- Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza tells the story behind the iconic photo of President Barack Obama in the Situation Room.
- “And because there were so many people I couldn’t really move around during those 40 minutes,” Souza said. “And so I was able to photograph as they all watched this raid unfold. There was very little conversation taking place.”
- “Throughout the 40 minutes in that room, it was very tense and anxious.”
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Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza, author of “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” tells the story behind the iconic photo of President Obama in the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden. Following is a transcript of the video.
Pete Souza: My name is Pete Souza, I was the chief official photographer for President Obama, and my new book “Obama: An intimate portrait” just came out.
On the day of the bin Laden raid, the president and his national security team piled into this very tiny conference room within the situation room complex to monitor the raid as it happened. I chose one corner of the room to be in. And because there were so many people I couldn’t really move around during those 40 minutes. And so I was able to photograph as they all watched this raid unfold. There was very little conversation taking place. There was just observation as they watched the special forces on the ground.
When the president walked into this little conference room, there was a brigadier general sitting at the head of the table, and he stood up to give the president that chair. And the president said no, no no you stay there, because he was on his laptop, in communication with Admiral McRraven. And the president just pulled up a folding black chair and sat next to him.
The picture itself was taken towards the back-end of the raid. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when that was, but I suspect it was when the special forces were inside the house and there was no video of what was occurring inside the house. So I think they were waiting to see what would happen.
Throughout the 40 minutes in that room, it was very tense and anxious. You could see that on their faces, and when the word came over that Geronimo KIA, meaning Geronimo was Bin Laden’s codename for this mission, that he was killed in action, I think there was a sense of happiness and resolve, but there was no like high-fives or cheering or anything like that. The President stood up at the end and shook hands with a few people. But it was almost anti-climatic and actually somewhat solemn when this ended.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on November 20, 2017.
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