Featured Photo: Pete Souza, Official White House Photographer, 4.06 pm EST, 1 May 2011, Situation room
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 8 September 2015
The photograph of the inner cabal in the situation room reminds me of the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies 2008 which has Russell Crowe on a big screen peering at Leonardo DiCaprio on the ground in a city streetscape perhaps from a helicopter (later in the desert from a drone). The 2008 scenes were possibly inspired by Chelsea Manning’s release to Wikileaks of footage of a helicopter killing unarmed journalists.
The seriously concerned face of Hillary Clinton could perhaps be interpreted as the one person in the room horrified by what she has seen. Unfortunately, as a photographer, I know that one still shot never conveys any moment of truth, no matter what we are led to believe by news photography. Nevertheless, should all this become a scandal Hilary could use the photograph as an aid in distancing herself. There is an amusing analysis of the picture below by KTLA TV, which shows that the White House perhaps reveals more of materials and people than it intended in the photo.
In Part 1 of this series, I said that Seymour Hersh’s account The killing of Osama bin Laden (references given at bottom) has the ring of truth, but that he couldn’t openly provide the ‘smoking gun’ that verified his contention that key Pakistani generals Kayani and Pasha knew about the raid and had cleared it with senior colleagues. Certainly there were many articles at the time (mostly linked to the US Administration) that called Hersh’s story patently false.
I also outlined why Hersh’s story explained some issues for me and I alluded to the fact that: There is nothing quite so satisfying as the zeal of a bureaucracy trying to cover up mistakes and information that should never have been revealed in the first place.
Some of the inconsistencies in the US Administration story as it evolved are revealed below, but the story is so complicated that I can only touch on some anomalies. I explained my analytical skills in Part 2 but they are not much use here too much intuition is required. To some extent, I’d encourage you to read Seymour Hersh’s account yourselves and to make your own assessments. As with his Mai Lai massacre story in 1969, I think much of what he says will be verified eventually, but it may take years.
Having read quite deeply into the public material, it is hard to have to justify querying Hersh’s assertions (except on the basis of requiring corroboration), when the alternative version that of the US Administration is so full of distortions and contradictions that just don’t add up.
On publication of Hersh’s account, the US Administration and the White House immediately set out to discredit it and within a few days released more bin Laden documents as a ploy to take the news away from Hersh. The documents while immediately newsworthy were not of great interest in the scheme of things.
Official and alternate versions of the killing of Osama bin Laden
David Kilcullen in his essay Blood Year covered extensively in Part 2 gives a summary of the publicised account of the death as follows:
Just after 1 a.m. on 2 May 2011, US Navy SEALs attacked a compound outside Pakistan’s military academy near Abbottabad, in the country’s east. Moving carefully up a staircase onto the upper floor, two special warfare operators — Robert O’Neill and Matt Bissonnette — confronted an unkempt man in pyjamas, cowering behind a young woman he was using as a human shield. O’Neill shot him twice in the forehead and once more as he hit the floor. The SEALs recovered a Russian-made AKSU carbine and Makarov pistol from near the body, and a vast trove of intelligence from the compound. It had taken a decade to find him but, ten years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden was dead. The raiders spent only thirty-eight minutes on the ground.
The Pentagon later retracted the human shield depiction, but not until it had been widely covered.
Kilcullen says in terms of strategy the issue of magnifying the significance of the raid made people expect a quick end to the war. The whole strategic analysis is presented in Part 2. (Part of this magnification was because bin Laden was portrayed at the time of his death, as actively running his AQ network. This is untrue.)
Kilcullen whom I described in Part 2 as a US insider in Washington, Iraq and Afghanistan says two other things that I find surprising.
1 The bin Laden hit let President Obama claim an achievement that had eluded President Bush. He lost no time taking the credit, boasting about the raid… Both Kilcullen and Seymour Hersh say that it got him re-elected.
Kilcullen quite openly calls it a hit. He doesn’t question that the intent was to kill bin Laden.
