For all of conservative America’s disdain for Hollywood liberalism nothing seems to have papered over years of ruinous policies and endless war like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (throw in The Hurt Locker too where Americans are the real victims of the war in Iraq and the Iraqis themselves are just a sea of hostile brown faces). Anyway red hot femme fatale Jessica Chastain kicked some ass, tortured some folks and Seal Team 6 finished the job on Osama Bin Laden right between the eyes. It’s a story that brought the country together, Bush’s people could claim a moral victory for torture and white America could stop hating Obama for a couple of minutes.
(Cue record scratch sound) That was until Seymour Hersh’s latest 10,000 word assault on the official story in which he derides the White House account as “Lewis Carol” style fiction. For those that may not know Seymour Hersh is the gold standard in investigative journalism and reporting on the US national security state. He of course made his name 50 years ago reporting the My Lai Masscre in Vietnam and his work in the New Yorker during the George W Bush administration was a window into a truly Manichean regime. His reporting was impeccable and he broke the shocking story of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. One thing has remained constant throughout the years is his access to incredible sources inside the Pentagon and defense establishment. Slate has attempted to discredit his reporting and sources as the work of disgruntled “cranks” however one senses a frustration from the established press who do not have his access and who swallowed this story. What Hersh’s reporting is based on the testimony of the former head of Pakistan’s ISI (equivalent of CIA), an unnamed retired senior intelligence official and two other US sources who worked with the Special Operations Command and other unnamed Pakistani sources.
The main findings are that the intelligence on Bin Laden’s whereabouts did not come from the interception of Bin Laden’s courier but from a “walk-in”, that is a Pakistani ISI member who walked in to the CIA’s Pakistan bureau seeking to claim the $25 million reward for info leading to Bin Laden’s capture. What the walk-in revealed was that Ben Laden had been captured by Pakistan in 2006 and imprisoned in Abbottabad, held as a leverage over Jihadis and the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The basic threat would be to deliver Bin Laden to the Americans if they did not behave in accordance to Pakistani interests. Pakistan has a long sordid relationship with terrorists as a means to counter Indian influence in Kashmir and the reigon. And of course Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was instrumental in bringing Bin Laden and the Americans together in their war against the Soviets. Hersh also claims that Saudi Arabia was also in the loop and funding Bin Laden’s captivity.
Once the Americans could verify that it was Bin Laden they turned the screws on the Pakistanis threatening military aid which paid for security of the top military brass. A ruse was concocted to save face on all sides. Pakistan would allow the US Seal Team 6 to enter the country undetected, guards at the compound would stand down and Bin Laden would be killed not captured. The last thing the Saudis wanted was Bin Laden blabbing about where his funding came from. Then a week later the US would launch a drone missile in the border reigon and claim Bin Laden was killed. All would have gone to plan had it not been for the fact that a US helicopter crashed on the site of the compound. Obama in re-election campaign mode decided to break the deal with the Pakistanis and proclaim that the death of Bin Laden and “get ahead” of the story.
There is plenty more in the story about the disposal of Osama’s body, the claim that he was armed with an AK-47, the notion that he was still operational and the claim to have recovered a treasure trove of intelligence. It is a remarkable story that is rattling a few cages and eliciting a weird mix of comments from “conspiracy theory” to “nothing we didn’t already know. Slate is at the forefront of smearing Sy Hersh, having published 5 hit pieces in the last 2 days. There are portions of the story which at times are more informed analysis than hard independently verified fact but that is always the case in these kinds of stories. Again Hersh’s record and sources speak for themselves.
What is an absolute slam dunk is the fact that the intelligence source was the walk in, not the courier as in the Zero Dark Thirty narrative. NBC and Pakistan’s The News both back this up. The notion that Bin Laden could have been in Abbottabad without the Pakistani Military’s consent is absurd. His house was in a resort town 40km from the capital where generals live and 2km from the HQ of the Pakistani military. Also equally inconceivable is the idea that Seal Team 6 could have landed in there undetected and emerged unscathed if this really was Bin Laden’s base of operations. It is also worth noting just how cautious Barack Obama is as a President, he would not have risked political suicide for such a mission as it threatened to be a replay of Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage debacle. The New York Times’ Charlotte Gall Afghanistan reporter reflected on her reporting at the time from the Abbottabad:
After one of the SEALs’ Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, neighbors called the police and reported hearing both the crash and the subsequent explosions. The local police told me that they received the calls and could have been at the compound within minutes, but army commanders ordered them to stand down and leave the response to the military. Yet despite being barracked nearby, members of the Pakistani Army appear to have arrived only after the SEALs — who spent 40 minutes on the ground without encountering any soldiers — left.
There is a massive amount of follow up reporting that should come from this story and it would seem that the White House are panicked and not trying to give this story oxygen. So far the establishment press has been pliant. There have been smears on Hersh but so far the facts are backing him up. You can see his extended interview on Democracy Now here and his testy exchange with CNN’s Chris Cuomo here.
While Obama is no longer running for public office, this story threatens to discredit one of his defining achievements, as a cynical PR operation and effectively a cover-up for years of failed policy from torture, illegal invasions and relationships with regimes who have very close links to terror. Perhaps Hollywood and the press will construct a Batman Harvey Dent narrative where this somehow makes sense.