Mấy hôm nay, báo chí chính qui Âu Mỹ tập trung “TẤN CÔNG” nhà báo điều tra độc lập Seymour Hersh, người từng phanh phui vụ Mỹ Lai, và các tội ác chiến tranh của quân Mỹ tại Iraq, và hiện nay về những truyện giả tưởng do nhà nước an ninh Mỹ tạo ra chung quanh vụ “ám sát Binladen” tại Pakistan.
Seymour Hersh trong hai lần được phỏng vấn tỏ ra rất bực dọc và cáu kỉnh với những chất vấn của ký giả khác về những lỗ hổng trong tường trình của ông (nguồn tham khảo phía dưới). Tại sao? Có vấn đề gì làm Hersh phải cáu kỉnh?
Tuy nhiên, theo Nhân Chủ, đây là cặm bẫy của tập đoàn an ninh đặt ra và Seymour Hersh cũng chỉ là một nạn nhân “cao cấp”. Phải chăng Seymour Hersh bắt đầu cảm nhận ra mình đang bị “nguồn cao cấp” dẫn độ?
Chúng ta cần nhìn lại cấu trúc của cạm bẫy này từ đầu.
-Thứ nhất, khi tất cả chúng ta bị kéo lôi vào cuộc đôi co giữa bản tường trình của Seymour Hersh và bản tường trình chính thức của Nhà nước Mỹ cũng như lập luân của nền báo chí chính qui, thì mặc nhiên coi như TẤT CẢ CHÚNG TA đều chấp nhận cái giả thiết như là một SỰ THẬT rằng nhóm Seal Team 6 đã vào giết Osama Bin laden tại Abbottabad Pakistan. Đây là “mẫu số chung”, tất cả khác biệt còn lại chỉ là những chi tiết chung quanh “cuộc ám sát” thành công mà thôi.
-Nghĩa là CHỦ ĐỀ VỀ BIN LADEN đã chuyển hướng từ cuộc chất vấn với nội dung Bin Laden đã chết từ tháng 12 năm 2001, và cái gọi là cuộc ám sát của nhóm Seal Team 6 là một điều bịa đặt sang cuộc ám sát Bin Laden của nhóm Seal Team 6 là có thật- nhưng chỉ có các chi tiết công bố là bịa đặt!
Nói cách khác, bản tường trình của Seymour Hersh khẳng định như đinh đóng cột thành quả của an ninh nhà nước Mỹ về “công trình ám sát Bin Laden”. Và như vậy nó cũng làm bạt đi tất cả những bằng chứng của khu vực Trung Đông đặc biệt Pakistan về những thông tin, điếu văn Bin Laden chết tháng 12- năm 2001. Đây là lý do nhà nước Mỹ phản ứng rất “tử tế” với Seymour Hersh chứ không hung hăng tấn công như báo chí chính qui.
Vì tất cả phía chính qui an ninh nhà nước và báo chí đều biết rằng điều quan trọng với tâm lý quần chúng là “CHÍNH PHỦ” và “CHIẾN SĨ” của họ đã thật sự giết ‘KẺ ÁC BIN LADEN” hay không mà thôi! Tất cả các chi tiết còn lại sẽ luôn là chuyện nhỏ và “được tha thứ” hay chính đáng hóa vì nhu cầu “an ninh quyền lợi quốc gia”.
Seymour Hersh giúp nhà nước an ninh Mỹ gần như “thắng lớn” trong một trận địa đang thua với các nguồn điều tra độc lập về Osama Bin Laden.
NHỮNG ĐIỂM KHÔNG HỢP LÝ
Nhưng các ký giả độc lập khác, không kể những người đã nhìn ra cạm bẫy như ông Paul Craig Roberts, ký giả Chotiner của New Yorker và Paul Jay của The Real News chất vấn Seymour về các chi tiết kẻ hở cũng như NGUỒN AN NINH CAO CẦP của Seymour Hersh.
VẤN ĐỀ NGUỒN TÌNH BÁO CAO CẤP
Trước khi chất vấn sâu vào căn rễ của cạm bẫy này, chúng ta cần phải nhớ lại tai nạn nghề nghiệp của ký giả khá lớn hiện nay đang bị điều tra là James Risen của New York Times. Tai nạn mà gần như đánh sụp sự nghiệp của ôgn ta nếu như tất cả tòng phạm không “nhận lỗi”. Đó là vụ James Risen và đồng nghiệp đã quá tin vào nguồn cao cấp CIA để viết tường trình qui tội cho nhà khoa học gia Mỹ gốc Đài Loan Wen Ho Lee làm gián điệp cho Trung Cộng. Sau đó tòa án, nhà nước Mỹ và 5 tờ báo lớn chính qui phải xin lỗi và bồi thường Wen Ho Lee . Vì sự thật CIA đã “tận dụng” mối quan hệ chặt chẽ giữa “nguồn cao cấp bên trong” và các nhà báo chính qui của các tờ báo “lớn” để RÒ RỈ CÓ ĐỊNH HƯỚNG cho MỤC TIÊU NHẤT ĐỊNH của CIA.
Những chi tiết trong tường trình của Seymour Hersh không hẳn là hoàn toàn mới lạ, mà một vài ký giả trước đó cũng đã được bật mí và đăng tải nhưng “không được chú ý” vì danh tiếng của những người này chỉ là bóng mờ khi so với Seymour Hersh như trường hợp nữ ký giả R.J. Hillhouse về An Ninh quốc gia. Câu “truyện” phải cần tầm cỡ “đối kháng nhà nước” già dặn như Seymour Hersh mới tạo sóng gió và đổ “bê tông” cho “câu truyện” hoang đường Bin Laden chết lần thứ hai bởi Seal Team 6 tại Abbottabad sau khi chết lần thứ nhất tháng 12-2001.
AN NINH PAKISTAN
Theo tường trình của Seymour Hersh, thì toàn bộ sự vụ theo nguyên gốc là một THỎA HIỆP giữa nhà nước an ninh Mỹ CIA và nhà nước an ninh Pakistan- sau khi một nhân viên an ninh cao cấp của Pakistan vì món tiền thưởng 25 triệu mỹ kim, đã trực tiếp thông báo về Bin Laden cho CIA Mỹ, và rằng hai bên CIA/ISI đồng thuận kế hoạch dàn xếp để cho Mỹ vào giết Bin Laden, kẻ đang là TÙ NHÂN của AN NINH PAKISTAN đang bệnh hoạn bị cô lập, không có phương tiện thông tin gì ngoài vài thân nhân gần gũi bên trong, và bên ngoài là an ninh tình báo ISI của Pakistan canh gác ngày đêm theo “đơn đặt hàng” và tài trợ của an ninh tình báo nhà nước Arabia – chứ không phải là kẻ đào tẩu nguy hiểm với vũ khí cận vệ tay chân gì hết. Cam kết giữa Mỹ và Pakistan là phía an ninh ISI của Pakistan trách nhiệm dàn xếp an ninh bí mật mở ngỏ cho Mỹ vào bí mật giết Bin Laden rồi lấy xác đi- nhưng phải giữ bí mật về sự đồng tình của phía Pakistan (??). Nhưng phía Mỹ đã phản bội công khai tạo “anh hùng Seal Team truyện” trên đất Pakistan, khiến Pakistan điêu đứng tiến thoái lưỡng nan v.v
– NHỮNG CÂU HỎI CẦN ĐẶT RA
1- Nếu như Arabia trả tiền cho Pakistan để xây nhà và canh giữ nhốt Bin laden, vậy những bản tin băng hình tuyên bố hăm dọa Âu Mỹ của “Bin Laden” trước khi bị “bán đứng” DO AI LÀM RA?
2- Với Ao Kỳ Đà và Taliban, và dân chúng vùng biên giới A Phú Hãn và Pakistan, Bin Laden là lãnh tụ thứ hai sau tiên tri Mohamed, thì việc Pakistan dùng con tin Bin Laden để kềm chế các nhóm này là …tự sát. Họ là những thánh chiến quyết tử, Abbottabad không xa tầm hoạt động của họ, và trong nội bộ an ninh Pakistan, thành viên “thánh chiến Hồi” không thiếu. Họ không ngần ngại ôm bom hay làm bất cứ cách gì trong khả năng của họ để giải cứu vị lãnh tụ có một không hai này. Tại sao toàn bộ lặng im và chuyển hướng thành ISIL theo sự tài trợ huấn luyện của CIA/MOSSAD cho đến khi có tin “lãnh tụ Binladen bị ám sát” thì công khai tăng cường hoạt động chính thức thành ISIL?
3- Nếu như Bin Laden chỉ là một tù nhân giam lỏng của ISI Pakistan, không cận vệ vũ khí, thì tại sao CIA cần phải tốn đến một NHÓM ĐẶC NHIỆM cao cấp SEAL (18-24 tay súng) và cất công nhiêu khê dùng cả 2 trực thăng tối tân bí mật bay từ ngoài khơi vào, chỉ để giết một tên tù nhân đơn độc bệnh hoạn đã bị cai tù dàn trận bán đứng? Nếu đúng như vậy thì chỉ cần một nhân viên đặc nhiệm vào cùng ISI của Pakistan hành sự và êm thắm chuyển xác đi …tùy nghi chẳng ai dám biết… vì cả hai kẻ toa rập đều là cơ quan bí mật nhất, quyền lực nhất của 2 quốc gia!
4- Giả thiết là Mỹ cần và muốn để Bin Laden sống, thì chắc chắn Bin Laden phải sống. Mỹ Do Thái không chỉ coi khối Hồi như con trẻ, đàn em, mà coi cả khối Âu Châu Úc v.v như đám chó cún trên lòng mà thôi. Edward Snowden, Wikileaks đã phơi bày tất cả với chứng cớ đầy đủ. Cho nên – nếu giả sử Mỹ thật sự muốn bắt sống Bin Laden khi biết chắc Bin Laden nằm trong tay ISI của Pakistan, thì chỉ cần một lời “yêu cầu” và nhân số tiền 25 triệu thành 25 tỉ, hay kể cả 25 ngàn tỉ, Mỹ cũng dư khả năng bấm nút như từng bấm nút in ra rồi không thèm nhớ đến, để khiến Pakistan chăm sóc cho Bin Laden thật chu tất cho đến khi trao vào tay Mỹ an toàn!!!
Và vẫn cứ giả thiết là “nhà nước tận thiện chính đáng”, nhà nước Mỹ bắt sống “tên trùm khủng bố thế giới”, rồi thẩm vấn điều tra và đưa hắn ra tòa công khai trước mắt thế giới… Không chỉ bao nhiêu “thuyết âm mưu” sẽ chết, mà uy tín cá nhân chính phủ, nền công lý, và cơ chế Mỹ sẽ hãnh diện lên cao- mối căng thẳng giữa Âu Mỹ và Hồi giáo sẽ được giải quyết rốt ráo – ngọn đuốc Mỹ trên đĩnh đời cao chói lọi hơn cả tên phỉ già Hồ cùa Dương Thu Hương v.v và v.v
Nhưng vẫn chỉ là NẾU… cái nếu không bao giờ xảy ra với bản chất của định chế nhà nước chính phủ quyền chính.
5-Cuối cùng nếu thật sự nguồn rò rỉ của Seymour Hersh là an ninh cao cấp tầm cỡ đến mức nắm biết chi tiết một sự vụ bí mật lớn của cả hai nền an ninh tình báo quốc gia và có tầm quốc tế lớn như thế, thì quá dễ dàng để biết kẻ rò rỉ là ai. Vì theo nguyên tắc tổ chức giới hạn ban phòng (compartmentalization) ai trong khu nào chỉ biết việc đó, cho nên số lượng kẻ biết đến độ cao của một vấn đề đếm được trên đầu ngón tay. Chỉ cần qui chiếu từ những chi tiết quan trọng cao cấp trong bản tường trình của Hersh là Ban An Ninh Quốc Gia Mỹ có thể qui vào Ai trong nội bộ cao cấp là kẻ rò rỉ!
Vì vậy, nếu Seymour Hersh “đúng,” nhà nước Mỹ sẽ biết chắc chắn ai là kẻ rỏ rỉ và có biện pháp, và một cách nào đó thừa nhận việc hư cấu chi tiết “vì an ninh quốc gia, quyền lợi ngoại giao quốc gia” và dân chúng Mỹ trong tình hình hiện nay, chắc chắn không chỉ “tha thứ” mà còn “ủng hộ” chính phủ, vì nói dối cho một việc tốt, chính đáng có thật GIẾT TRÙM KHỦNG BỐ BIN LADEN!!!
