What we weren’t told about bin Laden’s killing

Almost everything we’ve been told about the killing of Osama bin Laden four years ago is a lie, according to Seymour M. Hersh.  He reported in the current issue of London Review of Books that:

  • The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound four years ago was done with the full knowledge of the Pakistani government.  Helicopters carrying the Navy SEAL team were never in danger of being intercepted as they entered Pakistan.
  • Osama bin Laden was no longer in operational campaign of Al Qaeda and the raid did not yield a trove of valuable intelligence.
  • His location was disclosed by means of a tip from someone in Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), who wanted the $25 million reward offered by the CIA.   In particular, interrogation and torture played no role.
  • President Obama broke promises to the government of Pakistan to keep the raid a secret.
  • Almost everything that has been reported about the details of the raid is untrue.   It was more like a gangland-style execution than anything else.
  • The SEAL team was ordered to kill Osama, not to bring him back, which would have been feasible.  He knew too much that the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could not have afforded to make known.

al_qaidas_no_2_issues_eulogy_for_bin_laden-362x307How much credence does this deserve?  Hersh’s article is based entirely on information from insiders who are not quoted by name.  How can we be sure they’re telling the truth if we don’t know who they are?

It depends on how much you trust Hersh.  You have to believe that he is an honest person, which I do, and that he is an experienced and capable reporter, which he is.  I trust him more than I do the government.  You also have to believe that the people he quoted are honest people who know what they are talking about.

A great deal of leaked information is from people who have an ulterior purpose, but I can’t see how anybody who talked to Hersh has anything to gain except the desire to make the truth known or to disassociate themselves from lies.

The lesson of this is not to assume that anything the government announces is necessarily true, unless it can be independently confirmed.  This is not a new lesson, but it is an easy one—for me, at least—to forget.


The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh for the London Review of Books.


Update 5/12/2015

I suppose I shouldn’t blame the Obama administration for putting out a false cover story about the bin Laden killing in order to protect intelligence sources and method.  But according to Hersh, President Obama actually jeopardized intelligence sources and also relations with Pakistan by a hasty and ill-considered announcement whose purpose was to improve his political image.

I think the significance of Hersh’s article is more about what it says about how low the U.S. government has sunk.  Bin Laden was not brought to justice, but killed, not because he was an active threat, but in order to silence him.

Here are some responses to the Hersh article (via naked capitalism and The Unz Review):

Pakistanis Knew Where Osama Bin Laden Was, U.S. Sources Say by NBC News

The Story Behind the Story of Bin Laden’s Killing by Justin Salhani for ThinkProgress

Hersh Did Not Break Bin Laden Cover Up Story by R.J. Hillhouse on The Spy Who Billed Me.

Seymour Hersh Succumbs to Disinformation by Paul Craig Roberts.

Update 5/13/2015

The Loneliness of Sy Hersh by Elspeth Reeve for The New Republic.

It’s a Conspiracy!  How to Discredit Seymour Hersh by Greg Grandin for The Nation.

Update 5/15/2015

Seymour Hersh interview: On his Bin Laden story, the New Yorker, journalism and his own bad mood by Isaac Chotiner for Slate.

Update 5/17/2015

Lapdogs, redux: How the press tried to discredit Seymour Hersh’s bombshell reporting on CIA domestic spying by Mark Ames for PandoDaily.

The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful by Trevor Timm for Columbia Journalism Review.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire)

Update 5/18/2015

The Strange Death of Osama bin Laden by Linh Dinh via Unz Review.

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