Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden – From 9/11 to Abbottabad.” This piece draws on a story from May 20, 2015.
Peter Bergen: Times magazine cover story says incorrectly that we don't know truth about the bin Laden killing
Participants in raid and U.S. officials would have had to agree on massive cover up if story they told is false, Bergen said
The New York Times is the greatest newspaper in the world, so when the current cover story in the Times magazine is headlined, “What Do We Really Know about Osama bin Laden’s Death?,” readers are surely going to pay attention.
The story was of particular interest because we actually know a great deal about bin Laden’s death, not only from three books written by participants in the operation – one of the U.S. Navy SEALs who was on the raid and the two top CIA officials who led the hunt for al Qaeda’s leader – but also from many news articles about the operation written by reporters working for The New York Times.
Anything that might add to the hundreds of thousands of words that are already on the public record about bin Laden’s death would, of course, be of great interest to the American public and, indeed, to people around the world.
My interest was particularly piqued because I have written a book about the long search for al Qaeda’s leader and his death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs, so I was anxious to find out more from the newspaper of record which is, after all, based in the city where the terrible 9/11 attacks had killed so many Americans in an operation that was, of course, ordered by bin Laden.
So it was an unpleasant surprise to find that Times reporter Jonathan Mahler, in his more than 7,000 word piece, had discovered little new about the hunt for bin Laden and the raid that killed him, but also made the following claim: “It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it.”
Mahler also asserted that it was “impossible to know what was true and what wasn’t” about the story of bin Laden’s death, which is now “floating somewhere between fact and mythology.”
Really? That is only if you accept at face value the work of the investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who wrote a lengthy piece in the London Review of Books in May that set out to challenge the “official” story of bin Laden’s death.
Seymour Hersh’s story
Let’s recap the principal claims that Hersh’s article made, which largely relied on the assertions of an unnamed, retired senior U.S. intelligence official:
– That the 2011 raid on the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan was not an intense firefight involving 23 SEALs, but a Hollywood-like set up in which Pakistani officials simply handed over bin Laden to the SEALs for execution.
– The only shots fired the night of the bin Laden raid were the ones that the SEALs fired to kill bin Laden.
– Pakistan’s military had been holding bin Laden prisoner for many years and a “walk in” informant to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad tipped off the CIA that bin Laden was living in the Abbottabad compound.
– It was false, despite the statements of multiple U.S. officials after the raid, that the CIA had traced back one of bin Laden’s couriers to the Abbottabad compound and built a circumstantial case that bin Laden was living there.
– A Pakistani army doctor obtained DNA from bin Laden that proved he was in Abbottabad, proof that was provided to the States so that all the supposed uncertainty – cited by Obama administration officials after the raid – about whether bin Laden was actually living in the compound was a lie.
– The “most blatant lie,” according to Hersh, was that, “Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed” in advance