Friday, December 16, 2016

‘A Series of Lies’: A Review of Seymour M. Hersh’s The Killing of Osama Bin Laden

“High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.” This is the thesis of Seymour M. Hersh’s The Killing of Osama Bin Laden. Strong words about President Barak Obama. At first glance this seems a politicized attack against Obama, but Hersh delivers a barrage of facts derived from multiple sources, some named and some not, with journalistic density.

Hersh is a veteran critic of government action, with impressive credentials, including a Pulitzer-prize-winning exposé of the Mai Lai massacre in Viet Nam. A cover blurb from Guardian calls him “The most feared investigative reporter in Washington.”

The Killing of Osama Bin Laden is a 124-page compilation from articles written by Hersh for the London Review of Books. In it, he addresses the raid on the Bin Laden compound in which Bin Laden was killed, the intelligence actions leading up to it, and the allegedly fabricated cover story that was disseminated afterward. The remainder of the book deals with Obama policies regarding Syria, alleging they are helping more than hurting extremists in the war-torn country. Hersh makes some rather grave predictions about the future of terrorism if these policies continue. Quoting a scholar who served in the defense department, he says that if the Assad government fails (as Obama intends), terrorists sent to Syria from China, Russia, and India will “turn their eyes toward the home front to continue jihad, supported by a new and well-sourced Syrian operating base in the heart of the Middle East.

Hersh’s style is that of a seasoned journalist, a series of quotes and facts tied together by cold assessments. For anyone interested in policy and intelligence, it is a quick read. 

The Obama administration has denied Hersh’s claims about the killing of Bin Laden, calling them “baseless.” And despite Hersh’s credentials, some have criticized his use of anonymous sources. This may be valid, as much of the Bin Laden material comes from an unnamed retired intelligence official. But Hersh also quotes named sources, including the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pakistani Generals. It is understandable that sources still tied to government might not want to be quoted by name. The story is compelling, and worth an open-minded read as balance to the administration’s official story. It also is relevant, as the issue of Syria is still very much in play.