A controversial report by Seymour Hersh leaves still more questions than answers, but it does make one thing clear.
Everything you know about Osama bin Laden’s killing is wrong.
That’s the short version of a very long Seymour Hersh story, just published in the London Review of Books, which offers an alternative narrative of the killing of Bin Laden in 2011.
slightly longer version is that two key Pakistani officials, General
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja
Pasha, director general of the Pakistan’s intelligence service, were in
on the operation to kill Bin Laden and ensured U.S. helicopters could
travel safely across the border from Afghanistan
into airspace over key Pakistani security facilities. They did so,
Hersh’s story goes, in exchange for both personal bribes and a
resumption of US military funding to Pakistan. That part is all too easy to believe.
Hersh also offers a different narrative about the key tip-off in finding Bin Laden, which — depending on whether you ask torture apologists or not — ostensibly came from Hassan Ghul (an al Qaeda detainee captured in Iraq
in 2004), either before or after CIA started torturing him, as well as a
tip from a foreign partner. Instead, according to Hersh’s story, a
former senior Pakistani intelligence officer actually approached the CIA
station chief in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad,
to offer up Bin Laden in exchange for part of the $25 million reward
the U.S. offered. That source told the CIA that Bin Laden had been held
captive by Pakistan’s intelligence service since 2006 as a kind of
insurance policy against the Taliban. After that source went to the CIA,
they did a series of checks, including obtaining DNA from a Pakistani
doctor who was caring for the aging Bin Laden. It checked out. The U.S.
decided to pursue Bin Laden, which is when they started bribing the
Pakistanis to make it possible.
The plan called for a stealth
raid of the Abottabad compound, conducted with the assistance of
Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, which would assure that the
Pakistani military did not interfere with the two Black Hawk helicopters
after they crossed the border from Afghanistan. The raid would be
conducted in secret, and remain a secret; the official story would be
that Bin Laden was killed in a drone strike in tribal lands. However, on
the night of the raid, things started to go haywire when the Navy SEALs
crashed their helicopter, making it impossible to later tell the
pre-arranged cover story. Rather than keeping the operation secret for
some time until telling that cover story, the Obama administration
immediately began spinning the raid to its political benefit.
Subsequently, according to Hersh, the government had to come up with
one story after another to cover holes in the previous ones. The
foregrounding of torture in the pursuit in Bin Laden, according to this
version of events, came when CIA old-timers were brought in to help
craft yet more cover stories — and they decided to give it a spin that
would help CIA avoid accountability for its torture program.
In short, as Hersh tells it, we’ve been told cover story after cover story after cover story.
account rings most true when he explains that top Pakistani officials
were privy to details of the operation (although that story has been
claimed before). Some of the rest — like the image of Navy SEALs
dropping OBL body parts as they flew over the Hindu Kush — does not.
readers are pointing critically to Hersh’s described sourcing for the
story, which relies on “a retired senior [US] intelligence official” and
two “longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command.” But Hersh
claims to have one named person corroborating the story: Asad Durrani, a
retired Pakistani general. Durrani heard a similar story from Pakistani
officials investigating the operation, according to the story.
about Hersh’s sourcing may well be correct. But what is true about
Hersh’s story is that, in the aftermath of the raid, the administration
very quickly starting boasting. John Brennan, then Homeland Security
Advisor and now the director of the CIA, gave a press conference that
almost immediately fell apart; basic details of the story — such as
details of Bin Laden’s burial — have been obfuscated behind seemingly
frivolous FOIA obstruction.
Indeed, we’ve been told cover story
after cover story after cover story. Does that mean that CIA torture
dead-enders invented details that could conveniently attach to Bin
Laden’s death? That’s what evidence from CIA’s own records, cited in the
Senate Torture report, shows. Does that mean the SEALs never considered
capturing, rather than killing, Bin Laden? That’s what evolving stories
from SEAL participants suggest.
When Hersh brought and confirmed
his story to Durrani, the retired Pakistani General, the General said
the Pakistani public would be “grateful” when his story came out because
“people like to be told the truth.”
But that’s not actually
right. People like to be told stories. Whether they’re true or not is of
little import, if they hang together and serve certain purposes.
— neither the American, nor the Pakistani public — has ever been told a
true story about Bin Laden’s death. Or even one that hangs together.
This is yet another version, no more convincing than John Brennan’s tale that Bin Laden hid behind one of his wives.
is perhaps evidence that the key players in this story intend to keep
spinning cover story after cover story to hide the real details of what
happened in Pakistan the night Osama Bin Laden was killed.