PHOTOGRAPH FROM EARTHWORKSACTION.COM
It is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.
The holiday originally was called Decoration Day and was a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include soldiers who died in any war.
As always, I've hung an American flag outside of Kiko's House.
As always, I will keep the weekend simple. Perhaps we’ll take the dogs for a swim in the creek near our mountain home. Jack is slowly going blind, but we recently bought him a day-glo ball, which he loves to fetch when we throw it in the water. Then we’ll make a big batch of a Tuscan seafood risotto with porcini mushrooms. (What could be more American?)
As always, I will remember that freedom of speech is not protected by journalists like myself but by the men and women who have given their lives to defend American values — the values we cherish, not the ones politicians spout. That flag, you see, hung outside a farmhouse in rural Minnesota for decades as the forebears of the Dear Friend & Conscience went off to defend those freedoms.
As always, I will feel a sadness over loved ones and friends who will not be with us this Memorial Day weekend because of their sacrifices: Nick Tuke, Chuck Callanan, Jim Mullen, Mike Tames and Bob Layton. And Nancy Willing’s brother, Ed, who remains MIA nearly 50 years after he was gobbled up by the jungles of Vietnam.
But besides being sad, I also am angry -- a slow burn, I suppose -- over the mess that we've made of our once great country. Can we do better for those loved ones and friends? Absolutely.
For a brief if not shining moment, it occurred to me that Jeb Bush might just be the guy to make the 2016 presidential race interesting. I'm not saying that I'd vote for him, but I had really hoped that Hillary Clinton would not win in a walk because she was opposed by some Republican chucklehead. Yet in the space of four days last week, Jeb not only dashed my hopes, but angered me in a way that no presidential aspirant has done in a long time.
Perhaps fittingly, what tripped up the former Florida governor was the late, unlamented war that defined his older brother's presidency and already is haunting other Republican wannabes.
Bush, asked last week in an interview in the comfy confines of a Fox News studio of whether, knowing what he knows now, would he support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he answered that he would have. Realizing that he had stepped in a Superfund-sized pile of excrement, he then tried to walk back his answer the following day by saying he had "interpreted the question wrong." Then, the day after that, he said wouldn't engage in "hypotheticals." And finally -- on the fourth day and in a moment of blinding clarity that well defined his character, or lack thereof -- he said he wasn't interested in "going back in time" because that would be "a disservice" to those who had served in the war.
Then there is the issue of why Bush's handlers were so feckless as to have not prepped him with a snappy answer to an all but inevitable question, the very one that kept tripping up Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. After tying his shoelaces together and falling on his face, Bush opined that Hillary would say the same thing. That is demonstrably false, although like most senators (but not Barack Obama) she was for the war in 2003 before she was against it, finally settling on the line during the 2008 Democratic primary that "If we knew then what we know now, I would never have voted to give this president the authority."
No, what burned the red, white and blue ass of this veteran is that Jeb Bush defaulted to cowardice. Because, doncha know, any criticism of the troops and by extension his former commander-in-chief brother is unpatriotic -- a battle-tested, if vile, tactic from the Republican playbook to tamp down dissent when it threatens to come uncomfortably close to the truth.
If this response has the ring of familiarity, it is because President Bush, and Vice President Cheney in particular, used it early and often in calling into question anyone and everyone who opposed that fool's mission, which wasted nearly 4,500 American and perhaps 110,000 Iraqi lives, left the country in far worse shape than when the war began, further destabilized one of the world's most volatile regions and handed Iran -- and by extension Al Qaeda and an emergent ISIS -- an enormous strategic advantage.
Republican presidential wannabe Scott Walker, while not exactly defending Bush’s serial faux pax, offered that "any president would have likely taken the same action [President] Bush did with the information he had," while wannabe Marco Rubio got all pissy when a Fox News interviewer tried to pin him down on Sunday, choosing to criticize the questions he was being asked rather than give a semblance of a straight answer about whether he now thought the war was a mistake.
Bush did say later that "mistakes were made." An appropriate follow-up question would have been, "By whom, Mr. Bush?"
The answer is that "mistakes were made" by the very people who are the core of the younger Bush's foreign policy team. In fact, that team is a Who's Who of the architects of the Iraq War, including Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Hadley, Michael Zoellick, Michael Hayden and Porter Goss. Oh, and Michael Chertoff. I guess that Bill Kristol, Richard Perle and Cheney were unavailable.
It remains to be seen if Jeb Bush's moment of candor will affect his long-term chances. It certainly won't rule out a shot at the Republican nomination and perhaps Hillary herself since getting things disastrously wrong and never owning up to them is a badge of honor in American politics these days. But woe befall Jeb if he continues to try to be his brother's keeper in the general election, let alone reveal stuff like a remark made in an off-the-record moment at a donors' event last week that George W. Bush is one of his "principal advisers on the Middle East."
Color me not just angry at Jeb, but disappointed in him. Silly, silly me to have thought he was made of better stuff.
TIME TO GET REAL ABOUT THE WAR?
The stumblings of Bush, Walker and now Rubio -- with more presidential aspirants bound to trip up, as well -- would seem to be a terrific opportunity to have a long overdue public discussion about the Iraq War. After all, over 80 percent of Americans in one recent poll now believe the war to have been wrong (although goodly number of the comparatively few diehard supporters are Republicans).
Well, don't hold your breath. I just don't see it happening with a news media with a collective case of Attention Deficit Disorder and an antipathy, even at this late date, to call a lie a lie. Then there was the media's own inexcusable dereliction of duty in covering the war, notably its inability to suss out the fictions justifying the invasion while there was a real war to be fought in Afghanistan.
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING PIONEER IDA TARBELL
There is a back story to the back story that underpins Seymour Hersh's controversial new exposé claiming that the Obama administration lied about virtually everything having to do with the death of Osama bin Laden: If as a journalist you buck the official line, expect to be castigated not just by the people spouting that line, but by your peers, as well. What is so irretrievably sad about this state of affairs is that it reveals too many journalists as being not merely incurious, but downright lazy.
As I note in my own somewhat critical analysis of the Hersh exposé, which was published on May 10 in the London Review of Books, this legendary muckraker's stories are routinely criticized. That comes with the territory, and did way back when pioneering investigative journalists Lincoln Steffens revealed the corruption of big-city governments in 1902 and Ida Tarbell laid bare the viciously monopolistic practices of Standard Oil in 1904, as well as when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post blew the lid off of Watergate in 1972 and sank the Nixon presidency.
This criticism reliably is a mix of indignity from officials who feel they have been wronged and huffing and puffing from media mavens, some of whom can barely conceal their jealousy. But the blowback from the pundit class over the bin Laden story has been especially ferocious, which tells me Hersh is really onto something. Or at the very least has again (inadvertently) exposed the soft underbelly of a news media content to chew its self-important cud without the bother of questioning, let alone being ever so slightly skeptical, of what our presidents and corporatocratic leaders tell us.
Exhibit A in this regard is the late, unlamented Iraq War.
While there were rare exceptions, most media outlets and pundits swallowed whole the Bush administration's lies, obfuscations and talking points about this fool's errand from the outset of the invasion and continued to do so through the war's various phases -- the troops not being home by Christmas 2003, per Dick Cheney's prediction, the Abu Ghraib scandal revealed in all its horror by Hersh himself, the civil war and emergence of ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda, and even The Surge because, after all, American casualties were way down, never mind that was because most troops were now being garrisoned, and who cares that the strategy's major goal of national reconciliation was stillborn.
When I wrote about this years-long media train wreck, which I did with some regularity, I kept coming back to these underlying factors:
* The ongoing retreat from good old-fashioned reporting. You know, sussing out the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of every story that used to be drilled into journalists from the day they first got their feet wet. In a 24/7 news world, those fundamentals too often have gone AWOL.
* The ongoing consolidation of the media into the hands of a few corporations more interested in good profits than good journalism. You know, we can't really go after the Bush administration because that might drive away advertisers and hurt our bottom line.
Worst of all, there continued to be no consensus in the MSM about why there had been a war in the first place. And there were very few reporters beyond the dogged duo of correspondents Jonathan Landay and Walter Stroebel, formerly of the former Knight Ridder and later McClatchy Newspapers, who stepped back far enough to see that the media and public had been sold a bloody bill of goods. It was mostly left to bloggers, notably Juan Cole, to tell it like it was, and there remains a generic reluctance in the media today to promote a long overdue and candid discussion about the war despite there being a delicious opening to do just that: The missteps of Jeb Bush and other Republican presidential wannabes when confronted by tough questions on the war.
The most infamous media retailer of big lies during the war was Judith Miller of The New York Times, who broke a slew of cardinal rules of journalism, including becoming too close to her sources and ultimately being co-opted by them, inserting herself into the middle of her stories and running roughshod over her editors -- a breathtaking institutional failure -- in repeatedly asserting in her articles that there were weapons of mass destruction. Which, of course, was one of several shifting rationales given by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika for invading Iraq in the first place.
Speaking of shifting rationales, Miller has been on something of an image rehabilitation tour lately, her new mantra being that while it turns out there may not have been WMD, that is not really her fault because her unnamed sources fed her bad information. Would Sy Hersh make that kind of excuse? Nah.
This conveniently brings us back to Hersh's own unnamed sources in his bin Laden exposé, which as I and others have noted, are lacking in number as well as verifiability.
But when it comes to sources, some context is helpful: Hersh's first big exposé was the My Lai Massacre, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1970. I have just reread all of his My Lai stories -- written for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and then the late great Dispatch News Service -- and there is not one unnamed source or blind quote. By comparison, Hersh cites an anonymous retired senior U.S. intelligence official at least 55 times, by one count, in making the case that Obama and his national security team were serial liars when it came the bin Laden epic.
That would seem to bolster the contention of Hersh's biggest critics, to paraphrase one of them, that he has become an old crank who anonymously cites old kooks to carry his investigative water. Yes, there are some internal inconsistencies in the bin Laden story and aspects of it difficult to believe, among them that the U.S. shared precise operational details of the raid with its Pakistani counterparts. I cite these problems in my own critique, but suggest that people not jump so effing fast in concluding that Hersh has become addicted to unnamed sources.
As Hersh notes in a March story in The New Yorker on his recent trip to My Lai, "In many cases, the soldiers interviewed" about a massacre the Army claimed had not happened "talked openly and, for the most part, honestly with me, describing what they did at My Lai and how they planned to live with the memory of it." And most of the sources used by Steffens and Tarbell back in the heyday of muckraking were on the record. But not so Woodward and Bernstein 70 years later in unraveling the tentacles of the Watergate octopus. No one dared go up against the Nixon White House publicly, hence their extensive reliance on Deep Throat, the most famous unnamed source in journalistic history.
A question: What's the difference between Deep Throat and Hersh's anonymous retired senior U.S. intelligence official? Nothing of substance, the larger point being that people have become increasingly reluctant to go on the record when an investigative reporter comes calling.
And so the biggest takeaway for me from the bin Laden story blowback is not the predictable flap about sources, but that an esteemed journalist -- or a once esteemed journalist, if you are a Hersh basher -- has published a controversial story challenging a narrative widely accepted by the Washington establishment and Hersh’s mainstream media peers who remain, for the most part, in the thrall of a president who nimbly used the bin Laden assassination to catapult to a second term.
Some of the commentary on the piece has been silly and some way out of bounds.
