Featured Photo: Pete Souza, Official White House Photographer, 4.06 pm EST, 1 May 2011, Situation room for bin Laden raid
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 February 2021
The Killing of Osama bin Laden, Update 2021
(For some reason article 1 was inadvertently erased (my incompetence), and I reposted it immediately on 19 February 2018, in case you are confused.)
Denise and I had spent a couple of days in Abbottabad in 1995 and knew a bit about the location. Osama bin Laden’s residence and compound was constructed in 2005. Osama bin Laden lived there from 2006, until the raid on the compound by a covert team of US Navy SEALS (from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan) and the ‘killing’ of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011.
The reason I wrote the articles in 2015 was that I had been uneasy about the US claims about the death of Osama bin Laden since 2011. In particular, I thought that it was impossible that no one in Pakistan knew bin Laden was there, as Abbottabad is a major military cantonment. I also thought it most unlikely that the US would have mounted the raid, without some type of approval from the Pakistani military or ISI (Pakistan Inter-services Intelligence Service). President Obama didn’t strike me as that gung ho.
I decided that having begun a blog in 2015 I should investigate and at least decide for myself what had happened.
I’ve reread the three articles and don’t really think that there is anything that I would change. Nevertheless, a lot has happened in the past five years and an update is warranted.
Seymour Hersh is a senior and respected investigative journalist who exposed the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1969 and the mistreatment of prisoners by the US military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004. Coincidentally, Seymour Hersh, published a bombshell expose entitled The Killing of Osama bin Laden in the London Review of Books on 21 May 2015, just as I was beginning my task.
Hersh’s 19-page account provided a logical alternative to the official US government version of what had happened, which was more consistent and contained the ring of truth, according to Carlotta Gall, a senior British journalist with in-depth experience of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nonetheless, Hersh has been described as a conspiracy theorist by some of his critics. His assertions on certain things, such as, that the Assad regime in Syria did not use chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, have been discredited.
Hersh is also heavily criticised for his use of anonymous sources (even though these are partly justified because he is relying on personal communications from sources in the bureaucracy, the military and the security agencies).
My approach was to take Hersh with a grain-of-salt, but also to use his account and those of others to question aspects of the official US account.
What My Articles Were About
The poignant thing about Osama bin Laden’s killing was that by 2011 he was a bit player in his own tragedy. Al Qaeda had been side-lined for years and may even have betrayed al Zarqawi (founder of ISIS) to the USA. The rise of Islamic State in Iraq (ISI later ISIS — Islamic State Iraq/Syria) was precipitated by US activities in Iraq and ISIS was of much greater concern and impact than Al Qaeda had ever been as an active organisation.
Killing bin Laden Article 1
My first article Abbottabad described:
- Denise’s and my visit to Abbottabad in 1995.
- The history of Abbottabad as a military cantonment and the regimental history of the Piffers and to a lesser extent the Balochs.
- Then, in summary:
- Osama bin Laden’s compound and death;
- The Pakistan Commission of enquiry, and;
- Parts of what Seymour Hersh had said.
The purpose of the first article was to examine whether the Pakistan military knew of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and whether the press articles that he’d been ‘hiding in plain sight’ were credible.
Despite, the Pakistan Commission Report, leaked by Al Jazeera, about which I said in this article Abbottabad:
The Report, two years after the event, said that this was the greatest humiliation of Pakistan since 1971. It concluded that the USA had engaged in the equivalent of an act of War. The report was also scathing of the army and intelligence services.
Reading between the lines the rebuke to the military, which is most unusual, and the taking on of humiliation seem more of a face saving exercise and avoiding cessation of US aid rather than a more rigorous search for truth, which would probably have been unattainable.
- The myth of ‘hiding in plain sight’ was ludicrous. Senior elements in the Pakistani military and the notorious ISI (Pakistan Inter-services Intelligence Service — not to be confused with Islamic State) in Abbottabad must have known. Anything else was inconceivable.