2 He also says that by 2004 many of those fighting for AQ in 2001 had been killed or captured or had fled into Pakistan, Iran or Iraq. What was left of AQ’s senior leadership was no longer a supreme command (if it ever had been).
The comment: if it ever had been, raises immediate questions. I said in Part 2 that I wondered at the strength of the links between the ‘Hamburg contingent’, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is held illegally in Guantamano Bay. His confession was obtained under extreme torture and threats to his family. Despite one recent effort under military justice, it is unlikely that he’ll ever be tried under the US civil justice system. What would the US have done with a live bin Laden?
To summarise Seymour Hersh’s version of what happened:
1 The process began with a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who contacted Jonathon Bank, CIA Chief in Islamabad, in August 2010. (This person supposedly shared in the USD 25 million reward and was moved with his family to the USA.) A ‘walk-in’ is treated as unreliable and so a complex process of verification and analysis began.
2 President Obama was briefed in October 2010, but he was cautious and wanted proof, not surprisingly. The Pakistan ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) had controlled bin Laden in a compound in Abbotabad since 2006. The walk-in said that bin Laden was sick and was being treated by a military doctor, Major Amir Aziz.
3 The CIA decided that they could not proceed without bringing in the Pakistanis. The downside was that the Pakistanis could then spirit bin Laden away, but the CIA believed that they held both ‘carrots and sticks’ to prevent this. The key leverage was money and military equipment. The pipeline had dried up and the US could starve Pakistan of aid. The unofficial bribery pipeline of senior military officers would also be re-opened. The Pakistanis saw Osama bin Laden as an asset, but his time value was limited and they’d had him for five years.
4 Complex negotiations began with Generals Pasha and Kayani in Pakistan. Pasha also had one meeting in April 2011 with CIA Director Leon Panetta in the US. One condition agreed with the Pakistanis (and perhaps the Saudis indirectly) and the US was that bin Laden must die. Each had good reasons for this. During this period, a sample of DNA from bin Laden was obtained by Dr Aziz, which brought Obama onboard.
5 Other agreements were: The raiding force had to be small. There must be no interference from Pakistan’s air defence. A small cell of four: a SEAL, a CIA case officer and two communications experts was to set-up a liaison base at Tarbela Ghazi, ISI HQ and a military airbase.
6 Four US helicopters left from Afghanistan, two Chinooks for near Tarbela Ghazi (possibly at a spot on the Indus) and two for the raid. At 1 am on 2 May 2011, two Black Hawk helicopters with navy SEAL assault teams on board landed, one in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad and one outside. The former crashed, injuring most on board. The other team began the well-practiced assault. There was no firefight. The ISI guards had been withdrawn. The town was in darkness because of a blackout. Two steel doors on the way to the third floor were blown open by explosives. The two SEALs entered bin Laden’s room and according to Hersh ‘obliterated him’ (no pretty headshots). One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and one was injured in the knee by a ricochet. There was no human shield.
7 The SEALs took bin Laden’s body, some books and papers were thrust into backpacks (not garbage bags or computers). In a true emergency, everyone would have piled into the remaining helicopter abandoning equipment and fled. 18 minutes seems about right. Instead, the teams waited an extra 20 minutes for a Chinook helicopter to evacuate the injured and they blew up the crashed helicopter.
8 The original plan was to take Osama bin Laden’s body back to Afghanistan with no publicity and wait a week or ten days and then pretend that he’d been killed by a drone attack in the Hindu Kush, on the Afghanistan side of the border.
9 Meanwhile back in the situation room in the White House the backroom argument began immediately. The helicopter crash made it easy for Obama’s advisors to urge abandonment of the agreed plan and to go public. Obama’s speech was put together in a hurry and viewed by his advisors as a political document. No attempt was made to clear it with the national security bureaucracy.
10 Later, on request, the Pakistanis provided extra dead male bodies to be found in the compound. They also provided the ‘so called’ treasure trove of documents and computers.
