Since publishing his 10,000-word article on the 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden, Seymour Hersh has received vilification, mockery… and some surprising confirmation.
Sunday’s article in the London Review of Books claimed Pakistan’s government had extensive knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in the country for years, and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency deliberately withheld the information from the United States in hopes of “selling” the al-Qaida leader at a suitable price. (RELATED: 7 Wildest Details Of The New Bin Laden Bombshell)
While many familiar with the story have rejected his more outlandish claims — such as the fact that the U.S. raid was “staged” with Pakistani permission, and that Navy SEALs chopped bin Laden’s body into pieces before dumping it into the ocean — reporters from NBC, The New York Times and Agence France-Presse have confirmed parts of the veteran investigative reporter’s story.
According to Carlotta Gall, who spent years covering Pakistan for the Times, Pakistani intelligence agents “ran a desk specifically to handle” bin Laden as he hid in the Abbottabad compound. Acknowledging that confirmation of Pakistan’s knowledge is a “hugely important” part of “a story that many of us assembled parts of,” she also wrote that she “cannot confirm Hersh’s bolder claims.” The claims she discredits include the idea that several high-ranking Pakistani officials had advance notice of the plans for the raid.
Likewise, AFP and NBC’s revelations on the Hersh article each contain subtle discrepancies with the main account. After initially confirming the Central Intelligence Agency learned of bin Laden’s location from a “walk-in” interview, NBC has retracted the claim. (RELATED: Muslim Convert Who Helped Find Bin Laden Leaves Top CIA Terror Job)
And Husain Haqqani, who was Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2011, wrote Wednesday in Foreign Policy that there were widespread rumors of Pakistani complicity in protecting bin Laden. After he had publicly demanded “a full inquiry” of the intelligence agency’s role, he writes, Pakistan investigated the cover-up in a “non-transparent manner and declined to publish its findings.” Haqqani was soon thereafter dismissed from his post by the two generals that Hersh says had advance notice of the raid.
Faced with mounting contradictory evidence, Slate’s Isaac Chotiner managed to call Hersh this week, publishing a transcript of their interview Wednesday. In the text, the 78-year-old Hersh comes across as hostile and obstreperous. He indulges Chotiner’s counter-speculation (“Swing away fella”), insults his relative inexperience (“You don’t know anything. It is amazing you can speak the God’s English” [sic]), gets distracted by others in his office (“Fucking TV interview sets up in the hall of my office building”) and answers the suggestion that the New Yorker rejected the article by threatening to leave (“maybe I will listen, but I gotta hang up”).
A persistent rumor is that the London Review of Books accepted Hersh’s article after the New Yorker’s David Remnick refused it, because it failed to meet Remnick’s fact-checking standards. According to Hersh, Remnick originally suggested a shorter online piece (“Go fuck yourself! A blog?”). Some critics have pointed to a 2012 LRB article that ridicules American publications’ “schizophrenic obsession with facts.”
To this point, Hersh apparently claimed both that he preferred British editorial standards, and that the New Yorker would have accepted the article. When pressed, he told Chotiner, “I am glad you are confused.” He went on: “I don’t mean to yell at you but I feel good doing it. Goodbye.” And he hung up.
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