The article in the London Review of Books purports to be an “alternative history of the war on terror,” and it relies largely on a single unnamed source to question President Barack Obama’s narrative about the death of the man behind the 9/11 attacks.
That narrative from the president claimed bin Laden was killed in a firefight with US forces and that Pakistani officials weren’t told about the raid in advance.
While Obama touted bin Laden’s killing in a Pakistani compound as an “all-American affair” as Hersh puts it, US officials got assistance from upper-level Pakistani officials, according to Hersh. Moreover, he writes, bin Laden wasn’t “hiding” in Pakistan when Navy Seals found him as the US government claimed.
Rather, Hersh alleges, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was holding bin Laden as a prisoner. A former senior Pakistani intelligence officer tipped the US off about bin Laden’s whereabouts in exchange for $25 million, Hersh writes in his article, which has attracted wide attention in just a few hours.
Hersh says his main source inside the US is an unnamed senior intelligence official with knowledge about the raid that killed bin Laden. Hersh also says he got corroborating information from two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command in the US and that he spoke to sources “inside Pakistan.”
Here are the main takeaways:
- The White House’s “most blatant” lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military officials were never informed of the mission, Hersh says.
- While US officials say they found bin Laden by tracking his trusted courier, Hersh says they discovered his whereabouts from a former Pakistani intelligence officer who wanted the $25 million reward the US was offering.
- The government claimed bin Laden was hiding out, but Hersh says the Pakistani intelligence agency had actually been holding him captive since 2006 to use him as leverage against Taliban and Al Qaeda activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- While the White House has said it would have taken bin Laden alive if it could have and that he was killed in a firefight, Hersh says that wasn’t the case. “There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone,” Hersh wrote.
- The article also takes issue with the White House’s claim that bin Laden was buried at sea in a service that followed Islamic practices. “The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains — or so the Seals claimed,” Hersh reported, citing his senior US intelligence official.
Hersh says the White House did not respond to his requests for comment. Given that the US side of the story is based primarily on a single anonymous source, it should obviously be viewed with skepticism.