Obama, bin Laden, and Seymour Hersh

President Obama and the national security state have reaped great political rewards from the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. It enabled him to run for re-election on the swagger of ordering a bold raid to do what his predecessor could not do. It enabled the CIA and the NSA to claim that their clever sleuthing was what enabled the US to locate bin Laden in Pakistan. It justified the use of torture by claiming that this was what got them vital information. And it enabled the US military and its much vaunted Special Forces to glory in successfully going in, carrying out a raid in a foreign country under the noses of that government, and then get out again without that country’s military being any the wiser. Even Obama’s political adversaries had no counter to vice-president Joe Biden’s boast during the 2012 campaign that it was thanks to Obama that “General Motors is alive and bin Laden is dead.”

But now veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has spoiled that story. In a blockbuster 10,000 word article in the London Review of Books, Hersh says that almost all the key elements of that story are false. Here are some of the highlights of that article.

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission.

This spring I contacted [former head of the ISI Asad] Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”’

The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’

The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault.

Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan’s army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them.

Hersh’s story goes into great detail about how the raid was carried out and it differs dramatically from the official version, especially that there was no big firefight, and how a story was concocted to try and explain the events.

Hersh’s story is a fascinating one, well worth reading, as it goes into detail about the story put out by Obama and his aides and all the holes in it. Is Hersh’s version the truth? I am in no position to judge except that given the choice between Hersh’s credibility and that of the US government, Hersh wins hands down.

What has been extremely interesting is the establishment media’s response to Hersh’s story. Usually when a reporter breaks a big story like this that exposes massive government wrongdoing and lying, the rest of the media scramble to find out more because such stories always have gaps that need filling. Except in two kinds of situations, when the establishment media is made to look bad for having missed something that was right under its own nose. It then tries to undermine the story and attack the reporter’s credibility and methods. These are the occasions when the news media’s close relationship with the national security state is most exposed.

One situation is when the story is broken by a previously unknown reporter in an smaller outlet, as was the case of San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Webb’s story of CIA involvement in facilitating the drug epidemic in America’s inner-cities as part of its support for the Nicaraguan contras. (I wrote about Webb and his story here and here.) In Webb’s case, they were successful in driving him out of journalism and he ended up committing suicide.

The other is when the news story exposes the fact that the establishment media has been suckered into swallowing hook, line, and sinker a government propaganda line in the service of American glorification and this is the case with the bin Laden story. The government even helped in creating and promoting a propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty that enabled it to get its version of the story even further imprinted into the public consciousness.

Like they did with Gary Webb before, the media has turned on Seymour Hersh with a fury, in a massive effort to discredit his story and him personally. Trevor Timm summarizes the effort under way to do just that. But unlike with Webb, Hersh is already famous, has a string of major stories to his credit (My Lai, CIA’s domestic spying in 1974, Abu Ghraib to name just a few), and has reached a stage in life where his journalistic record speaks for itself and he simply does not give a damn what others think and he has ridiculed his critics, such as in this this interview with Isaac Chottiner where he does not bother to hide his contempt for the interviewer and for the “dopey afternoon shows with that woman, what’s her name, the NBC woman who claims to have some knowledge of foreign policy” [Andrea Mitchell] whom he describes as “comical”.

Hersh was interviewed on On the Media and it gives a good overview of what his story is about and his response to the media critics. It is well worth listening to. If the embedded link below does not work, go here.

Here is a good video interview of Hersh by The Real News Network.


  1. Kengi says

    Seymour Hersh a “credible” source? Really?

    I assume you think the US government planned the 9/11 attacks, and is about to invade Texas as well. After all, as you know, they lie to us all the time!

    I still don’t quite understand why Hersh’s version was so bad that Obama would want to concoct an easy to discover conspiracy to create an only somewhat more flattering alternate story. Either way Obama would look good in the eyes of the vengeful US public, and the government didn’t actually need special complex made-up stories to justify the torture and spying.

    Hersh is far from a “reliable” source. Who are his sources? Oh yeah. As usual, anonymous people he says can be trusted, but, of course, he can never reveal anything about them. And only he has access to these people. Only him.