Nhưng nếu nhà nước Mỹ không thừa nhận và nhẹ nhàng cho vấn đề trôi sông với chiến thắng về thành quả “Seal Team 6 vào tận Abbottabad giết Bin Laden” do chính Seymour Hersh, một nhà báo điều tra độc lập đối kháng chính phủ Mỹ, khẳng định, xác chứng bằng bản điều tra chi tiết- được bổ túc bằng thái độ xác nhận nửa vời của ISI Pakistan một nhà nước thối nát tay sai Âu Mỹ chỉ có quyền và Mỹ kim, thì khả năng xác suất NGUỒN CHI TIẾT Mà Seymour Hersh có, là do chủ định của HỆ THỐNG AN NINH, những kẻ từng là “nguồn tốt” của HERSH mượn tên tuổi uy tín của Hersh để vừa “chính sử hóa” một câu truyện hư cấu về việc bắn giết Bin Laden đang trên đà trở thành truyện cổ tích, vừa đánh ngã UY TÍN của phe đối kháng thông tin độc lập. Thành quả quá lớn này so với cái giá bán đứng Hersh quá hời, quá lợi để thực hiện, như chúng từng toàn tính và bán đứng nhà báo James Risen trong vụ nhà khoa học Wen Ho Lee.
Và một cách gián tiếp nhưng mang tính khẳng định cho câu “truyện 911” với 28 trang “bật mí” kiểm duyệt bôi đen hàm ý Arabia chủ động vụ 911 qua Osama Bin Laden là “có thật”, loại bỏ hẳn vai trò và trách nhiệm của 15+ các cơ quan an ninh tình báo hàng đầu của Mỹ và Âu Châu Úc Do Thái mà Edward Snowden đã minh chứng trong tiến trình không chỉ tảng lờ, mà cố tình tảng lờ như chuyên viên phân tích tình báo của CIA là John Kiriakou đã nêu ra quá rõ ràng bằng chính bản thân của ông ta phải trả giá!
Nhà báo lừng danh vì tính độc lập dày dạn đối kháng này đang vi phạm lỗi lầm mà chính James Risen và ngay Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, John Kiriakou đã từng bị: QUÁ TIN VÀO NGUỒN RỈ AN NINH CAO CẤP và KHÔNG LƯỢNG ĐỊNH ĐƯỢC BẢN CHẤT CỦA QUYỀN LỰC, bài học về thủ đoạn và thủ ngữ mà Niccolò Machiavelli đã trình bày rất rõ trong tác phẩm “The Prince” (Ông Hoàng) của ông ta.
Qua chứng cớ văn bản, thế giới đều biết CIA tạo dựng, huấn luyện và nuôi dưỡng Osama Bin Laden từ cuộc chiến Soviet- Afganistan. Qua thế giới, chúng ta cũng biết Osama Bin laden bị bệnh thận nặng nề, đã từng được Mỹ chữa trị trong bệnh viện đặc biệt của Mỹ tại Trung Đông. Và quan trọng hơn hết là QUA CON MẮT, ĐÔI TAI CỦA CHÍNH mỗi CHÚNG TA, những hình ảnh, phim âm thanh gán gọi là của Bin Laden rõ ràng không thề đúng, không thể là từ một nhân vật.
Không chỉ riêng sự vụ Osama Bin Laden, mà trước cho đến nay, đã có biết bao nhiêu sự vụ quan trọng từng có ảnh hưởng sống chết của hàng triệu nhân mạng, an toàn hạnh phúc của cả xã hội như thực phẩm thuốc men vi khuẩn hóa chất v.v từ báo chí chính qui nhà nước, tất cả đều đã minh chứng không thật, tất cả là dối trá và đang tiếp tục dối trá như hiệp ước TPP, dầu đá phiến, thực phẩm cải di tính Monsanto v.v kể không hết.
Khi một kẻ đi xem phim giải trí và tin vào câu mở đầu “phim dựa trên một chuyện có thật” rồi tín tất cả các sự kiện trong phim là thật, thì óc kẻ đó có vấn đề. Cũng như khi một hệ thống định chế chưa từng nói thật làm tốt mà bạn vẫn còn tin vào nó, thì cái đầu của bạn tệ hại hơn cả người xem phim, vì ít ra cái phim giả tưởng kia còn có chút liên can một vài điều thật.
Cuối cùng nhưng không kém quan trọng, hay đúng hơn là rất then chốt nền tảng- đó là khi chính cặp mắt và bộ óc của MỘT NGƯỜI không còn đủ sáng suốt thấy được sự KHÁC BIỆT giữa các tấm hình của nhiều người khác nhau được NHÀ NƯỚC và BÁO CHÍ CHÍNH QUI LIÊN TỤC ĐĂNG TẢI và gọi tên chung là Osama Bin Laden, thì quả thật những gì trong đầu người đó KHÔNG NÊN GỌI LÀ ÓC nữa!
Hiện nay nhân loại đã có 7 tỉ “đơn vị” nhưng được bao nhiêu có “óc người” khi những hình ảnh không chỉ Bin Laden mà Thánh tụ và doàn thánh quân với đoàn Toyota bóng nhoáng- những NẠN DỊCH không quá trăm người uổng tử rồi biến mất; những di hại của thực phẩm có ĐƯỜNG, có hóa chất v.v vẫn cứ khơi khơi được chấp nhận không hoài nghi chất vấn? Những James Risen, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake v.v vẫn không làm họ chất vấn tín lý nhà nước? Những Galileo, Bruno, Kepler và tội ác tàn sát, tội phạm tình dục, những chứng sử về thần tích Chúa Trời Kinh Thánh ăn cắp của truyện cổ Ai Cập , Babylon, Ấn Độ vẫn không làm họ tái thẩm niềm tin?
Tùy mọi người vậy!
Chúng Tôi KHÔNG BƯỚC VÀO CÁI BẪY quá vớ vẩn này!
NGUỒN DẪN VÀ các TƯ LIỆU CẦN THAM KHẢO THÊM
Paul Craig Roberts
My distrust has deepened of Seymour Hersh’s retelling of the Obama regime’s extra-judicial murder of Osama bin Laden by operating illegally inside a sovereign country. http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/05/11/seymour-hersh-succumbs-disinformation-paul-craig-roberts/  That Hersh’s story, which is of very little inherent interest, received such a large amount of attention, is almost proof of orchestration in order to substantiate the Obama regime’s claim to have killed a person who had been dead for a decade.
Americans are gullible, and thought does not come easily to them, but if they try hard enough they must wonder why it would be necessary for the government to concoct a totally false account of the deed if Washington kills an alleged terrorist. Why not just give the true story? Why does the true story have to come out years later from anonymous sources leaked to Hersh?
I can tell you for a fact that if SEALs had encountered bin Laden in Abbottabad, they would have used stun grenades and tear gas to take him alive. Bin Laden would have been paraded before the media, and a jubilant White House would have had a much photographed celebration pinning medals on the SEALs who captured him.
Instead, we have a murder without a body, which under law classifies as no murder, and a story that was changed several times by the White House itself within 48 hours of the alleged raid and has now been rewritten again by disinformation planted on Hersh.
Perhaps the release of book titles allegedly found in bin Laden’s alleged residence in Abbottabad is part of the explanation. Who can imagine the “terror mastermind” sitting around reading what the presstitute London Telegraph calls bin Laden’s library of conspiracy theories about 9/11 and Washington’s foreign and economic policies? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/11619270/Osama-bin-Ladens-bookshelf-featured-conspiracy-theories-about-his-terror-plots.html 
Keep in mind that the government’s claim that these books were in bin Laden’s Abbottabad library comes from the same government that told you Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Assad used chemical weapons, that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and that Russia invaded Ukraine. There is no evidence whatsoever that bin Laden had these books, just as there is no evidence for any claim made by Washington. In the absence of evidence, Washington’s position amounts to this: “It is true if we say so.”
I would wager that the Hersh story was planted in order to gin up renewed interest in the bin Laden saga, which could then be used to discredit Washington’s critics. Notice that the authors in bin Laden’s alleged library are those careful and knowledgeable people who have severely whipped Washington with the truth. The whip wielders are Noam Chomsky, David Ray Griffin, Michel Chossudovsky, Greg Palast, Michael Scheuer, William Blum. You get the picture. You mustn’t believe these truth-tellers, because bin Laden approved of them and had their books in his library. By extension, will these truth-tellers be accused of aiding and abetting terrorism?
Obama claims to have settled the score in mafia godfather fashion with bin Laden for 9/11. But there is no body and not even a consistent story about what happened to the body. The sailors aboard the ship from which the White House reported bin Laden was given a burial at sea report no such burial took place. The SEAL unit that allegedly supplied the team that killed an unarmed and undefended bin Laden was mysteriously wiped out in a helicopter crash. It turns out that the SEALs were flown into combat against the Taliban in an antique, half-century-old 1960s vintage helicopter. Parents of the dead SEALs are demanding to have unanswered questions answered, a story that the presstitute media has conveniently dropped for Washington’s convenience.
Other than 9/11 itself, never has such a major event as bin Laden’s killing had such an enormous number of contradictory official and quasi-official explanations, unanswered questions and evasions. And the vast number of evasions and contradictions arouse no interest from the Western media or from the somnolent and insouciant American public.
Now it turns out that Washington has “lost” the bin Laden “death files,” thus protecting in perpetuity the fabricated story of bin Laden’s killing. http://www.globalresearch.ca/pentagon-orders-purge-of-osama-bin-ladens-death-files-from-data-bank/5342055 
Here is Tom Hartman’s interview with David Ray Griffin: Is bin Laden dead or alive:
Here is Philip Kraske’s OpEdNews article on Steve Kroft’s orchestrated “60 Minutes” interview with Obama on the killing of Osama bin Laden: http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143300 
Article printed from PaulCraigRoberts.org: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org
URL to article: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/05/26/washington-protects-lies-lies-paul-craig-roberts/
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The Big Lie: Obama DID NOT Kill Bin Laden!
Claiming otherwise is one of his many Big Lies. On May 1, 2011, he willfully deceived the US public saying:
“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.”
“Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.”
In last Sunday’s London Review of Books, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh shredded Obama’s Big Lie like others before him.
Obama’s official narrative “might have been written by (Alice in Wonderland author) Lewis Carroll,” he said. It was a total fabrication. More on his account below.
Volumes of evidence separate fact from fiction. On July 11, 2002, TheNew York Times said “Osama bin Laden is dead. (He) died in December and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan.”
“Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, echoed the information…(T)he truth is that Osama bin Laden is dead.”
The BBC, Fox News and other media sources reported the same information. David Ray Griffin‘s seminal book on the topic titled “Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive?” did it best.
He presented “objective evidence and testimonies.” The former includes the following:
Through December 13, 2001, the CIA monitored messages between bin Laden and his associates. Suddenly they stopped.
On December 26, 2001, a leading Pakistani newspaper reported bin Laden’s death. It cited a prominent Taliban official attending his funeral – witnessing his dead body before it was laid to rest.
His was very ill with kidney disease and other ailments. In July 2001, he was treated at the American Hospital in Dubai.
On September 10, 2001 (one day before 9/11), CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported his admittance to a Rawalpindi, Pakistan hospital.
He had nothing to do with 9/11. An earlier article discussed the Mother of All Big Lies.
In January 2001, Dr. Sanjay Gupta said bin Laden appeared “in the last stages of kidney failure” (according to Griffin) – based on video evidence he saw in late November or early December 2001.
In July 2002, CNN reported the capture of bin Laden’s bodyguards months earlier in February. “Sources believe that if the bodyguards were captured away from bin Laden, it is likely the most-wanted man in the world is dead,” it said.
Washington offered a $25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden’s capture or killing. No one came forward to claim it. More on this below.
Testimonial evidence Griffin cited included influential “people in a position to know” saying bin Laden died in December 2001 including:
- Pakistan President Musharraf;
- FBI counterterrorism head Dale Watson;
- Oliver North saying, “I’m certain that Osama is dead…and so are all the other guys I stay in touch with;”
- Afghanistan President Karzai;
- Israeli intelligence saying supposed bin Laden messages were fake; and
- Pakistan’s ISI “confirm(ing) the death of…Osama bin Laden (and) attribut(ing) the reasons behind Washington’s hiding (the truth) to the desire of (America’s hawks) to use the issue of al Qaeda and international terrorism to invade Iraq.”
In October 2008, former CIA case officer Robert Baer told National Public Radio when asked: “Of course he’s dead.”
In March 2009, former Foreign Service officer Angelo Codevilla published an American Spectator article titled “Osama bin Elvis, saying:
“Seven years after (his) last verifiable appearance among the living, there is more evidence of Elvis’s presence among us than for his.”
Griffin explained today’s advanced technology can create fake messages and videos able to fool most people.
Pre-May 2011 claims about “bin Laden’s continued existence (weren’t) backed up by evidence,” Griffin explained.
Perpetuating the myth about bin Laden remaining alive until May 2011 remains one of the Big Lies of our time.
It bears repeating. Clear evidence proves he died of natural causes in December 2001. Keeping alive a dead man was done to pursue America’s phony “war on terror.”
So-called “Enemy Number One” was used to stoke fear as pretext for post-9/11 imperial wars on one country after another to this day.
Griffin hoped his book would help shorten America’s wars. They rage endlessly. Don’t expect Hersh’s article to change things.
He said bin Laden’s reported killing was “the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election.”
The official White House account of bin Laden’s death was totally “false,” said Hersh. His version of events differs markedly from Griffin’s explained above.
