four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya was the subject of a few claims at the VP debate.
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Federal support for wind power and electric cars was one of the early flashpoints between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The Affordable Care Act emerged as an issue between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.