- I also felt that Hersh’s assertion that bin Laden was a virtual prisoner of the ISI from 2006, but perhaps more under ‘house arrest’ was likely.
- And, that bin Laden was probably considered an asset by the ISI, an asset that had reached its use-by-date.
Killing bin Laden Article 2
My second article 9/11 looked at the consequences of 11 September 2001.
The first part looked at the events and relevant history leading up to 9/11 using primarily The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright 2006, an excellent and readable account of the background to Al Qaeda.
I recently heard a detailed book festival radio interview with Lawrence Wright on ABC Radio National in Australia (see below). Wright’s focus on certain individuals in writing his books is part of a style he has developed. He calls these characters ‘donkeys’ because they carry the reader into the story.
I also covered Pakistan as a country very briefly.
The second part of the article covered the consequences following 9/11, I used fellow Australian David Killcullen’s insider account and analysis of the consequences for Al Qaeda, its side-lining and the Growth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria during the Bush and Obama administrations. It is a fascinating story.
The consequences of American policy, and the massive over-reaction to 9/11, gradually diminished the USA in the eyes of the world. The sending of troops to Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein over non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction was a slow moving train-wreck.
The US and British practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ or torture in secret locations, the Abu Ghraib scandal, Guantanamo Bay, and the publication of the CIA Torture Report of December 2014 all contributed. Even, the CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee during the preparation of the report was extraordinary.
The CIA, in novels and various non-fiction accounts, seemed to have lost its previous competence at the end of the cold war, and despite massive increases in funding seems a shadow of its former self. Edward Snowden’s revelations cast the US secret agencies and the British GCHQ in a bad light with an over-reliance on technology and unlawful surveillance.
One consequence, of the continued bad publicity during the Bush era and continuing under Barack Obama may have been a desire by old hands at the CIA to prove that some good came out of the clandestine torture and secret rendition facilities around the world. This is relevant to the third article below.
China replacing the USA, increasing state sponsored cyber crime and the potential for cyber warfare were also mentioned. Russia has also been prominent in this space, especially in the past five years.
Killing bin Laden Article 3
Article 3 covers The Killing of Osama bin Laden.
The featured image at the top of the article is the famous one of the situation room at the Whitehouse, with the cast of individuals hearing the results of the raid in real time.
The article compared the official account of the killing with that of Seymour Hersh. Although my feeling about Hersh’s account was to treat it with a grain-of-salt, its strength was that it had some ring of truth and highlighted inconsistencies in the official version, which had changed over time. Similarly, the CIA’s support of the official version was convenient for the CIA itself, because it helped to validate the importance of rendition activities and to counter the organisation’s loss of credibility over torture because they supposedly helped to locate bin Laden. I go into some detail about the anomalies in the official US account of the raid.
Obama also seemed to develop a hubris in making the raid public that had the intelligence services scrambling to validate.
My conclusion is that the anomalies and inconsistencies in the official explanation were sufficient for us to bide our time. As with the Vietnam War, information may come out in future that resolves the issues raised. I also stated that this information would not emerge while President Obama was in office.
The CIAs assertions on the killing particularly the lies and distortions over torture, supposedly leading to finding of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, have been largely discredited. Torture doesn’t work. One chilling assertion made by Seymour Hersh was that the CIA was quite satisfied with the Torture Report to Congress in 2014.
What has Happened Politically in the last five years?
It is hard to imagine what has happened in the past five years, even politically, since I wrote these three articles in 2015. In a novel, it would be too incredible to suspend disbelief.
I’ll cover more general global issues related to climate change in a separate associated article.
Imran Khan, who was a relatively unimportant Pakistani politician in 2011, was the only one to call Osama bin Laden’s killing ‘cold blooded murder’!
Imran Khan is now Prime Minister of Pakistan and a much more powerful figure. One wonders whether he will succeed in his aims or succumb to the general pattern of previous Pakistani political leaders.