Analysis of the two versions
At the outset in Part 1, I said that Seymour Hersh’s version of events had the ring of truth. The reading I have done since makes me lean even more towards Hersh, but I don’t think that it’s my job to justify Hersh. The numbers of people involved post the killing, make it almost inevitable that more independent information will emerge over time to support or contradict Hersh. Indeed, some has already. I’ll provide links to all the information I have.
The remainder of this section will look briefly at the contradictory information arising from the US Administration after the killing.
In President Obama’s speech to the nation at 11.35 pm EDT on 2 May 2011, he said, he’d learned about the possibility last August (not October 2010). He said that a firefight took place. His comments supportive of Pakistan are odd, out of context, if the US has just committed an unsanctioned raid into the heart of a key Pakistan Army base.
1 The firefight
President Obama announced the firefight while the navy SEALs were flying back to America. The information on this is most confusing. Wikipedia gives some eyewitness accounts, but these are unreliable and confusing (not surprisingly). One tweeter described the noise of helicopters hovering overhead, which was unusual, and several window-rattling blasts. There was a blackout and possibly the cell phone service was out. (In Mark Bowden’s story below, the CIA took credit for the blackout.) Blackouts are not uncommon in Pakistan, but less so than in India. Supposedly, the invading SEALs spoke to the neighbours in ‘chaste’ Pashtu and told them to douse their lights and go back inside.
If there was a firefight, bodies were required. The Pakistanis may have supplied these. The five supposed victims were: bin Laden, Khalid his son (called Hamza in early accounts), al-Kuwaiti the courier, his brother and the brother’s wife Bushra. To my knowledge there is no independent verification of these bodies or their identities.
al-Kuwaiti may be a fictitious person. He is essential for the CIA brilliant analysis story and the contention that waterboarding was essential to find bin Laden. Both elements are considered false by The Senate Intelligence Committee.
It was established early that no Internet existed in the compound. Hence a courier network is essential to get information out on a regular basis, if Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaida (AQ) organisation were active. However, the information by David Kilcullen (Part 2) and other published material has shown that AQ had been barely active and marginalised for some time.
The ‘so called’ treasure trove of materials also had to be created to show that bin Laden was exercising command and control from Abbottabad, despite the fact that there wasn’t much activity for him to be in command and control over. Quite an amount of this material has been released over time, unusual in itself, but none of it is particularly interesting and nothing has come of the supposed intelligence coup it provided.
Hersh says: Patrick Cockburn [another senior Middle East journalist] wrote about the contrast between the administration’s initial claims that bin Laden was the ‘spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was ‘delusional’ and had ‘limited’ contact with the outside world outside his compound.
2 Mistaken information, clarifications and re-clarifications
In the chaos following the killing and announcements and leaks from the White House, the Obama Administration, the CIA and other bodies, much information was promulgated that didn’t make sense. This required revisions and corrections.
The press according to Hersh largely accepted the explanation that errors were the inevitable by-product of the desire by the White House to accommodate reporters’ frantic requests for details.
The day after Obama’s speech, John Brennan, then the White House’s senior advisor for counterterrorism and later head of the CIA, had the task of smoothing over misstatements. He provided a detailed but equally misleading account. Speaking on record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. (Hersh)
He also said that the US had no information that anyone in the Pakistan government or military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts. This was a blatant lie, as discussed in Part 1.
Brennan went on to say that they had no confirmation that bin Laden was in the compound and that Obama: made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any President in recent memory. (Jimmy Carter was an oddity as an American President and his raid on Tehran, about which US governments tremble to this day, was indeed gutsy.) Obama, if he didn’t know bin Laden was in the compound and if the Pakistanis didn’t know about the mission, wasn’t gutsy he was suicidally foolish. It just doesn’t add up! Directors of the CIA or any intelligence agency don’t behave like this in the real world. Indeed, much of the post-event description of the raid seems more akin to a movie — like Body of Lies — than real life.
Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defence, was outraged from the beginning and also outspoken. Others were equally outraged, but not outspoken. Gates insisted that the agreements with Pakistan were to be honoured, according to Hersh. In his memoir, Gates said, as Hersh relates: The initial leaks came from the White House and the CIA. They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong… Nonetheless the information kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security advisor, Tom] Donilan, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just shut the fuck up? To no avail.’
Hersh’s retired official (one news commentator surmises from reading between the lines that he is Jonathan Banks): Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone.
On arriving back every member of the SEAL team and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) leadership were forced to sign a nondisclosure form. The SEALs weren’t happy, nor was Admiral William McRaven (head of JSOC) but most of them kept quiet. Hersh says: McRaven knew he was being fucked by the White House, but he’s a died-in the wool Seal… and he knew there’s no glory in blowing the whistle on the president.
Within days Hersh says, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed. No, bin Laden didn’t use a wife as a shield.
In these circumstances, with so many individuals involved, many of them disgruntled, it is probably only a matter of time after Hersh’s revelations, before things begin to unravel, especially once Obama relinquishes the presidency.
3 The CIA alternative version to the ‘walk-in’
The CIA needed another story to counteract the ‘walk in’ that was being discussed in growing circles. The story was supposedly that brilliant analysis by the CIA had uncovered one of bin Laden’s couriers the ‘so called’ al-Kuwaiti whom they began to follow. A group of retired CIA agents on contract had been brought in by the Administration for advice. (At the time there was still talk in Washington that some might be prosecuted over torture.) They had the brilliant idea that the breakthrough had come from enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding. (In contradiction an internal CIA report in 2005 on the hunt for bin Laden said that detainees provided few actionable leads and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters.)
Gates strenuously objected to this idea of the enhanced interrogation breakthrough pushed by Brennan and Leon Pannetta (then head of the CIA). He said it would never work.
Down-the-track the Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed report on CIA torture documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA’s knowledge of bin Laden’s courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding. The lies they uncovered included some vital details about the supposed courier al-Kuwaiti and the supposed tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011.
The CIA’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti was dramatised in the CIA sponsored action thriller Zero Dark Thirty, which the White House got into trouble over for supposedly supplying them with classified documents. The finding of al-Kuwati’s body in the bin Laden compound was a ‘convenient truth’.
4 Dr Aziz
You’ll remember that Dr Amir Aziz was the military doctor who, according to Hersh, obtained bin Laden’s DNA sample (he also supposedly got a share in the 25 million dollars). Interestingly, after the killing the US administration tripped over itself claiming it could not identify bin Laden positively before the raid. A strange thing to admit.
Dr Aziz was outed immediately after the raid, because local journalists found his nameplate on a nearby residence. The Pakistanis dismissed it saying he merely lived nearby.
In June 2012, it was reported that Dr Aziz had been arrested and held for questioning because it was said that he was a CIA informant, who had been spying on the comings and goings in bin Laden’s compound (ironic what). The CIA and US administration must have been alarmed. Major Aziz was released; the Pakistan Army looks after its own (as mentioned in Part 1).
Nevertheless, Washington must have believed they could not take chances, which led to another strange and fanciful action.
As Hersh put it, a sacrificial lamb was needed. Dr Shakil Afridi a 48-year old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May. He was accused of working for the Americans. It was reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination campaign in order to obtain bin Laden’s DNA but failed.
The legitimate campaign was to vaccinate poor people against hepatitis B. This tainted all international vaccination campaigns in the country. The story was not sustained, but Afridi was also accused of treason because of his ties to an extremist and sentenced to 33 years in prison. This was overturned in 2013, but he was then charged with murder over the death of a patient eight years previously.
5 The body problem
Under the original plan outlined by Hersh, bin Laden would be killed in a drone attack and no body would be required. However, under the Abbotabad raid revelations, the Americans had a body. Osama bin Laden’s body was supposedly treated with respect in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and prepared for a muslim burial. The body was then flown to the USS Carl Vinson a supercarrier on routine patrol nearby and bin Laden was buried at sea. A great story.
