New details of the operation against Usama Bin Laden have emerged. Here are the myths that people keep bombarding me with and which are now known to be untrue.
1. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held that Bin Laden had long been dead. Not true. Musharraf said in 2002 that he thought Bin Laden might have died. But then he learned through CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (captured spring 2003) that Bin Laden was still alive. Musharraf thereafter accepted that the al-Qaeda leader was still around and never again said that he was dead.
2. Former President George W. Bush ‘spent much of his presidency looking for Bin Laden.’ In fact, Bush said in 2002 of Bin Laden “I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”* He said 6 months after 9/11, “I really just don’t spend that much time on Bin Laden.” He told Fred Barnes in 2006 that Bin Laden was “not a priority.” In 2006, he closed down the CIA Bin Laden desk.
3. The intelligence that allowed the identification of Bin Laden’s courier, which led the CIA to the safe house in Abbottabad, was gained through waterboarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It was not. The information was elicited during conversations with the detainees. Torture often produces resistance and disinformation, as with Sheikh al-Libi’s allegations that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda in chemical weapons.
4. Bin Laden died with a gun in his hands. He did not, though he may have been going for one.
5. Bin Laden grabbed a wife as a human shield. He did not, though it may have looked like it to one of the SEALs, since she put herself between him and them.
6. The Pakistani press speculated that Bin Laden’s bodyguards shot him to keep him from falling into American hands. They did not. The guards were on the first floor, were armed, and resisted the SEALs, who shot them to death along with a woman who was caught in the crossfire.
7. Bin Laden was executed by US forces. He was not. His wife lunged at the SEALS and was shot in the leg. Then Bin Laden made threatening moves (looked as if he was going for a weapon?), and he was shot. [Having the authority to kill is not the same as being ordered to assassinate. There would certainly have been fears the house was booby-trapped or that Bin Laden had a gun somewhere on his person, so his refusal to freeze when so ordered was a serious potential threat.]
8. Bin Laden was assassinated. He was not. First of all, he was the leader of a para-statal organization that had declared war on the United States. If the US could have stormed Hitler’s bunker and taken him out, it would not have been an assassination, any more than being able to take out an enemy general on the battlefield would be. Second, the SEALs fired only when he made a threatening move, which is a form of self-defense. There is every reason to believe that the US would have preferred to take Bin Laden alive, since they could have then interrogated him about ongoing terrorism plans.
9. Muslims have been silent about the killing of Bin Laden. Not true. There has been widespread Muslim condemnation of Bin Laden and expressions of relief that he is gone from the scene.
10. That Bin Laden was found in Abbottabad proves that the Pakistani military was harboring him. This is possible but not proved by this mere fact. Murtaza Haider, himself from northwestern Pakistan, notes in the Scientific American:
‘ It’s standard in Pakistan to build these humongous compounds, where living quarters are covered by green space and that green space is then gated and there’s a boundary wall, which is usually substantially high with barbed wire on top of it. It’s not something out of the ordinary.
This is a very tribal culture where people—men, especially—believe that women should not be seen by strangers. In addition, a large number of tribal Pashtuns living in the area became wealthy by the drug trade and could afford to build these compounds—this whole area is a major trade route for opium. Another reason to build those compounds is security. A lot of wealthy Pashtuns have disputes with their cousins over land that they have inherited. Because of these inheritance disputes, a lot of people end up hurting or killing their own cousins over their land. So it’s common to build these compounds to ward off attacks from your relatives who may be after your land as well.
If it is true that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, I’m not at all surprised because that is a place where a lot of these radicalized clerics came from. What does surprise me was his proximity to the Pakistani military academy, which is the West Point of Pakistan, where all the commissioned officers get trained. It is surprising that he was bold enough to find refuge so close to the military training college. There are a lot of people who are trying to create intimations that the military was perhaps involved. You know, if the military were involved they wouldn’t have kept him there; they would have kept him 100 miles away from that place. It’s possible that the military was looking for bin Laden everywhere, and that’s the last place they would have bothered to look.’
*This quote was given inexactly in an earlier version of this post, which also lacked the other similar citations.