The humiliation of the raid for Pakistan, as far as the public was concerned, led to anger and outrage against the USA at the time, but this has died away.
My articles intimated that the USA had lost massive amounts of credibility from 11 September 2001 during the Bush and the Obama presidencies.
In 2016, seemingly against all odds, Donald Trump defeated Hilary Clinton, the establishment candidate, and was elected the President of the United States? Who would have predicted the chaos that Donald Trump could create in four years? His interminable Twitter posts and endless lies sowed dissension. His approach to politics sowed chaos. His narcissism damaged America. He did not care what he reaped.
The damage of Trump’s false claims concerning electoral fraud promoted insurrection. (One hopes the two software companies involved in US elections will continue to pursue their claims of defamation vigorously on prominent Republicans and perhaps even Trump himself.)
The mob’s invasion of the Capital Buildings and Congress to seek out Vice-President Pence and Nancy Pelosi, if even slightly better organised, could have ended in a worse tragedy.
The Washington Post estimated that Trump had made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims by mid-2020. Trump used fake news for his own ends. Kellyanne Conway created the phrase alternative facts in 2017 to justify promoting Trump’s misinformation.
But, Trump did not invent such dissembling, he merely used it more than had ever been done before. The decay of truth began in the 1960s (and even earlier) and became embedded in English speaking western democracies around the turn of the twenty-first century. Putin is the greatest current exponent after Trump. (Useful references are cited in Further Information)
In Western democracies, scandals that once toppled governments seem to be able to be glossed over.
George W Bush in the USA, Tony Blair in Britain and John Howard in Australia formed a cabal where spin was more important than substance and perhaps initiated the post-truth era in politics (presaged by academic postmodernism, now largely disregarded). Truth decay, fake news and alternative facts became the rule in disseminating misinformation. (John Howard introduced ‘core promises’ and hence non-core promises into the Australian lexicon to explain why he wasn’t going to do what he’d promised to do.)
The most recent example of extreme misinformation is the ludicrous Q Anon conspiracy theory, left bereft by Trump’s departure. Q Anon may have been started by a Russian troll farm — there is no evidence, but it is as likely as any other explanation of Q.
I am writing this at the time of Joe Biden’s inauguration. One might expect a transition to an appearance of normality in American politics, but will much change?
Donald Trump did not invent the schisms in the Republican Party, but promoted them to his own advantage. This has left the party in disarray with the election of Joe Biden. One wonders what will become of the GOP (Grand Old Party).
The UK was not immune from madness. A UK referendum led to a positive vote of 51.9% for leaving the EU. The pro-Brexit forces mounted a campaign of misinformation, which was never challenged much then or since. That such a momentous decision should be taken on such a small margin seems crazy to outsiders
The result was considered irrevocable, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and to the unedifying sight of Theresa May his replacement trying for four years to obtain agreement on a mechanism for leaving, against bloody-minded opposition from her own party. Boris Johnson, her replacement, bulldozed Brexit through parliament in January 2020 but a delay on the rules and implementation was made for 12 months. A narrow agreement on the transition was achieved with the EU at the 11th hour and cessation of ties came into force on 1 January 2021. Some issues remain: the main one being the border with Northern Ireland.
Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit. One will have to wait and see whether Britain benefits or declines economically from the break. However, a quite likely consequence will be the break-up of the UK, with Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland withdrawing.
Other Western democracies, such as Australia, have not performed well politically in recent years. In Australia, it seems that the main political parties are more interested in their internal affairs than in what is good for the country.
The rise of conservative strong men around the world such as Erdoğan in Turkey, particularly from 2017; Modi in India (2014); Duterte in the Philippines (2016); Viktor Orban in Hungary (2010) and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (2018) is also worrying. The brazenness of Putin in Russia has been ongoing since 2000.
