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. In the immediate aftermath of the Navy SEAL team’s assault on his Abbottabad compound, American and Pakistani government accounts contradicted themselves and each other. In his speech announcing the operation’s success, President Obama said that “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”
But others, including top Pakistani generals, insisted that this was not the case. American officials at first said Bin Laden resisted the SEALs; the Pakistanis promptly leaked that he wasn’t armed. Then came differing stories from the SEALs who carried out the raid, followed by a widening stream of new details from government reports — including the 336-page Abbottabad Commission report requested by the Pakistani Parliament — and from books and interviews. All of the accounts were incomplete in some way.
The latest contribution is the journalist Seymour Hersh’s 10,000-word article in The London Review of Books, which attempts to punch yet more holes — very big ones — in both the Obama administration’s narrative and the Pakistani government’s narrative. Among other things, Hersh contends that the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan’s military-intelligence agency, held Bin Laden prisoner in the Abbottabad compound since 2006, and that “the C.I.A. did not learn of Bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, 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.”