08 PM | 05 Apr

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Cover of The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh

Author: Seymour M. Hersh

Publisher: Verso

Date of Publication: April 2016

Date of Review: April 2016

Seymour Hersh’s “The Killing of Osama bin Laden” goes beyond talking about bin Laden, digging further into the war against ISIS, Benghazi and concerns with Iraq, Turkey, Russia, China, and Syria. For readers of the London Review of Books, much of this small book is from Hersh’s articles spanning May 21, 2015 to January 7, 2016. Though I’d read them as they were published, it was helpful to read them together in this 124 page brief on the current state of the War in the Middle East.

A quote from a consultant to the special operation community sums up the US’s (West’s) “strategy” for the War on Terror. “It’s all about tactics and nobody, Republican or Democrat, has advanced a strategic vision…We’ve had an abject failure of military and political leadership.” (page 11). This quote from the intro sets up Hersh’s narrative, which shows a web of incompetence, rash decisions, shortsightedness, and bad bedfellows.

What do we learn from Hersh? The Pakistani military and government knew bin Laden’s whereabouts, and even helped protect him. Later, the CIA used the Pakistani military to assist in the execution of bin Laden. “The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell—a Nave SEAL, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists—to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault.” (page 23). Later, we learn that the ISI guards (Pakistani guards) used to protect bin Laden’s compound, left just prior to the SEALs arrival. In fact, “an ISI liaison officer flying with the SEALs guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters.” (page 28) Hersh unravels more scandals and surprises, including the burial of bin Laden at sea…perhaps. I found Hersh’s coverage of President Obama’s reaction, and spin on the bin Laden assignation, to be most enlightening, particularly after reading Scott Taylor’s, a former U.S. Navy SEAL’s, “Trust Betrayed: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Selling Out of American National Security.”

Chapter 2 (page 53) shifts to Obama’s current war against ISIS, including a careful tracking of the chemical weapons that caused Obama to put his “red line” to the test. In light of Putin’s current actions in Syria, it’s interesting to remember that in 2012 it was Putin’s brokered deal with Assad that prevented Obama from having to make good on his “red line” promise. (page 64)

Perhaps most revealing is the uncovering of the “rat line, authorized in early 2012, used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition.” (page 65). In fact, this elaborate scheme involved the CIA facility in Benghazi, and included the support the Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, CIA, and M16 (England). (page 65). Though Hersh is careful not to place all the blame on this operation, on the attacks on the consulate, his connections are well documented. (page 64-69)

In Chapter Three, “Whose Sarin?,” the picture of Chemical Weapons in Syria becomes far more complicated. “Barack Obama did not tell the whole story, most significantly, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin…” (page 77) After reading about the dubious origin of the chemical weapons used in Syria in 2012, one can’t help but see Hersh’s connections to the U.S. entry in the Iraqi War (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 (Vietnam).  (page 82-89) With information from NSA studies, UN reports, and informants, Hersh’s story of the sarin used in 2012, shows the Syrian civil war for what it is: a quagmire of dozens of factions with weapons supplied to them from countless governments and terrorist groups, including the CIA, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even China.

“When it comes to tackling the Islamic State, Russia and the US have much to offer each other,” (page 111) Hersh writes, linking Russia’s ongoing confrontations with Chechen extremists, and Putin’s strong compulsion to protect his bases in Tartus (navy) and Latakia (air). (page 111-113) Yet, as Hersh writes, the US and other parties—notably Turkey—are uncooperative with Russia. In light of Putin’s pulling out of Syria, it will be interesting to see how this dynamic changes.

I am extremely appreciative of Hersh’s coverage of China, “an ally of Assad that has allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria.” (page 118). China’s Xinjiang state has long seen unrest among its Muslim population, who see themselves as more Central Asian/Middle Eastern than Chinese, particularly because of their religion. (China is at fault for some of this animosity, as is the former Soviet Union.) “Many Uighur [Chinese Muslim] fighters now in Syria are know to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement—and often violent separatist organization that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xingiang.” (page 119). China is particularly nervous with the “Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria [because it] may be extended in the future to support Turkey’s agenda in Xingiang.” (page 119) China’s concern with ISIS and Turkey has pushed it into the welcoming arms of Assad and Putin, who have similar enemies and a need for solid financial backing. Indeed, the Islamic extremists are building throughout Asia, including in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, many of whom end up with Turkish passports in the hope that they will fight Assad (despite their apparent allegiance with ISIS).  (page 120)

Hersh’s “The Killing of Osama” makes the world all the more complicated: CIA backed arms smuggling connected to Benghazi, a US cover-up around the suspiciously clean killing of bin Laden—despite the unbelievably botched helicopter crash, and a spider web of deceit in Syria. I highly recommend Seymour Hersh’s newest book because—in its brevity—it clearly and compellingly alerts even the most uneducated reader to a world of double mirrors, political deceit, incompetence, and ultimately the perpetuation of Western involvement in a Middle Eastern war, which is quickly dragging in all of Asia, Europe, and Russia.