IT has not taken long for some of the gloss to be rubbed off Barack Obama's enhanced reputation after the killing of Osama bin Laden last Sunday night. Some Republican politicians have dismissed yesterday's ceremony at Ground Zero as a “wholly political event” but the greater damage has been done by confusion in Washington about what really happened after the US Navy Seals entered the house in which bin Laden was living.

The Pentagon's first account said that they were “engaged in a firefight throughout the operation”. This has now been changed by degrees until it is clear that the only firefight took place outside the house and that when the Seals confronted Bin Laden in his room he was unarmed although two weapons were within his reach. What happened then? According to John Brennan, the president's counter-terrorism chief, the Seals would have accepted surrender only if they were 100 per cent sure he “did not pose any type of threat whatsoever.” Was he wearing a suicide belt? Did the Seals try to find out? Was he given a proper opportunity to surrender before he was killed in cold blood -- and who took that decision?

In all the circumstances of this matter the President and those reporting to him should have the benefit of any doubt but they would help themselves greatly if a single definitive statement about what happened and why were to be made as soon as possible.