    Hersh got lucky with a lead on the My Lai Massacre, but to be blunt, he sees conspiracies around every corner and under every bed. In my opinion the media gives him far too much credence already simply because of his My Lai scoop. Far from ignoring him, the “establishment media” regularly gives Hersh a platform.

    The media may have a too-close relationship with the government, but they would jump at a juicy conspiracy if they could for ratings. If anything at all checked out, Fox News in particular would be screaming their heads off about it (and linking it with Benghazi).

    Normally I agree with you on politics, but this one pushes you ever the edge into conspiracy nut territory. Your “I am in no position to judge” disclaimer is nothing more than “I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens!” The same kind of disclaimer I see by columnists at the WND.

  2. says

    I am in no position to judge except that given the choice between Hersh’s credibility and that of the US government, Hersh wins hands down.

    Do we get a ‘None of the above’ option?

  3. Johnny Vector says

    Actually if this is true (and I’ve only read the excerpts above, not the whole story), it sounds like less wrongdoing than the official version. The big problem with the official story is we invaded another country without their knowledge, to kill someone. If we actually had approval from top officials there, making it a joint operation, that seems a lot more above-board to me.

    And I can see why the Pakistani leaders might not want it widely known that they were part of the plan; it could be a political liability to be “taking orders from America” even among Pakistanis who don’t support Al Qaida. We still killed Bin Laden without trial, but at least maybe we didn’t also invade another country to do it. Also I don’t recall anyone in the Obama administration claiming they got the info by torture. Indeed, the published words of the lead interrogator clearly state that the leads dried up after they started the torture program. So that’s not a discovery either. I mean, I prefer to know the truth, but I don’t see this as exposing anything more serious than embellishment.

    So, overall, I can’t say I’m outraged in this case.

  4. says

    Even if it wasn’t false, the story was about executing a helpless old man and at least one equally defenseless woman.

    If Bin Laden had been brought back for trial, what would they have been able to pin on him? Conspiracy to commit many counts of murder. He’d be alive and well in a supermax prison somewhere.

    And since the CIA wants to maintain that waterboarding was helpful, why did they kill him? There was no armed threat in the house. Bin Laden is a fuckup with a gun*, he’d be more likely to hurt himself if he had one. And, obviously, the SEAL team got back out just fine. Why didn’t they bring him back? Because he’d be a big problem for anything but rough’n’ready ‘justice’…

  5. says

    @Kengi -- In my opinion the media gives him far too much credence already simply because of his My Lai scoop

    Yeah, because, you know, he was totally wrong about Abu Ghraib and extreme rendition?

  6. Rob Grigjanis says


    And only he has access to these people. Only him.

    Wrong. With the permission of his sources, he provides contact info to his editors, who then check the sources.

    In my opinion the media gives him far too much credence already simply because of his My Lai scoop

    The Sudan bombing? The Iraq stories, including Abu Ghraib?

  7. says

    Rob@#7: With the permission of his sources, he provides contact info to his editors, who then check the sources.

    And, most telling, the stories actually turn out to be true. Hersh broke Abu Ghraib before the pictures came out and then the pictures came out and there was a whitewashed investigation and then it … turned out to all be true.

    I don’t think we still know who gave Hersh the first tranche of Abu Ghraib pictures but it’s irrelevant: the pictures weren’t fake.

    The same thing’s going to happen with this Bin Laden story. Eventually people will talk and other people will evaluate the likely truth of what they say. Hersh, meanwhile, is way out on a limb — a limb he’s climbed out on many times before and his use of anonymous sources hasn’t ever caused it to break, yet.

  8. atheistblog says

    Truth no 1 : You never ever get even news from For-Profit television media, let alone the Truth.
    Truth no 2: You must be fool to believe that they are there for news, no they are there only for profit, money.
    Truth no 3: TV news media are nothing but news version of reality shows, like there is anything real about reality shows but reality!