Salon gets the silly prize for stating that "[Independent presidential candidate] Bernie Sanders has just been handed a powerful new weapon in the unlikeliest of forms . . . if used effectively, Hersh’s story could also serve to expose the deepest fissures in the Democratic ranks — and thus provide an opening for its upstart left-wing challenger."
Politico, in all its non-wisdom, turned to Bill Harlow, a former top spokesman for the CIA with a big ax to grind who had lied repeatedly about those nonexistent WMD in Iraq, to review Hersh’s exposé. The predictable result was a hit job.
Meanwhile, The New York Times published a piece by the deeply-sourced Carlotta Gall, its own bin Laden expert, supporting the major point made in the exposé — that the Pakistanis had aided the U.S. in taking out bin Laden — but inexplicably only online and not in its print edition.
Slate has been all over the place on the piece with a highly critical take, a generally supportive take and a take somewhere in between written by Philip Carter, a former Army officer and Pentagon official who writes:
"If the facts were as Hersh reported, they probably would have come out by now, either from one of the Navy Seals who has already gone public, or another who felt he had the story of a lifetime to share. Conspiracies like the one Hersh describes rarely occur in fact because they are simply too hard for a complex, diverse, dispersed, multilayered organization like the U.S. government to pull off. Hersh should know this, too."
Fair enough, I guess.
* * * * *
I was in charge of a big city newspaper's Washington Bureau during President Reagan's second term when, along with my counterparts from other papers, I was summoned to the White House.
Our day began with a briefing by Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and climaxed with a luncheon with the Gipper himself.
As the day wore on, the purpose of the visit became clear: The White House wasn't getting the kind of coverage it wanted from the Washington press corps and was appealing directly to editors like myself to help sell its story.
It is difficult to conceive of the Obama administration feeling the need to roll out the red carpet for my counterparts today. What a difference three decades, a botched war, grumpiness over Sy Hersh and his investigative ilk, and a cowed media make.
UPDATE: The power companies cited in the article below not only eventually got their way, but the Susquehanna-Roseland Power Line was activated this week, the coup de grâce to screwing ratepayers -- and the environment -- with full government and regulatory acquiescence that had been years in the making. The U.S. Park Service's duplicitous role in this debacle is especially shameful and the precedent the power line sets should worry anyone who values our national parks.
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2013)
The 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, located on the middle section of the scenic Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is breathtakingly beautiful. Some 75 miles from New York City, it is visited by upwards of three million people a year. Within its boundaries is a stunning range of flora and fauna, waterfalls, the Appalachian Trail and historic homes and farms. But if two power companies get their way, the recreation area will be cleaved by high-voltage electric transmission lines strung between looming 197-foot-tall towers over clear cut forest that will dwarf everything in their path and be visible for many miles, despoiling a leafy, river-straddling panorama without peer in the region. It will be like running a razor blade across the face of a beautiful woman, leaving a hideous scar that will never heal.
A coalition of New Jersey environmental groups has filed suit against the U.S. Park Service in federal District Court in Washington to stop work on the 500-kilovolt Susquehanna-Roseland Power Line, which would run 130 miles from Berwick in Columbia County in Northeastern Pennsylvania to Roseland in Essex County in North Jersey. The coalition argues that the Park Service unlawfully granted permission for construction of the line on the existing 4.3-mile footprint of a much smaller 230-kilovolt line build in the 1920s, nearly a half century before the recreation area was created. This, it says, is in violation of the agency's own rules, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Environmental Policy Act of 1969. They note that the Park Service itself acknowledges in its own impact study that the line "would adversely affect protected resources within the park, in some instances irreversibly."
But that is not the half of it. PPL of Pennsylvania and Public Service Gas & Electric of New Jersey, the power companies that would operate the line, claim it must be built because of an order from PJM, the regional electric grid operator, in order to upgrade existing lines to address power demand issues that were expected to occur in North Jersey by 2012. But not only have such issues not materialized, demand has dropped because of energy conservation, while four cleaner burning natural-gas powered generating stations will be coming on line in North Jersey in coming years that will provide more than enough electricity. As it is, electricity for the line would be generated by coal-fired power stations in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, pollutants from which will blow easterly into New Jersey, among other states.
