TRNN Talks to Sy Hersh
Seymour Hersh says by going public with a “fairytale” narrative of the murder of Bin Laden, President Obama broke an agreement with top Pakistani generals to hide the U.S. mission and Pakistani military complicity.
PAUL 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.
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