    When did Obama told the truth ?
    Single Payer -- Obamacare
    No more wars and invasions -- Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen,
    Talk in Egypt about US peace -- Now dictatorship installed
    Open to South American countries -- Venezeula is existential threat to US
    Regulate Wall Street -- Appointed all secretaries from Wall street and protected all the cronies
    Torture, illegal war inquiry -- all protected now
    Guantanamo -- Guantanamo
    Illusion -- He open door to Cuba, it just another illusion, it open Wall Street to untouched market
    ISIS was not a threat until they took over oil wells, now waging war on behalf of oil companies.
    All whistle-blowers are jailed for espionage, spying Americans was just started under Bush 2.0, but exponentially grown under Bush 3.0 and he doesn’t give F about spying Americans.
    Obama is Bush 3.0, Regan 2.0, total F&^%up.
    My consciousness did not give up in 2012, I voted green.
    It another lie that if republicans take white house it would have been worse, comparing obama and bush, there not frigging difference between republicans and democrats. Clinton is another crony these democratic goat herds worship like republicans worship regan.

    I will never vote any of these two parties in my life time. Even Bernie sander will wage open war against Palestine. He is no saint in foreign policy.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Kengi @#1,

    You wrote:

    Seymour Hersh a “credible” source? Really?
    I assume you think the US government planned the 9/11 attacks, and is about to invade Texas as well.

    This seems like a non sequitur unless you can show that Hersh made those claims too.

  10. Holms says

    I will never vote any of these two parties in my life time. Even Bernie sander will wage open war against Palestine. He is no saint in foreign policy.

    Then you throw away your only chance at having any influence at all; incremental improvement is still improvement. As far as I’m concerned, if you abstain from voting then you abstain from having any conversation about politics, but all you are doing is muting yourself and then complaining that you are mute.

  11. atheistblog says

    Leave out all the political stuff, one thing I can say for 100% sure is no US special ops mission helicopters would drop special ops just over a target building and they rope down . BS.

    @1 Kengi ? Fox news screaming about it ? No they wouldn’t. They scream about it just because of Hillary, they are expecting her to run.
    So, Fox news screaming about TPP too ? all secret trade deals ? BS. Another Obama worshiper , Democrat party slave.

  12. atheistblog says

    @11, Holms

    Throw away my what ? This another BS I am tired of hearing. How my vote is waste ? I will vote Greeen party as I did in 2012. I don’t sell out my consciousness. How exercising my right is waste ?
    As a middle class person, huge amount of money from my income is taken as tax, but riches pay less and corporations none so again riches don’t pay. If I voted for democrat or republican will I get taxed less ? Never gonna happen.
    Particularly millennial screwed more by both party than any other generations. We have to postpone our marriage life, because we are working for low paying jobs, with huge education fee debt, can’t afford to be married, again if stay single, we are taxed more.
    How my vote will be any waste ? I have my consciousness I don’t waste.
    All these democrat and republican talking point, nothing gonna lift or change my life, at the end both are same BS. At least I can sleep at night not wasting my consciousness. And for all those who say I am wasting my vote if I keep my consciousness and vote green party, go and try to reproduce yourself, you unintellectual party cowards and slaves, and stop insulting my consciousness.

  13. Kengi says

    @Marcus Ranum

    Well, you’ve got that weird conspiracy about the US government funding Fatah al-Islam, and that whole “JFK was a bigamist” thing which went nowhere.

    As for the Abu Ghraib Scandal, Amnesty International actually broke that story, with even 60 Minutes beating Hesh to publication. Hersh certainly wasn’t the person who uncovered that scandal.

    Of course, that was a scandal, which is why American media covered it at the time. They didn’t ignore it or just pull the party line to keep their comfortable relationship with their government contacts. The juicy scandal was worth ratings points. Our media usually doesn’t shy away from scandals. They shy away from policy issues.

    That’s why, to this day, they avoid discussing the reasons for going to war in Iraq while covering the scandal of Abu Ghraib. They avoid the social issues of systemic racism in local governments while being perfectly willing to cover the riots. Our media would have no qualms about covering a scandal about the bin Laden raid. It would give them yet another excuse to avoid talking about the actual policies of our war on terror.

    Rob@#7: With the permission of his sources, he provides contact info to his editors, who then check the sources.

    Can you provide a link to these editors who have come out and confirmed Hersh’s sources in this case? After a quick look, I can’t find them.

    Mano Singham@ #10

    I’m questioning your gullibility in that statement. Anyone who buys into Hersh’s nutty claims about bin Laden seems the type of person who would latch onto any anti-government conspiracy because the government is not “credible”.