Photos supposedly existed, but no-one has seen them. Mark Bowden the author of the long Vanity Fair article (about as long as Hersh’s) described photos of the burial at sea; but he admitted to Hersh that he’d never seen them. The real problem, however, was the ship’s logs. Separate logs are kept for different functional areas on the carrier. Logs on navy ships are sacrosanct. The logs are unclassified and open to Freedom of Information requests.
When the ship docked the crew were warned not to talk about the burial, but the crew couldn’t anyway, because there wasn’t any ship gossip. No-one knew anything.
At the same time Admiral McRaven (previously mentioned above who was in charge of the raid on the compound) ordered all files on the raid to be deleted from military computers and all information moved to the CIA. This included access to the Carl Vinson’s logs.
The information in the section above is all from Seymour Hersh, but much of it is corroborated by other public sources. Attacks on Seymour Hersh, to which I have provided some links below, are all about the man. They do not deal in detail with the information in his article, other than to say that it is completely wrong. Some criticise him for not publishing in his usual venue The New Yorker. I can understand that his editor may well have not wanted to publish the document. The information is painful to Americans and not easy to prove definitively.
Nevertheless, I am not trumpeting that Seymour Hersh is right, but his material does have the ring of truth. In contrast that of the US Administration is full of loose ends, some of it is self-serving and some seems almost fantastical.
There are so many loose ends and so many people involved that it is inevitable that some of the loose ends will unravel eventually. However, with the deep respect held for the office of the President of the United States, some things will probably not emerge while President Obama still holds office.
The CIA’s lies and distortions over torture supposedly leading to bin Laden have been discredited. The courier al-Kuwaiti is probably fictitious; and bin Laden’s being operationally involved with his network at the time of his death is unlikely. One chilling assertion Hersh makes is that the CIA is quite satisfied with the Intelligence Committee’s torture report and happy with the outcome.
The killing of Osama bin Laden
One thing that has emerged quite clearly in these three articles is that they are not much about Osama bin Laden. He appears as a bit player in his own death.
One interpretation is that he was a sick old man held in prison for five years and no longer relevant. The other pushed by the US Administration is that he was ‘the spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ of terror. The first is plausible; the second is ludicrous.
I proved to my own satisfaction in Part 1 that bin Laden was under the protection of the Pakistan military, almost certainly the ISI, who thought of him as an asset.
Bin Laden was almost certainly a virtual prisoner of the ISI, but I’d guess it was more like a ‘house arrest’. He was being protected for his own good. There was no Internet connection in the house, but I’d suspect that the ISI might have allowed him limited contact with others in his organisation by some means. Though neither side would have trusted one another. As David Kilcullen intimated, AQ (bin Laden’s organisation) would have watched on with horror at AQI’s activities in Iraq and been disturbed by the ‘Arab Spring’ but there was nothing much they could do except write letters, because they were marginalised and virtually inactive.
The much more disturbing thing is how the US Administration and the Obama White House behaved. A similar arrogance has been displayed by American drone strikes (and the same may occur in a later era with military robots). Drones are politically convenient because no American personnel get killed, but they are deeply unpopular in the countries targeted, particularly Pakistan and they do not send a comforting message to the rest of the world.
Similarly, the killing of Osama bin Laden has not sent a good message to the rest of the world. Outside of Muslim countries few people cared about the death of bin Laden. It secured President Obama’s second term and in the eyes of some Americans may have provided some form of closure to the events of 9/11. However strategically, as David Kilcullen says, it sent the wrong message.
I can even sympathise with the fact that the US government wanted Osama bin Laden dead (it may have been stipulated by Pakistan). The US Government is stuck with Khalid Sheik Mohamed in Guantanamo Bay and they don’t know what to do with him.
However, as a moral principle, President Obama, the CIA and the JSOC sent a hit team into Pakistan to murder Osama bin Laden in-cold-blood. There is no getting around this. Despite all denials, this is what happened. The Navy SEALs are almost certainly very uncomfortable about this. They murdered Osama bin Laden in-cold-blood!
I suspected this was the case from the moment I heard about the killing. David Kilcullen an insider confirms this, as does Seymour Hersh. The press ignored it! Only poor old Imran Khan called a spade a spade (see Part 1).
I suppose that is why I began to write these articles about Osama bin Laden’s death (and it was a huge effort). It had been at the back of my mind all along. I was appalled at the time and I still am. It is not a good thing, no matter what the circumstances, for the most powerful nation on earth to murder people whenever they choose. The rule of law is supposedly what distinguishes ‘democracies’ from the rest of the world’s nations.
Key words: Osama bin Laden, killing, Seymour Hersh, The killing of Osama bin Laden, Body of lies, Russell Crowe, Leonardo diCaprio, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, White House, US Administration, CIA, Abbottabad, Mai Lai massacre, David Kilcullen, navy SEALs, Generals Pasha and Kayani, John Brennan, Robert Gates, Admiral William McRaven, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), al-Kuwaiti, enhanced interrogation techniques, waterboarding, torture, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Jonathon Bank, Leon Pannetta, Dr Amir Aziz, Dr Shakil Afridi, USS Carl Vinson, Guantanamo Bay, Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, Pakistan ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)
1 Introduction & photos
Photo: Obama and Biden await updates on bin Laden by Pete Souza Official White House photographer
From Left: Biden, Obama, Brigadier Marshall Webb, John Brennan, Hilary Clinton, Robert Gates for others see Wikipedia sites below.
Wikipdedia commentary on Situation Room photo
IMDB information on Body of Lies 2008. Dir: Ridley Scott; Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Chelsea Manning’s release to Wikileaks of Collateral Murder
4 May 2011 Dave Malkov KTLA news video — analyses the photo from the White House and shows what it reveals including information it probably shouldn’t. Note the high resolution version of the image, which really shows Hilary Clinton’s face.
The photos from Tony were taken in 1995 on the trip outlined in Part 1. Apart from the Lahore photos and the general photo of northern Pakistan, all the other photos are from areas not far from Abbottabad within 100-200 km.
2 President Obama’s speech
President Obama’s speech on YouTube
President Obama’s comment that he found out about the possibility of Osama bin Laden’s location in August 2010 may be a slip-up (this was when the ‘walk in’ occurred) or it may be meaningless. Seymour Hersh said October 2010. But, if the CIA’s brilliant analysis and the waterboarding of a suspect were true. Obama should have been told much earlier.
Pertinent Excerpt from the speech:
And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden.
…And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
…The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
…Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
3 David Kilcullen and Seymour Hersh Essays
David Kilcullen, Quarterly Essay # 58: Blood Year — Terror and the Islamic State, Black Inc. 2015.
Wikipedia biography of David Kilcullen
Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books 21 May, 2015 The Killing of Osama bin Laden Seymour M. Hersh
Wikipedia biography of Seymour Hersh
1 Description of raid and bin Laden ‘hit’ comment p. 38
2 Kilcullen quote ‘What was left of AQ’s senior leadership was no longer a supreme command (if it ever had been).’ p. 6.
Most of the account in Part 3 comes from Seymour Hersh and you need to read his paper to see how I have dealt with it. I only include the major Hersh quotes:
1 Gates p. 9
2 Brennan p. 10
3 Patrick Cockburn p. 13
Wikipedia biography of Patrick Cockburn
4 Video summary of Hersh’s essay
An amusing coverage of Hersh’s essay was uploaded by TomoNews, US on 14 May, 2015. It uses models for the key players and is well-worth watching, particularly if you haven’t read Hersh directly (come on its only 20 pages).
5 The Mark Bowden article
Mark Bowden The hunt for Geronimo Vanity Fair, November 2012
This article covers the White House, US Administration, CIA’s sanitised official version of what happened. It is a long article (almost 10,000 words) and published six months before Hersh’s bombshell. Mark Bowden’s article and the action thriller Zero Dark Thirty, treated as a documentary by some viewers, epitomises the US Government’s response to control the story of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The story was bedded down comfortably. Hence the massive government reaction to Hersh.