Most important is both explanations and others expose the official Big Lie – hype used as justification for America’s war on terror, naked aggression against one country after another by any standard.
Hersh said the May 2011 bin Laden operation began in August 2010 after a former senior Pakistani (ISI) intelligence official offered information on his location in return for the $25 million reward Washington promised leading to his death or capture.
Claiming he was in Abbottabad under ISI house arrest doesn’t comport with convincing evidence of his December 2001 death.
Saying Obama wanted Osama dead belies his earlier demise. The staged bin Laden killing was hokum – especially with no visuals, corpse, independent proof and shifting official accounts.
Major events are always strategically timed for political reasons. In this case, to boost Obama’s sagging image. It got an immediate bump following the staged event.
It diverted attention from neoliberal harshness, force-fed austerity and protracted homeland Main Street Depression conditions.
They’re evident today in unprecedented levels of borderline/actual/or deep poverty, unemployment or underemployment, homelessness, hunger and overall deprivation in the world’s richest country.
It continued post-9/11 fear-mongering to further Washington’s imperial agenda – featuring one direct or proxy war of aggression after another against nations threatening no others.
So-called DNA evidence claimed to prove bin Laden’s death 12 hours after the staged Abbottabad incident was fake.
Experts explain DNA identification takes days to complete – impossible in hours, especially in a location with no professional lab or skilled personnel to conduct it.
Convincing evidence revealed about the alleged May 2011 bin Laden killing proves the official White House account was fabricated – one of many of Obama’s Big Lies.
A Final Comment
On August 6, 2011, 30 US special forces (including 20 Navy Seals) involved in the Abbottabad incident died in a reported helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Draw your own conclusions. Dead men tell no tales.
War Propaganda. “Planting Stories” in the News Chain
“The Department of Defense said they needed to do this, and they were going to actually plant stories that were false in foreign countries — as an effort to influence public opinion across the world.1
“…considering issuing a secret directive to American military to conduct covert operations aimed at influencing public opinion and policymakers in friendly and neutral nations …The proposal has ignited a fierce battle throughout the Bush administration over whether the military should carry out secret propaganda missions in friendly nations like Germany… The fight, one Pentagon official said, is over ‘the strategic communications for our nation, the message we want to send for long-term influence, and how we do it….’We have the assets and the capabilities and the training to go into friendly and neutral nations to influence public opinion. We could do it and get away with it. That doesn’t mean we should.’6
“ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world.” (http://www.state.gov/r/ )
« We’re under attack because we love freedom… And as long as we love freedom and love liberty and value every human life, they’re going to try to hurt us.» 11
“The war against terrorists of global reach is a global enterprise of uncertain duration. …America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.…Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction (…)The targets of these attacks are our military forces and our civilian population, in direct violation of one of the principal norms of the law of warfare. As was demonstrated by the losses on September 11, 2001, mass civilian casualties is the specific objective of terrorists and these losses would be exponentially more severe if terrorists acquired and used weapons of mass destruction.The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, (…). To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”12 (National Security Strategy, White House, 2002, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html )
“Skeptics will argue that the inconsistencies don’t prove the Iraqis have continued developing weapons of mass destruction. It also leaves Washington casting about for other damning material and charges, including the midweek claim, again unproved, that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last November or late October.”14
Paul Jay phỏng vấn Seymour Hersh
Seymour (Sy) Myron Hersh (born April 8, 1937) is an American Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author based in Washington, DC. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine on military and security matters. His work first gained worldwide recognition in 1969 for exposing the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. His 2004 reports on the US military’s mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison gained much attention. Hersh received the 2004 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting given annually by Long Island University to honor contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting. This was his fifth George Polk Award, the first one being a Special Award given to him in 1969
TRNN Talks to Sy HershPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. In a piece in the London Review of Books, Seymour Hersh debunks the American narrative of the capturing of Osama bin Laden. He says the official version is more like a fairy tale than fact. Now joining us from his office is Seymour Hersh. Thanks very much for joining us.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure.
JAY: So the basic thesis, if I understand correctly, is the two top military leaders of Pakistan, the chief of the Army and the chief of the ISI, in fact not only knew where bin Laden was, and not only cooperated with the Americans, but the entire official version that this was done as a completely unilateral American mission is a lie.
HERSH: That’s pretty good, accurate description of–yeah, it’s exactly right. I think the way I usually say it is the President authorized the raid, and the SEAL Team, American SEAL Team 6, which was our most–these are good people, this is the, sort of the cream of the crop of this, the special forces. They did go into Abbottabad, this little resort town outside of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, where bin Laden was a prisoner, or under the control of the Pakistanis for years.
JAY: Since 2006.
HERSH: And they killed him. Period. Came back, successful mission. After that, much of the other story just isn’t right.
JAY: Now, the 10,000 word article is extremely detailed. We’re not going to try to go through the whole, all the details.
HERSH: Thank God, yeah.
JAY: Because people should go read the article. Not only is it very detailed, but it’s also a great read. So go read it. That being said, a few questions. What–why wouldn’t the Americans want to capture bin Laden and interrogate him?
HERSH: We would. We would’ve wanted to very much. Just–you’re getting ahead of the curve here. Let me just, let me just do the chronology for you.
What happens is in 2010, a guy that worked, a retired military officer who was involved in, in something to do with the, the building in which bin Laden was a prisoner, or what you will, in Abbottabad. Some guy that, he has something to do with the security, maybe providing guards for the complex. But he was a, he was a retired officer on contract with the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI. That’s what it is, it’s the counterpart to our CIA, the Pakistani counterpart.
This guy walks into the American embassy in Islamabad and wants the, you know, there’s a bounty. We put a bounty, a $25 million buck reward for the guy’s head. And so this guy comes in and he, he wants the money, and he tells us where bin Laden is, and tells us a lot of other information. He says bin Laden was picked up by the Pakistanis somewhere in the rural district, near the border with Afghanistan, a place called Waziristan. And a mountain area. And they had him as a prisoner basically since ’06. He also says, we later learn that the Pakistanis had told the Saudis about it. And the Saudis’ position with the Pakistanis was, we’ll build a house for him. We’ll build a complex where he was staying. We’ll pay for that. We’ll give you some money. We don’t know how much, I think a lot. I’ve heard a lot, but I don’t know. I just don’t know what the answer is. We, we’ll pay you not to tell the Americans. Why? Because the last thing they want is to have the Americans go interrogate Osama bin Laden about who was giving him money back in ’01 when he took down New York and Washington.
So that’s the reasonable assumption.
JAY: Because according to the Senate co-investigation into 9/11, the congressional committee, Bob Graham and such, many, according to Graham, Saudi government officials are in on financing and facilitating the 9/11 attacks.
HERSH: Well we, we, we–you know, we don’t have the money transfer. We don’t have the empirical evidence. But getting bin Laden to say something would have been important. And so that was a pretty good reason. The other reason, you know, the Pakistanis have their own axe to grind in the world. They don’t have to tell us everything. But in any case, once, what it–.
JAY: One more question. Why not kill him?
HERSH: What do you mean, why not kill him, what–.
JAY: Why not kill bin Laden?
JAY: [Are] they afraid of–well, once they have him, why not kill him? Why keep him for six years?
HERSH: Well first of all, they’re being paid to keep him. Second of all, they–as long as they have bin Laden, the Pakistani Intelligence Service can go to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan and say–and also to the jihadists, the Sunni wackos in both countries, and say, we got your guy. And you have to understand at this point bin Laden was ten times more than what–a huge number more, more popular than we were. Than America is. America at one point was only, polls showed only 8 percent of the people in Pakistan liked us. They didn’t like us. They saw us as guys that dropped bombs on them. Which we just may be.
And, um, and so, um, the issue was, just to go kill him, if the–if, if Pasha and Kayani, the two generals who ran the country then. The Army general was named Kayani, the head of the Intelligence Service was named Pasha. If they had just gone and whacked the guy, if anything had come out, leaked out–I’m just giving you a reason for that. This, this never came up in my interviews. Because I was always looking at it from the American point of view. But it would make sense to me that the last thing they’d want to have happen is let the, let the population know that they were involved in killing bin Laden. How would you keep that a secret?
So I–that makes sense. But your question is good, and unanswered.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to go through a lot of, much of the specifics of the story. But this all really comes down to confidence in you, that you have sources. Because your, your sources you can’t reveal. Or don’t reveal.
HERSH: I could, but they’d be in jail the next day, or with–you know, pretty tough government here.
JAY: And the key–and I understand that. And the key source is a retired former American intelligence official, who seems to know very much about the inside of all this. I mean, there’s great detail of the mission, of the background to this. So this is somebody who–two things. One, you’ve placed your career in his hands, and he’s placed his life, to a large extent, in your hands.
HERSH: Go ahead. I–I just don’t talk about sources. You’re free to talk about it all you want. All I can tell you is the sources that I describe are primary sources. And of course as I also said in the article, I’m capable of taking some of the most inside stuff I learned and finding others who know about it.
JAY: That was my followup question. Which is, how do you–how do you know, given how much you have at stake in terms of your own credibility here, how do you verify what he says?
HERSH: Well, I’ve always–you know, I’m dealing with a core group of people that I’ve known for a long time. And I’ve written a lot of stories in the last, particularly since 9/11, a lot of tough stories about, you know, some of the junk we do in, we did in Afghanistan and in, and, and in, also in Iraq during the war there. Torture, killings, mur–I mean, a lot of very bad stuff that, you know, I–one could argue that America had to get that bloody in the war on terror. That makes sense to me. But there was an awful lot of not so much smart stuff. There was stuff done inside, assassinations done, stuff with, done with the Israelis inside, inside Iran.
There was a lot of stuff I wrote about over the last ten, ten-twelve years that have, you know, gotten a lot of people’s attention. And some, a lot of criticism, et cetera. So it’s not as if I’m dealing with somebody tabula rasa. This is somebody that–this is somebody I’ve worked with a long time.
JAY: And have been able to verify over the past [years.]
HERSH: And it’s even more, just to give you more detail. The raid took place, in U.S. time, on the late–in the night of May 2nd. Four years ago, 2011. Within two or three days, I heard from people here, and people in Pakistan that there were problems. That the whole story that the White House was being told is, was really off. And the critical thing about the whole idea of working with the Pakistanis and doing it, the White House does want, does, does not want to acknowledge.
And right now there’s been a couple of stories written the last few, last, last two days, both by NBC and now by the Don–oh, I, I just see a, AFP. The, the French Press Agency. A story out of Pakistan saying two more people have claimed that there was a walk-in. That this–you know–basically backing up what I wrote. And the White House position now is, well, there may have been a walk-in. But he had nothing to do with, uh, getting bin Laden.
JAY: The walk-in happens in 2010?
HERSH: Yeah. The walk-in. August of 2010.
JAY: So for like, two years, the United States government has a fair idea where bin Laden is alleged to be. So what happens?
HERSH: Well, 2010 it’s, he’s in August of 2010, the raid takes place nine months later in May. So it’s a year. A year and three months. So what happens is once you get the walk-in, the first thing you do–walk-ins, you know, being sometimes shady characters. You know, some guy says, hey, where’s my money? They flew in a team from Washington to polygraph him. He passes the test. He’s also known. These people know–he’s not a guy that isn’t known in Pakistan. He’s got some, he’s got some flair.
And so we start working it without telling the Pakistanis. And we get to the point after some weeks, we, you know, we set up a safe house near the–bin Laden’s living in a compound, as I said, in a resort city. But he’s sort of at the low end of it. It’s sort of a shaggy place. And it’s got high walls, and no sign of any internet connections–I mean, there’s no, no evidence of any power, even, really. Significantly. And we can’t get a fix on it. So, and meanwhile we’re telling the President, they are briefing the President, as they have to. And the President is saying, absolutely correctly, you know, I’m not going to touch this. I don’t–you guys have, bring me–you know–.
JAY: How do you know that? That the President said that? [inaud.]
HERSH: Well, I, that–.
JAY: Not saying to tell me the source, but–.
HERSH: No, I’m not–how do I know what he said literally? No, I don’t know. I was using a–what the President said is, I need more evidence. That’s what he said. You know, he–the President made it clear that that wasn’t good enough. So at that point they go to the Pakistanis. They go to see the two ranking generals, General Kayani, head of the Army, and General Pasha, head of the Intelligence Service, the ISI. The counterpart to, as I said, the counterpart to the CIA. And we say to those guys, you know, you know–whatever you say. You rats, why didn’t you tell us this, you know, what’s, what’s going on? And eventually they squeeze them. As I mentioned, money talks.
JAY: Can I just–you point out in the article that they start slowing down the flow of money to the military, because there’s an enormous–.
HERSH: Yeah, there’s–there’s a big, always a flow. And there’s always on the table and under the table stuff, too. So you know, we take care of the boys. And so all that is, is cut back. And so they begin to cooperate. We set up a four-man team at a very secret base called–not so secret, but there’s secret activities, that are called Gaza, Tarbela Gaza, about 15 minutes flying time from Abbottabad. That’s the main headquarters for us.
