Did President Obama deceive Americans with his narrative of the 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden?
Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says so in a narrative published on Sunday.
The renowned author accuses Obama of rushing to take credit for the al-Qaida leader’s death.
“It’s been four years since a group of U.S. Navy SEALs assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Hersh writes in an article on the London Review of Books. “The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election.”
Hersh argues Obama’s decision – he terms it “high-level lying” – to take credit for bin Laden’s death forced the military and intelligence communities to scramble to corroborate the president’s version of events.
“High-level lying … remains the modus operandi of U.S. policy,” Hersh wrote of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policies, “along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.”
Hersh’s report accuses the Obama administration of embellishing the details of the raid itself and painting al Qaeda as a bigger threat than it actually was before bin Laden’s death.
“The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair,” write Hersh, “and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account.”
A single anonymous source, said to be a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abottabad,” is the basis for Hersh’s report.
Hersh’s source alleged the Pakistani government had an active role in approving and implementing the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Additionally, the retired intelligence officer said the Obama administration originally agreed to announce bin Laden’s death resulted from a drone strike, rather than from being shot during an active Special Forces mission.
Hersh wrote he “received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death.” Asad Durrani is a retired general who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s.
“Obama’s speech was put together in a rush,” Hersh wrote. “This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following.”
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the most outspoken of those who insisted the agreement with Pakistan be honored, and was distressed by Obama’s decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance.
“‘Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone,'” Hersh quoted his source. “‘This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn’t even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.'” Hersh added, “There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.”
The White House did not comment on Hersh’s claims.