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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Killing of Osama bin Laden"

Seymour Hersh's article in the London Review of Books about how the killing of Osama bin Laden really occurred, which came out in May, hasn't gotten nearly the publicity it deserves. His account makes much more sense than the White House version of events, and is really worth reading.

I have to admit, having gotten my "knowledge" of the raid mostly from the Hollywood production Zero Dark Thirty, which was made with the cooperation of the Obama administration, I was shocked to find out how much of what we'd been told was untrue.

According to Hersh:

Waterboarding had nothing to do with getting the crucial information which led to bin Laden; the CIA learned of bin Laden's whereabouts from a Pakistani informant who wanted to collect on the $25 million bounty the US was offering for information leading to bin Laden.

Bin Laden had been at the Abbotabad compound since 2006, and he was more a prisoner of the Pakistanis than their guest. They used him as a bargaining chip in their dealings with the Taliban and al Qaeda; the Pakistanis could always threaten to turn bin Laden over to the Americans.

The two Black Hawk helicopters carrying the Navy SEALs could not possibly have entered Pakistani airspace undetected by the sophisticated radar of the Pakistani military, especial considering that the helicopters went directly to Abbotabad, the nerve center of military operations in the country. This means that the Pakistani military cooperated with the raid.

In fact, negotiations had started in the fall of 2010 and continued right on up to May of 2011, when the raid occurred. The Americans threatened to cut off all aid to Pakistan if they did not cooperate, and in fact had already started to do so.

The Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) guards around the bin Laden compound had orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the American helicopters. Residents of the neighborhood had been warned by ISI personnel to turn off their lights that night, stay inside their homes, and not come out until they were told it was safe to do so.

Despite what the Obama administration has maintained, there was never any intention of taking bin Laden alive; the SEALs knew from the start that their mission was simply to kill him. (This was actually one of the conditions Pakistan had set.) Bin Laden did not shield himself with one of his wives, nor was he reaching for an AK-47 when the SEALs confronted him. He was not killed by a "double tap" to the head but instead his body was ripped to shreds by numerous bullets.

The SEALs did not shoot their way into the compound, and there were no guards there to be dealt with. There was no firefight, despite White House claims to the contrary. The only person killed was bin Laden; there weren't five people killed as the administration maintains. An ISI liaison officer actually led the SEALs up to the third floor, where bin Laden was located.

There was no treasure trove of computers and storage units with vital information on al Qaeda. Bin Laden was not actively involved in al Qaeda operations anymore.

Bin Laden was never buried at sea. His body was most likely tossed out of the helicopter in pieces over the mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

If you read Hersh's account carefully, it makes far more sense than the Obama administration account. And Hersh has a long history of journalistic exposes, starting with that of the My Lai massacre in Viet Nam; almost all of what he has written has proven to be true. Anonymous sources with little to gain are more likely to be telling the truth than an administration hell bent on reelection.

Hersh's article takes roughly half an hour to read, but it's well worth the time.


Steven said...

What a fiction zero dark thirty was! It must have been an execution of somebody sitting in their living room.

Somehow this seems plausible

I can just imagine the scene, being one of those guards, hearing the helicopter rotors in the distance, knowing somebody inside was about to be killed. Then imagine Bin Laden, hearing helicopters land, hearing his back door opening, footsteps up the stairs. So unexpected, suddenly his plans for the evening cut short, the fate he knew could come one day here now. Or did somebody tip him off but there was nothing he could do? Perhaps he knew they were coming for him as he heared the rotors in the distance. Perhaps he prayed, or hugged his wife, kissed his sleeping children or woke them up to say goodbye. Perhaps he was confident of his place in paradise for the holy work he believed he'd carried out, a true believer to the end.

John Craig said...

Steven ---
Interesting take. It never occurred to me to put myself in bin Laden's shoes, though what you say about his reaction is probably true. I have absolutely no sympathy for bin Laden; he was a rich guy who decided to kill 3000 innocent civilians as part of his holy war. But I also have very little sympathy for the Obama administration, which spins every last thing they talk about, and that's putting it charitably. ("Lie" would probably be the more accurate word.)

Steven said...

I don't really have sympathy for him either. He killed those 3000 people and he got what he deserved. I just started to imagine the scene.

No matter how untouchable you think you are at the height of your power, eventually a knock comes on your door and you are as helpless as those you victimised.

I still don't understand why they wouldn't keep his body though.

Alter Ego said...

Agree that it's not gotten nearly enough coverage, and I LOVED Zero Dark Thirty!

John Craig said...

Alter Ego --
I loved it too, I just didn't appreciate how fictional it was at the time.

Alter Ego said...

Hersh is talking about his new book this weekend in Washington D.C. if any interested readers are in the area: