Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden Investigation Passes the Smell Test

Osama bin Laden in his happy cave days. (Photo: The Telegraph)

Osama bin Laden in his happy cave days. (Photo: The Telegraph)

In a London Review of Books article titled The Killing of Osama bin Laden, Seymour Hersh reports the results of his investigation into that much-celebrated raid. While dovetailing often with the Obama administration’s story, it’s more often diametrically opposed.

For example, many of us have wondered how the Pakistani military and ISI command couldn’t know about bin Laden in their midst. According to Hersh, they not only knew about it, they captured bin Laden in the Hindu Kush mountains, where he’d been living with his family from 2001 to 2006. They were keeping holding him in Abbottabad, courtesy of Saudi money, as leverage to keep the Taliban and al Qaeda under some sort of control, lest they turn him over to the Americans.

Without giving away too much of the article — just full of “I knew it” moments — allow me to observe that it almost makes you feel sorry for bin Laden. For example:

‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ … The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme.

Clearly the administration wanted no part of keeping bin Laden alive in a supermax, where, as if he were in Abu Ghraib, he would serve as a martyr for Islamist militants to rally around. But even Timothy McVeigh got a trial.

The next passage is sadder because it involves his family.

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 US helicopters [one of which crashed, of course]. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone.

Everyone in the compound must have had an idea of what the special detail of ISI guards was doing there — and what would happen once it left. At which point, their increasing terror must have reached a fever pitch.

Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable.

But there wasn’t. In fact, with Hersh maintaining that bin Laden was an invalid, it was like shooting fish — albeit one very big one — in a barrel.