And we’re there. And we’re beginning, you know, we’re going to send a bunch of SEALs in there to kill this guy. We want to know how many steps are there to his room. There’s steel doors, how, how strong is the steel door? How much dynamite do we have to use to blow it? You know we’re, we’re not going to get a key. And so we know all the, we have to get all this information. What’s the square–like, what, what kind of security? It was arranged that, with the, the Pakistanis were guarding it, that they had guards there at night. I don’t know how many, whether there was four, six, eight. I’ve heard numbers, as many as eight to twelve. But they probably rotate.
And they, so the guards were instructed, and eventually, to–as soon as they hear the rotors of our choppers coming, get out. The mar–the SEALs were going to land with no opposition. There was no firefight there, there was no reason to fight your way in.
JAY: Was there any id–we have any idea of how many guards there were [inaud.]
HERSH: No. No, I just–we have a number, but I don’t–it’s not a, it’s not a, you know. There was–.
JAY: Because one, one thing that I wonder about is that they’ve been holding him since 2006. There’s pretty good evidence that there are sections of the ISI and the Army, and including the Navy, that are infiltrated. Have a lot of al-Qaeda supporters–.
HERSH: Mm-hmm, you bet.
JAY: Taliban supporters.
HERSH: You bet.
JAY: Yet there doesn’t seem to have been an attempt by any of them to free bin Laden. [inaud.]
HERSH: I don’t think that–I think there was, it was pretty, kept–pretty slow, pretty–kept pretty quiet, of course. I mean, what–my God, they’re not going to pass it around.
One of the big worries we have about Pakistan, don’t forget, that’s sort of the elephant in the room with Pakistan at all times is their nuclear arsenal. They’re between–you know, when I did a story about four, five years ago, it was 100, more than 100 weapons then. You know, and they’ve been producing it still. They have–they’re still producing enriched uranium. And I think they even started a, um, a plutonium reprocessing facility. So they have an ability to make more bombs, and they are making more bombs.
And so we have to try and keep our relationships with the top of that army very tight. Because we–you know, that’s the only leverage we have, is we have arms–we want them to trust us.
JAY: So if I understand correctly, President Obama makes a deal with [inaud.]
HERSH: Well, the President’s, the President’s not involved in this. I mean, he’s getting briefings on it. What happens is the President says, I need more. So we go to the Pakistanis. One of the, one of the first things they do is they assign a doctor, an Army Major that’s also a doctor. A specialist–a nephrologist, actually, I understand. They assign him to live in a house next door, to–or close by the house at Abbottabad. Where bin Laden lives. He’s treating him. He also gets DNA for us. This is before the end of the year.
So now we can tell the President, the guys who want to do the mission, we’ve got DNA on the guy. And the [Pakistani]–.
JAY: How does he get the DNA?
HERSH: He just, he’s a doctor. He’s treating him. He’s not–um, he’s ill. I mean, they snuffed out–you know, they killed the guy that was pretty sick. You know, they’re–you know, this isn’t the best day in the sun for the SEALs. They had a mission to do and they did it. And the idea that–as I said, it was never to be made public they did it. The whole idea was, you go kill the guy, you come out with the body. The Pakistanis said kill him and take the body. You come out and you don’t tell anybody.
The plan was that in seven to ten days, there were–the White House was, the President was going to announce that we had a drone raid in, in the Hindu Kush mountains. In the mountains–the same mountain range that, where we picked up bin Laden in the first place. And we, we did an after-act–you know, we go look at it after the, after the attack. And sure enough, there’s a tall guy that looks like bin Laden. We take his picture. We take some DNA. We got him.
That was the plan. The night of the raid everything worked. A chopper went down, but so what. Who cared. Electricity was cut four hours before the raid. A chopper went down and they had to blow it, because the cockpit had some very sensitive aviation and communications gear. You can imagine, we’re speaking really encrypted stuff on this mission. And so they have to blow it–there’s a big fire going on. A lot of noise. No police, no fire department. No lights anywhere. I mean, did we do all that? Pakistanis clearly did. I’m just telling you what’s literally factually there. And that was all in, all the reports. I don’t know how that–I don’t know how anybody could walk away from this and not think Pakistan had something to do with it, but that’s neither here nor there. Easy to say afterwards.
And so they fly out. When they fly out, they have to take a body. I don’t know what use the body is to them because it’s going to be, they’re going to find another guy in another week, you know. But I don’t–I just don’t know. And when, and then everybody discovers the game plan is completely changed. Obama went public. And why does he go public?
He went public because I’m sure that he got tremendous pressure after they realized they’d killed him to go–to not wait ten days or seven days. You–you know, you’ve got a Republican guy, Bob Gates, in the, running the Defense Department. He’s involved. You’ve got a lot of guys that like to brag, and the military are always full of guys that yap. You can’t be sure you, in a week or ten days, you can hold the secret. So go.
So he goes. And the President gets a speech to deliver. He–you know, sometimes he writes his speeches. He’s quite good at that. But in this case he gets a speech to deliver. I have no idea what’s in his head. And that’s, when people say–the government did lie. I don’t know whether he knew that what he was writing was inaccurate or not. I just don’t know. Because often a president is confronted, you know, he’s dealt with what he gets. I have no information about that.
But he, in the statement he makes a lot of things–he says a lot of things that drives everybody nuts. Meanwhile, you’ve got a bureaucracy. You’ve got a problem. You now have a body, you have some SEALs that know a lot. The whole game plan’s destroyed.
JAY: You’ve betrayed, essentially, the Pakistani [leaders]
HERSH: You certainly, you certainly there–you could, you know, you’ve certainly taken advantage of them. And what–what are their options? If Pasha and Kayani say the hell with you, America, we’re going to tell the truth. You double-crossed us. A, there goes their money. B, all kinds of people in Pakistan are going to come after them. All the people that liked bin Laden. They’re going to have to, you know–.
JAY: This was the whole point, to protect them from this kind of revenge that [inaud].
HERSH: Exactly. And that’s why you–that was why you, as you say to me, why couldn’t they just go whack him? Because if they whacked him, if, if the Pakistanis whacked him directly themselves and it leaked out, boy they’re in trouble. So this was a, sort of a way to cover the whole thing and make it easy.
And instead what the President said, and this was a speech that was just written by the political guys, as I’ve been told, emphatically. And he said, for example, we got a lead in August last year. Well, in the CIA a lead is often a walk-in. It’s not couriers running around giving you something you deduce. It’s something handed to you. So everybody got edgy about that. Then he said there was a firefight and bin Laden was killed, as if Bin Laden had an AK-47, was, you know, shooting away. That wasn’t so. So now you had a, now you had to invent a firefight. He said, we got a treasure trove of information. Now you had to invent a treasure trove of information that nobody’s seen yet. You know, oh, we’ve never had more information about al-Qaeda. When it’s, we haven’t seen a thing about it. I mean, maybe a little bit, but not much.
And so all these things, you suddenly had, you had to be at a rush and put out a whole new package of what’s going on. So that led, in the first couple days, to incredible stories. First of all, the political guys in the White House, and John Brennan has, head of counter-insurgency and counterterror, and others. All of a sudden they’re presented with a press corps that’s begging. Feed me, feed me, feed me. Like in that movie. Feed me, feed me. And so they feed them.
The first round is, the guys entered. There was a, people came in with guns, then they shot a bunch of people. There was a firefight. Then they went in there and bin Laden had a gun, and was cowering behind two women. And they shot him. And then eventually–they had to walk away from that very quickly, within a few days. That was embarrassing.
There were other stuff that they said that kept on going. You had a–now you had to invent a treasure–you had to invent a treasure trove. So they started–this was a place that had always been described as a primitive place with no internet. So now they’re briefing that the SEALs, when they went in to kill the guy, after they shot him took 15 bags, or 15 computers out. And, and a book written by, a, a book that was [read in advance] by the government called No Easy Day by a guy named Bissonnette, one of the SEALs, who was on the mission. He describes–he goes down, he describes it. Says, we went down to the second floor and there was a beautiful–he had an office. With computers and, and discs, and sticks. You know, what do they call those sticks.
JAY: USB sticks.
HERSH: Yeah, USB sticks. We got all of that stuff. As if bin Laden was sort of keeping it there for them, waiting for them to take it. It was just a ludicrous story. But it matched what the President said. Treasure trove.
JAY: The, the narrative that came out, perhaps the central narrative, was the courage of Obama. That he made this call. He sat in that [inaud.] But–.
HERSH: Well, he did. He did. But what–.
JAY: But, but what you said, what you’re disputing is that it wasn’t so courageous in the sense that they had the cooperation of the Pakistanis, they knew it was bin Laden. I mean, what’s the great courage here?
HERSH: Well, there, the one always–the one risk, the thing that kept it at 50 percent when they talked about, Obama talked about only 50 percent sure. Because if you didn’t know it was bin Laden there, if that was, the way we were, described as, we weren’t 100 percent sure. Remember, they had to say Geronimo, which meant they got him. If you–and of course they knew it was bin Laden. That, that was false. And the other–.
JAY: They weren’t going to get any resistance, because it was Pakistani guards which simply left.
HERSH: And the other side of it is also that the only risk–once you know it’s Bin Laden, you then have the situation where the only risk you have is, will a chopper go down? And if you want to know what I’ve been told, and I didn’t write this in the article because it seemed like so much inside baseball. The–you know, it was such an easy mission. If you think about it, the SEALs are flying in to kill a guy in a foreign, a country with which we’re not at war. And they’re, there’s, a mile away from Abbottabad is West–is their West Point. You know, that’s where they trained their military. And two miles away is the Division headquarters. They’re coming in happy as clams, no air cover. You know, talking about rappelling down. You know, rappelling into a courtyard, where anybody with a BB gun could, could–you know, could hit them. And why? Because they know it’s safe.
My belief, and I, I, I didn’t write this because–even the second chopper was redundancy. You just need one. Two groups. SEALs, the SEALs are in squads of six because that’s how many fit into a dinghy, which is funny because none of the SEALs have been in water in so long. They’ve been just underground, slogging it out since 9/11. SEALs are trained to do underwater stuff, and so that’s why they have squads of six.
Anyway, so one squad went in to kill him, the other squad did cover. The other two squads I guess were going to work outside. The chopper goes down. And then there’s a problem. You’ve got to call up–you have a backup chopper maybe 20 minutes, 25 minutes flying away. Flying time away. And the backup chopper was, it’s a Chinook. It’s a big hop–a big chopper. It was filled with what they call a bladder of gas, of petrol. Fuel. The planes were going to refuel from, from the, the larger choppers that were left about–they were about 20 minutes flying time away. Discreetly far enough away. And they had to take out the bladder and put it, you know, reconfigure it so they can get troops and people into it.
So instead of a mission at the time is going to be 20 minutes, it’s now 40 minutes. So there’s a–the only tension was that. But the guys are just hanging around. They’re not worrying about it. I mean, the more you think about it the more you realize it’s almost ineluctable that we’re not told the whole story.
JAY: You’ve exploded two very big bombs here. One bomb in Pakistani politics, because for everything that they were afraid of, the chief of the Army and chief of the ISI, well, it’s now out. And if this is believed in Pakistan, then everything they were afraid of is now, they’re on, on the, they’re a target for it. The al-Qaeda, the Taliban forces, popular opinion that hates this kind of cooperation with the Americans is all going to turn on them. So that’s one bomb.
HERSH: By the way, just to interrupt and say that the, I think the Pakistani government announced today they were going to look, begin a formal investigation into this.
JAY: Then the other bomb is one of the central legacies of President Obama. He got bin Laden.
HERSH: Well, that’s tough. Because I’m a, I–you know, I support, you know. Just as a human being, I voted for him twice, and I think he’s the smartest president we’ve had probably since Lincoln. You know, he’s a pretty amazing guy. And I do end up, by the piece, by saying look, the Obama of 2011 a year before reelection, you know, some black dude wants to be elected twice in America, you’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, you know, I could understand reaching out and doing what you can. And the President we have now, who is hanging tough in Iran is a different person, and telling the Republicans to go stick it where the sun don’t shine. This is a different person. So you have to say that. But there’s no question then, I hope we can get a–we won’t get a statement from him. We won’t get a real statement from the White House because it’s an embarrassment. It wasn’t the best day in the sun.
JAY: But the more this story has traction, mainstream media, everybody’s talking about it. There’s, there’s–.
HERSH: Well, but they’re not, the–mainstream it’s, most of they’re, there’s an awful lot of bitching at me, basically, in the media.
JAY: Well this is where I was heading. There’s only one way to critique this, which is to attack the messenger.
HERSH: Well, the White House started that. They, they began to talk about it. You know, saying things like there’s so many inaccuracies in the story we don’t know where to begin, and I can’t stand reading it. Meanwhile, nobody’s–you know, and so the press writes the White House attacks the, debunks story. But they don’t say a word about anything official. I just got a call today saying that the CIA may end up saying today that we don’t think there was a walk-in. But that’s permissible in the CIA, to protect the walk-in.
