The Killing of Osama bin Laden

The London Review of Books, By Seymour M. Hersh, May 21

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

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  • Sy Hersh has been a honorable and effective journalist for decades. That many media organizations and government continually try to diminish him is testimony to their fear. I re-read some of his original reporting in My Lai and marveling that it was a free-lancer who delivered this story, and it in those days mid-size city newspapers like St.Louis Post Dispatch and Cleveland Plain Dealer were the ones who distributed it to the nation. It is difficult to imagine mid-size papers anywhere having the nerve, or the gumption, to take on such a story. And so with today’s Hersh release on bin Laden, we see again how his work and the unpleasant truth are trying to find a way into the public awareness and displace the mythology the media and the government have filled out heads with. If smartphones had existed in Vietnam, do you think reporting and cover-up would be different? I wonder.

    Here is a companion piece from The New Yorker:

  • Seymour Hersh vs. Judy Miller: The truth about Bin Laden’s death — and the anonymous government sources The New York Times is delighted to print as “truth”

    Desperate rush to discredit Osama bin Laden bombshell perfectly sums up the media’s slavish relationship with power, By Patrick L. Smith, May 11

    Well, well. Another grand American narrative, brimming with the triumphalist heroism of people we put into uniforms, melts like ice cream in the summer sun. No more credit to the commander-in-chief for the stealthy, nerves-of-steel manhunt and point-blank murder of Osama bin Laden back in 2011. It turns out to have been a matter of bribes, intelligence feeds, a stage-set raid, American betrayals—but of course—and last-minute chaos in Washington as to which concocted tale of derring-do would shine brightest in the light.

    Let us console ourselves with the thought that the operation was a crime under international law anyway.

    News of this latest myth-spinning chicanery comes to us from the inimitable Seymour Hersh, whose intricately detailed and carefully reasoned account was published Sunday in the London Review of Books. It is first-rate craft, one of Hersh’s better explorations into the reality that is like our air: We breathe it but cannot see it. Read Hersh’s piece here. Remarkable stuff—which is why our most powerful media will aim to discredit it.

    • The Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story That Rings True

      New York Times Magazine, By Carlotta Gall, May 13

      From the moment it was announced to the public, the tale of how Osama bin Laden met his death in a Pakistani hill town in May 2011 has been a changeable feast. In the immediate aftermath of the Navy SEAL team’s assault on his Abbottabad compound, American and Pakistani government accounts contradicted themselves and each other. In his speech announcing the operation’s success, President Obama said that “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”

      But others, including top Pakistani generals, insisted that this was not the case. American officials at first said Bin Laden resisted the SEALs; the Pakistanis promptly leaked that he wasn’t armed. Then came differing stories from the SEALs who carried out the raid, followed by a widening stream of new details from government reports — including the 336-page Abbottabad Commission report requested by the Pakistani Parliament — and from books and interviews. All of the accounts were incomplete in some way.

    • Lapdogs, redux: How the press tried to discredit Seymour Hersh’s bombshell reporting on CIA domestic spying

      Pando, By Mark Ames, May 14

      Seymour Hersh found himself in the middle of an F-5 shitstorm this week after breaking his biggest blockbuster story of the Obama Era, debunking the official heroic White House story about how Navy SEALs took out Osama Bin Laden in a daring, secret nighttime raid in the heart of Pakistan.

      According to Hersh’s account, OBL was given up by one of his Pakistani ISI prison wardens—our Pakistaini allies had been holding him captive since 2006, with backing from our Saudi allies, to use for leverage. Hersh’s account calls into question a lot of things, starting with the justification for the massive, expensive, and brutal US GWOT military-intelligence web, which apparently had zilch to do with taking out the most wanted terrorist in the world. All it took, says Hersh, was one sleazy Pakistani ISI turncoat walking into a CIA storefront in Islamabad, handing them the address to Bin Laden’s location, and picking up his $25 million bounty check. About as hi-tech as an episode of Gunsmoke.

      The celebrated Navy SEAL helicopter raid and killing of OBL was, according to Hersh, a stage production co-directed by the US military and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, who escorted the SEALs to Bin Laden’s room, pointed a flashlight at the captive, and watched the SEALs unload hot lead on the old cripple, turning him into spaghetti bolognese. (Raising other disturbing questions—such as, why would the White House want to silence forever the one guy with all the names, the most valuable intelligence asset in the world… unless of course that was the whole point of slaughtering him in his Abbottabad cell? Which leads one to wonder why the US wanted to make sure Bin Laden kept his secrets to himself, should one bother wondering.)


      Hersh is better known today for his My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib exposés, but it was his MH-CHAOS scoop [PDF], which the New York Times called “the son of Watergate,” that was his most consequential and controversial—from this one sensational exposé the entire intelligence apparatus was nearly taken down. Hersh’s exposés directly led to the famous Church Committee hearings into intelligence abuses, the Rockefeller Commission, and the less famous but more radical Pike Committee hearings in the House, which I wrote about in Pando last year. These hearings not only blew open all sorts of CIA abuses, assassination programs, drug programs and coups, but also massive intelligence failures and boondoggles.

      Slate: “I Am Not Backing Off Anything I Said”
      Columbia Journalism Review: The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful

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