The Cutting Edge: But, but, bin Laden died in 2001, didn’t he??!

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Originally published at Nafeez Ahmed’s Blog by Nafeez Ahmed on 7/15/15

Bin Laden Died in 2001, didn’t he?

Last month, I broke an exclusive in-depth investigation into the real story behind the bin Laden raid, based entirely on open sources available in the public record, including some pioneering journalistic investigations by others, official records, and declassified documents. My piece concluded that both the official history of the bin Laden raid and events leading up to it, as well as the alternative story put out by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, were flawed. While I identified a great deal of important corroboration and confirmation for Hersh’s account, I also uncovered a wide-range of credible evidence demonstrating that certain critical details of that account were also false.On the one hand: Hersh’s general story is backed up by at least three other credible independent accounts from different intelligence sources.

bin laden died: his many faces
Image from OffGuardian, ‘How many times can one man die?’

On the other hand: Bin Laden, I found, was not under “house arrest” in Abbottabad – but lived there of his own accord, with freedom of movement, under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI), with the financial largess of the Saudi government. The CIA knew that bin Laden was being protected by Pakistan’s ISI as early as 2004, and that he was in Abbottabad as early as 2005 – and continued to receive precise intelligence on his likely location at the Abbottabad compound through to 2008. Yet the CIA chose not to take action against bin Laden or his state benefactors for as long as 6 years.

Around the same time that bin Laden moved into his safehouse in Abbottabad, the Bush administration tapped Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then a senior Saudi government official, to accelerate financial support to extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East – including al-Qaeda affiliated groups – to undermine Bashar al-Assad in Syria and counter Iranian Shi’ite influence in the region. That strategy was continued under the Obama administration, and continues to this day in the context of the support for Syrian rebel groups, which are now dominated by Islamist and al-Qaeda factions.

The operation to assassinate bin Laden was not conducted by the US alone. In the months prior to the raid, bin Laden was meeting several militant groups and leaders across northwest Pakistan, and his movements were tracked by Saudi, Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies, who were sharing the intelligence with the US intelligence community and the CIA. The key official involved from the Saudi side in the plan was none other than Prince Bandar.

In the same period, according to al-Qaeda documents obtained from the Abbottabad compound after the raid, British intelligence sent a proposal to bin Laden through al-Qaeda intermediaries linked to Libya, offering to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for al-Qaeda’s cooperation in refraining from targeting British interests. Bin Laden essentially rejected the offer. Days later, bin Laden was reportedly assassinated by Navy Seals.

Publicised details of the raid, however, were deeply contradictory, and the Pentagon took unprecedented steps to ensure that official records regarding the raid remain top secret, and inaccessible to Freedom of Information Act requests.

I’ve had a few people raise questions about my story – now the third major alternative account of the bin Laden raid – due to early reports suggesting that bin Laden had in fact died long before 2011.

My piece does address this issue indirectly, though it’s buried some way deep in the piece and easy to miss given the length.

Here I’m going to make some brief comments about this issue, to clarify the relationship between my story, and the idea that bin Laden died much earlier due to ill health.
Indeed, judging by the numerous previous reports of bin Laden’s death, it’s fair to say that he died something like nine times, if not more.

Many of these reports of bin Laden’s premature death are contradictory. There’s the Pakistan Observer piece claiming the al-Qaeda terror chief died in Afghanistan in December 2001 due to a lung complication. Another report cited Taliban sources claiming he had died around the same time due to kidney failure.

In October 2002, Israeli intelligence reportedly concluded that bin Laden had died in Afghanistan.

In 2005, Senator Harry Reid was told bin Laden died in Pakistan in October, due to the earthquakes. Well he either died in Afghanistan in 2001, or he died years later due to earthquakes.

The next year a leaked confidential French intelligence report claimed he had just died in Pakistan in August of typhoid fever. The intelligence was based on information from Saudi intelligence officials who “are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead.” Ironically, then French President Jacques Chirac denied that the info was “confirmed” but admitted the confidential foreign intelligence service report did exist, and complained about it being leaked to the press.

So bin Laden either died in 2001 of kidney failure in Afghanistan, or he died in earthquakes in Pakistan in October 2005, or he died in Pakistan in 2006 of typhoid fever.

Then in 2007, Benazir Bhutto claimed that actually bin Laden had died, but that he had been murdered by Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed. So by that account, bin Laden had not died of ill-health or earthquakes, but had been murdered by an al-Qaeda colleague (Bhutto did not in fact specify a date for when bin Laden was supposedly murdered). So either bin Laden died of ill-health three times, or he was murdered.

