The Killing of Seymour Hersh

Reconciling the storied muckraker’s latest bombshell with the attacks against it

Everything you thought you knew about the 2o11 raid that killed Osama bin Laden is false. That’s the argument being made by legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh — or, rather, by his sources — in his most recent article, “The Killing of Osama bin Laden,” published in the London Review of Books on May 10.

Like much of Hersh’s reporting, especially of late, the story has aroused a lot of controversy. An unnamed CIA official told the Washington Post that it was “utter nonsense.” White House spokesman Ned Price called it “patently false,” but wouldn’t respond to specific allegations, saying it had “too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions” to fact-check each one. Many of Hersh’s colleagues in the media have towed similar lines.

The reporter’s creed is to be skeptical, even — perhaps especially — of other reporters. But in light of all the salt we’re being told to keep handy while reading Hersh, just how reliable are the attacks against him?

This post will examine the two most-cited criticisms of Hersh’s story: Peter Bergen’s for CNN and Max Fisher’s at Vox.com. Bergen said that Hersh’s article is a “farrago of nonsense.” Fisher called it the latest in a line of “unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.” In both critical pieces, important and valid questions are raised. But upon scratching the surface, one finds that the content below the fold doesn’t befit the confidence and condescension atop.

Hersh’s 10,000-word article, which I encourage everyone to read at least twice in full, makes several bombshell claims. For the purposes of examining its ripostes, here are the accusations by Hersh’s sources that take on the “official story” of the OBL raid most forcefully:

  • In 2010, a “walk in” to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan tipped off the CIA station chief that OBL was holed up in the Abbottabad compound. It wasn’t true, as the White House and many U.S. officials have claimed, that the CIA had discovered his whereabouts by tracking an elaborate system of couriers.
  • The 2011 raid that killed OBL was a setup: Pakistan’s military was holding him prisoner in the Abbottabad compound since at least 2006, and it cleared out all of its guards on the night of the raid to ensure the SEAL assault team entered unharmed. There was no firefight or attempt at capture; Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders agreed with the U.S. beforehand that OBL, who was an unarmed invalid at the time, had to be assassinated.
  • Saudi Arabia was financing OBL’s upkeep while in detention. Riyadh, which has long claimed to be OBL’s principal enemy, was worried that if Pakistan turned him over to the U.S., OBL might divulge the names of prominent Al Qaeda financiers in the kingdom.

Turf War

The principal article being cited to discredit Hersh’s reporting, even by the White House press secretary, was written by CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen. Bergen has significant experience reporting on Al Qaeda, OBL, and international terrorism in general. He, unlike Fisher (discussed further below), also has the integrity not to reduce Hersh’s article to strawmen.

Bergen’s argument breaks down into two segments. First, he cites contradicting stories from his own reporting on the OBL raid and from SEALs who allegedly took part in it, as well as statements given to him by Asad Durrani, a corroborative source for Hersh, that are supposedly at variance with Durrani’s statements to Hersh. Second, he relies on what he claims to be a “common sense” approach —noting apparent conflicts between the known historical record and what Hersh’s sources allege.

“All sorts of things are, of course, plausible,” Bergen writes of Hersh’s account. “[B]ut in both journalism and in the writing of history one looks for evidence, not plausibility.” These are wise words of caution to journalists and historians alike.

But Bergen, who wrote Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden — from 9/11 to Abbottabad, himself counts on the portrayals from current and former U.S. officials, on and off the record, to buttress his narrative. When evaluating his arguments in sum, one finds that he relies on the plausibility of the descriptions provided to him just as much as Hersh does on those from his own sources.

Contradicting Reports

Bergen begins by mentioning the accounts of two Navy SEALs, Matt Bissonnette and Robert O’Neill, who purport to have taken part in the assault. Both have publicly claimed that others were killed during the raid in a firefight.

“Their account is supplemented by many other U.S. officials who have spoken on the record to myself or to other journalists,” Bergen writes. He goes on to state that he was “the only outsider to visit the Abbottabad compound…before the Pakistani military demolished it.” There was significant evidence of a firefight when he toured it, he says.

The contradictions between the SEALs’ accounts and Hersh’s are glaring. However, as Hersh notes in his article, there are also several contradictions between the two SEALs’ versions. For his part, Hersh’s source claims that there was no mention of a firefight in the SEALs’ initial debriefings.

Hersh’s source offers a possible reason for Bissonnette and O’Neill to have lied after they had left the service: “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,” Hersh quotes the retired official as saying. “The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.”

My own (very limited) experience speaking with combat veterans does not jive with this interpretation. Memories are rough around the edges, but faux heroism, which certainly occurs, is rarely the norm. It may, however, be different in the case of an outright assassination mission, as Hersh alleges was the case, especially in an instance of such historical significance.

The second explanation offered by Hersh’s source sounds like a far more plausible reason to lie after the fact, and something that would have most definitely come from higher up in the chain of command:

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. ‘And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.’ (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)

Bergen appears to believe that Hersh was played by his source. That’s of course a possibility. But it’s also within the realm of possibility that Bergen was taken to a Potemkin compound. If the agreement between Washington and Islamabad was as hush-hush as Hersh’s source claims it was, then the idea that the ISI would riddle the compound with bullets, prior to allowing journalists in, is far from outlandish. Manipulating public opinion is one of the premier tasks of spycraft — something consumers of American news rarely hear in reporting on intelligence agencies.

In short, the contradictory versions offered by Bergen — especially his tour of the compound — do not necessarily disprove Hersh’s account, though those given by the SEALs provide the best countervailing evidence thus far.

Bergen also cites the supposedly incompatible statement given to him by Asad Durrani after Hersh had published his article:

When I emailed Durrani after the Hersh piece appeared, Durrani said he had “no evidence of any kind” that the ISI knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad but he still could “make an assessment that this could be plausible.” This is hardly a strong endorsement of one of the principal claims of Hersh’s piece.
Durrani added that he believed that the bin Laden “operation could not have been carried out without our cooperation.” This glosses over the fact that the SEALs were flying in stealth helicopters through blind spots in Pakistan’s radar defense and the Pakistani air force had virtually no capacity to fly at night when the raid took place, so in fact the bin Laden raid was relatively easily accomplished without Pakistani cooperation, according to multiple U.S. officials with knowledge of the bin Laden operation.

These meager quotations from Durrani are hardly dispositive in favor of either Hersh or Bergen. Nor is the assertion by “multiple U.S. officials,” especially with so much of Obama’s legacy riding on the official narrative.

Rather than simply stating that the contradictions he raises need to be reconciled, Bergen goes to the mat for his version of events — and with good reason. He has an incentive, beyond professional reporting, to defend his narrative.

As one of the very few American reporters to have ever interviewed OBL, Bergen’s career as a national security analyst has been premised on his insight into Al Qaeda and its leader. His book, which was published in 2012, aims to be the definitive account of the hunt for OBL. If Hersh’s reporting is further corroborated, as some of it already has been by NBC News and others, then Bergen’s crowning achievement will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

For this reason, Bergen shows his cards a bit preemptively, in my opinion, when he calls Hersh’s piece “a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.”

The best evidence offered to that effect are the alleged eyewitness accounts of O’Neill and Bissonnette. Bergen’s own eyewitness account of the compound post facto does not directly contradict Hersh’s version. Bergen, at least in his article, doesn’t offer any inconvenient facts; rather, he merely provides accounts of inconvenient facts, such as that stated to him by “U.S. officials.”

Common Sense

In his attempt to convey “common sense,” Bergen raises some important questions:

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.
Why would the Saudis pay for the upkeep of their most mortal enemy? Indeed, why wouldn’t they get their close allies, the Pakistanis, to look the other way as they sent their assassins into Pakistan to finish him off?
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.
Indeed, the Pakistanis have done this on several occasions with a number of other al Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander of 9/11, who was handed over to U.S. custody after a raid in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in 2003. So too was Abu Faraj al-Libi, another key al Qaeda leader who was similarly handed over by the Pakistanis to U.S. custody two years later.

In this regard, Hersh quotes his source as asserting the following:

“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. And they were dropping money — lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.”

As for Bergen’s rhetorical question about the Saudis assassinating OBL on their own, Hersh’s source contends that Pakistan was keeping him hostage as leverage against jihadist groups in Kashmir and the Pakistani Taliban. No one, at this point, can prove which version is correct. However, the history of enmity between the House of Saud and OBL is not quite as simple as Bergen portrays.

Significant evidence exists to support the case that, at least until September 11, the Saudi royal family had direct ties to Al Qaeda and OBL.

It has long been known and conceded that wealthy Saudis were, and continue to be, patrons of Al Qaeda and other hardline, Salafist militant organizations like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. But evidence of official Saudi involvement with the 9/11 perpetrators has never been acknowledged by the U.S. government, even though prominent U.S. officials have been sounding the alarm for years.

One such official is the former Democratic senator from Florida, Bob Graham. His input should hold considerable weight in the matter: He co-chaired the joint investigation of the House and Senate intelligence committees into 9/11, known as the Joint Congressional Inquiry (JCI), the first official probe of the terrorist attacks.

When the JCI issued its 800-page report in 2002, President George W. Bush ordered that the entirety of part four — 28 pages — be classified on grounds of national security.

“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at [the government of] Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier,” Graham said at press conference on January 7 of this year. He recalled that he and Republican colleague Richard Shelby were “shocked to see an important chapter in the report had been redacted” when it was first made public.

Also in January, Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican representing North Carolina, introduced the most recent version of a House bill urging that President Obama declassify the 28 pages. It has 15 cosponsors.

Graham’s case — and that of Hersh’s source — was buttressed earlier this year when The New York Times published transcripts of court testimony from Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker.” Moussaoui had been arrested in Minnesota one month before 9/11 following a tip the supervisors at his flight-training school had provided to the FBI. His deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on behalf of the families of 9/11 victims, which was filed in federal court in New York on February 2.

According to the Times’ summary of Moussaoui’s testimony, the admitted Al Qaeda operative “described prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s” and recounted meeting “an official of the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi Embassy in Washington” at one point to discuss planning a stinger-missile attack on Air Force One.

If one reads the Moussaoui transcripts in their entirety, as I have, they find that he provides interesting accounts for the public antipathy between the House of Saud and OBL, which Bergen cites as a reason to distrust Hersh’s story. In exhibit 5, beginning on page 22, the Al Qaeda operative is asked about the widespread perception that OBL had been at war with the Saudi royals since the Gulf War.

The Saudi government has “two heads of the snake,” Moussaoui explains in broken English. “[T]hey have the Saudi, like Al Saud, and the Wahhabi were in charge of the Islamic Code…or Islamic power in Saudi Arabia.” Moussaoui is referring to the ulema, or religious leaders, of Saudi Arabia. Their higher ranks comprise the Senior Council of Ulema (Majlis Hay’at Kibar al-‘Ulama) — the kingdom’s governing religious body. The council must approve any incoming king and verify that his personal behavior and public policies are in accordance with the rigid form of Islam that presides over Saudi Arabian society: wahhabism.

“The Saudi [royal family] cannot keep power in Saudi Arabia without having the agreement, okay, of the Wahhab, the Wahhabi, the scholar,” Moussaoui says.

The seminal moment of power balancing came in 1979, when wahhabist fundamentalists, led by Juhayman al-Otaybi and Mohammed al-Qahtani, seized control of the grand mosque in Mecca. According to Lawrence Wright, author of the formative history of Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, the success of the operation increased pressure on both the House of Saud and the ulema to offer concessions to hardliners.

Moussaoui alleges, as do Wright and scholars of Saudi Arabian history, that one part of those concessions was the export of wahhabism abroad, usually by funding religious schools (madrassas) to educate young Sunni Muslims around the world, as well as financing Sunni jihadist groups from Chechnya to the Philippines.

Ergo, the House of Saud, Moussaoui alleges, maintained a relationship with OBL even after he had publicly turned his sights on them for being apostates. It was, Moussaoui claims, part of the delicate balance of power between Riyadh and the hardline clerics within the ulema:

“There is many benefit [for the Saudi royals to give money to OBL in 1998–99]. First of all it was a — a matter of survival for them, okay, because all of the mujahedeen….believe that Al Fahd [CS: former Saudi king] was an apostate, so they would have wanted jihad against Saudi Arabia, so it was the policy for the Saudi government to finance jihad…first in Afghanistan, then in Bosnia, then before that in Tajikistan, and Saudi used to send people, and you could travel and you could — as long as you don’t do stuff in your back-back-backyard.”

Michael Springman, head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from 1988–89, told the BBC in 2001 that he was fired by the State Department after complaining that he had been ordered by his superiors to issue American visas to unqualified applicants:

What I was protesting was, in reality, an effort to bring recruits, rounded up by Osama Bin Laden, to the US for terrorist training by the CIA. They would then be returned to Afghanistan to fight against the then-Soviets.

His former bureau in Jeddah is where 11 of the 19 hijackers later received their American passports during the late-nineties and early 2000s. Below is a clip from his 2002 address to the National Press Club in Washington.

Bergen’s best argument against Hersh relies on the accounts of Bissonnette and O’Neill. That’s all well and good, but certainly not enough for him to have claimed, as he did, that Hersh’s article amounted to “a farrago of nonsense.” As for common sense, one wonders what sort of common sense Bergen must have to ignore the evidence of OBL and Saudi royal ties presented by American congressmen, American diplomats and members of Al Qaeda itself.

By resorting to such dismissive attacks, Bergen gives the impression that he’s simply protecting his turf as the doyen of all-things Bin Laden, not interested in getting to the truth.

Voxing Match

“The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny,” Vox’s resident foreign policy guru Max Fisher tells us at the outset of his lengthy takedown. His argument breaks down into three categories: sourcing, internal contradictions, and Hersh’s recent track-record, which Fisher implies should invalidate the benefit of the doubt that is typically accorded to Hersh, given his history and credentials.

(Vox.com, and Fisher in particular, have far shakier track-records than Hersh when it comes to getting facts straight. I will therefore not be tackling his arguments about Hersh’s other recent articles. Readers can decide on their own whether or not Hersh’s track-record, or Fisher’s for that matter, are germane to the strength of either of their present arguments.)

Sources

To begin, Fisher raises legitimate concerns about what he calls Hersh’s “tissue-thin” sourcing for the article, which contains “no supporting documents or proof.”

The evidence for all this is Hersh’s conversations with two people: Asad Durrani, who ran Pakistan’s military intelligence service from 1990 to 1992, and ‘a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.’ Read that line again: knowledgeable about the initial intelligence. Not exactly a key player in this drama, and anonymous at that.

This is a strawman on two levels.

As Hersh’s introduction makes clear, Durrani had merely vouched for information given to Hersh by American sources — he claimed that he had heard similar accounts from colleagues in Pakistani intelligence. He was not the primary source for the article, as Fisher implies. Durrani’s corroboration was admittedly hearsay; far from ironclad, but also not as feeble as Fisher portrays.

The primary source for the article, at least the one willing to be quoted at length, albeit anonymously, is the “retired senior intelligence official” whom Fisher derides as immaterial.

In Fisher’s rendition, “knowledgeable about the initial intelligence” regarding Abbottabad is thin enough to ring alarm bells, given the breadth of Hersh’s story — as well it should. “We are given no reason to believe that either Durrani or the ‘knowledgeable official’ would have even second- or thirdhand knowledge of what occurred, yet their word is treated as gospel,” Fisher opines.

But Hersh’s next sentence says, “[the ‘knowledgeable official’] also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports” [emphasis mine]. Fisher, therefore, is telling a half-truth: the “knowledgeable official,” according to Hersh, actually did have secondhand knowledge of what occurred, at least during and after the raid, via what he or she had allegedly seen in written debriefings by SEAL team members. That doesn’t necessarily make the source’s word on matters predating the raid, or even the raid itself, “gospel,” as Fisher claims — but it certainly buttresses their credentials in a manner that Fisher’s omission seems designed to dismiss, especially since Fisher later pontificates about the supposedly implausible aspects of Hersh’s depiction of the raid and its aftermath.

There is no doubt that Hersh’s sourcing for the article is thin, even if it was sufficient for the editors of the U.K.’s most prominent literary journal. This ought to be cause enough to raise questions about its veracity without making strawmen out of his story.

Contradictions

The thickest bit of Fisher’s article centers on the supposed “contradictions” throughout Hersh’s piece. He begins by laying out one seeming contradiction, then by posing a series of rhetorical questions.

Hersh’s entire narrative turns on a secret deal, in which the US promised Pakistan increased military aid and a “freer hand in Afghanistan.” In fact, the exact opposite of this occurred, with US military aid dropping and US-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan plummeting as both sides feuded bitterly for years after the raid.
Hersh explains this seemingly fatal contradiction by suggesting the deal fell apart due to miscommunication between the Americans and Pakistanis. But it’s strange to argue that the dozens of officials on both sides would be competent enough to secretly plan and execute a massive international ruse, and then to uphold their conspiracy for years after the fact, but would not be competent enough to get on the same page about aid delivery.

Here, again, Fisher distorts what Hersh’s article claims happened.

Hersh, in fact, explains the “seemingly fatal contradiction” by noting that Obama, ostensibly on the advice of his political advisors, scrapped an alleged deal made with Pakistan to wait a week before announcing that OBL had been killed in a drone strike. Obama, according to Hersh’s sources, wished to get ahead of any potential leaks from inside his administration — in the lead up to an election — by announcing the SEAL raid on the night it had occurred.

Therefore, the fact that U.S. military aid dropped following the raid and relations between the U.S. and Pakistan soured is entirely plausible: the Pakistanis were pissed that Obama didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Fisher later concedes that Pakistan “retaliate[d] against the U.S.” roughly one week after the raid by outing the CIA station chief in Islamabad, which is entirely consistent with Hersh’s rendition of events. Obama scraps the deal, Pakistan retaliates, America drops aid, ties spoil — all while keeping the existence of a deal secret. Absolutely no contradiction.

“And there are more contradictions,” Fisher goes on to say, before issuing another rhetorical challenge. “Why, for example, would the Pakistanis insist on a fake raid that would humiliate their country and the very military and intelligence leaders who supposedly instigated it?”

It’s a good and important question. Perhaps Fisher should ask it of his sources in the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus. Or his sources in the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. Or anyone vaguely knowledgeable about the prickly history of ISI-CIA cooperation. Or perhaps he should consult the article he’s attacking, which indeed provides an explanation, however credible Fisher may deem it, to his query.

For their part, Hersh’s sources said the Pakistanis did so because they would have faced extreme disapproval and possible retaliation from segments of their own population if it had come out that they had willingly handed over OBL to Washington.

Again, we see an instance in which Hersh’s sources directly answer the questions that Fisher rhetorically poses.

The only source Fisher references to cast doubt on Hersh’s version — amidst a flurry of rhetorical questions, themselves ridden with painfully naive supposition — is an editor at the New Yorker, for which Hersh has been writing since 1993, who allegedly told Fisher the magazine had repeatedly rejected Hersh’s story. (Hersh has said that he was the one who decided to publish with the London Review of Books.)

Fisher marches onward:

[W]hy would the US cut a secret deal with Pakistan to allow that country a “freer hand” in Afghanistan — essentially surrendering a yearslong effort to reduce Pakistani influence there — rather than just taking out bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission?

Here, again, we see naivete masquerading as authoritativeness. The Afghan Taliban, it is well known, has strong links to Pakistan and the ISI. As the primary insurgents fighting the U.S. occupation, one can argue that fight is a manifestation of “reduc[ing] Pakistani influence there.” But nowhere have I seen any evidence that removing Pakistani influence over Kabul was a primary or even secondary aim of the war or occupation. Perhaps a corollary aim, given the composition of the insurgency — but that’s an argument that has to be made with evidence.

