Gates: No evidence 'yet' about who in Pakistan knew bin Laden was there

'Somebody' in Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. But he seemed to absolve 'senior leadership' and warned Congress against cutting US aid.

Alex Brandon/AP
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates (l.) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen speak during a media availability at the Pentagon on May 18, in Washington.

The top US defense official, Robert Gates, said Wednesday that he believes “somebody” in Pakistan knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding.

But the defense secretary also warned of the consequences of punishing the Pakistani government too harshly, even as lawmakers on Capitol Hill have stepped up calls to withhold US aid from Pakistan for failing to capture or kill insurgents within its borders,

Mr. Gates acknowledged that who that "somebody" is remains elusive. “I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership [in Pakistan] knew. In fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary,” Mr. Gates said during Wednesday's Pentagon briefing. “We have no evidence yet with respect to anybody else.”

He added, however: “My supposition is, somebody knew.”

If “somebody” in Pakistan knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts while keeping it a secret from the United States for years, then shouldn’t Pakistan pay some price for that? Gates was asked.

“If the senior leadership in Pakistan didn’t know, it’s hard to hold them accountable for it,” he answered.

“If I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say, ‘I've already paid a price. I've been humiliated. I've been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity,’ ” Gates added. “I think we have to recognize that they see a cost in that – and a price that has been paid.”

But on Capitol Hill, calls continue for additional consequences in the wake of discoveries that the Al Qaeda leader was in a suburban compound just down the road from Pakistan’s premier military academy, in a military town.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts had warned, as he embarked on a trip to Pakistan after bin Laden’s demise, that “in Congress, this is a make-or-break moment” for aid to the country.

It was a message Senator Kerry passed along to Pakistani officials, as well. “I have had some of these conversations with Pakistan before,” he said, “but never in the context of the world’s No. 1 terrorist being found 35 miles from the capital, next door to Pakistan’s West Point, and with the discovery he was fully, fully operational.”

Gates, for his part, acknowledged that the calls coming from Capitol Hill to punish Pakistan are hardly illogical, though he urged patience. “I can understand Congress’s frustration,” he said. “And I think Senator Kerry was pretty explicit in his meetings in Pakistan that the circumstances have led to … a lot of skepticism on the Hill and that US assistance to Pakistan is now more controversial than it was before.”

But Gates, in making the case for continued US aid to Pakistan, cautioned that Congress should be mindful that the United States still has “significant interests” there.

That said, “I think we do need to be cognizant of the concerns on the Hill,” he added. “And frankly, I think the Pakistanis need to be as well."

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