Preventing a massacre – of France’s economic interests in Africa.

When NATO started bombing Libya in March 2011, the justification given was that bombing was essential to protect civilians. More specifically, it was essential to prevent the Libyan armed forces overrunning Benghazi, and carrying out a massacre.

Hillary Clinton explicitly invoked the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia to try and drum up support for military intervention in Libya.

However, last year, Sarah Leah-Whitson, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times that ‘we did not see the imminence of massacres that would rise to genocide like levels’, and that while ‘there were threats of Libyan forces approaching Benghazi . . .  we didn’t feel that rose to the level of imminent genocide like atrocities’.

The Washington Times article also states that, according to officials, ‘defense intelligence officials could not corroborate’ the claims of an impending, large scale massacre in Benghazi, and thought that ‘Gadaffi was unlikely to risk world outrage by inflicting mass casualties’.

Personally, I always thought that justification was propaganda, or, to use the technical term, flagrant bullshit. The idea that the same people who’d spent years  killing and mistreating civilians in large numbers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen  suddenly cared about protecting civilians in Libya was absurd.

I suspected that the real goal in Libya was regime change – and this was of course subsequently borne out by events. France, the U.K. and the U.S. saw an opportunity to use the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings as cover to get rid of Gadaffi, and took it.

While some people dismiss the argument that wars and invasions in the middle east and north Africa are motivated to a substantial degree by oil interests as overly simplistic, if not completely wrong, I think it’s one that has plenty evidence to back it up. And I thought oil was probably a main motivating factor in Libya as well.

For example, classified U.S. diplomatic cables from November 2007, published by Wikileaks, had demonstrated the the U.S. government was concerned that Libya was implementing ‘increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves’.

Can’t have these incompetent third world upstarts getting funny ideas about being in charge of their own oil, eh?

We now have clear confirmation that oil was indeed a motivating factor. A declassified e-mail to Hilary Clinton, sent on April 2nd 2011 from  her political advisor Sidney Blumenthal, lays out what France’s motivations in bombing Libya were (and you can reasonably assume that British and U.S. motivations weren’t very different).

Blumenthal says that ‘knowledgeable individuals’ had told him ‘Sarkozy’s plans’ for Libya were ‘driven by the following issues’. He then sets out the issues as:

‘a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,

b. Increase French influence in North Africa,

c. Improve his intenal political situation in France,

d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,

e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa’.

Note the near exclusive focus on France’s strategic and economic interests in Africa – oil, power, influence, allowing the French military to re-assert itself in the world – and the complete lack of focus on the well being of Libyan civilians.

That humanitarianism wasn’t NATO’s motive in Libya quickly became obvious at the time, if it hadn’t been already, as NATO and the rebel forces they were backing started to commit and facilitate mass atrocity crimes themselves. These included, but were by no means limited to, the complete destruction of whole towns (Tawergha, Tomina, Kararim, Sirte), massacres, widespread torture, racist persecution and the bombing of schools.

These things can not be described as ‘humane’ in any meaningful sense of the word.

Libya is now, of course, racked by internecine violence, with lawless militias – the loveable ‘rebel’ rascals of 2011 –  continuing to kill, torture and generally persecute anyone who gets in their way, and the country is split between two rival governments.

ISIS have also apparently gained a foot hold, and there is fresh talk of the U.K. sending troops and launching air strikes to counter them.

If those troops are sent, we will no doubt be told by politicians and the corporate press that the mission is solely about fighting terrorism and helping the Libyan people stabilise their country.

Don’t believe it for a second. Just as in 2011 ‘preventing a massacre’ was used as the pretext to pursue oil and other economic and strategic interests, with massive crimes committed in the course of that, so in 2016 ‘fighting ISIS’ will be used as the pretext to pursue them the same.

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The strange advocacy of pro-war anti-war activist Peter Tatchell

On Thursday 10th December, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a dinner organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). Corbyn has long been associated with StWC, and until very recently was it’s chairman.

There was a small protest outside the building where the dinner was held, attended by, among others, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and James Bloodworth, who supports the U.S. bombing of Iraq.

