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# Explainer
Did Obama tell a huge number of lies about the killing of Osama bin Laden?
A potentially explosive exposé by Seymour Hersh has been slammed by the White House. Get up to speed on the controversy, here…

AN ARTICLE BY respected reporter Seymour Hersh has been making headlines in the US this week – but the reaction to what could (if proved accurate) be an explosive exposé hasn’t been picked up, in depth, by many outlets on this side of the Atlantic.


Well, almost as soon as it was published – other experienced journalists began picking holes in it.

The White House also issued a strong denial of the claims made.

hersh1 Google News Google News

So, what’s the story?

In short, Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh claimed in a 10,000 word article that Pakistan was told in advance about the 2011 special operations raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan’s security services, he said, not only knew about the operation, but had been holding Bin Laden prisoner since 2006 – with financial backing from the Saudis.

Writing for the London Review of Books, he claimed that Pakistani officials gave the green light for American forces to carry out their raid on the compound – after the US found out about the Al Qaeda leader’s location from a Pakistani intelligence source (not, as previously claimed, after a long-running probe focusing on a courier for Bin Laden).

Amongst the long list of allegations challenging the official version of the story, the article claims that as part of the US-Pakistan deal, the White House was to delay announcing Bin Laden’s death – and that the US was to claim it happened as a result of a drone strike.

A cover story was composed, and the news announced sooner, after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during the raid on Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound/prison, Hersh wrote in his article.

RT America / YouTube

What’s the reaction been?

From the White House, and elsewhere in the US administration, it’s been pretty categorical.

“This was a US operation through and through,” Edward Price, a White House National Security Council spokesman said.

“The notion that the operation” that killed the 9/11 mastermind was anything but a unilateral US mission “is patently false,” he added.

“Knowledge of this operation was confined to a very small circle of senior US officials,” insisted Price.

The President decided early on not to inform any other government, including the Pakistani Government, which was not notified until after the raid had occurred.

Another White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Hersh’s piece was “riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods”. He also noted former CIA deputy director Michael Morell’s reaction to the article — that he stopped reading because every sentence was wrong.

Obama AP / Press Association Images Josh Earnest AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

They’re not the only ones.

Hersh attributes his information to a retired general of the Pakistani intelligence service and several unidentified sources in the US and Pakistan. A number of high-profile journalists have also taken issue with his claims – including CNN’s National Security Analsyt Peter Bergan, who concluded at the end of a long article:

Hersh has had a storied career. One hopes that he won’t end it with a story about the Obama administration and the bin Laden raid that reads like Frank Underwood from “House of Cards” has made an unholy alliance with Carrie Mathison from “Homeland” to produce a Pakistani version of Watergate.

Contacted by Bergen, the only source named in Hersh’s article, Asad Durrani, said he had ”no evidence of any kind” that Pakistan’s intelligence service knew that Bin Laden was in Abbottabad but he could still “make an assessment that this could be plausible”.

“This is hardly a strong endorsement of one of the principal claims of Hersh’s piece,” Bergen writes.

So it’s been dismissed entirely? 

No. Some people are backing Hersh’s version of the story. Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, who has been based in Afghanistan since 2001, wrote a piece for the paper on Tuesday headlined ‘The Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story That Rings True’.

While she couldn’t confirm the reporter’s major claims, she noted…

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.

Other outlets – notably AFP – have backed up elements of Hersh’s story, while discounting other claims.

Who is Seymour Hersh anyway? 

He’s a veteran and widely-published US journalist and author. In a career so far spanning six decades, he broke the story of the US massacre of the Vietnamese at My Lai in 1969 while working as a freelancer, and in 2004 detailed the extent of the Abu Ghraib Iraq prison abuses.

Pulitzers Hersh 1970 AP / Press Association Images Seymour M. Hersh sits in the furnitureless office of Dispatch News Service in Washington, May 4, 1970, after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

What’s he done lately?

That’s the issue. Max Fisher of Vox, in a long piece taking issue with many of Hersh’s claims, says the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has published a series of increasingly difficult-to-believe ‘blockbuster’ articles in recent years, based on unnamed sources and sketchy evidence.

What has Hersh himself got to say about all of this?

He’s has been doing the media rounds this week defending his methods, and he’s not backing down. From an interview with Business Insider:

When asked about his decision to base some of his reporting on two unnamed consultants with US Special Operations Command, Hersh said he was being held to an unfair standard over his use of these kinds of anonymous sources.
“It’s really an attack-the-messenger,” Hersh said. “Every day in the newspaper, how many anonymous-sourced stories do you read? Dozens of them.”
In Hersh’s view “that doesn’t diminish the credibility” of a journalist or a source: “That’s just the way it is.”

osama Youtube Youtube

He also had a pretty fractious phone encounter with a reporter from Slate, who published the transcript of their conversation:

  • Chotiner: I just want to talk to you about your piece and journalism.
  • Hersh: What difference does it make what the fuck I think about journalism? I don’t think much of the journalism that I see. If you think I write stories where it is all right to just be good enough, are you kidding? You think I have a cavalier attitude on throwing stuff out? Are you kidding? I am not cavalier about what I do for a living.
  • Chotiner: I don’t think you are cavalier. That was not my question.
  • Hersh: Whatever it is, it’s an impossible question. It’s almost like you are asking me to say that there are flaws in everybody. Yes. Do I acknowledge that not everybody can be perfect? But I am not backing off anything I said.

Read: ‘If Bin Laden was following me on Twitter, he may have had an early warning’ 

Read: “I shot him two times in the forehead” – Two Navy Seals row over who killed Bin Laden

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