The real -- if unstated -- reason that PPL and PSE&G are anxious to build the Susquehanna-Roseland Line is that the utilities would be able to pass on the entire cost of the $750 million project to 51 million ratepayers in the PJM region while making a tidy profit. The electricity available because of the line would be sold by PSE&G to New York City at rates far greater than it charges its New Jersey customers. When PSE&G completes a long-term agreement to manage the Long Island Power Authority, electricity from the line also would be sold there at inflated rates.
In other words, other than temporary construction jobs, the project will be of no benefit to Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents while despoiling the heart of what is arguably the region's greatest natural resource.
Soil testing and other pre-construction activities already are underway in the recreation area. Construction isn't scheduled to begin until later in the year. but would be delayed if the plaintiffs in the lawsuit prevail.
* * * * *The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is, in part, an outgrowth of a bitter war over the Army Corps of Engineer's plan to dam the Delaware at Tocks Island, which sits upriver about seven miles from the Delaware Water Gap. The Kittatinny range, the mountains that define the eastern edge of the Pennsylvania Poconos, are worn down as any in the Appalachians. The ridge line is broken in only one place by a spectacular mile-wide gap where layers of limestone, quartz and shale are laid bare and plunge 1,300 feet from the ridge line at an almost precise 45-degree angle to the river before reappearing in mirror image on the other side.
In signing the legislation creating the 47,500-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in 1965, President Johnson declared that "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracle of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." Another 24,500 acres originally designated for the Tocks project were added later.
The recreation area does not compare in size to the millions of acres within the Yellowstone or Yosemite national parks, but unlike those treasures it is a relatively short drive from densely populated cities, a precious swath of open space that has become even more important in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated another great natural resource -- New Jersey and New York beaches.
Nancy Shukaitis, a Poconos environmental activist and a key player in the defeat of Tocks, considers the recreation area to be "an open air/clean water classroom, a rare place for solace, for human peace within oneself. . . . The very presence of a transmission line within the DWGNRA speaks to insensitivity and disrespect for the values of our nation's natural National Parks and its visitors."
* * * * *The war to dam the river at Tocks, creating a vast reservoir that would submerge hundreds of homes and farms, including land farmed by the family of Shukaitis's father-in-law since the 1780s, would be a lightning rod for the nascent American environmental movement. Before the war whimpered to a conclusion at the end of the 1970s, it destroyed the careers of politicians, was the cause of suicides, arsons and violence, and exposed deep tears in the social fabric of the Poconos. The war unleashed a bitterness against outsiders and the dam's powerful, politically connected backers that seems just as intense today.
But while the Susquehanna-Roseland Power Line has brought together an eclectic coalition of opponents on the New Jersey side of the river ranging from the Sierra Club to Appalachian Trail groups to the Delaware Riverkeepers, it has elicited barely a hiccup on the Pennsylvania side of the river, and although no conservation or open space group in the Poconos will say so publicly, there seems to be a consensus that what is done is done. This is because these groups believe they may benefit from a provision in the murky agreement that the utility companies struck with the Park Service to set aside $66 million for a so-called mitigation fund. The fund would be used, among other things, to purchase open space primarily in Pennsylvania adjacent to or near the recreation area that, the utilities say without a hint of irony, would provide unobstructed "natural views" of surrounding areas.
New Jersey opponents of the power line recognize this agreement for what it is: A bribe in return for groups seemingly dedicated to conservation and preserving open space to look the other way. The Park Service will be the nominal custodian of these bribe lands, which is something of a joke. This is because the Park Service struggles to manage the recreation area as it is, and is so overwhelmed that a Park Service official recently asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service if it would consider taking over management of the recreation area lands below the Interstate 80 toll bridge at the Water Gap.
"The public has no information about the lands . . . that will be purchased through the fund," wrote attorneys for the groups suing to block the power line. "Neither is there any indication or certainty that land acquisitions will be . . . managed in a way that genuinely offsets damages to existing parklands."
The opposition of the Sierra Club to the power line project led one Poconos public official who considers himself to be an environmentalist to rail against the powerful environmental group at a recent board meeting of an open space group.
"I will never give another damned cent to the Sierra Club," the official said, perhaps unaware or not caring that it was the Sierra Club's clout, combined with the good works of Shukaitis and other determined environmentalists on both sides of the river, that defeated the Tocks Island Dam project and helped create a magnificent recreation area that would be scarred forever by the power line he and others tacitly support.
Osama bin Laden is dead. But beyond stating the obvious, virtually nothing that the Obama administration has said about the run up to the assassination of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, the circumstances surrounding his death and its immediate aftermath is accurate, according to a fascinating but frustrating new exposé by Seymour Hersh.
"The Killing of Osama bin Laden" a 10,300-word takeout published in the London Review of Books on Sunday, peels away layers of back-channel diplomatic intrigue only hinted at in official pronouncements and news accounts about the May 2, 2011 climax to the massive international manhunt for world's most wanted terrorist. In doing so, Hersh provides a fascinating big-picture perspective filled with gritty detail, but he frustrates because while some of his conclusions in making the argument that "the White House's story [about bin Laden] might have been written by Lewis Carroll" have the ring of truth, others seem far-fetched.
The White House has dismissed Hersh's story as
"baseless," specifically his assertion that the administration collaborated with Pakistani officials. "The notion that the operation that killed Osama bin Laden was anything but a unilateral U.S. mission is patently false," White House National Security spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The much-lauded Hersh (photo, right) is the finest and one of the most prolific investigative reporters of modern times, so anything under his byline is worth taking seriously and this investigation certainly is. Criticism of his heavy reliance on anonymous sources over the years has seemed like so many sour grapes to this observer. That so noted, to its detriment the bin Laden story is very thinly sourced with Hersh's big and repeatedly cited go-to guy an unnamed but very well-connected "retired senior intelligence official" on which, it seems to me, he relies far too much with too little corroboration.
But then it does seem to me that the man who broke the My Lai Massacre and Abu Ghraib stories, among many other high-impact investigations, hasn't been fully on his game for some time and isn't here. This may explain why The New Yorker, where his exposés have appeared since 1993, is said to have taken a pass on this one because it didn't hold up to the magazine's legendarily tough scrutiny, while some observers assert that a British journalist specializing in military intelligence broke key aspects of a story Hersh claims to be his own in 2011.
* * * * *
Hersh could not have chosen an investigative challenge with a more complicated back story -- the deeply complex historic relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan and their governments and intelligence services, which has grown more complicated still since President George W. Bush declared a global War on Terror following the September 11, 2001, bin Laden-masterminded and Al Qaeda-implemented attacks on the American homeland.
As friends of America go, Pakistan has been the most two-faced and duplicitous "ally" in that war. (Saudi Arabia is a close second.) Pakistan has sucked up tens of billions of dollars in military and other U.S. aid while coddling Al Qaeda and more recently the Taliban, and providing a safe haven for bin Laden, who "was hiding in plain sight," as the White House put it, with several of his wives, other family members and gofers in a walled and fortified compound in the resort town of Abottabad, less than two miles the Pakistani version of West Point and 40 miles from the capital of Islamabad. That is until it was expedient for the Pakistanis to sell out the terrorist leader.
Hersh asserts that "the most blatant lie" perpetuated by the White House was asserting that the U.S. went it alone in taking out bin Laden, whereas what really happened was that the Pakistani intelligence service captured bin Laden in 2006 and and brokered his fate to the U.S. in return for military aid and off-the-books favors to key Pakistani government players.