    Get back to me when Hersh comes up with evidence beyond his anonymous sources. Otherwise I will put them in the same category with the truther stories and the Jade Helm stories. Sure, you could just say the government isn’t credible and believe the nutters, but when the story itself doesn’t make sense, you need some pretty strong evidence to back it up before it should be given credence.

  14. Kengi says

    atheistblog @#12: Another Obama worshiper , Democrat party slave.

    I guess you are just another racist Obama hater, Republican party slave. (Fuck you!)

  15. says

    @Kengi -- the Kennedy bigamy kerfuffle? If that’s the worst mistake Hersh has made, it’s pretty “Meh”

    But more to the point, your attempting to dismiss Hersh for using “unnamed sources” while simultaneously trying to explain away some of his reporting as having been published elsewhere — that doesn’t do a lot to cement your credibility with me.

  16. Ollie Nanyes says

    Here is why I am skeptical: the Republicans (and others) really hate Obama. Had this story been true, I think that Republicans would have found out and ran with it long before now.

  17. says

    Is Hersh’s version the truth? I am in no position to judge except that given the choice between Hersh’s credibility and that of the US government, Hersh wins hands down.

    Absolutely. Past actions are a good indicator of present actions. Do you believe the one who never lied (Hersh) , or the person who says, “But I’m not lying now!” (the US government)?

    The killing of bin Laden is too much like the “capture” of Saddam Hussein. From the outside, it looks like both Bush and Obama used their capture and killing to help win re-election.

    And regarding the US media, this isn’t the first time we’ve the talking heads attacking anyone who dared expose them for the frauds they are. When the truth about the non-existence of WMDs in Iraq came out, the media went full court press, claiming “Nobody said there wasn’t,” as if there were no dissenting voices before the invasion.

  18. sigurd jorsalfar says

    StevoR, given how badly you damaged your credibility with your arguments of “yeah but Saddam gassed his own people and waged war on Iran so the US had to attack him years later”, your claims that Hersh should be taken with a pillar of salt should be taken with a pillar of salt.

  19. Holms says

    Also note that the only criticisms that post can come up with are in the nature of ‘be sceptical’ rather than demonstrating falsity. And yes, compare that to the credibility of the Most Transparent Administration known MiniTru habits, and he still comes out in front so far.

  20. StevoR says

    @ ^ 21. Holmas : Really? You’d rather be credible and not think about those evident logic holes noted in that article instead? Oh well, up to you.

    @20. sigurd jorsalfar : Yeha that’s exactly what I said., Oh no, it wasn’t.

    And yeah its totally wrong that Saddam Hussein committed atrocities against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs -oh wait, no it wasn’t.

    Fact check time : http://history1900s.about.com/od/saddamhussein/a/husseincrimes.htm

    Saddam Husein was an evil murderous dictator who committed some appalliing atrocities -- is that really so hard for you and others to acknowledge?

    The invasion of Iraq was wrong, it was catastrophic in its impacts and consequences on the world and we know know the arguments and evidence proposed for it were far weaker and more dubious and even just plain wrong than many of us (including Obama and both famous Clinton’s) once thought. No doubting that. But that doesn’t change the reality of the statement immediately preceding the previous sentence here.

  21. StevoR says

    Arrgh. Make that : @ 21. Holmas : Really? You’d rather be guillible and not think about those evident logic holes noted in that article instead?


  22. Holms says

    Sure dude, feel free to ignore what I said and rant about me however you wish.

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    StevoR @19: From the article you link;

    He doesn’t really provide any explanation for why the Obama Administration and Pakistan would both lie about all of this in the manner that they did.

    Is that a joke? Shouldn’t any US journalist writing about this know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are far more popular in Pakistan than the US? Instant fail.

  24. StevoR says

    @ ^ Rob Grigjanis : You think that explains it all & is really relevant there huh? I disagree. I’ll also note your cherry-picking there.

    @24. Holms : You think what I said and linked was just a rant eh? Oh well, you are entitled to your in my view erroneous opinion i guess -- but you sure didn’t provide any supporting evidence or reasoning in your comment there.

  25. Holms says

    That’s because I already supplied it:
    #21 “Also note that the only criticisms that post can come up with are in the nature of ‘be sceptical’ rather than demonstrating falsity.

    Since you need to be led to the water so to speak, that means your source offered reasons to be circumspect, but did not refute shit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *