Four years after the US celebrated the assassination of terror mastermind and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, one prize-winning journalist has accused Washington of covering up the true details of the hit.
Pulitzer Prize winner and veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published a 10,000 word article in the London Review of Books on Monday night detailing the problems with Washington's official version of events.
Hersh insists that the US approached Pakistan over a joint assassination attempt after discovering Bin Laden's presence in the country and dangled the possibility of revoking billions of dollars in American aid over Islamabad unless they agreed to the plan.
The journalist then details a number of alternative versions of events, relying largely on anonymous sources.
Among other claims, Hersh alleges:
- That instead of years of intelligence work revealing Bin Laden's whereabouts, an informant walked into the US Embassy in Islamabad and was offered a cash reward and relocation to the US for the information;
- That the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were involved in various cover-ups, from the highest officials to middle levels of governance;
- That the US lies when it said it gleaned a dearth of information from Bin Laden's compound – and that it allowed an FBI agent, Alexander Otte, to perjure himself while on trial in February at the hearing of an Al-Qaeda member;
- That Bin Laden's body was not buried whole at sea, but largely dismembered by gunshots during the raid – and that agents threw parts of his body out of helicopter windows on return from the mission.
Several former CIA officials have slammed Hersh's story as poor reporting, and the White House deemed the report "baseless."
The New York Times reports Tuesday, however, that the article is being met with some skepticism, but also a measure of respectability, due to Hersh's reputation as an investigative reporter as well as the White House's conflicting versions of events in the assassination's aftermath.
When contacted by the Times, Hersh seemed confident in his story and told reporters that skeptics "can have their skepticism."
He defended his liberal use of testimony from two anonymous US Special Ops officials by noting that hundreds of articles are published daily using anonymous sources, and that attacks on his sourcing are weak, reported the Business Insider.
He also defended his named source, Asad Durrani, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency in the 1990s; Durrani corroborates Hersh's story.
Hersh also expressed frustration with media fascination with "his" version of events, noting that the story has gross implications for the conduct of the Obama Administration and that questioning the veracity of his reporting detracts from the message.
"It's not a press story — it's a story about what the government does," Hersh told BI. "If the questions are about the press, I can't help you."