Doubts over Donald Trump’s dramatic account of Baghdadi raid

Footage relayed to US situation room was only overhead surveillance and had no audio

US president Donald Trump speaks during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Chicago on Monday. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

US president Donald Trump speaks during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Chicago on Monday. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

 

Footage of the US special forces raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Syrian compound reportedly consisted of overhead surveillance footage and no audio, prompting questions over the extent of the dramatic licence taken by Donald Trump in describing the final moments of one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.

US officials who also watched the feed have declined to echo details of Mr Trump’s macabre account of the Islamic State’s leader death on Saturday, including that Baghdadi was “whimpering, crying and screaming all the way”.

Revelling in a major national security accomplishment in his press conference on Sunday morning, Mr Trump said Baghdadi (48) had “spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread” as a US military dog pursued him and three of his children down a dead-end tunnel.

Cornered, Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, killing himself, his children and injuring the “beautiful” and “talented” dog, Mr Trump said.

The White House monitored the Syria operation through video feeds that Mr Trump said was “as though you were watching a movie”.

Heat signatures

The footage piped into the situation room would have consisted of overhead surveillance shots of the dark compound with heat signatures differentiating between US fighters and others, intelligence and military officials told the New York Times.

Those cameras would not have been able to peer into the tunnel where Baghdadi died, nor provide audio proof of his conduct during the last minutes of his life.

Hours later, Mr Trump’s appearance at game five of baseball’s World Series drew loud boos and jeers when he was introduced to the crowd in Washington DC. At the end of the third innings, video screens carried a salute to US service members that drew cheers throughout the stadium. When the video cut to Mr Trump and his entourage and the loudspeakers announced the couple, cheers abruptly turned into a torrent of boos and heckling. Chants of “Lock him up” broke out in some sections.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is set to take its first vote to support the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the US president, a move that aims to nullify Republicans’ main complaint that the process is illegitimate.

“We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorised subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives,” speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues.

Pressure

Three House committees have held weeks of closed hearings to gather information from witnesses about pressure that Mr Trump and his associates put on Ukrainian leaders to investigate Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate. The resolution in support of the inquiry will be the first chance for all House members to be on record supporting or rejecting the impeachment process. The vote is set for Thursday, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The resolution “affirms the ongoing, existing investigation that is currently being conducted by our committees as part of this impeachment inquiry,” Ms Pelosi said in her letter, “including all requests for documents, subpoenas for records and testimony, and any other investigative steps previously taken or to be taken as part of this investigation”.

The vote will mark the beginning of public hearings and the release of information gathered in private depositions, Ms Pelosi said. “This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, authorises the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the judiciary committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the president and his counsel,” Ms Pelosi said in her letter.

– Guardian/Reuters/Bloomberg