Bhutto, herself a veritable fount of corruption who enriched her family at the expense of the Pakistani people, was married to President Asif Zardari aka “Mr Ten Percent” (so named in Pakistan due to his reputation for taking a cut of everything), who also claimed in 2009 that bin Laden was dead, and that the ISI had heard nothing about him.

In fact, one of those who began first putting out these inconsistent death stories was Zardari’s corrupt predecessor Gen. Musharraf. As I document in my piece, a classified report to the 9/11 Commission identified Musharraf as harbouring bin Laden in Pakistan, and deliberately spreading disinformation about his death to deflect attention from the ISI’s (and likely CIA’s) complicity in doing so. That report, snippets of which were leaked to the press in 2004, also noted that Musharraf himself had personally approved bin Laden’s kidney treatments out of a military hospital in Peshawar.

The ill-informed have jumped to rather silly conclusions based on these multiple death reports. James Corbett, for instance, who produces video reports for Sibel Edmonds’ Boiling Frogs Post, claimed shortly after the 2011 raid that these reports prove there was an “informed consensus” among people in the know that bin Laden had died long before 2011.

But this is clearly misleading. The multiple death reports, far from constituting an “informed consensus”, offered no consensus at all, but rather a series of mutually inconsistent claims which could not all be true. It’s not just that certain details were different – they were fundamentally different.

Corbett’s supposed “informed consensus” basically is that bin Laden experienced multiple deaths, from 2001 onwards, every few years or so, of lung complications, typhoid fever, kidney failure, general ill-health, and murder.

You only die once. So looking at the multiple death reports, clearly only one (if any) can be true. Which means, obviously, that ALL the rest are disinformation. It is therefore incontrovertible that intelligence agencies were putting out disinformation on bin Laden’s death before 2011. Which agencies? Seemingly, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both of whom were claiming that bin Laden had died – and spreading this narrative through Western intelligence leaks.

Taking all the evidence in the public record together, it seems far more plausible to me to infer that those claiming bin Laden had died shortly after 9/11 were lying to protect him. The number and inconsistencies in the reports of his death before 2011 provide a strong indicator of disinformation.

Whether bin Laden was indeed killed in Abbottobad or not, is impossible to prove one way or another. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous. In my INSURGEintelligence report, “The bin Laden death mythology”, I’ve inferred that he was for the sake of argument, given all the evidence available including credible third party sources showed that bin Laden was active and sighted in Pakistan before May 2011 – but have made clear that the true story is being suppressed for reasons unknown, and currently unknowable.

I should note that the multiple sightings of bin Laden evident from the US military intelligence files known as the ‘Afghan War Logs’ released by Wikileaks, plus multiple news accounts citing militant and intel sources (all contradicting the White House version of events I should add), strengthen my case and show that claims that bin Laden definitely died in 2001 contradict much other evidence in the public record.

The idea that we can trust the public claims of Bhutto or Musharraf, or the Saudis or US officials, who all  orchestrated the pretence of not knowing where bin Laden was and whether he was alive, is absurd. These are the very institutions complicit in protecting bin Laden. Suddenly we think their contradictory stories about his premature death must all be correct?

Equally, that does not mean that we should blithely assume that the Obama administration’s narrative of the bin Laden raid in May 2011 is correct – which, judging by the dozens of times the White House story changed, is deeply problematic. But the purpose of my report was precisely to take a step back and look holistically at the totality of available evidence now in the public record, to determine as best as possible what actually happened.

And the totality of the evidence builds up a compelling and consistent picture that bin Laden was, indeed, being protected by US allies long after 9/11, that the US intelligence community knew this but did nothing about it, that they not only ‘did nothing’ but actually mobilised al-Qaeda for geopolitical purposes using the Saudi-Pakistan nexus, and that throughout this period under US-Saudi-Pakistani protection, bin Laden continued to orchestrate al-Qaeda terror operations with significant freedom of movement in Pakistan, under the noses of multiple intelligence agencies.

My assessment, therefore, is that it’s much more likely that the reports of bin Laden’s premature deaths by murder, kidney failure, lung problems, etc. etc. were little more than disinformation, which to this day deflect from and confuse public understanding of how the US continued to work with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence to protect bin Laden and mobilise al-Qaeda for dubious geopolitical purposes.

I might be wrong, of course. But my story is, I think, the most comprehensive, careful and properly documented account to date. And close analysis of claims that bin Laden died in 2001 onwards tends to vindicate my reporting, rather than not.