President Joe Biden’s graphic description of horrors in Israel was intended to “underscore the utter depravity” of the Hamas attack on civilians, the White House says, even if he hadn’t personally viewed or confirmed the imagery he described.
Speaking from the Indian Treaty Room, Biden on Wednesday told a gathering of Jewish leaders: “I’ve been doing this a long time. I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”
Later on that evening, an administration official told CNN neither Biden nor the administration had seen pictures or confirmed reports of children or infants beheaded by Hamas. The official clarified that the president’s remarks were referring to public comments from media outlets and Israeli officials. Since taking office, Biden has on a number of occasions gone off-script to make comments that later required clarification by his staff, including on Taiwan and Russia.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said earlier Wednesday that babies and toddlers were found “decapitated” in Kfar Aza, Tal Heinrich. CNN could not independently verify that report, and Hamas said media reports about attacking children were false.
On Thursday, Netanyahu showed horrifying photos of babies whose bodies had been burned beyond recognition and a third bloodstained infant’s body to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was visiting Israel.
During a press availability, Blinken became emotional describing seeing the images of the victims of the Hamas attack that “almost defies comprehension.”
“A baby, an infant riddled with bullets. Soldiers beheaded. Young people burned alive in their cars, or their hideaway rooms,” Blinken said.
“It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, God forbid, experience,” he said.
Speaking to reporters at the White House later on Thursday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby cited those photos when explaining Biden’s remarks a day earlier.
“Certainly the president’s comments yesterday … underscore the utter depravity and the barbaric nature with which these terrorists murdered and butchered innocent Israeli civilians,” he said.
“And that further underscores why – and this is what the president’s specific point was yesterday – that we’ve got to stay with Israel. We got to continue to make sure they have the support that they need,” he went on.
Pressed further about the importance of upholding factual accuracy when describing events on the ground, Kirby said the White House takes seriously “the need to be as factual and certainly truthful as we possibly can be.”
But he said the reality was that the full extent of Hamas’ depravity was still becoming known.
“We all need to be prepared for the fact that there’s going to be additional gruesome images coming out, and there’s going to be some pretty tough reports for all of us to swallow. This is not over,” he said.