And you know, here’s the thing that–I mentioned, I probably should have done more about it. In terms of, of state of mind, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command, which ran this mission, is an admiral named McRaven. He’s now Chancellor of the University of Texas. And a bright guy. He’s smart guy, admiral. Three, four star admiral, ambitious like all of them. And so in 2013, about two years after the event, there was a lot of questions raised, particularly about all aspects, constant freedom of information questions.
They, the White House kept them talking about, they buried him un–he was buried at sea. Bin Laden–then there’s just a lot of, I just write about this a lot. I don’t definitively say, I can just tell you many people I know that really know the issue don’t believe it happened.
JAY: Well you, you quote two sources that tell you the funeral never happened on the ship.
HERSH: Well yeah, I have one guy that said to me, [wonderful] I–you mean, you mean he’s not in the water? He said. Laughing when I asked him about it. I went back and, I go back to these people all the time. And so–I also quote a Pakistani former ISI general, a very competent guy named Asad Durrani, on the record saying that when this happened–as a former head of the ISI, he served in the ’90s there. He said, I began to ask questions and I got the same answers you did, Mr. Hersh. And he said that on the record. A lot of back and forth on that.
And he said that, my understanding was there was a walk-in and the Americans were, you know, we were involved. And the Americans didn’t, double–the word he used was double-cross. We sort of changed it. I went to him and said, let’s just say that they just had a change of mind. Because double-cross suggests from the moment it started, Obama wasn’t going to play. Wasn’t, was going–was going to cut off the two generals. I don’t think so. I think it was done, he was, pushed it into the last minute.
But I don’t know. In any case, we’re left with this–.
JAY: Just go back to Obama going public on this. By going public, when he announces this not in the agreed-upon way–and it’s quite opportunistic of him because of the elections, because now he emerges as the guy that got bin Laden.
HERSH: Well, he was going to, he was going to be able to say it. But as much of–.
JAY: But he also, he opens the door for the possible revelation that you do get to, eventually, of the role of the Pakistani generals. And this is–.
HERSH: Oh, absolutely.
JAY: And this is a real threat to, you would think, to American–.
HERSH: Well, it–.
JAY: The way they perceive American national security [inaud.]
HERSH: Yes. And I’m sure there was–there, you know, it’s clear there was a big fight that night. Gates in his memoir writes very bitterly about that night. But he doesn’t say the, what the issue is. That he was really against it. And I know there was a lot of animosity in that White House towards Bob Gates. And I think that probably helped, think that if they, they ought to go public now because Gates, who is a Republican–Gates, I’ve got no problem with Gates. I don’t think he would have done it. But they were, you know, Gates had been very much against what they did. Going public. And also against the, the–Gates ostensibly said he was protecting the SEALs. But it’s pretty clear to me that his real motive is he’s also protecting the generals.
JAY: Are you convinced that bin Laden was under arrest? Or was he being protected?
HERSH: Oh, no. He was a prisoner. In the control of. He wasn’t a prisoner in a sense that he’s, there’s a lockdown. You know, and he, he gets a shower every other day or something like that.
JAY: There was a–if I remember the story, it sounded like couriers were coming back and forth–.
HERSH: No that’s all, but that was just lies.
JAY: That’s all bull.
HERSH: Yeah. Look, if you have a walk-in and you don’t want to say you have a walk-in, which is legitimate, you’ve got to invent a story. So here comes the wise guys at the CIA saying, well, let’s just say we, we did all this [brain] work, and we found couriers. And then the other thing the CIA wanted to say, and this is what was, set off Gates. They wanted the President to announce he was, we found the couriers because of enhanced interrogation. Because of torture. And if you ever saw that movie, Zero Dark Thirty, it begins with torture. You know, which is the way the CIA guys wanted it. And Gates said, you can’t do that. That isn’t what happened. And it’s in the torture report, too, that way. I, I actually get into that in the piece a little bit.
JAY: Well, obviously the movie was also a complete fabrication.
HERSH: Yeah. But anybody that goes to a movie and thinks he’s seeing the real thing, I, you know–.
JAY: It’s a fabrication based on a fabrication.
HERSH: It’s a fabrication of a fabrication. But you know, if you go to a movie suspecting, you know, this is going to be the real McCoy, you’re in trouble. You know–you know, it’s, it’s the–what I like, when they say it’s based on a true life story.
JAY: There’s a Navy SEAL that disputes your, your account that says there was no firefight. He says there was.
ROB O’NEILL: When he said that the body was riddled full of holes and we were throwing it out of the helicopter, that an ISI guy helped us up the stairs, if we had any help from most other countries we put them at the back and we just bring them along to say they’re along. We do the work. There was no ISI in there. There was three men, we killed two of them down–one in the guest house, we killed one in the first floor. And then we killed–Khalid bin Laden was on the stairs. And then we went up into the room. I saw Osama bin Laden standing on two feet, there were no ISI up there. I shot him in the head twice, then I shot him again in the face when he was on the ground.
HERSH: Also the Bissonnette book. This was O’Neill, who hasn’t written the book, but he’s the, one of the two shooters. And also, Bissonnette, who wrote a book called No Easy Day, I think. Mark Bissonnette. And his book–he’s got a dramatic account of shooting away. The only thing I can tell you is from the very first moment I heard about this story–from the Americans, from somebody who had access to what the SEALs had reported, the only bullet fired was into the leg of a woman. And I’m, all I can tell you–the other side of the story is there’s just no question that if the Pakistanis–I’ve been told this repeatedly, the Pakistanis told everybody, all the guards to get out. They wanted the, the SEALs to land without any weapons there.
There were people living in the, in–the compound had a, a big house. And it had a little house where they, there were people. Like, you could–caretakers. I don’t know what they were. There were people. And, but the notion that the SEALs landed with bullets flying, the only thing I can say, I have no reason to believe that’s true. And Bissonnette also–not Bisson–.
JAY: This is again all based on your primary sources.
HERSH: From the very beginning, before, long before the books came out. O’Neill also said that we went in there terrified, thinking this is it, we’re going to die. Well, maybe he did. But that wasn’t what the impression I had that, what the attitude towards the mission was.
JAY: Now, a big part of the official narrative is in, bin Laden was still in control.
JAY: He was still the mastermind.
JAY: But you write that bin Laden was delusional, had limited contact with the outside world. With the outside world outside his compound.
HERSH: Well that–there I’m quoting somebody named Patrick [Coburn], I think, in that case. He was describing–we, we finally released about three years later some alleged documents that we took from, from bin Laden’s house. I’m not saying documents weren’t found. They weren’t taken by the SEALs. The next day, ISI came into the house and probably cleaned it out, I’m sure. The ISI also took away, he, he had a couple wives there and a bunch of children. And we were told we would get to see–we never saw them again. They were, a year later they were flown to Saudi Arabia. We never interviewed any of them.
And all these sort of lacunae, these things that don’t, that end up not being covered, are sort of fascinating to me. Because so many things were said that didn’t happen. And if you go–and I read the accounts, I read the accounts of the various memoirs. There’s huge discrepancy between who did what. Which is the byproduct of having an operational plan that at the last minute is changed. Once the President says we’re going to go tonight, we’re going to go public, they have to change it–they have to have, they have to explain why they can identify him so quick. So they have to have DNA. The fastest turnaround on DNA I’ve ever seen.
You know, to do DNA right, it takes quite a while. You can take, you can, you can do a test and you have to take a, really carefully looked at in the lab. And, and they don’t have that kind of equipment out there. You have to fly it to Frankfurt and get it analyzed. You know, that’s just–we’re talking about days. But they had instant. They had [of that] instant, they had to get rid of a body, and so they had to get a body instantly. It all changed.
JAY: The walk-in happens. And some–the Americans tell the Pakistani senior generals that they now about bin Laden, they want to come and get him. Do you have any evidence or information about the role and attitude of the Saudis towards all this? Because bin Laden is, he, he may be under their control, but he’s, he’s also a figure of enormous–as you were saying, he’s an icon that they’re very careful about.
JAY: I can understand the leverage the U.S. government had with the Pakistanis vis-a-vis the military support.
HERSH: The, the whole Saudi position was primarily to keep him away from us. That’s all. And that’s–when, there was a showdown in Leon Panetta’s office about it. I read about this. This is a section of the book. There was a showdown about, what are you doing? Why, why did you tell us about it? And he says, hey, A, we’re getting paid. And B, the Saudis had a reason. They didn’t want you to, to talk to the guy. And the Pakistanis had a reason to keep him, because as long as they had him, they had the Taliban in both countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Sunni crazies, the Sunni fundamentalists, talking to them. Because they would, they told them right away, we got your guy.
They told–there were a number of people who knew about this that did talk. That’s not a shock. You know, talking to a, you know, talking among your, your fellow tribesmen and talking to us is another, is a big difference.
JAY: Because of–I said you, you, you have set off two bombs, but it’s really three bombs. Because there’s a bomb under the Saudis, too.
HERSH: How about the bomb under me? There’s a bomb under me, too. So there’s four bombs.
JAY: I think there’s no doubt about that.
HERSH: Yeah, I don’t like–I don’t like all this. I was accused of plagiarism in some, in, in a magazine.
JAY: I was saying, the only way they could go after you, go after your piece is to go after you.
HERSH: Yeah, but I’ve done that before. Been there. That’s not going to last long. The only problem they have is, if they start getting into the definitive denials. And see, the CIA can probably get away with telling an untruth on grounds they’re protecting the source. The walk-in. But that’s, that’s–they haven’t done that yet. They’ve actually, the administration has been very clever. They’re just attacking me. And they haven’t, they haven’t really gone after any facts of the story. But that’s going to change.
JAY: Yeah, but they also can’t really go after your source, one would think. Because if they ever wanted to find, try to figure out who your source is and charge them, they validate the story.
HERSH: NC. No comment.
JAY: Thanks for joining us
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
“I Am Not Backing Off Anything I Said”
An interview with Seymour Hersh.
By Isaac Chotiner
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Seymour Hersh.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Seymour Hersh accepts the Lennon-Ono Grant for Peace at the Second Biennial Awards at the United Nations on Oct. 7, 2004, in New York.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images
In a blockbuster 10,000-word story for the London Review of Books this week, longtime New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh called into question the official account of the American raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and argued that what is arguably seen as the apex of Barack Obama’s presidency is actually built on a lie.
Hersh’s piece claims that Bin Laden was being held prisoner by the Pakistani military and intelligence service (the ISI), who were using him as a means to control Taliban and al-Qaida elements, and hoping to use him as leverage in their relationship with the United States. According to Hersh, who relied largely on an anonymous intelligence source, the Obama administration found out that Pakistan had Bin Laden, and eventually convinced Pakistani military leaders to allow a raid on the compound where Bin Laden was being held. The plan, Hersh writes, was to say publicly that Bin Laden was killed not in the raid but in a drone strike. The White House, however, supposedly broke this deal because of the political value of making the details of the raid public.
Hersh’s story has been much debated over the past several days, with many calling it into question and (a comparable few) others applauding its willingness to undercut the official narrative. NBC News and the AFP have both backed up small elements of Hersh’s story, although both outlets have also called other elements of his piece into question (and NBC later backed away from its original reporting). And no news source has supported Hersh’s largest claim—that the president lied about the raid.
I spoke to Hersh by phone this week. Here is a transcript of our conversation, which has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.
Isaac Chotiner: If the plan until the night of the raid was to use the cover story that he had not been killed in a raid but in a drone strike, then why have the raid at all? Why not just have the Pakistanis kill him? Why risk Obama’s presidency?
Seymour Hersh: Of course there is no answer there because I haven’t talked to any of the principals. But I can just give you what the people who were in the process believed to be so, which is that for [Gens.] Pasha and Kayani, the chance of something like that getting leaked out would be devastating. America was then running at about 8 percent popularity in Pakistan, and Bin Laden was running at 60, 70 percent. He was very popular. [Editor’s note: This 2010 opinion poll says that Bin Laden’s popularity was at 18 percent in Pakistan.] You couldn’t just take a chance, because if someone ratted you out—I can only give you a basic theory.
Chotiner: It just seems like a huge raid with Pakistani complicity brings up just as many problems for the Pakistanis.
“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.”
Hersh: If you believe, as a smart guy said to me, if anybody, if anyone didn’t think the president was going to fuck [the Pakistani military] they are out of their mind. He was always going to fuck them.
Chotiner: OK. In your piece you call into question that the Americans got valuable documents in the raid. But Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of al-Qaida, himself seemed to confirm that this was true. How do you handle that contradiction?
Hersh: I handle it pretty easy. [Laughs] The issue for me is the treasure trove issue. Did the SEALS take out piles of computers? There were claims they found computers and disks and sticks, what do they call those sticks?
Chotiner: I don’t know.
Hersh: You’re not as old as I am. You should know that. Anyway, the SEALs mission was to go kill the guy. They did pick up some papers, but most of the papers were delivered by the ISI. He was a prisoner under their control. He wasn’t beaten and could walk around but it was a prison. He couldn’t get out. They kept encouraging him to write stuff. And he did. But I am bothered by the contradictions. [The] president said it was a treasure trove so there had to be a treasure trove. Is it real? I don’t know. It was used in a trial. Is it real? Is it not? I don’t know.
