Reasons to Doubt the Official Osama Raid Story — Five Years Later

WhoWhatWhy exists in good part to serve as a kind of reality check. Its goal is to step outside the echo chamber, in which, no matter how improbable the “official” story, the media and the public reflexively accept it.

WhoWhatWhy exists to remind us that the powerful — whether corporations or presidents or national security agencies — often exaggerate, cherry-pick facts, and even construct total falsehoods in service of their agenda.

We see that again and again, with Vietnam, with Watergate, with Iraq, with the claimed reasons for invading Afghanistan, Libya and, through surrogates, Syria.

The examples are legion. Each time the propaganda machine comes up with a new story, our society’s default response is to accept it. And the bigger the story, the harder it is for people to imagine they are being lied to.  And the more discomfort it causes, the more cognitive dissonance kicks in. Then we rally around the flag — and lash out at the skeptics.

Most recently, we encountered this with the Boston Marathon Bombing case, where so much doesn’t add up, but few seem to care.

An earlier case, which comes to mind now because this is its fifth anniversary, was the May 2, 2011, raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. On that occasion, we were told, the United States avenged the greatest terrorist attack ever on its soil when U.S. special forces swooped into an allied foreign country and successfully killed the No. 1 archvillain of our time — Osama bin Laden.

While the full range of media organizations, mainstream and “alternative,” accepted the government’s account, within hours of the raid, we began raising questions — and we have kept on doing so. You can read those early articles here:


The basic story, which changed repeatedly in the early hours and days following the raid, finally settled into a few bare bones. And that is all the public remembers:

Relying on uncertain intelligence, President Obama made the risky decision to mount a raid into Pakistan without the consent or knowledge of the authorities there. Navy SEALs swooped in, killed bin Laden, and got out safely, after which bin Laden’s body was cleaned in accordance with Islamic law before being dumped in the Arabian Sea.

Yet, if you actually look at what we’ve been told, you will find that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. And if it doesn’t make a lot of sense, we have two choices: 1) Contort the particulars until it kind of, sort of, seems to make sense; or 2) say that there may be something entirely different going on.

First, let us recall that Osama bin Laden was not only a Saudi but from one of the kingdom’s most powerful, connected, protected families.

Since that raid, new information has emerged about the U.S. protecting Saudi elites, even to the extent of covering up evidence of Saudi complicity with the 9/11 attacks. But the growing body of evidence that the Saudis have not been America’s friends, and that they worked closely with Al-Qaeda, has never been squared with the story of the Abbottabad raid.

In that raid, we are told, the U.S. government relied on guidance from the Saudis as to what to do with Bin Laden and his body. This, we were told, was to avoid creating a shrine to Osama while also respecting Muslim customs — an odd claim given that such considerations never seem to have entered the picture in any other situation. Moreover, it would not have been so difficult to bury his body in an undisclosed location.

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