Hersh writes that Pakistan's two most senior military leaders -- General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)– were well in the loop on the clandestine Navy Seal-led mission to take out bin Laden, who Hersh's source says had been held by the ISI in the Abbotabad compound since 2006, with Saudi Arabia paying for the upkeep of this exiled Saudi citizen, and had made sure that the two Blackhawk helicopters delivering the Seals to their target could cross Pakistani airspace without being tracked or engaged.
Furthermore, Hersh writes, "the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed . . . but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the U.S."
Hersh writes that Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, has told an Al-Jazeera interviewer that it was "quite possible" that senior ISI officers did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, "but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo -- if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States."
That quid pro quo was reached, according to Hersh, at a time when the U.S. was reducing the flow of U.S. aid in an effort to get the Pakistanis to play ball on bin Laden, with an agreement between the Pentagon and its Joint Special Operations Command and Pakistani bigs.
Under the agreement, Hersh writes, Pakistan would play ball in return for the aid tap being reopened and an understanding that news of the raid "shouldn't be announced straightaway. . . . the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush [mountains], on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests -- bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis -- and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced."
If this deal is to be believed, then the U.S. betrayed the Pakistanis big time as Obama, anxious to milk the biggest foreign success of his presidency, a success that help insure his 2012 re-election, went public with the news that bin Laden had been killed within hours of the mission being completed. The decision to renege on the deal was made when it was learned that one of the two Blackhawks had crashed at the compound, a decision Hersh writes left Obama's top generals angry and Defense Secretary Robert Gates apoplectic with rage.
Hersh writes that because "the explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak, Obama had to get out in front of the story before someone in the Pentagon did. Waiting would diminish the political impact. . . . Obama’s speech was put together in a rush and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy."
In what Hersh calls "political theater designed to burnish Obama's military credentials . . . the self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following, including the assertion that Pakistan had cooperated and the CIA's 'brilliant analysts' had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden's continuing flow of operational orders to Al Qaeda."
That statement, of course, risked exposing Kayani and Pasha, so the White House's solution was to ignore what the president had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden.
"Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn't known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information about the possibility," Hersh writes. "This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they'd killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden."
Hersh's account begins to fray at this point because he appears to be cherry picking aspects of the complex relationship between U.S. and Pakistani intelligence to bolster his version of events, and I find it difficult to beieve his contention that the U.S. shared precise operational details of the raid with its Pakistani counterparts.
He himself notes that Kayani and Pasha continued to insist they were unaware of bin Laden's whereabouts as late as late autumn of 2010, or about six months before the raid. I am skeptical that that was even true of Kayani, who after all ran the Pakistani army, but it is unbelievable in the case of Pasha. As head of the ISI, Pasha not only would have known that bin Laden was being held under a kind of house arrest by his own men, but that a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer -- a "walk-in" in spy parlance -- had told the CIA station chief in Islamabad in August 2010, as Hersh himself relates, that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 in the Hindu Kush, and that "the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him."
The other big lies told by the White House and CIA, at its behest, according to Hersh, are the contention that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered, that his body was flown to Afghanistan and then disposed of at sea according to proper Islamic religious custom, and that he remained in operational control of Al Qaeda to the end.
The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition the Seals were authorized to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. "So here's this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It's not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy. The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was 'bullshit,' the retired senior official said. The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, 'We kicked his ass and took his gas.' "
Nevertheless, the fiction endures that the Seals had to fight their way in, whereas the reality is that other than the Seals, no shots were fired, according to Hersh.
He notes that only two Seals have spoken publicly: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette (photo, above left), was published in September 2012, and two years later Rob O'Neill (photo, above right) was interviewed by Fox News. Both had fired at bin Laden and both had resigned from the Navy. "Their accounts contradicted each other on many details," Hersh writes, "but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed . . . O'Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought 'We were going to die. The more we trained on it, the more we realized . . . this is going to be a one-way mission.' "
Hersh writes that in their initial debriefings, the Seals made no mention of a firefight or any kind of opposition. "The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O'Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: 'Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.' "
(O'Neill told Fox News this week that he thought Hersh's account “was a joke . . . For someone who wasn’t there to say stuff that I saw happen . . . it’s a comedy.” The former Seal took particular issue with Hersh’s allegation that there was no firefight.)
According to the retired official, it wasn’t clear from the Seals' early reports whether all of bin Laden’s body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan, and the source asserts that "during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad [in Afghanistan] some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains."
Obama stated in his hastily arranged speech that Seals "took custody of his body," but Hersh notes that statement created a problem since the initial plan was to announce in a week or so that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing.
"Everyone now expected a body to be produced," Hersh writes. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden’s body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad . . . and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death.
The press corps's only skeptical moments at a White House briefing led by CIA Director John Brennan later on the day of Obama's speech had to do with the burial.
"The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered," Hersh writes. " 'When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?' 'Was this part of the plan all along?' 'Can you just tell us why that was a good idea, John?' 'Did you consult a Muslim expert on that?' 'Is there a visual recording of this burial?' When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama's press secretary, came to Brennan's rescue: "We’ve got to give other people a chance here."
Meanwhile, the CIA asserted that a cache of valuable documents showing that bin Laden was still running the Al Qaeda show was seized in the compound.
"These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over," Hersh writes. "The retired intelligence official said that the CIA's internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden's Al Qaeda."* * * * *
Hersh's exposés are routinely criticized, typically a mix of indignity from officials who feel they have been wronged and huffing and puffing from media mavens who can barely conceal their jealousy. That comes with the territory, but the bin Laden story blowback has been especially ferocious, which tells me Hersh is really onto something.
"The core problem with Seymour Hersh is that he relies entirely upon cranks [like the oft-quoted retired senior intelligence official] as his sources," writes one indignant maven, Slate's James Kirchick. "Cranks are an archetype of the intelligence world. Imagine a cross between Connie Sachs (the reclusive, eccentric, spinster Kremlinologist from John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Ron Paul, and you have an idea of the sort of person I’m talking about."
But look no further than Carlotta Gall (photo, above), who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the New York Times for 12 years to validate the overall conclusion of Hersh's story because there is no other reporter more thoroughly versed on bin Laden's death. Kirchick, by comparison, is a babe in the woods.
"From the moment it was announced to the public, the tale of how Osama bin Laden met his death in a Pakistani hill town in May 2011 has been a changeable feast," Gall writes in corroborating Hersh's overall assertion regarding Pakistani involvement. "On this count, my own reporting tracks with Hersh's."
Gall does add that Hersh's claim that evidence retrieved during the raid was less significant than has been asserted "rings less true to me. But he has raised the need for more openness from the Obama administration about what was found there."
Hersh himself brushed off the criticisms.
"If I worried about the reaction to what I write, I’d be frozen," he said. Hersh said that journalists "should be very skeptical of someone who says what goes against what every newspaper and magazine believed. You're not doing your job if you say, 'Oh, it must be true.' "
My own frustrations with the story aside, as well as concern over the thin sourcing, it does have one thing going for it beyond Gall's endorsement and Hersh's own record of many more investigative hits than misses: How the White House and the Washington press corps seem to be in lockstep in agreeing that Hersh is a very naughty boy.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen's take rang especially hollow: "What's true in this story isn't new, and what's new in the story isn't true. I thought that was a pretty good way of describing why no one here is particularly concerned about it."
Spoken like a true skepticism-free insider.
* * * * *
The Obama administration's obfuscations about the death of Osama bin Laden and the circumstances surrounding it seem minor compared to the massive cover-up of the 9/11 attacks and the circumstances surrounding that enormous event orchestrated by the Bush administration and a compliant Congress. Meanwhile, my thoughts on a 2009 Hersh story on whether Vice President Cheney had his own assassination squad.
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.