Chotiner: You seem slightly annoyed that Obama double-crossed the Pakistanis.
Hersh: Double-crossed is your word.
Chotiner: OK fine. I want to understand why you seem bothered by that, aside from the lying. Turning our back on the worst elements in Pakistan who we have long nurtured doesn’t seem so bad. We have supported them forever.
Hersh: Why do we do that?
Chotiner: Because we see it as being in our own interest.
Hersh: Well no, we do it for nukes.
Chotiner: Fine, we see that as being in our interest.
Hersh: In my experience in the last 30 years, one of the major worries was about the “Islamic bomb,” about Pakistan. If you knew the lengths to which we go, working with the ISI, to make sure some ultranationalist or ultrajihadist doesn’t get [control of nukes].
Chotiner: Yes, although you could argue that if we hadn’t nurtured these elements for so long, the country would be less of a threat.
Hersh: You could argue anything.
Chotiner: I want to—
Hersh: Swing away fella.
Chotiner: You sent me—
Hersh: You probably don’t know that NBC reported, and now they have reported it on one of these dopey afternoon shows with that woman, what’s her name, the NBC woman who claims to have some knowledge of foreign policy, married to Alan Greenspan.
Chotiner: Andrea Mitchell.
Hersh: She’s comical. On her show the administration is acknowledging walk-ins but saying the walk-ins aren’t necessarily linked to Bin Laden.
Chotiner: The AFP piece, which you sent me approvingly, says the same thing, that there is no evidence the walk-in led to Bin Laden, and that the walk-in did not even know the target was Bin Laden.
Hersh: Uh huh, OK.
Chotiner: OK but here is my question about journalism, since you have been doing this longer than I have—
Hersh: Oh poor you, you don’t know anything. It is amazing you can speak the God’s English.
Chotiner: Are you hoping with this piece to say that you made no mistakes, or that OK there were mistakes because I am getting the ball rolling? You have quoted two pieces very approvingly, from NBC and AFP, that differ from key points in your own story. I want to know how accurate you think your story now is.
Hersh: [Laughs loudly] Well I will tell you one thing: At one point a copy editor in England confronted me about the SEALs training in Nevada and changed it to Utah, and the line made it because according to her they were sort of the same.
Chotiner: The AFP piece contradicts your piece but you aren’t running around worried about that.
Hersh: I sent it approvingly because it crossed my desk and it does say there were walk-ins. [Laughs] You can read it any way you want. The White House has been very clever about this. They have gone after me personally. They don’t like me boo hoo hoo. But they have been very careful to hedge everything, they quote Peter Bergen. Bergen or Berger, is that his name?
Hersh: They quote him. He views himself as the trustee of all things Bin Laden.
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.
Chotiner: Well let’s talk about sources. A lot of the reporting that got us into the last stupid war was based on bad and often anonymous sources. Is there a problem with journalists having a limited number of sources, just generally speaking? Is this a problem? With unnamed sources—
Hersh: Are you kidding me? Unnamed sources? You are smarter than that. This is too boring.
Chotiner: Let me finish my question and then you can yell at me.
Hersh: I am done yelling.
Chotiner: Is there some sort of journalistic standard that reporters should try to meet to prevent more errors?
Hersh: Let me say something to you. There was a practice at the New Yorker that continued at the London Review of Books. The reason I like the LRB is that it isn’t tied down to Americana. It is more open to being … In Europe people think this story makes sense. There is not the quibbling. It is a different approach. By that I mean that the view of America is less cheery abroad but the standards are the same. The people at the London Review knew whom I talked to. It is the same at the New Yorker. David Remnick knows who I talk to. I do have sources, which is a problem for a lot of people that don’t.
Chotiner: OK well it seems like the upshot of what you are saying, and correct me if this is wrong—
Hersh: I just said what I said. I don’t want to hear what the upshot is. If you have another question then ask it. This is going on too long. I am too old and too cranky and too tired. I have been doing this fucking thing for a day. I told you, I warned you, that I am really irritable.
Chotiner: OK so if both places check your sources, and the New Yorker—
Hersh: Now you are restating it. In Europe it is an easier path. The notion that somehow America—I have one slight layer less. Believe me. I don’t know if you know who Mary-Kay Wilmers is. You probably don’t.
Chotiner: She is the editor of the LRB.
Hersh: Do you know how smart she is?
Chotiner: I have heard stories.
Hersh: She is fantastic. She is as good as they say. They go gaga over her. She was married to Stephen Frears. She is tenacious. But believe me this piece took a long time to get into print. A lot of questions. A lot of nasty questions.
Hersh: Don’t turn this into some sort of profound anti-American statement.
Chotiner: It seems like you are hinting the New Yorker rejected it for reasons having to do with politics.
Hersh: Would you care to hear the truth? Would you care to hear something that didn’t come from Vox, whoever Vox is? I am not sure you are that interested in it. I am doing a book. Within four or five days I hear that there are problems with the [official] OBL story. A lot of problems. And I have good friends in Pakistan. Really good friends. I go there a lot. Hold on, I just walked out of a two-room suite and the fucking movie crew. The fucking movie crew just leaves the desk. God dammit. [A film crew had been in Hersh’s office.] Anyway. First of all, you may get some suggestion of this. Maybe I am not an easy guy.
Chotiner: I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that.
Hersh: There was a point with the New Yorker where I thought they should rename the fucking magazine the Seymour Hersh Weekly. David Remnick has his own theories and opinions. He is not cowed by me. We have a lot of fights. We have a lot of disagreements. I don’t find that so shocking. I like him a lot, he is brilliant, he is great. I think he is even a better writer than editor. I have always been a freelancer. I always work for myself.
Chotiner: I get that.
Hersh: So, all that happens is I tell him about the story, and his initial approach was to say do a blog item. Go fuck yourself! A blog? I have done a couple blogs when it is 1,000 words but this is worth more. At that point it was very early. So I was on contract for a book and said fuck it … You want to make a lot out of it? David always says he welcomes another view. I am the guy who said fuck it, I will do what I want to do. [Editor’s note: Other news sources have reported that the New Yorker declined to publish a version of the story.]
[Hersh picks up other phone]: Yeah. Yeah. Oh no, fuck no … I don’t want to do it there! Go fuck—
Hersh: You there?
Hersh: Fucking TV interview sets up in the hall of my office building. It’s a lawyer’s building.
Chotiner: I was just asking—
Hersh: You want to write about this totally tedious shit? Yes, I am a huge pain in the ass. I am the one that decided to publish it wherever the hell I please. That’s the story. You want to listen to hall gossip about me? Go ahead. [Sarcastic voice] It is so immensely important to so many people to know where I published. I can’t believe it.
Chotiner: Can I tell you why?
Hersh: I don’t want to hear why. You think there is a different standard in London?
Chotiner: I wish you would listen.
Hersh: All right, maybe I will listen, but I gotta hang up.
Chotiner: If people here are turning down stories because of certain politics—you yourself said it was easier in Europe—that is a story that should be written.
Hersh: Now you said the first intelligent thing you have said. If you had asked whether he didn’t run this because he is in love with Obama and all that stuff that people think, no … It is a very good question. Although we have huge disagreements. My children and I have huge disagreements. I have a huge disagreement with my dog. We have a lot of disagreements and there are times when he will call me and I will not answer the call. Oh fuck hold on. He always has said to me he welcomes any information and it was I who said fuck it.
Chotiner: OK but you have talked about the New Yorker’s Americana and said my question was a good one, so is there something to it?
Hersh: I think it is a great question.
Chotiner: So what do you think of it?
Hersh: I just told you what I think. In the case of the Bin Laden story, he is open for anything. It was I who made the decision.
Chotiner: I feel like you are telling me two different things. One is that you get less pressure in Europe, and the other is that this story would have been fine at the New Yorker.
Hersh: So fine, I am glad you are confused. Write whichever one makes you happy.
Hersh: I don’t mean to yell at you but I feel good doing it. Goodbye.
Monday 25 May 2015
Suddenly it looks like we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive
Who’s left if we want to negotiate with Isis?
What an old softee he was, compared to the throat-cutting killers of the “Islamic State”. The black-bannered executioners are back at work in Ramadi and Palmyra and yet, back from the dead, old bin Laden returns once more, fished out of the Indian Ocean (if he was ever there) for one final re-appearance. He loves his wife, he wants his son to take over the whole al-Qaeda outfit, he studies – if he can read English – Noam Chomsky.
Surely he’s a chap we could do business with, the “moderate” we are always searching for when we fail to destroy our enemies, a “middle party” to start a “dialogue” with these unruly Isis fellows. But the French, in their search for the “interlocuteur valable” who would chat to the FLN when de Gaulle chose to throw in the towel in Algeria, found they had already assassinated all their potential “interlocuteurs” – and we, goddammit, did the same with bin Laden. Having liquidated the Fountainhead of World Evil in 2011, we’ve no one left to represent us if we want to negotiate with the new Fountainhead of World Evil in 2015.
I have the suspicion we’re being fooled here. I’m puzzled about the CIA’s latest dip into the barrel of the collected works and thoughts of the Old Man of Abbottabad. Why now, so long after they released the first tranche of fascinating but occasionally boring tracts between bin Laden and his lads in Yemen, do they pop up with yet more bin Laden junk-mail? Because Seymour Hersh has just presented us with a more disturbing version of the bin Laden myth, in which the guy, after effectively falling under Pakistani intelligence control, was blown to bits by his American killers in Abbotabad – and some of those bits then thrown over the Hindu Kush? (The sea burial was a lie, according to Hersh).
Why were the new bin Laden videos silent? And why were some of these documents, like the previous set, actually censored – for which read the devious phrase “redacted” – by the CIA? The CIA feels it necessary to censor bin Laden? Weirdly, not a soul asked why. Journos waffled on about a “treasure trove”. I’m not so sure. What was it that the CIA knew and bin Laden knew – and which we mustn’t know?
My meetings with bin Laden – in 1993, 1996 and 1997 – long ago became an albatross for me, a piece of tat to hang on a reporter’s CV, as if talking to the man who would approve (if he did not plan) the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, somehow makes history clearer. But I do recall how at our second meeting in 1996, he was obsessed by Saudi Arabia’s corruption, how its royal family had betrayed Islam – until I learned that the Saudis were still offering him – via a Saudi diplomat who visited him in Afghanistan – millions of dollars and the return of his passport if he “returned” to Riyadh.
And there’s an intriguing paragraph buried in Hersh’s version of events – or “counter-narrative”, as colleagues insist it be called – in which Hersh’s “retired official” source tells him that during the hunt for bin Laden, Saudi Arabia was a worrying factor because the Kingdom “had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his [post 9/11] seizure by the Pakistanis”. The Saudis, according to Hersh’s “retired official”, “feared…we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaeda. And they were dropping money – lots of it.”
I have too many questions about the latest bin Laden mail. We don’t know who translated this stuff, let alone who censored it. I don’t doubt the authenticity of some passages; the letter to his wife Khairiah Saber – mother of Hamza, whom bin Laden wished to be next leader of al-Qaeda – contains a moving paragraph about his desire to see her in the afterlife and to be her husband there again (even if she marries in the real world after his “martyrdom”). But the fear of US drone attacks – bin Laden’s only advice is to travel under cloudy skies – the forlorn and belated understanding that education is necessary for real revolution, and the determination to strike at the US rather than its Middle East puppets, does not suggest that the Abbottabad recluse was running a “terror” control centre.
So why is all this material coming piecemeal and truncated? The 103 letters, reports and videos released last week follow three years after the “Combating Terrorism Centre” at West Point’ released an earlier 175 pages of bin Laden chit-chat which was equally truncated and oddly translated. For example, when a bin Laden agent in Yemen sent his master a copy of an article of mine which described al-Qaeda as “the most sectarian organisation in the world”, the second half was translated by the Americans back from Arabic into English – with obvious deviations from the original English used in The Independent. But the first half was a straight “lift” from the paper with no attempt to translate from Arabic.
Now we’re told that even more documents from Abbottabad await “declassification”. From what do they have to be declassified? It’s one thing to “declassify” government information for the world to read – but to “declassify” bin Laden’s secrets for the world to read? What does this mean? Saudi material perhaps?
I won’t delve into the “porn” stash supposedly found at Abbottabad – which it took the CIA four years to watch before deciding not to release it. Is the organisation which waterboards victims and stuffs food up their rectums really so prissy? And then there are the books, Chomsky, Woodward & Co. Quite an English-language reading list – if bin Laden could read English. But when I met him in 1997, he could hardly speak a word. Did he have language tutors in Abbottabad? He did read Arabic-language books. Which of them were found by the Americans? Or did they contain too many works on Saudi Arabia?
