Was Osama bin Laden sheltered by Pakistan regime?
President Barack Obama went on national TV late on May 1 to announce that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in a US raid on a "compound deep inside Pakistan." Media reports indicated the target was a mansion in the Bilal area of Abbottabad, about 100 kilometers north of Islamabad. What Obama called "a small team of Americans"—presumably Special Forces troops—was apparently flown to the site in four helicopters. In a brief firefight, bin Laden was shot in the head, and his body in said to be in US custody. Three others were reportedly killed, including a son of the al-Qaeda leader. Also killed, according to unnamed Pakistani officials, was a woman who was being used as a human shield. Obama said there were no US casualties. However, an anonymous Pakistani intelligence official said one of the helicopters crashed after it was hit by fire from the ground. Another anonymous Pakistani security official told AFP: "Yes, I can confirm that he was killed in a highly sensitive intelligence operation." Asked whether Pakistani intelligence participated in the operation he would only reiterate: "It was a highly sensitive intelligence operation." (AFP, AP, Radio Australia, BBC World Service, May 2; VOA, May 1)
Bin Laden was widely believed to be in Pakistan's remote tribal territories along the Afghan border. Instead, he was apparently in Abbottabad, a military garrison town in the country's administrative center. Ironically, just a week earlier, a regional army chief had spoken in Abbottabad to boast that his forces had "broken the back" of Islamist militants in response to US criticisms of Pakistan's efforts to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked rebels. "The terrorists' backbone has been broken and God willing we will soon prevail," Gen. Ashfaq Kayani said at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, had accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of having ties to the Taliban. (AFP, April 23)
See our last post on the politics of the GWOT.
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More details emerge on Osama hit
The intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden apparently first emerged from detainees at Guantánamo Bay, who provided the alias for one of bin Laden's couriers, through whom he communicated with his followers (as the mansion apparently had no telephone or Internet access to prevent surveillance). Four years ago, intelligence agencies uncovered the courier's real identity, and last year he was traced to the Abbottabad mansion. In Washington, President Obama led five National Security Council meetings on the information in March and April. Last week, he gave the final go-ahead for the "surgical" attack, which was carried out by the Navy's SEAL Team 6. (NJ Star-Ledger, AP, May 2)
Bin Laden was buried at sea from the deck of a US aircraft carrier. A Department of Defense official said: "When there is no land alternative, Islamic law dictates that the body be buried within 24 hours, and that was the basis." Another defense official said says there was no country willing or able to accept the body for burial, and US forces "took pains to observe Muslim law." Koranic verses were read in Arabic at the brief ceremony. (CNN, May 2)
Reports are not making explicitly clear that an effort was made to take bin Laden alive—or what are the implications under international law if he was not. Bin Laden's handlers offered resistance, although reports have not made clear that bin Laden himself handled a weapon in the firefight. "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that," said John Brennan, the top White House counter-terrorism official, in a slightly equivocal statement. (WSJ, May 2)
Did waterboarding make Osama stool-pigeons sing?
The Miami Herald on May 2, citing a "secret Guantánamo assessment file" (that the newspaper gained access to thanks to WikiLeaks), names Abu Faraj al-Libi as the al-Qaeda operative whose interrogation yielded the information that led the US to Osama bin Laden:
Britain's right-wing Telegraph meanwhile names Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—and implicitly loans legitimacy to the practice of "waterboarding":
However, the Telegraph also notes that "The courier's name does not appear in KSM's Guantanamo file." Both KSM and al-Libi were apparently subject to waterboarding, in any case. The account states (with a barely concealed sneer): "Amnesty International has already warned that the killing of bin Laden must not be used as evidence that torture is 'justifiable'."
Daily Kos blogger by Joan McCarter meanwhile asserts "Waterboarding did not reveal Osama bin Laden trail," noting that KSM or al-Libi, or whoever it was, only revealed a "nickname" (probably better rendered "alias"). McCarter also notes that Dick Cheney told Fox News: "I would assume the enhanced interrogation program we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden's ultimate capture... We need to keep in place those policies that made it possible for us to succeed in this case." But McCarter states:
McCarter further notes that al-Libi's interrogations also divulged the completely fictitious tale that Saddam Hussein had offered to train al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons—later recanted by al-Libi, but only after it had made its way into Colin Powell's UN address making the case for war. Concludes McCarter: "What torture got us, in practical terms, was the Iraq debacle. And the complete and well-deserved debasement of our international standing. And a hell of a lot more anti-American terrorists."
Did WikiLeaks prompt Osama raid?
From The Guardian, May 3. Note the last sentence.
WikiLeaks: Pakistan "protected" Osama
From The Telegraph, May 2:
Did Osama sea burial really "observe Muslim law"?
From The Guardian, May 2:
White House changes story on Osama hit?
From The Guardian, May 3:
Pakistan (semi-)protests raid on Osama
From AP, May 3:
Zardari equivocates on Pakistan role in sheltering Osama
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has an op-ed in the Washington Post May 2, in which he states:
Note that this actually falls short of a flat denial that Pakistan was sheltering bin Laden.
Where did the helicopters take off from?
The New York Times on May 2 quotes John Brennan on the operations—saying one of the helicopters "stalled" in the operation, but not that it crashed:
No mention is made of where the helicopters actually took off from. Information on this has been vague and sketchy at best. Typical is this bit from Radio Australia, heavy on drama and light on facts:
Meanwhile Pakistan's Daily Times reports:
So Islamabad seems to be having it both ways: stating (to appease opinion in the US) that it provided "intelligence leads" that led to bin Laden, but denying (to appease domestic opinion) that it actually cooperated in the raid. So we want to know: Where did the helicopters take off from?
More of the Brennan quote is given in KOL News:
"At least in our discussions with them." More equivocation, as well as slightly garbled syntax.
White House won't release bin Laden photos
Suitably gruesome but fairly transparent photo-shopped images of bin Laden with gunshot wounds to the head are circulating on the Web and have even taken in some media outlets—despite the fact that they are apparently more than two years old! (AP, May 3) The Internet conspiracy set is also assuming the photos were actually released by the White House, and breathlessly announcing that they have been photo-shopped. The bogus photos themselves were probably produced by smart-aleck Internet reality-hackers. What a house of mirrors.
Now, just to add to the confusion (and fuel endless speculation as to whether they really got Osama), the White House has announced that it won't be releasing any photos—while disavowing the bogus images. From the LA Times:
Now watch the same Internet conspiranoids who were just a moment ago pontificating about the how the photos were forged switch to fulminating about how the White House's refusal to release the photos means bin Laden isn't really dead (or never really existed, or whatever...) Meanwhile The Hill's Twitter Room blog informs us that Sarah Palin helpfully tweeted:
Poor punctuation in original.
Osama daughter says father was assassinated
From The Guardian, May 4:
Paksistan is "holding 11 other survivors" (plus the daughter), yet "at least 10 people" survived the raid? By my math, that makes at least 12. Now this, from al-Arabiya News, May 4:
So does this imply that the helicopters came from Afghanistan?
Osama daughter says father was assassinated: reports mount
From Lebanon's Daily Star, May 4:
Only one of five killed in bin Laden raid was armed
From USA Today, May 5:
Al-Qaeda confirms Osama death
From NPR, May 6:
Talban confirm Osama death
From AFP, May 6:
US releases bin Laden videos
From the Wall Street Journal, May 7:
Pakistan in "secret deal" to kill bin Laden
From The Guardian, May 9:
Bin Laden family doubts he's really dead
From the New York Times, May 10:
KSA presumably stands for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UNO for United Nations Organization, and OIC for Organization of the Islamic Conference.
US official: bin Laden hit was "kill mission"
We missed this one—which is both a virtual admission of an extrajudicial execution, and one of the first switches in reportage from the controversial "Operation Geronimo" to "Operation Neptune Spear." From ABC's Political Punch blog, May 4:
Gates, Mullen: no more bin Laden details
From the Washington Post, May 18:
Chechen "ex-CIA agent": bin Laden dead since 2006
From Russia's RT TV, May 17:
Um, if he fears for his life, why isn't he keeping his head down instead of attracting attention to himself with these claims? And bin Laden's death was "announced at a press conference" in 2008? Huh? Did we miss that? And what exactly does it mean that this Berkan Yashar was a "CIA agent"? And why should we believe a word he says?
Hamza bin Laden killed —again
President Trump boasted Sept. 14 that Osama's son Hamza bin Laden is said to have been killed in a US "counter-terrorism operation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region." (BBC News) But, as noted above, we have heard such claims before, a pattern we have noticed with other al-Qaeda leaders.