Xi Jinping another strong man ascended to the Presidency of China in 2012. In the past five years China has been taking an increasingly aggressive stance. Steven Lewis and Chris Uhlmann (political journalists) were quite overt about what they said of Xi Jinping in fiction as outlined in my description of the Secret City trilogy.
China’s response surprises me. It is poised to become the major world power politically and economically. Its aggression seems counter-productive, when it appears that the world is their oyster. A patient and seemingly amenable approach would have gained them more.
Countries would have been less-worried about the consequences of Chinese power — the buying up of strategic assets around the world, the cyber intelligence activities, the political infiltration and the military expansion — had they adopted a softly, softly approach. The belt and road initiative seemed initially to be a PR coup, particularly with the counter-point of Donald Trump. But, is now treated with suspicion everywhere.
In this context, the killing of Osama bin Laden seems even more a minor issue than it did at the time. Should new information emerge that shows the official US explanation of his killing to be duplicitous or partly untrue, I doubt that anyone will care much.
The assassination of Iranian chief nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizidadeh on 30 November 2020, almost certainly by Israeli agents, was even more blatant and impossible to defend. Yet, it hardly raised waves in the world’s media.
Six of Iran’s top nuclear scientists had been murdered and one wounded between 2007 and 2012, again almost certainly by Israel. Such events would have not have passed with barely a comment decades ago.
The flagrant killing of journalist Jamal Khasshogi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Bahrain in October 2018, did cause ructions and was condemned by everybody. Members of the team that did the deed were prosecuted later by the Saudis, because of growing international condemnation. Five of the perpetrators were condemned to death, but this was later commuted. Crown Prince bin Salman admitted accountability ‘on his watch’ in 2019, but not culpability. The imprisonment and killing of journalists is an ongoing worldwide problem.
The world seems mad, bad and dangerous to live in. And, no one seems to care anymore.
Key Words: Osama bin Laden killing, Abbotabad, 9/11, last five years, Seymour Hersh, Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, David Kilcullen, Blood Year, ISIS, Islamic State, Pakistani military, Pakistan Inter-services Intelligence Service, ISI, CIA, GCHQ, extraordinary rendition, torture , Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, US Torture Report 2014, US Senate Intelligence Committee, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Imran Khan, cold blooded murder, post-truth, misinformation, truth decay, fake news, alternative facts, Brexit, Mohsen Fakhrizidadeh, Jamal Khasshogi, RAND Corporation, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin
I haven’t covered other aspects of what has happened in the past five years, especially climate change and the Internet, which I’ll cover briefly in my next article.
However, I will concentrate on the post-truth era here which although related to social media and the Internet is a much broader topic.
Books in Killing bin Laden Article 2
Lawrence Wright The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 Allen Lane, 2006
David Kilcullen Blood Year — Terror and the Islamic State Quarterly Essay # 58, Black Inc 2015.
ABC Radio Australia Interview with Lawrence Wright
Interview with Lawrence Wright 2020: predicting a pandemic and discussing his term ‘donkeys and other things.
Donald Trump’s Veracity
Trump’s Tweets and Rallies
Jack Waterford’s Comments on Trump’s Tweets
Jack Waterford is a former Editor at large at the Canberra Times newspaper and writes a regular opinion column on Saturdays. He wrote an article on 23 January 2021 entitled: Patriotic ins and outs at the Australian Unity Jamboree. The article is difficult to access online if you are not a subscriber.
In the article he said about Trump’s tweets:
We know now that many of these statements had been focus-grouped and carefully targeted. Rather than being the random, and sometimes ungrammatical, ramblings of an insomniac, they were part of an intense social media message being focused by a highly professional full-time campaign and communications team at core Trump constituencies.
They served an array of purposes. They were, first, very effective in setting the agenda, even, or particularly, among the “fake” mainstream media, many of whose journalists would palpitate all day about the president’s rudeness, unconstitutional instincts, lies and prevarications. That they were hostile or critical didn’t necessarily matter, as long as everyone was talking about it. It was always a part of the Trump talent that he was so outrageous that most of his advertising was free because it was news.