Certainly the previous batch of mail suggested the old boy was prepared to contemplate negotiating with the Brits. Nothing to suggest this in the latest collection. Could he have been useful as a bridge to the “moderates” that we in the West will undoubtedly discover inside the abominable Isis? Oh, if we could only read the letters of the “Islamic State” archives. But maybe they would have to be censored, too. Which is why I can suggest at least one “interlocuteur valable” for Isis, despite bin Laden’s demise. Saudi Arabia.
Friday 22 May 2015
So, it turns out Osama bin Laden was a terrorist monster with a tender side…
After all, evil is a man-made construct designed to help our tiny minds grapple with unthinkable things
Osama bin Laden: loving family man, good with kids? Yes indeed, as some of the letters just released by the US demonstrate. There’s plenty of stuff about jihad, about “killing and fighting the American people and their representatives”. But there’s also simple human concern for his several wives, 20 children and numerous relatives.
“By God, I miss you so much,” he writes to his daughter, Umm Muadh. He asks how her son is getting on at school. “What is his latest funny news?” In another letter he asks one of his wives to look after his daughters, “and be careful of bad company for them”.
His son, Saad, was being groomed as his successor when he was killed in a drone strike in 2009. But Bin Laden, too, had a soppy side. “Know that you do fill my heart with love, beautiful memories, and your long-suffering of tense situations in order to appease me and be kind to me,” he wrote to his wife. “You are the apple of my eye, and the most precious thing that I have in this world.” This is all irrelevant, some might say. The fact is, Bin Laden senior was the brains behind the wickedest terrorist act in history. He was pure evil, and the only emotion we need to feel here is relief that he’s dead.
Similarly – though some way down the scale of iniquity, perhaps – my first thought when I heard about the recent deadly biker shootout in Waco, Texas, was along the lines of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks, who talked about someone taking LSD and throwing themselves off a roof thinking they could fly: “Good. The world just lost another idiot.” Nine of them, in fact, in this case, nine dead idiot bikers.
But then the pictures started to come in. There’s Matthew Mark Smith of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club: he’s hugging his girlfriend Kelsey Anne; lying in bed asleep; smiling at the camera with a baby in his arms. He looks like a nice, sensitive bloke; he worked for an electronics company called Geek Squad.
There’s his Cossack comrade Wayne Campbell, flanked by a couple of young women, looking like an off-duty lecturer; there he is wearing a suit, with his girlfriend Charla in an attractive black dress. They look as if they’re off out to a nice restaurant for the evening. Even on his bike he looks like Mr Respectable having his regulation midlife crisis, not a homicidal outlaw on two wheels. There are lots of photos of Rick Kirschner, the Cossacks’ Sergeant at Arms. In one of them, he’s in his flat with his wife Ashley – he’s in shirt and tie, she’s in a lovely blue dress. They look so affectionate, so decent, so ordinary. Police, meanwhile, were yesterday still totting up the weaponry recovered from the Twin Peaks restaurant: they were up to 118 handguns, 157 knives and an AK-47.
We all, clearly, have sometimes wildly contrasting sides to us. And that goes for just about everyone, even biker gang members, even wagers of jihad. Even Nazi mass-murderers. In the recent BBC4 film Himmler: the Decent One, Heinrich Himmler’s letters revealed him to be a doting husband and dad.
“I am so sorry that I forgot our wedding anniversary for the first time but I was so busy these past few days,” he writes to his wife Margarete. In 1943, he ordered the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, then wrote home: “My dear mummy. A few quick lines. Enclosed are two packages and a piece of fruit cake.” I’d find it difficult to argue against anyone who found this juxtaposition utterly obscene. But even so, it’s a clear demonstration that even Heinrich Himmler had his good points.
As I type these words I can feel a Twitterstorm on the horizon but, were they still around, Rebecca West and Gitta Sereny would know what I mean. For her book The Meaning of Treason, West attended the trials of William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw. She saw in the dock ‘a lively, wisecracking, practical-joking little creature… That he was a civilised man, however aberrant, was somehow clear before our eyes.”
Sereny dedicated her life to getting inside the heads of supposedly “evil” people. In fact, she didn’t believe in “evil” at all; I believe it’s a man-made mental construct designed to help our tiny minds grapple with unthinkable things.
Sereny famously befriended Albert Speer, eventually getting him to confess – to himself, as much as her – that he knew all about the Final Solution. She ended up liking him, and insisted she’d detected a capacity for moral redemption. Even in her dealings with Franz Stangl, who was held responsible for the murder of 900,000 people, she saw some good, and decided that he was “not an obviously evil man”.
While “evil” may not exist as a single, over-arching concept, I think it is possible to describe individual acts as evil, in our attempts to grasp what makes people do abominably bad things. But unless we realise that however badly a person behaves, in other respects they’re just like us, we’ll never be able to properly understand why they do what they do.
Bin Laden documents released:
Al-Qaeda leader was reading Noam Chomsky and 9/11 conspiracy theories inside Abbottabad compound, say US officials
Wednesday 20 May 2015
Osama bin Laden spent his last reading the books of Bob Woodward and Noam Chomsky, conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks and continued to plot attacks against the West, according to a “library” of documents released by the US intelligence services.
Officials in Washington released more than 100 documents they said were discovered inside the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad by US special forces after a raid to kill or capture him in May 2011.
The digital volumes reportedly included works by linguist and writer Noam Chomsky, former intelligence official and antiwar activist Michael Scheuer, conspiracy texts about the September 11 attacks that Bin Laden himself had plotted and a work by Bob Woodward.
US officials say Osama Bin Laden was reading a variety of books in his last days, including one by Bob Woodward
The release of the newly-declassified documents comes as the US is engaged in a dispute over the circumstances in which the al-Qaeda leader was found and killed. The US has always insisted it tracked down the 54-year-old by means of first finding his trusted couriers, who then unknowingly led them to the compound.
However, a number of commentators have raised questions about such a narrative, suggesting instead that senior figures within the Pakistani military were holding him for leverage. Most recently the veteran investigative journalist Seyour Hersh claimed the White House had repeatedly mislead the US public over the details of the Bin Laden operation.
Mr Hersh told The Independent the US government was continuing to mislead people and was getting entrapped by its own twists. “When you change course in midstream, you walk all over yourself,” he said.
The documents purportedly found in the property also quoted Bin Laden as saying his militants should focus their attacks on America and American targets.
“The focus should be on killing and fighting the American people and their representatives,” Bin Laden apparently wrote in one of the newly revealed documents.
US special forces shot and killed Bin Laden at this compound in Abbottabad
He wrote one letter to militants in North Africa and told them to stop “insisting on the formation of an Islamic State” and rather to attack US embassies and American oil companies.
Bin Laden also told al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the Yemeni affiliate of the group – to halt attacks on domestic targets and start launching attacks on American interests.
It is not clear whether bin Laden’s warnings against Isis never reached the militants or if they simply were ignored, but al-Qaeda has continued to carry out attacks on local targets.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that the release of the documents followed a review by US government agencies and “aligns with the president’s call for increased transparency consistent with national security prerogatives”.
One of the documents, translated by intelligence officials, is said to begin begins with questions that similar to a conventional job application, the Associated Press reported.
President Barack Obama has insisted the US tracked down Bin Laden without Pakistani help
“Do you have hobbies? Have you been convicted of a crime,” it says. “What objectives would you like to accomplish on your jihad path?”
It then asks: “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation,” and adds: “Who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”
Some commentators believe the US has acted inconsistently with the release of documents and evidence relating to the Bin Laden raid. Wednesday’s release was the second; 17 documents from the compound were previously made public in May 2012, one year after the Navy SEAL raid.
But a lot of information remains classified, or may even have been destroyed. The Associated Press, among other media organisations, have lobbied the government to release more documents, including the details of Bin Laden’s funeral, which the White House said was carried out at sea on a US naval vessel immediately after he was shot and killed.
Last yeast it was revealed that eleven days after the killing, the US military’s top special operations officer ordered subordinates to destroy any photographs of the Bin Laden’s corpse or turn them over to the CIA.
The message was sent by Admiral William McRaven, who heads the US Special Operations Command, 10 days after the AP asked for the photos and other documents under the US Freedom of Information Act. The White House said Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea on board the the US Navy’s carrier USS Carl Vinson .
The documents said to have been found in Pakistan also suggested that Bin Laden was a man who doted upon up his many sons and daughters, and was a much-loved and admired father.
The documents also present Bin Laden as a meticulous editor, and some of the memos he wrote were revised as many as 50 times.
The new documents show how Bin Laden reacted to the events of the Arab Spring, which was rocking the Middle East in the months before his death.
He wrote lengthy memos analysing what was happening, pointing to the “new factor” of the so-called information technology revolution. He said this had helped spur the revolutions and characterised them as “the most important events in the Muslim world in centuries”.
One hot evening in late June 1996, the telephone on my desk in Beirut rang with one of the more extraordinary messages I was to receive as a foreign correspondent. “Mr Robert, a friend you met in Sudan wants to see you,” said a voice in English but with an Arabic accent. At first I thought he meant another man, whose name I suggested. “No, no, Mr Robert, I mean the man you interviewed. Do you understand?” Yes, I understood. And where could I meet this man? “The place where he is now,” came the reply. I knew that Bin Laden was rumoured to have returned to Afghanistan but there was no confirmation of this. So how do I reach him? I asked. “Go to Jalalabad – you will be contacted.”
A month later. “CLACK-CLACK-CLACK.” It was as if someone was attacking my head with an ice-pick. “CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK.” I sat up. Someone was banging a set of car keys against the window of my room in the Spinghar Hotel. “Misssster Robert,” a voice whispered urgently. “Misssster Robert.” He hissed the word “Mister.” Yes, yes, I’m here. “Please come downstairs, there is someone to see you.” It registered only slowly that the man must have climbed the ancient fire escape to reach the window of my room. I dressed, grabbed a coat – I had a feeling we might travel in the night – and almost forgot my old Nikon. I walked as calmly as I could past the reception desk and out into the early afternoon heat.
The man wore a grubby, grey Afghan robe and a small round cotton hat but he was an Arab and he greeted me formally, holding my right hand in both of his. He smiled. He said his name was Mohamed, he was my guide. “To see the Sheikh?” I asked. He smiled but said nothing.
I followed Mohamed all the way through the dust of Jalalabad’s main street until we arrived next to a group of gunmen in a pick-up truck in the ruins of an old Soviet army base, a place of broken armoured vehicles with a rusting red star on a shattered gateway. There were three men in Afghan hats in the back of the pick-up. One held a Kalashnikov rifle, another clutched a grenade-launcher along with six rockets tied together with Scotch tape. The third nursed a machine gun on his lap, complete with tripod and a belt of ammunition. “Mr Robert, these are our guards,” the driver said quietly, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to set off across the wilds of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province under a white-hot afternoon sun with three bearded guerrillas. A two-way radio hissed and crackled on the shoulder of the driver’s companion as another truckload of Afghan gunmen drove up behind us.
We were about to set off when Mohamed climbed back down from the pick-up along with the driver, walked to a shaded patch of grass and began to pray. For five minutes, the two men lay half-prostrate, facing the distant Kabul Gorge and, beyond that, a far more distant Mecca. We drove off along a broken highway and then turned on to a dirt track by an irrigation canal, the guns in the back of the truck bouncing on the floor, the guards’ eyes peering from behind their chequered scarves. We travelled like that for hours, past half-demolished mud villages and valleys and towering black rocks, a journey across the face of the moon.
By dusk, we had reached a series of cramped earthen villages, old men burning charcoal fires by the track, the shadow of women cowled in the Afghan burka standing in the alleyways. There were more guerrillas, all bearded, grinning at Mohamed and the driver. It was night before we stopped, in an orchard where wooden sofas had been covered in army blankets piled with belts and webbing and where armed men emerged out of the darkness, some holding rifles, others machine guns. They were the Arab mujahedin, the Arab “Afghans” denounced by the presidents and kings of half the Arab world and by the United States of America. Very soon, the world would know them as al-Qa’ida.
Mohamed beckoned me to follow him and we skirted a small river and jumped across a stream until, in the insect-filled darkness ahead, we could see a sputtering paraffin lamp. Beside it sat a tall, bearded man in Saudi robes. Osama bin Laden stood up, his two teenage sons, Omar and Saad, beside him. “Welcome to Afghanistan,” he said.
He was now 40 but looked much older than at our last meeting in the Sudanese desert late in 1993. Walking towards me, he towered over his companions, tall, slim, with new wrinkles around those narrow eyes. Leaner, his beard longer but slightly flecked with grey, he had a black waistcoat over his white robe and a red-chequered kuffiah on his head, and he seemed tired. When he asked after my health, I told him I had come a long way for this meeting. “So have I,” he muttered. There was also an isolation about him, a detachment I had not noticed before, as if he had been inspecting his anger, examining the nature of his resentment; when he smiled, his gaze would move towards his 16-year-old son Omar – round eyes with dark brows and his own kuffiah – and then off into the hot darkness where his armed men were patrolling the fields.
