So far Seymour Hersh’s extraordinary claims regarding the operation that killed Osama bin Laden have been met with either denial, withering scorn or, on the part of most of the broader media, uneasy quiet.
In a 10,000-word piece published on Sunday in the London Review of Books, the famous investigative journalist claims that Osama bin Laden was not tracked down in Pakistan by CIA work, but was located in Pakistani military custody due to a tip off.
Hersh writes that the Pakistani military had captured bin Laden as far back as 2006 and was using him as leverage over Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
He writes that after America became aware of this, the Pakistan military agreed to help stage the raid in order to keep the US on-side and protect itself from unrest that might be caused if it handed over bin Laden, who remained a popular figure.
Hersh has done some good journalism in the past, but this does not look like one of them.
Despite that Peter Bergen, a CNN security analyst and author of a book on the manhunt of bin Laden, has already written scathingly that the piece is, “a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense”.
And his recent history is not good.
In a (slightly) more gentle takedown Vox’s Max Fisher notes that more recent stories by Hersh, also alleging conspiracies, have either not been independently confirmed or have been debunked. “A close reading of Hersh’s bin Laden story suggests it is likely to suffer the same fate,” he writes.
Even back in 2004, one commentator calculator that Hersh claimed to have anonymous sources within 30 foreign governments and almost every US agency in existence.
Some specific rebuttals from the CNN analysis:
Common sense would tell you that the idea that Saudi Arabia was paying for bin Laden’s expenses while he was living in Abbottabad is simply risible. Bin Laden’s principal goal was the overthrow of the Saudi royal family as a result of which his Saudi citizenship was revoked as far back as 1994.
Why would the Saudis pay for the upkeep of their most mortal enemy?
Indeed. This quote best sums him up now:
The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
The fact the author of the conspiracy theory was once a good reporter doesn’t make the theory credible. What makes it credible is proof.