Hersh only mentions the Bowden article on p. 15, regarding the burial at sea. He says that Bowden was careful not to claim that he’d actually seen the photographs of the burial and told him personally that he hadn’t.
Wikipedia biography of Mark Bowden
6 Secrets, politics and torture a PBS documentary
I regret to say that I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty but it is certainly now on my to do list.
The truth of parts of Zero Dark Thirty especially those related to torture were exposed when the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released its report in December 2014 (See Further information Part 2).
PBS frontline aired a program called Secrets, politics and torture dated 19 May 2015 (quite coincidental to Hersh’s essay). The program deals the committee report on torture and Zero Dark Thirty. It is a fascinating program and well-worth watching both for its history and the cynical attitude it shows. John Rizzo the CIA’s legal advisor on torture is particularly noteworthy. Dianne Feinstein tells quite emotionally how she tried to watch Zero Dark Thirty at the Senate but had to walk out because of the immensity of the CIA lies it contained. I imagine the strain of developing the torture report and being spied on the whole time by the CIA has taken its toll.
When I go to the PBS link above. I am told that this video isn’t available in your region due to right restrictions (which I must admit annoys me but it’s not PBS’s fault). I had to watch the show on our own public broadcaster in Australia the ABC (similar to the British BBC and hated by governments, particularly conservative ones).
The program was shown on Four Corners in Australia on 17 August 2015 (we are a backward country). I provide the link for those in Australia and perhaps others who can access this region.
Below is some publicity provide by Four Corners to spruik the show:
When the blockbuster Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty hit cinemas, it claimed to tell the true story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Behind the scenes, the CIA had secretly worked with the filmmakers, and the movie portrayed the agency’s controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” as the key to finding and killing bin Laden.
“The message was, you need to torture people to lead you to your main target.” Dana Priest, Washington Post
But was it true?
“The movie left the American people with the impression that torture worked, and that without it we would never have been able to trace the trail back to Abbottabad and to find bin Laden.” Richard Clarke, Former US National Coordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism
Secrets, Politics and Torture, from the PBS Frontline program, details the fight to uncover the real story of the CIA’s actions in the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives.
For six years the US Senate Intelligence Committee and its investigators combed through six million pages of internal CIA documents.
“They’re about all the prisoners that had been in CIA custody… internal memos about what was gleaned from the interrogation sessions. It’s basically the CIA’s own internal raw history of its program.” Mark Mazzetti, New York Times National Security Correspondent
Secrets, Politics and Torture details how the CIA hired psychologists to develop its enhanced interrogation program. It also shows the fear within the CIA that its embrace of methods commonly viewed as torture would come back to haunt it.
“I immediately recognized that this had big time trouble for CIA written all over it. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how.” John Rizzo, former CIA Chief Legal Officer
The program documents the extraordinary measures taken by the CIA to stop the release of the Senate committee’s report which found that enhanced interrogation was brutal, mismanaged and did not work.
“The CIA has lied to its overseers, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence.” Former US Senator Mark Udall
7 Dr Shakil Afridi
Wikipedia biography of Dr Shakil Afridi
I don’t know anything about Dr Shakil Afridi but he does appear to be a CIA scapegoat to protect Dr Aziz. I don’t know if he deserved a 33 year sentence for his links with an extremist. This was overturned and now he is under trial for the murder of a patient eight years ago. Anything is possible in Pakistan. If he is innocent, he is one unlucky man.
8 Video Interviews with Hersh
The Journal Did Obama tell a huge number of lies about the killing of Osama bin Laden? 14 May 2015
This is a rather informative article with links to other reactions some of which are given below. The video (10-min) is extremely informative, it gives an overview of Hersh’s approach and also his explanation as to why the reaction in the US has been so adverse. The fact that the young interviewer is rather cute and engaging (and wait until you view the video before criticising me) but also does an excellent job, makes it worth viewing. I recommend this is the best follow-up backgrounder to the Hersh essay.