Even if reducing Pakistani influence was a primary, secondary, or tertiary goal of the invasion and occupation, that doesn’t give it any relevance to Obama’s strategic calculations from 2010 onward.

To illustrate with a parallel example: Among the many objectives of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, professed and covert, seeking to replace Saddam with a regime sympathetic to Iran was, given all we know about U.S.-Iran hostility, certainly not one of them. Yet that is exactly what occurred, given how the occupation and civil war played out. Now with the emergence of ISIS, the U.S. finds itself almost in lockstep with at least some Iranian designs on the region.

Are we really supposed to believe that George W. Bush and Barack Obama would support a government that is, in many respects, a puppet of Tehran for the sake of broader geopolitical aims? Yes, because that is what happened.

To rhetorically imply that Obama, in a campaign year, wouldn’t grab at the chance to kill America’s Most Wanted while sacrificing a purported element of an occupation that has among the weakest raisons d’etre, and which most military analysts concede the U.S. will never win, shows, in my opinion, how mired in conventional sloganeering Fisher is.

As for “taking out bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission,” Hersh’s article answers this succinctly: Obama didn’t want a repeat of Operation Desert One, the failed attempt by Jimmy Carter to rescue American hostages in Iran, which, by all accounts, played a significant factor in his loss of the 1980 election. Pakistan’s consent was therefore crucial.

None of this makes Hersh correct necessarily. But it makes his actual theory far more tenable than Fisher’s pontifications would have the reader believe.

The other “inconsistencies” that Fisher claims destroy Hersh’s credibility are, in my assessment, so minor as to be comical. Let’s take just one example for the purposes of illustration.

Hersh says that no “treasure trove” of Al Qaeda documents were taken from the compound, as the Obama administration has alleged. Fisher references the fact that Ayman al-Zawahiri, AQ’s second-in-command, has said that intelligence materials were indeed taken from the compound, citing the authority of a thinktank analyst’s tweets. Fisher says this implies that Hersh claimed “the intelligence material was faked” and thus “al-Qaeda would have had to be in on” the raid conspiracy, which would place Hersh well within the realm of Alex Jones. Massive contradiction, right?

Wrong. Hersh, in his article, says OBL’s writings were indeed given to the U.S. by ISI. What Hersh’s sources dispute is that a “treasure trove” — many hard drives, notebooks, etc. — were carted off following the raid. Fisher cannot produce any evidence of such a trove, so he resorts to twisting Hersh’s argument.

Okay, one more.

Hersh claims that OBL’s body was “torn to pieces with rifle fire,” which Fisher disputes, saying that small arms fire could not do that to a 6'4" man. If the SEALs were using M4 carbines, they could have been outfitted with AB49 Special Operations Science and Technology 5.56mm cartridges, which, according to the Marine Corps Times, “have more devastating effects” and leave “a larger primary wound cavity.” Since neither Fisher nor I know what arms the SEALs were wielding, or have the requisite backgrounds in weapons ballistics (or knowledge of OBL’s body composition at the time of his death) to evaluate this point, I’ll concede that it is fair enough to quibble over.

Hersh then goes on to say that the SEAL team tossed parts of OBL’s body over the Hindu Kush mountains as it flew back to base in Afghanistan. “Are we really to believe that special forces would…chuck pieces of [OBL] out of a helicopter, for no reason at all?” Fisher asks turgidly.

The deal, as alleged by Hersh’s sources, was that Obama would announce a drone strike had occurred in the Hindu Kush mountains and, upon subsequent DNA confirmation, then reveal that it had killed OBL. Ergo, throwing parts of OBL’s body over an area where it was to be alleged that he had been killed would not just be a reason to do so — it would be the reason.

“It is difficult to know where to begin,” Fisher preceded his condescending query about OBL’s body parts with. Indeed, it probably was hard to know where to begin when, by the strength of his argument, it appears that Fisher didn’t even read the piece he’s purporting to debunk.