President Obama 60 Minutes Video, Transcript May 8, 2011 Full Interview with Steve Kroft

President Barack Obama official portrait

Here is the President Obama 60 Minutes video and transcript from Sunday May 8, 2011 of the full interview with CBS’ Steve Kroft. In his first interview since announcing the killing of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces, President Barack Obama answered questions and discussed the mission.

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Watch the complete interview above. Click here to read the full transcript text. A summary of the discussion is below.

Regarding his decision to pursue the mission, President Obama said, “Obviously I had enough of an instinct that it was worth doing.” He went on to say, “It did look promising from the beginning. When I was campaigning for President I said if we ever got a shot at Bin Laden we’re going to take it…So I felt very strongly there was a strategic imperative to go after him.”

He said he had instructed CIA Director Leon Panetta: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting Bin Laden down. I want us to put more focus and more urgency into that mission….The vigorous planning began early this year.”

Asked what was the difficult part of the decision, the President said: “My number one concern was if I send them in, can I get them out? And a lot of the discussion we had during the course of planning was how do we make sure there’s backup. How do we make sure that there’s redundancy built into the plan so that we have the best chance of getting our guys out. That’s point number one….This was still a 55/45 situation. We could not say definitively that bin Laden was there. So if it turns out its a wealthy prince from Dubai whose in this compound and we’ve sent Special Forces in we’ve got problems. So there were geopolitical concerns.”

He went on to say: You think about black Hawk Down, you think about the Iranian rescue. I am very sympathetic to other Presidents…you’re making your best decision and something goes wrong…the day before, I was thinking about this quite a bit….I concluded that it was worth it. The reason I concluded it was worth it is that we have devoted enormous blood and treasure in fighting against al-Qaeda since 2001.”

Regarding the 40 minutes in the situation room at the White House: We were able to monitor the situation in real time. Getting the reports from head of Special Operations and Leon Panetta. It was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right. It was a very tense situation. […]

After it was over he said: “I walked up with my team and we just said, “We got him.” It was a moment of great pride for me to see our capacity as a nation to execute something this difficult so well.

We could not get information clearly about what was happening. We had a sense of when gunfire and explosions took place. We also knew when one of the helicopters went down in a way that was according to plan.

This is where all the work anticipating might go wrong. We had a backup plan. They said Geronimo has been killed and Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden….I was relieved and I wanted to make sure those guys got over the Pakistan border and landed safely….and deeply satisfied and proud of my team.

“This is someone who was deserving of the justice that he received and I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he is gone. But we don’t need to spike the football.

Regarding the sea burial of Bin Laden: “”Frankly, we took more care on this than, obviously, bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn’t have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated. But that, again, is something that makes us different. And I think we handled it appropriately.” […]

“[The decision to bury Bin Laden at sea] was a joint decision. We thought it was important to think through ahead of time how we would dispose of the body if he were killed in the compound,” says the president. “And I think that what we tried to do was – consulting with experts in Islamic law and ritual – to find something that was appropriate, that was, respectful of the body.”

As to whether he thought Pakistani government and intelligence agencies had knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, he said: “‘We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was. We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate. And we’ve already communicated to them, and they have indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had. But these are questions that we’re not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.’

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Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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President Obama 60 Minutes Video, Transcript May 8, 2011 Full Interview with Steve Kroft

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