The official account of why Osama bin Laden's body was buried at sea was first revealed by a senior defense official on Monday May 2, 2011, the day after President Barack Obama announced he had been killed by U.S. forces.
The official statement as read is as follows:
Today's religious rites were conducted for the deceased on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, which is located in the North Arabian Sea. Preparations for at-sea burial began at 1:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and were completed at 2:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed. The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased body eased into the sea.
The first question raised by a reporter had to do with what the justification for burying him at sea was.
The official replied:
The justification for burial at sea is when there is no land alternative. And as -- according to Islamic teachings and practice, deceased must be buried with proper procedures within 24 hours. And that was the basis for that decision.
When asked if officials feared that wherever he was buried would become a place that would attract militants, the official reiterated the previous justification, explaining and clarifying further noting that no country would take the body.
There was no available alternative in terms of a country that was willing to accept the body, and we took pains to ensure that we were compliant with Muslim tradition and law, and sought to dispose of the body, using the appropriate procedures and rituals, within 24 hours, the official said.
The official was asked if an imam or a Muslim chaplain was present for the burial. The official would not be specific, only stating that rites were read and there was translation into Arabic.
As I indicated in my statement, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker, and all Islamic teachings and procedures ... procedures for Islamic burial were followed, he said.
He was then asked where the USS Carl Vinson was when the burial took place.
In the North Arabian Sea, the official replied.
Later the same day President Barack Obama's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism, John Brennan spoke at the White House.
He was asked where and when the burial took place. Brennan said was done in line with Islamic requirements and that early on provisions for that type of burial took place. He declined to say where.
The disposal of -- the burial of bin Laden's remains was done in strict conformance with Islamist precepts and practices. It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements. We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance, he said.
So it was taken care of in the appropriate way. I'm not going to go into details about sort of the where, but that burial has taken place. It took place earlier today our time, Brennand added.
When asked when the decision to bury Bin Laden was made, whether it had been though of years ago, or whether it was the plan all along, Brennan said the course of action would have been developed over the course of the last several months. A team was working out the scenarios.
The COAs -- the course of action and the subsequent decisions that would have to be made have been developed over the course of the last several months. Senior officials, and there was a working group that was working this on a regular basis, if not a daily basis, over the last several weeks, looking at every decision and based on what type of scenario would unfold, what actions and decisions would be made. It was looked at from the standpoint of if we captured him, what will we do with him? Where would he go? If he was killed, what will we do with him, and where would he go? And it was determined that it was in the best interests of all involved that this burial take place, again, according to Islamic requirements, at sea, Brennan said.
He was asked why it had been a good idea to do it in that way. He said they had a 24 hour constraint under Islamic law and said going to another country ... would have exceeded that time period.
It was determined that that -- there is the requirement in Islamic law that an individual be buried within 24 hours. Went inside of Pakistan, carried out the operation, he was killed, he was removed from Pakistan. There were certain steps that had to be taken because of the nature of the operation, and we wanted to make sure we were able to do that in the time period allotted for it. Going to another country, making those arrangements, requirements, would have exceeded that time period, in our view. And so, therefore, we thought that the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea, Brennan said.
Was a Muslim expert consulted, he was asked. He indicated there was unanimity among several people.
We consulted the appropriate specialists and experts, and there was unanimity that this would be the best way to handle that, he said.
When asked how secure wrapping Bin Laden in a weighted white sheet was, Brennan said the military had experience in doing it, reiterating that it had been done in a proper Islamic way.
Burials at sea take place on a regular basis. The U.S. military has the ability to ensure that that burial is done in a manner that is, again, consistent with Islamic law, as well as consistent with what the requirements are for a burial at sea. And so that burial was done appropriately, he said.
On May 3, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave an official narrative of what took place on the day of the raid, including a portion on what happened during the burial. He reiterated the Islamic practice statements and gave additional details , saying the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea.
Aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the burial of bin Laden was done in conformance with Islamic precepts and practices. The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag; a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea, Carney said.
Carney also said preparations had been made to bury him in the way it was done.
Obviously we were prepared if he were killed in the operation for this eventuality and there was a -- it was viewed as entirely appropriate and necessarily sensitive to proceed with the burial in the way that we did, to be respectful of Islamic traditions and precepts, Carney said.
When asked on May 4 if he was concerned that the way in which bin Laden's body was buried might hurt President Obama's ability to reach out to the Muslim world as he tried to over the last two years, Carney said that considerable and extraordinary effort had been made for a proper burial, more than bin Laden showed victims of the 9/11 attacks.
The efforts that were made to give Osama bin Laden an appropriate burial, following Islamic precepts and traditions, were considerable. However, I would also say that there is nothing -- the respect that was shown to him and his body was far greater than the respect that Osama bin Laden showed to the victims on 9/11 or any of his other victims, and that's because that's who we are. So we feel very comfortable with the fact that we took extraordinary measures to show that respect to the traditions of the Islamic faith, Carney said.
When asked if the White House could provide a copy of the naval record of the burial, Carney said it was possible but made no promises.
That may be possible, but I'm not making that promise, he said.