As here:



(Tatchell, centre; Bloodworth, right)

Tatchell et al allege that StWC have been insufficiently critical of the Assad regime, and Russia’s bombing of Syria. While it is true that StWC’s activism hasn’t been focused on the Assad regime and Russia, I personally don’t see much of a problem with that.  The job of anti-war activists in the U.K. should be to, first and foremost, stop the wars being waged by the U.K. regime.

Tatchell himself claims to be against all bombing in Syria. As here:

However, for over two years, Tatchell was calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘safe havens’ to be implemented in Syria.

Here he is at a StWC demo in 2013, calling for exactly that:

And here’s a tweet of his from October 2015, also calling for a ‘no-fly zone’:

A ‘no-fly zone’ in the conventional sense of the term is an inescapably pro-war demand. As Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, said in 2013:

‘It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter . . . It would absolutely be harder than Libya . . . This is a much denser, much more capable defense system than we’d faced in Libya . . . I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.

‘Safe havens’ would also require a massive military presence to protect them, and Joe Stork, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, has said that ‘There is no indication these so-called safe zones will actually be safe for civilians’.

Bizarrely, Tatchell wanted the regime in Nigeria – which itself has been accused of bombing and massacring civilians – to be one of the countries which implemented these ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’. As here:

Why even mention these states as ‘enforcers’ if he wasn’t calling for outside powers to militarily intervene in Syria?

And  it’s frankly a strange kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that puts forward such vicious abusers as the saviors of Syrian civilians.

Tatchell now says that, when he calls for a ‘no-fly zone’, he thinks this should be enforced by giving anti-aircraft missiles and heavy artillery to Syrian rebel groups, rather than bombing. As here:

(Why he is calling for an ‘arms embargo’, at the same time as calling for heavy weaponry to be given to Syrian rebel groups, i’m sure only he knows)

However, even this is an inescapably pro-war demand, which will almost certainly escalate the war in Syria. As Oxfam said in 2013:

. . . sending further arms into Syria would simply fuel the deadly arms race which is unfolding on Syrian soil, and it will be civilians who pay the highest price.

Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, has also said that ‘It is essential to stem the flow of arms pouring into the country’, while Navi Pillay, in her role as the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur, said that ‘The…provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence’.

There is also the very real danger of these weapons falling into the hands of groups like ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, as Amnesty recently pointed out.

Tatchell’s position, then, even if it now does fall short of calling for bombing (‘no-fly zones’), is not in any way, shape or form ‘anti-war’. He is in favour of military intervention in Syria, via the provision of heavy weapons to rebel groups, and the setting up of ‘safe havens’.

Tatchell has recently denied that the demo he attended outside of the StWC dinner called for bombing, and accused the people who alleged this of lying. As here:

However, photos from the demo appear to show that some people were indeed holding placards supportive of airstrikes / bombing. A Sky News report showed these scenes:

Is there really any other way to interpret those signs – ‘Thanks to British friends for the airstrikes’ and ‘Airstrikes liberated Sinjar’ – than as being supportive of airstrkes / bombing? I don’t think so.

Quite simply, then, and while it is not a nice term to throw around – I certainly don’t use it lightly – it is Peter Tatchell who is potentially lying. At best, he wasn’t aware of the posters some of the people on his demo were holding.

Tatchell has a reputation as a human rights campaigner and anti-war activist. And,  I would say, the human rights aspect is warranted and well earned. He’s been a tireless campaigner on a number of human rights issues for decades, and I don’t wish to denigrate that.

On the issue of war, though, he has made a habit in recent years of saying ‘I am anti-war – but here is my pro-war demand, and if the left / anti-war movement don’t go along with it, shame on them!’.

Here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but the occupation of Afghanistan must continue for the good of Afghans’.

And here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but Libya must be bombed for the good of Libyans’.

Even as far back as 2003, he was arguing for a kind of ‘intervention lite’ approach to Iraq, writing that while he was opposed to an outright invasion, ‘The international community should train and arm the Iraqi opposition forces, especially the Kurds and Shias who already have viable armies’, providing ‘tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles’.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

My problem with Tatchell, then, is that he’s essentially agitating for military intervention in Syria, while claiming the mantle of the anti-war movement, and smearing the actual one (e.g. he has previously accused the ‘anti-war movement’ of ‘collusion with Assad’).

While Tatchell is certainly entitled to his opinions, and surely thinks the policies he is advocating are for the greater good, there can be no doubt that he criticises the StWC from the vantage point of someone whose views are, unlike theirs, pro-military intervention in a number of ways.

People would do well to remember that.

Edit: this post was amended on 16/12/2015, to remove the claim that James Bloodworth is a ‘drone supporter’. Bloodworth has clarified that he ‘doesn’t know’ if he supports drones or not. He does, however, support the U.S. bombing of Iraq, in which drones are being used. I’m happy to issue the correction.

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Shock finding from Opinion Research Business poll: Iraqis don’t want us to bomb them.

From a poll of Iraqi public opinion, carried out in July 2015:

56% of Iraqis strongly or somewhat oppose airstrikes being carried out by coalition forces, as compared to 44% who strongly or somewhat support them.

The poll also found, among other things, that:

– 62% of Iraqis think that the ‘coalition against ISIS’ (presumably the U.S., U.K., et al) has a negative influence on events in Iraq.

– 85% of Iraqis agree that ISIS was made in the U.S.A..

– 74% of Iraqis oppose the partition of the country.

– 75% of Iraqis believe Iraqis can put aside their differences and live together.

As In Syria, then, it seems Iraqis are not quite as sold on the benefits of being bombed by the U.S. and U.K. as some pundits in the U.S. and U.K. are.

And, rightly or wrongly, they seem convinced that the U.S. have had a hand in creating ISIS.

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New poll of Syrian public opinion.

The poll was carried out by Opinion Research Business in July.

As ever, caveats should apply to the results. About the difficulties of accurate polling in war zones and authoritarian states. About the inability of opinion polls to capture nuance. And about the often rapidly changing views of the public depending on developments on the ground.

But here are some of the results nonetheless.


49% of Syrians oppose or strongly oppose coalition airstrikes in Syria, compared to 48% who strongly support or support them

Interesting if only because one pro-Syrian intervention argument is that Syrians themselves want it. And while some clearly do, slightly more don’t.

 – 49% of Syrians think Bashar al Assad has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 47% who think he has a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 72% of Syrians think the Syrian opposition coalition has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 26% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 76% of Syrians think ISIS have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 21% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 63% of Syrians think the Free Syrian Army have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 36% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

Another interesting one that challenges pro-intervention narratives. According to this, more Syrians think Assad has a positive influence on Syria than they think the Free Syrian Army or the political opposition have a positive influence.

This undermines the simplistic notion that what is unfolding in Syria is essentially a struggle between a widely hated dictator, and a military and political opposition with mass popular appeal. The poll suggests that this is not necessarily the case at all (and for what it’s worth, respected analysts like Nir Rosen have previously published research suggesting similar).

 – 51% of Syrians think a political solution is the best way of resolving the crisis in Syria, compared to only 37% who think a military solution is

Once again, this runs contrary to the standard pro-intervention narrative, which says there is no hope of a political solution, and therefore a military solution is required. A majority of people actually living in Syria would appear to disagree with that.

65% also think it is highly or very likely that Syrians can put aside their differences and live together, and 70% oppose the division of the country.

 – 82% of Syrians agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the U.S., compared to only 41% who agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the Syrian regime

This is where we’re supposed to roll our eyes and go ‘Those Arabs and their conspiracy theories. They blame the West for everything!’.

But it’s worth noting that this conflict has been marked by the willingness of corporate media and mainstream analysts, who ordinarily treat inside job/false flag theories with sneering contempt, to take them seriously.

At least when it’s the Assad regime being accused of them by elements within the opposition, based on zero evidence.

But when it’s the U.S. being accused by a substantial majority of Syrians? Why, they must be insane!

So anyway:

My view on military intervention in Syria, and on the question of military intervention in general, has always been that you have to come to your own conclusions about the moral and political desirability of it. If a majority of Syrians support it, that doesn’t mean I have to. If a majority of Syrians oppose it, that doesn’t mean I have to.

But the views of the people in the targeted country do have to be given strong consideration, whether they chime with your own or not.

And this poll at least suggests that Syrians themselves aren’t quite as sold on the merits of military intervention as their would-be saviours are.

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Really shoddy Guardian article on the new U.N. report about ‘Operation Protective Edge’.

The article was written by Peter Beaumont, their Jerusalem correspondent.

The most glaring misrepresentation in it – whether it’s deliberate or not – is when Beaumont writes that:

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to UN and Palestinian officials.

But what the report actually says is this:

The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2251 Palestinians were killed, including 1462 Palestinian civilians with 299 women and 551 children. – p.153

1462 dead civilians simply can’t reasonably be described as ‘hundreds’.

And by writing ‘hundreds’, Beaumont has significantly played down the death toll among Palestinian civilians.

The article also features this graphic:

Again, the graphic fails to make clear that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties were civilians, or indeed, that the vast majority of Israeli casualties were military.

I’m left wondering whether they’d have been quite so sloppy had the boot been on the other foot (i.e. the vast majority of the deaths comprising of Israeli civilians).

On the report in general: at first glance, it seems much more conservative in its conclusions than The Goldstone Report was.

The Goldstone Report accused Israel of committing Crimes against Humanity, for example, while this one doesn’t (as far as I can tell).

This despite the fact that the crimes documented in both this report and The Goldstone Report appear very similar – deliberate attacks on civilians, massive and indiscriminate fire within civilian areas, attacks on medical facilities, etc.

With, if anything, the crimes committed during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ actually being of a bigger scale than the crimes committed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

And while the apologists for Israeli atrocities will argue fervently that the report was inherently politicised and biased against Israel, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the opposite was true.

We’ve seen in recent months how both the U.S. and Israel can and do bring pressure to bear on the U.N. to get them to play down or whitewash Israeli crimes, and i’ll eat hay with a donkey if they haven’t been doing precisely that here.

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Obama’s hands off approach to Syria.

According to The Washington Post, the CIA are spending a billion dollars a year on arming and training ‘moderate’ rebel groups, and running guns and fighters into the country. As here:

At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget, judging by spending levels revealed in documents The Washington Post obtained from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

This is what is known in corporate media speak as ‘Obama’s hands off approach to Syria’.

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Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story: The ‘Debunkings’ Begin.

On May 10th 2015, the London Review of books published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh, which challenges the Obama administration’s account of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Essentially, Hersh claims that the administration’s account has been a pack of lies from start to finish. Given the magnitude of what Hersh is alleging, and Hersh’s own fame as an investigative journalist, this story was never going to go unnoticed – or unscrutinised.

There are already a whole host of articles seeking to ‘debunk’ Hersh’s story.

Max Fisher for Vox, Anthony Zurcher for the BBC and Peter Bergen for CNN being among the more widely shared attempts on social media.

Cory Pein has taken a closer look at Fisher’s piece here, and as usual when it comes to supposed ‘debunkings’ of Hersh’s reporting, has found it doesn’t substantively undermine Hersh’s story at all.

I’m going to take a quick look at Bergen’s attempted debunking, and outline why I think his article doesn’t really disprove anything Hersh has written either.

Bergen starts by describing Hersh’s story as ‘a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense’.

So let’s just deal with some of Bergen’s objections on a case by case basis.

Hersh’s article suggests that, contrary to claims made by the Obama administration, there was no firefight between the Navy Seal team that was sent to kill Bin Laden, and the people within the Abbottabad compound. He writes that:

the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition . . . There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden’s guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection.

So the firefight story was concocted to make it look like there was resistance to the raid, when in reality there wasn’t, because the ISI personnel guarding Bin Laden had been deliberately stood down before hand.

Bergen responds by writing that this claim:

ignores the fact that two SEALs on the mission, Matt Bissonnette, author of “No Easy Day,” and Robert O’Neill have publicly said that there were a number of other people killed that night, including bin Laden’s two bodyguards, one of his sons and one of the bodyguard’s wives.

But Hersh’s article actually deals with why Bissonnette and O’ Neill may not have been telling the whole truth, stating that:

The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O’Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: ‘Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.’

At least in part then, those claims may just boil down down to good old fashioned military bravado. A desire to paint the mission as being harder, more thrilling and more glorious than it actually was – I mean, this kind of embellishment is hardly unheard of.

Just to be clear, I am not proposing that Bissonnette and O’Neill are definitely lying. Would I even dare? I’m just pointing out that this is one way of potentially explaining the discrepancy between their version of events, and Hersh’s version.

That said, there is actually some evidence in the public domain that O’Neill’s personal account of what happened may not be entirely truthful. For example, he told The Washington Post in November 2014 that:

“I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway,” O’Neill recalled. “There was bin Laden, standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders pushing her ahead.” . . .

. . . Bin Laden was “standing and moving,” thrusting one of his wives in front of him as if to use her as a shield.

But that Bin Laden had used one of his wives as a human shield is a claim that has long since been retracted by the Obama administration. Bergen himself mentions this in his article, when he writes:

White House officials initially made some false statements about the raid — for instance, that bin Laden was using his wives as human shields during the raid — but these were quickly corrected.

What Bergen doesn’t do, though, is point out that O’ Neill was still pushing this ‘wife as human shield’ claim as recently as 6 months ago. And perhaps he should have pointed that out.

Because if the ‘human shield’ aspect of O’Neill’s story isn’t true, then what else about it mightn’t be?

There’s also, of course, the possibility that O’Neill and Bissonnette are being less than forthright about what really happened that morning because they’re simply not allowed to be forthright.

Indeed, Hersh details in his article how all the Seals who participated in the raid signed:

a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private.

Could these particular Seals, for one reason or another, have been given permission to talk about the raid publically on condition that they don’t stray too far ‘off message’?

To back up the testimonies of O’Neill and Bissonnette, Bergen then adds that:

Their account is supplemented by many other U.S. officials who have spoken on the record to myself or to other journalists.

But the whole point of Hersh’s piece is that these officials are lying. Highlighting the claims of the very officials who are being accused of lying by Hersh, as evidence that they aren’t lying, is circular reasoning at best.

Bergen then provides what is perhaps his most convincing rebuttal of Hersh’s claim that there was no firefight within the Abbottabad compound on the morning of May 2nd. In 2012, Bergen had actually visited the compound himself, and writes:

I was the only outsider to visit the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden lived before the Pakistani military demolished it. The compound was trashed, littered almost everywhere with broken glass and several areas of it were sprayed with bullet holes where the SEALS had fired at members of bin Laden’s entourage and family, or in one case exchanged fire with one of his bodyguards. The evidence at the compound showed that many bullets were fired the night of bin Laden’s death.

I have no real reason to disbelieve Bergen here. However, I could point out that in the original account of his visit to the compound, published by CNN in 2012, he doesn’t once mention that he saw ‘several areas . . . sprayed with bullet holes’. Perhaps he has written about this elsewhere though, and even if he did see all those bullet holes, it’s not terminal for Hersh’s version of events.

Mainly because it doesn’t automatically follow that the bullet holes were made during the course of firefights on May 2nd. There are all manner of other explanations as to how they might have got there.

For example, Bergen writes in his 2012 account of the visit that he was accompanied by ‘ISI escorts’. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that they, or someone working with them, shot the place up before Bergen’s visit, precisely so as to give the impression of a firefight having taken place? And if you’re first response upon reading that is ‘No, not the ISI! They would never do such thing!’, then maybe you need to take a closer look at their history.

Again, i’m not saying this is definitely the case, or that it’s even likely. Rather, i’m just putting it out there as an alternative explanation for the alleged bullet holes.

Essentially then, Bergen’s evidence that there was indeed a firefight within the Abbottabad compound on the morning of May 2nd consists of:

1. The claims of two Navy Seals who participated in the raid, which are not necessarily reliable, and which have been shown to be unreliable in some respects.

2. The claims of U.S. officials, who have every reason to lie.

3. What he saw himself when he visited the compound.

But there are other explanations, by no means far fetched, which would allow Hersh’s version of events to hold  up.

Another of Hersh’s claims is that Saudi Arabia:

had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida.

Bergen responds to this by arguing that:

Common sense would tell you that the idea that Saudi Arabia was paying for bin Laden’s expenses while he was living in Abbottabad is simply risible. Bin Laden’s principal goal was the overthrow of the Saudi royal family as a result of which his Saudi citizenship was revoked as far back as 1994.

For me, this is only ‘common sense’ if you take a binary, black and white view of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and ‘Al Qaeda’.

It’s true to say that Saudi Arabia revoked Bin Laden’s citizenship in 1994, and that ‘Al Qaeda’ had publicly declared their intent to overthrow the Saudi regime.

But there have also been numerous accusations and reports, from credible and mainstream sources, that the Saudi regime (or elements within it) maintained links to ‘Al Qaeda’ well beyond 1994, and may even have been implicated in the September 11th attacks. These reports refuse to go away, and persist to the present day.

So the idea that the Saudis didn’t want the U.S. to get ahold of Bin Laden, for fear of what he might tell them about their relationship to ‘Al Qaeda’ – past or present –  is hardly outrageous.

And just because the Saudi regime and ‘Al Qaeda’ were sworn enemies in public, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they were sworn enemies always and everywhere. Just look at the relationship between the Pakistani state and ‘the Taliban’, for example: ostensibly on opposite sides of the ‘war on terror’, but it’s an open secret that they work together behind the scenes.

Again, i’m not saying Hersh is definitely right here, just that this aspect of his story isn’t as preposterous as Bergen would like people to believe.

Hersh claims that the U.S. government discovered that the Pakistani government was harbouring Bin Laden when:

a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.

Once the U.S. had confirmed that it was indeed Bin Laden hiding in the Abbottabad compound, they informed the Pakistani government that they knew he was there, and used what was in effect bribery to get the Pakistanis to agree to a hit on the compound.

In response to this, Bergen points out that:

Common sense would also tell you that if the Pakistanis were holding bin Laden and the U.S. government had found out this fact, the easiest path for both countries would not be to launch a U.S. military raid into Pakistan but would have been to hand bin Laden over quietly to the Americans.

It’s worth pointing out that Hersh’s account of the so-called ‘walk-in’, and that some within the Pakistani government or intelligence services had known where Bin Laden was, has now been corroborated by NBC news

As to why Pakistan didn’t just hand Bin Laden over quietly: my immediate reaction to that was ‘Well, maybe the U.S. just didn’t want Bin Laden alive’.

Much easier to stick a bullet or a missile in his head than go through the rigmarole of a long, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial. But that’s just one explanation.

Hersh himself offered another in a recent interview he did about the article did with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

Cuomo basically puts this same question to Hersh, to which Hersh responds:

First of all, Bin Laden is very popular inside of Pakistan. A majority of the unwashed, of the people there, most of the public, really respected and liked Bin Laden. Especially for sticking it in the eye of America. We’re not very popular in Pakistan.

That the U.S. is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, viewed unfavourably and seen as an enemy by most of the population, is totally uncontroversial. This is a claim which is constantly being borne out by opinion polls.

On the other hand, people might recoil when they see Hersh claiming that Bin Laden was ‘very popular’ among the Pakistani masses. However, there is also some polling evidence to suggest that this was once the case, although his popularity does seem to have declined significantly over the years.

In 2005, for example, a Pew survey found that 52% of Pakistanis had a favourable view of Bin Laden (this had dropped to 18% by 2010, or the year before Bin Laden was killed).

Hersh seems to be suggesting here that Pakistan didn’t want to be seen to be cooperating with the U.S. by handing Bin Laden over, for their own domestic political reasons. Namely, that it wouldn’t  have played at all well among the population, especially among the more militant sections of it. Why stir up needless trouble if you can avoid it?

You can call bullshit on that claim if you want, and maybe this is one aspect of the story that does seem quite weak, and needs further clarifying by Hersh. Why wouldn’t Pakistan just hand him over to the U.S., either openly or covertly, to be disposed of as the U.S. saw fit?

But perhaps U.S. domestic considerations come into play here as well. A high profile commando raid or drone strike would do more to bolster Obama’s image as a credible military leader –  the guy who ended Bin Laden! tough on terror, but smart with it! –  than any of the other options available.

It’s called ‘propaganda’, and governments everywhere employ it extensively.

Bergen then asks what interest the U.S. would have in concealing the fact that they’d discovered Pakistan was detaining Bin Laden, writing:

Common sense would also tell you that if U.S. officials had found out that the Pakistani officials were hiding bin Laden there is no reason the Americans would have covered this up. After all, around the time of the bin Laden raid, relations between the United States and Pakistan were at an all-time low because the Pakistanis had recently imprisoned Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who had killed two Pakistanis. What did U.S. officials have to lose by saying that bin Laden was being protected by the Pakistanis, if it were true?

This overlooks the fact that, even if relations between Pakistan and the U.S. at the time had become strained – at least in public –  the U.S. still relied heavily on the cooperation of Pakistan to fight the war in Afghanistan. Especially in 2010/11, when Obama’s ‘surge’ into Afghanistan was in full swing.

Pakistan was one of the main U.S. military transit routes for getting supplies into Afghanistan, for example, and the C.I.A. drone assassination program relied heavily on leads from Pakistani intelligence. Naturally, Pakistani government officials decried these strikes in public, but behind the scenes they were supportive, as leaked diplomatic cables show.

Indeed, in March 2010, senior Obama administration officials like Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates were publically praising Pakistan’s ‘anti-terrorism’ efforts.

So while the relationship may have been strained, it certainly wasn’t dead in the water, or anything close to it.

But what if, in late 2010, the U.S. had come out and said ‘Oh, by the way. Our ally Pakistan has been shielding Osama Bin Laden, the Most Evil Man in the World, architect of 9/11, for the past 4 years’.

The public and media pressure to end all cooperation with Pakistan, to actively punish them even, would’ve been immense. And ending cooperation with Pakistan simply wasn’t and isn’t in the U.S.’s interests in this part of the world.

So it was concealed.

Again, i’m only speculating here, but then so is Bergen, and I don’t see why my speculation is any less valid than his.

And that’s pretty much Bergen’s whole case against Hersh’s story right there.

His attempt to prove that Hersh’s claims are a ‘farrago of nonsense’ relies on two main aspects.

Firstly, the claims of ‘U.S. officials’ and soldiers who took part in the raid on Abbottabad, and that their version of events contradicts Hersh’s version.

But I see no reason why we should accept their version at face value. ‘US officials’ can and do tell lies, and just because they say Hersh’s claims are ‘nonsense’, it doesn’t make it so. Ditto for the soldiers, whose testimonies may be unreliable for all sorts of reasons – and seemingly *are* unreliable in at least some respects.

Secondly, Bergen’s article relies on what he thinks ‘common sense’ should tell us about the nature of some of Hersh’s revelations.

But this ‘common sense’ approach is, in my opinion, based on a reductive view of international affairs.

A view where state and sub-state actors are either sworn enemies or allies, with no grey area in between; a view where appearances are never deceptive, and conventional wisdom is synonymous with the truth; and a view which itself omits inconvenient facts when they don’t fit the narrative.

This second aspect basically boils down to Bergen going ‘Well that doesn’t seem very likely, does it?’.

But if you look at Hersh’s claims from a slightly different angle, then most of them are at least plausible, for the reasons i’ve just given. I mean, it’s not ‘Elvis Runs a Fish Shop in Cleethorpes’ territory. You don’t even have to be convinced that he’s 100% correct to recognise that.

Bergen actually concedes this himself, when he writes:

All sorts of things are, of course, plausible, but in both journalism and in the writing of history one looks for evidence, not plausibility.

And I guess he just isn’t convinced by Hersh’s ‘evidence’ – although given he has a well earned reputation for defending the Obama administration at every turn, i’m not sure anything would convince him, beyond a frank admission of guilt from the President himself.

But suffice to say that he doesn’t come anywhere close to establishing that the story outlined by Hersh is a ‘farrago of nonsense’, no matter how many people want to believe otherwise.

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