Second, the messages were interpreted by many Trump followers as evidence of what he would really like to do, were he not constrained by nervous nellies in his team, the opposition of congress, or governors, or foreign presidents, or sometimes inconvenient facts that even he could not deny. The electorate understood that Trump could often not do what he wanted, but were encouraged to think he would if he could and that his heart was in that direction. …. That Trump was erratic made him seem more authentic as a non-politician.
Similarly, Trump’s extensive campaign rallies around the country were for a similar purpose to spruik his base, to make news and to control the news. His incumbency was more like an orchestrated campaign to maintain popularity and except for Covid-19 he might have succeeded in getting another term.
Wikipedia lists the Trump Rallies held post the 2016 election. In 2016, he held nine victory rallies in December. In 2017, he held ten post inauguration rallies across the year. In 2018, he held a huge number of mid-term rallies throughout the year, 40 in total. In 2019, he only held five rallies to May. Then, 27 primary rallies from June 2019 to March 2020. Later in 2020, he held election rallies on 41 days from June to November. Until, 23 October these were mainly one but occasionally 2 per day. After 23 October the rallies per day varied from 3 to 5. He also held three post-election rallies.
This was a massive professional effort throughout his incumbency. And, in extent unlike any other president had done previously.
The Post-Truth World since 2015
The Post-truth world has been around for a long time, but it has accelerated since the late 1990s. Vladimir Putin continued a long-term Russian trend in delivering fake news and misinformation. The distribution of misinformation was a major focus of the KGB and the Soviet Union during the cold war, but Putin has updated the process using the Internet. He has used it relentlessly and globally ever since.
Donald Trump revelled in misinformation, fake news and alternative facts. He bombarded us with it and in the process made the misinformation promulgated by our own politicians seem benign in comparison. This was dangerous! We need to learn more about post-truth and combat it in our own lives.
The Death of Truth
A long and interesting article by Michiko Kakutani in the Guardian 14 July 2018 was to publicise her book of the same name The Death of Truth: notes on falsehood in the age of Trump published in July 2018.
Truth Decay, Alternative Facts, Fake News
The RAND Corporation & Truth Decay
I’m a fan of the RAND Corporation despite my 1970s university upbringing. The RAND Corporation was founded in 1948 as an independent military and policy think-tank for the USA. It became more prominent during the cold war for thinking the unthinkable about nuclear deterrence and its involvement in the birth of the computer age. I used the Rand Corporation’s precisely generated book of random numbers A Million Random Digits first published in 1955 (my ANU copy was 1957) in my PhD studies and later in my market research with Q Research & Marketing. I also used it in my art from 2000 on to generate random numbers. (See the Transit Exhibition, for example.).
The reason I used the most boring book ever written A Million Random Digits was because, despite the hype, in the early days of personal computers random number generators were not random, and besides I like using the dusty old photocopy of thirty pages or so from my PhD studies.
Wikipedia on RAND
Basic Summary of Rand’s Research Project on Truth Decay
Download site for the book: Kavanagh Jennifer and Michael D Rich Truth Decay: an initial exploration of the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American life RAND 2018, 326 pp.
Nature Magazine on truth decay
The phrase Alternative Facts was first used by US Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a meet the press interview 22 Jan 2017
A term broadened and popularised by Donald Trump to include news that was negative of his presidency. Terry Pratchett in 1995 was one of the first to be concerned about the spread of fake news on the Internet.
Wikipedia has the following to say on Fake News
Wikipedia does a decent job of describing Brexit
2015 Article on Snowden Files & Killing bin Laden
I was unaware of the 2015 article in Intercept on what the Snowden documents said about NSA intelligence before and after the raid killing bin Laden. The article is interesting but does not provide anything contradictory on either Hersh’s or the Official US account on the bin Laden killing.
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