Democracy Now Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash 12 May 2015.
This is the entire story (44 min) but it is rather long and not as entertaining a the shorter video above. However, it does cover the issues well and is worth viewing.
CNN White House rejects Seymour Hersh’s ‘baseless assertions’ on bin Laden raid 11 May 2015.
This is a slightly hostile interview (14 min) but it also gives Hersh the time to explain himself and is also worth viewing.
9 Positive and negative press articles about Hersh and his LRB Essay
NEGATIVE ARTICLES AND INTERVIEW
Photo: Tony 1995,
11 May 2015 Peter Bergen another journalist of some credibility in an interview on CNN (3 min) was scathing about Seymour Hersh’s essay and rebuts two or three major points. The main one is the firefight, which he contends did happen and he visited the compound before it was demolished and saw lots of cartridges denoting a firefight, but this would also be true if the Pakistanis had supplied the bodies. Time will tell if he is right and this is pivotal.
The other thing Bergen denies is that the Pakistanis knew anything of the raid, but he offers nothing new, except to comment that they would have spirited bin Laden away. I’ve dealt with this extensively in Part 1, as does Hersh above. In contrast, there are also huge issues with the story that the Pakistanis knew nothing, even about bin Laden ‘s presence in Abbottabad. Another issue was that the Saudis were involved in supporting bin Laden — this is a relatively minor point in Hersh’s account.
Bergen also made the comment about the essay repeated by everyone that: What’s new isn’t true and what’s true isn’t new. All of the negative commentary picked up on this gem and you hear it endlessly on TV commentaries. Hersh claims that Bergen think he owns all stories about bin Laden. This is probably partly true but is also rather catty.
James Kirchick A crank theory of Seymour Hersh, Slate, 12 May 2015
This article is primarily an attack on Hersh himself and his credibility, without much fact.
Michael Morell Separating fact from fiction Wall Street Journal, 15 May 2015.
Michael Morell a former deputy director of the CIA denies Hersh’s story. He says he was there at many of the events and that Seymour Hersh is completely wrong about everything. But, he does not provide any concrete evidence, just his word. Hersh has been similarly criticised in the past and proven to be correct. Whatever the answer, questions certainly remain.
Richard Spencer Seymour Hersh: conspiracy theorist or ground-breaking iconoclast? Telegraph, UK, 19 May 2015
This is a mainly negative article without any new information, but it provides good links to a series of other articles within a timeline
Huffington Post Series of Articles
The Huffington Post gives a series of articles that are quite positive of Hersh.
The most informative of these is by Robert Miraldi Sy Hersh: Old, Cranky and Spot On Huffington Post 19 May 2015, which covers Hersh’s career and the criticism of his journalism by various US Administrations.
Byron Williams Did Seymour Hersh Uncover the Powerful and Obnoxious Odor of Mendacity? Huffington Post, 19 May 2015, counters the blanket denials by the White House.
Michael Brenner Osama Bin Laden — The Truth Be Told Huffington Post 19 May 2015. This is quite a detailed and thorough supportive article.
NEUTRAL INTERVIEW (SORT OF)
Isaac Chotiner Interview with Seymour Hersh “I Am Not Backing Off Anything I Said” Slate 13 May 2015.
Parts of this interview are rather silly, Chotiner takes an unusual negative slant intended to rile Hersh up and it does. I don’t know anything about Isaac Chotiner but on the basis of this interview he seems an irritating smartass. However, there is some interesting background information elicited, which is not covered elsewhere.
STRONGLY POSITIVE ARTICLES
Trevor Tim Columbia Journalism Review The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful 15 May 2015
Tim takes on the adverse media coverage. It does seem as if it has something to do with America’s not wanting to know anything negative about bin Laden’s death. (In defence, should something of this magnitude break in Australia our politicians instant reaction would be to deny, howl and threaten.) Tim observed that Slate, for example, ran five hit jobs on Hersh within 36 hours.
Philip Giraldi The American Conservative How Was Bin Laden Killed? 20 May 2015.