Just 10 days before, a truck bomb had torn down part of the US Air Force housing complex at al-Khobar in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and we were speaking in the shadow of the deaths of the 19 US soldiers killed there. And Bin Laden knew what he wanted to say. “Not long ago, I gave advice to the Americans to withdraw their troops from Saudi Arabia. Now let us give some advice to the governments of Britain and France to take their troops out – because what happened in Riyadh and al-Khobar showed that the people who did this have a deep understanding in choosing their targets. They hit their main enemy, which is the Americans. They killed no secondary enemies, nor their brothers in the army or the police in Saudi Arabia… I give this advice to the government of Britain.” He said the Americans must leave Saudi Arabia, must leave the Gulf. The “evils” of the Middle East arose from America’s attempt to take over the region and from its support for Israel. Saudi Arabia had been turned into “an American colony”.
Bin Laden was speaking slowly and with precision, an Egyptian taking notes in a large exercise book by the lamplight like a Middle Ages scribe. “This doesn’t mean declaring war against the West and Western people – but against the American regime which is against every American.” I interrupted Bin Laden. Unlike Arab regimes, I said, the people of the United States elected their government. They would say that their government represents them. He disregarded my comment. I hope he did. For in the years to come, his war would embrace the deaths of thousands of American civilians. “The explosion in al-Khobar did not come as a direct reaction to the American occupation,” he said, “but as a result of American behaviour against Muslims, its support of Jews in Palestine and of the massacres of Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon – of Sabra and Chatila and Qana – and of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference.”
But what Bin Laden really wanted to talk about was Saudi Arabia. Since our last meeting in Sudan, he said, the situation in the kingdom had grown worse. The ulema, the religious leaders, had declared in the mosques that the presence of American troops was not acceptable and the government took action against these ulema “on the advice of the Americans”. For Bin Laden, the betrayal of the Saudi people began 24 years before his birth, when Abdul Aziz al-Saud proclaimed his kingdom in 1932. “The regime started under the flag of applying Islamic law and under this banner all the people of Saudi Arabia came to help the Saud family take power. But Abdul Aziz did not apply Islamic law; the country was set up for his family. Then after the discovery of petroleum, the Saudi regime found another support – the money to make people rich and to give them the services and life they wanted and to make them satisfied.” Bin Laden was picking away at his teeth with that familiar twig of mishwak wood, but history – or his version of it – was the basis of almost all his remarks. The Saudi royal family had promised sharia laws while at the same time allowing the United States “to Westernise Saudi Arabia and drain the economy”. He blamed the Saudi regime for spending $25bn in support of Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and a further $60bn in support of the Western armies in the 1991 war against Iraq, “buying military equipment which is not needed or useful for the country, buying aircraft by credit” while at the same time creating unemployment, high taxes and a bankrupt economy. But for Bin Laden, the pivotal date was 1990, the year Saddam invaded Kuwait. “When the American troops entered Saudi Arabia, the land of the two Holy places, there was a strong protest from the ulema and from students of sharia law all over the country against the interference of American troops. This big mistake by the Saudi regime of inviting the American troops revealed their deception. They were giving their support to nations which were fighting against Muslims.”
Bin Laden paused to see if I had listened to his careful, if frighteningly exclusive history lesson. “The Saudi people have remembered now what the ulema told them and they realise America is the main reason for their problems… the ordinary man knows that his country is the largest oil producer in the world yet at the same time he is suffering from taxes and bad services. Now the people understand the speeches of the ulemas in the mosques – that our country has become an American colony. What happened in Riyadh and al-Khobar is clear evidence of the huge anger of Saudi people against America. The Saudis now know their real enemy is America.” The overthrow of the Saudi regime and the eviction of US forces from the kingdom were one and the same for Bin Laden. He was claiming that the real religious leadership of Saudi Arabia – among whom he clearly saw himself – was an inspiration to Saudis, that Saudis themselves would drive out the Americans, that Saudis – hitherto regarded as a rich and complacent people – might strike at the United States. Could this be true?
Bin Laden sometimes stopped speaking for all of 60 seconds in order to reflect on his words. Most Arabs, faced with a reporter’s question, would say the first thing that came into their heads for fear that they would appear ignorant if they did not. Bin Laden was different. He was alarming because he was possessed of that quality which leads men to war: total self-conviction.
Bin Laden had asked me – a routine of every Palestinian under occupation – if Europeans did not resist occupation during the Second World War. I told him no Europeans would accept this argument over Saudi Arabia – because the Nazis killed millions of Europeans yet the Americans had never murdered a single Saudi. Such a parallel was historically and morally wrong. Bin Laden did not agree. “We as Muslims have a strong feeling that binds us together… We feel for our brothers in Palestine and Lebanon… When 60 Jews are killed inside Palestine” – he was talking about Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel – “all the world gathers within seven days to criticise this action, while the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children did not receive the same reaction.” It was Bin Laden’s first reference to Iraq and to the United Nations sanctions that were to result, according to UN officials themselves, in the death of more than half a million children. “Killing those Iraqi children is a crusade against Islam,” Bin Laden said. “We, as Muslims, do not like the Iraqi regime but we think that the Iraqi people and their children are our brothers and we care about their future.” It was the first time I heard him use the word “crusade”.
For some time, there had been a steadily growing thunderstorm to the east of Bin Laden’s camp and we could see the bright orange flash of lightning over the mountains on the Pakistan border. But Bin Laden thought this might be artillery fire, the continuation of the inter-mujahedin battles that had damaged his spirit after the anti-Soviet war. He was growing uneasy. He broke off his conversation to pray. Then, on the straw mat, several young and armed men served dinner – plates of yoghurt and cheese and Afghan naan bread and more tea. Bin Laden sat between his sons, silent, eyes on his food.
I said to Bin Laden that Afghanistan was the only country left to him after his exile in Sudan. He agreed. “The safest place in the world for me is Afghanistan.” It was the only place, I repeated, in which he could campaign against the Saudi government. Bin Laden and several of his Arab fighters burst into laughter. “There are other places,” he replied. Did he mean Tajikistan? I asked. Or Uzbekistan? Kazakhstan? “There are several places where we have friends and close brothers – we can find refuge and safety in them.” I told Bin Laden he was already a hunted man. “Danger is a part of our life,” he snapped back.
He began talking to his men about amniya, security, and repeatedly looked towards those flashes in the sky. Now the thunder did sound like gunfire. I tried to ask one more question. What kind of Islamic state would Bin Laden wish to see? Would thieves and murderers still have their hands or heads cut off in his Islamic sharia state, just as they do in Saudi Arabia today? There came an unsatisfactory reply. “Islam is a complete religion for every detail of life. If a man is a real Muslim and commits a crime, he can only be happy if he is justly punished. This is not cruelty. The origin of these punishments comes from God through the Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him.” Dissident Osama bin Laden may be, but moderate never. I asked permission to take his photograph, and while he debated this with his companions I scribbled into my notebook the words I would use in the last paragraph of my report on our meeting: “Osama bin Laden believes he now represents the most formidable enemy of the Saudi regime and of the American presence in the Gulf. Both are probably right to regard him as such.” I was underestimating the man.
Yes, he said, I could take his picture. I opened my camera and allowed his armed guards to watch me as I threaded a film into the spool. Without warning, Bin Laden moved his head back and the faintest smile moved over his face, along with that self-conviction and that ghost of vanity which I found so disturbing. He called his sons Omar and Saad and they sat beside him as I took more pictures and Bin Laden turned into the proud father, the family man, the Arab at home.
Then his anxiety returned. The thunder was continuous now and it was mixed with the patter of rifle fire. I should go, he urged, and I realised that what he meant was that he must go, that it was time for him to return to the fastness of Afghanistan. When we shook hands, he was already looking for the guards who would take him away.
Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace: The Saudi businessman who recruited mujahedin now uses them for large-scale building projects in Sudan. Robert Fisk met him in Almatig
Monday, 6 December 1993
OSAMA Bin Laden sat in his gold- fringed robe, guarded by the loyal Arab mujahedin who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. Bearded, taciturn figures – unarmed, but never more than a few yards from the man who recruited them, trained them and then dispatched them to destroy the Soviet army – they watched unsmiling as the Sudanese villagers of Almatig lined up to thank the Saudi businessman who is about to complete the highway linking their homes to Khartoum for the first time in history.
With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom. ‘We have been waiting for this road through all the revolutions in Sudan,’ a sheikh said. ‘We waited until we had given up on everybody – and then Osama Bin Laden came along.’
Outside Sudan, Mr Bin Laden is not regarded with quite such high esteem. The Egyptian press claims he brought hundreds of former Arab fighters back to Sudan from Afghanistan, while the Western embassy circuit in Khartoum has suggested that some of the ‘Afghans’ whom this Saudi entrepreneur flew to Sudan are now busy training for further jihad wars in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Bin Laden is well aware of this. ‘The rubbish of the media and the embassies,’ he calls it. ‘I am a construction engineer and an agriculturalist. If I had training camps here in Sudan, I couldn’t possibly do this job.’
And ‘this job’ is certainly an ambitious one: a brand-new highway stretching all the way from Khartoum to Port Sudan, a distance of 1,200km (745 miles) on the old road, now shortened to 800km by the new Bin Laden route that will turn the coastal run from the capital into a mere day’s journey. Into a country that is despised by Saudi Arabia for its support of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war almost as much as it is condemned by the United States, Mr Bin Laden has brought the very construction equipment that he used only five years ago to build the guerrilla trails of Afghanistan.
He is a shy man. Maintaining a home in Khartoum and only a small apartment in his home city of Jeddah, he is married – with four wives – but wary of the press. His interview with the Independent was the first he has ever given to a Western journalist, and he initially refused to talk about Afghanistan, sitting silently on a chair at the back of a makeshift tent, brushing his teeth in the Arab fashion with a stick of miswak wood. But talk he eventually did about a war which he helped to win for the Afghan mujahedin: ‘What I lived in two years there, I could not have lived in a hundred years elsewhere,’ he said.
When the history of the Afghan resistance movement is written, Mr Bin Laden’s own contribution to the mujahedin – and the indirect result of his training and assistance – may turn out to be a turning- point in the recent history of militant fundamentalism; even if, today, he tries to minimise his role. ‘When the invasion of Afghanistan started, I was enraged and went there at once – I arrived within days, before the end of 1979,’ he said. ‘Yes, I fought there, but my fellow Muslims did much more than I. Many of them died and I am still alive.’
Within months, however, Mr Bin Laden was sending Arab fighters – Egyptians, Algerians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis, Turks and Tunisians – into Afghanistan; ‘not hundreds but thousands,’ he said. He supported them with weapons and his own construction equipment. Along with his Iraqi engineer, Mohamed Saad – who is now building the Port Sudan road – Mr Bin Laden blasted massive tunnels into the Zazi mountains of Bakhtiar province for guerrilla hospitals and arms dumps, then cut a mujahedin trail across the country to within 15 miles of Kabul.
‘No, I was never afraid of death. As Muslims, we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a battle, God sends us seqina, tranquillity.
‘Once I was only 30 metres from the Russians and they were trying to capture me. I was under bombardment but I was so peaceful in my heart that I fell asleep. This experience has been written about in our earliest books. I saw a 120mm mortar shell land in front of me, but it did not blow up. Four more bombs were dropped from a Russian plane on our headquarters but they did not explode. We beat the Soviet Union. The Russians fled.’
But what of the Arab mujahedin whom he took to Afghanistan – members of a guerrilla army who were also encouraged and armed by the United States – and who were forgotten when that war was over? ‘Personally neither I nor my brothers saw evidence of American help. When my mujahedin were victorious and the Russians were driven out, differences started (between the guerrilla movements) so I returned to road construction in Taif and Abha. I brought back the equipment I had used to build tunnels and roads for the mujahedin in Afghanistan. Yes, I helped some of my comrades to come here to Sudan after the war.’
How many? Osama Bin Laden shakes his head. ‘I don’t want to say. But they are here now with me, they are working right here, building this road to Port Sudan.’ I told him that Bosnian Muslim fighters in the Bosnian town of Travnik had mentioned his name to me. ‘I feel the same about Bosnia,’ he said. ‘But the situation there does not provide the same opportunities as Afghanistan. A small number of mujahedin have gone to fight in Bosnia-Herzegovina but the Croats won’t allow the mujahedin in through Croatia as the Pakistanis did with Afghanistan.’
Thus did Mr Bin Laden reflect upon jihad while his former fellow combatants looked on. Was it not a little bit anti-climactic for them, I asked, to fight the Russians and end up road-building in Sudan? ‘They like this work and so do I. This is a great plan which we are achieving for the people here, it helps the Muslims and improves their lives.’
His Bin Laden company – not to be confused with the larger construction business run by his cousins – is paid in Sudanese currency which is then used to purchase sesame and other products for export; profits are clearly not Mr Bin Laden’s top priority.
How did he feel about Algeria, I asked? But a man in a green suit calling himself Mohamed Moussa – he claimed to be Nigerian although he was a Sudanese security officer – tapped me on the arm. ‘You have asked more than enough questions,’ he said. At which Mr Bin Laden went off to inspect his new road.