Osama Bin Laden Report By Seymour Hersh Questions The White House's Account Of His Death
Published in the London Review of Books a little more than four years after the historic killing of the person once designated to be America's most wanted man, a stunning new Osama bin Laden report by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh questions the White House's account of the circumstances surrounding the al Qaeda leader's death on May 2, 2011. The controversial report, which primarily relied on an unnamed senior U.S. intelligence official who had knowledge about the raid on Pakistan soil that left bin Laden dead, takes shots at the version presented by the Obama administration — specifically that bin Laden died in a firefight operation conducted solely by Americans and without the knowledge of the Pakistani government.
Now, this isn't just some conspiracist spewing ideas in the blogosphere: Seymour Hersh is a veteran investigative journalist who has broken a number of major U.S. military stories, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé of the My Lai Massacre and its subsequent cover-up. But then again, as some critics have already pointed out, the report, for some reason, wasn't published in Hersh's typical spot for headline-making stories, The New Yorker, which hasn't commented on the report.
But Hersh's report would contradict The New Yorker's 2011 piece "Getting Bin Laden," which the magazine has staunchly stood by despite acknowledging it relied on secondhand accounts. (The magazine insisted via a spokesperson that the piece was backed up by anonymous sources whose accounts were confirmed with its fact-checkers.) Regardless, a single-source story is always questionable, even if it comes from a notable journalist like Hersh.
Hersh's explosive bin Laden report, which you can read here, is well worth your time. It's also about 10,000 words so if you're in a TL;DR kind of mood, here are the biggest takeaway claims.
- Pakistan's top senior military officials knew about the mission, and bin Laden was not hiding in Pakistan but was allegedly a prisoner of its military, according to Hersh. The Pakistani military allegedly kept the bin Laden under house arrest to use him as leverage against Taliban and al Qaeda activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hersh reported in order to support his detention, Pakistan accepted small funding from Saudi Arabia.
What exactly Pakistan knew before, during, and after the bin Laden operation has been up for debate for years. The United States claimed Pakistan knew nothing about its mission. In 2013, Al Jazeera published a lengthy report conducted by a Pakistani investigative committee that determined Pakistan's government was incompetent in allowing bin Laden to live undetected within its borders and letting the United States carry out a covert operation without its knowledge.
- The United States' claim that "harsh interrogation" techniques, aka torture, led to bin Laden's capture was false, Hersh reported. Instead, the story claimed a former Pakistani intelligence officer tipped off U.S. officials on bin Laden's location to collect a $25 million reward.
Hersh's allegation that torture didn't directly lead to bin Laden's could be true. In December, the Senate released a scathing report that, among other things, determined the CIA had misled Congress and the White House about how effective and brutal their interrogation techniques were. In one case, the report, whose investigative committee was chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, found information the CIA deemed as the "most critical or the most valuable" on bin Laden's courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti wasn't discovered through the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
Whether the $25 million reward payoff actually happened, who knows, unless that person comes forward. Which probably won't happen if the story's claim that the person now works as consultant to the CIA in Washington, D.C., is true.
- Bin Laden's body was not buried at sea, Hersh reported.
No pictures of bin Laden's body have been released. U.S. officials said al Qaeda would use the images to recruit sympathizers, while critics said the photos would help establish oversight on the government's actions, particularly given the public's stake in the raid. A Vanity Fair story, which relied on recollections from Obama and other top government officials, said the "simple Muslim burial" was performed on a navy carrier in the Arabian Sea with the consent of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's home country. A body is the defining proof that a killing has taken place, and without it, the next best thing would be photos that prove the body belongs to bin Laden's.
Hersh isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to voice doubts over the White House's account of bin Laden's death. There will always be questions, and as more time passes, perhaps new information will come out.
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