The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
By Seymour M. Hersh
(2016, Verso Books, 132 pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
Seymour Hersh is one of the best investigative reporters in the United States. In 1970 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the My Lai massacre by American troops in Vietnam. Since then, Hersh has gone on to report on numerous issues of public concern.
In this latest book, Hersh takes a look at two issues: the 2011 operation that killed Osama Bin Laden and the 2013 Syrian chemical attack on Ghouta that killed 1,400 innocent civilians. In the Bin Laden killing, Hersh quotes mostly anonymous and unattributed sources that Bin Laden was actually captured by the Pakistanis in 2006 and that the operation to kill Ben Laden was an elaborately staged hoax to re-elect President Obama.
In the Syrian chemical case, Hersh quotes sources who imply the United States, through Turkey, supplied Syrian rebels with the equipment and/or raw materials to manufacture sarin gas to conduct the attack on Ghouta, giving the U.S. casus belli to bring down the Assad regime.
London Review of Books
This book originally appeared as a series of essays in the London Review of Books. It patches together totally different subjects. In the introduction, Hersh insists the book’s subjects have a common theme – that President Obama promised transparency and delivered misrepresentation and lies. Hersh wrote: “Yet he [Obama] is a President who told series of lies about the killing of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 … .”
Hersh asserted the following about the death of Bin Laden:
• “Bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI [Pakistani intelligence] at the Abbottabad compound since 2006,” after Bin Laden was betrayed to ISI by a bribed local tribesman.
• That Pakistani intelligence knew of the May 11, 2011, raid to kill Bin Laden “in advance and made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms;”
• “At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over Bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the U.S. helicopters.”
• “The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of ISI before the raid began.”
Thus, stripped of guards and protection, Bin Laden was easy prey for what Hersh terms “murder” by Navy Seals. According to Hersh, the original plan had been for the Seals to kill Bin Laden and a week later for the U.S. and Pakistan to announce Bin Laden was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan. This was spoiled by Obama rushing to claim credit for Bin Laden’s death, injuring U.S. relations with Pakistan, claims Hersh.
If this bizarre scenario laid out by Hersh were really true, it is highly unlikely it would have remained a secret this long.
In these days of the Internet and our hyper-partisan political atmosphere, it is highly unlikely that such a dubious scheme could have been carried out without the evidence leaking. Hersh is a good writer, and at only 132 pages, this book is an easy read.
Republicans and conservatives have long criticized Hersh for his reliance on anonymous sources in support of sometimes unbelievable accusations.
Liberals may find themselves in agreement after reading this highly unlikely accounting of a liberal icon’s greatest achievement.