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“Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell calls the report nonsense.”

The White House’s rebuttal of Seymour Hersh’s article about Osama bin Laden’s assassination is great. In effect, the brilliant public relations people in the executive branch just confirmed Hersh’s account of the bin Laden raid in Abbottabad. How did they do it? They denied every word of Hersh’s article, in more detail than usual.

That’s the gold standard for government confirmations: if you see highly placed officials repeatedly deny something, on the record and vehemently, that’s affirmation that the account they want to tarnish as false is true. When those officials take trouble to speak with reporters about these sensitive matters, they forget the standard filter in place for those reporters’ readers. The filter says: if government officials say something is true, it is false. If government officials say something is false, it is true.

When you apply that filter, Seymour Hersh’s account of how Osama bin Laden died is true.

Seymour Hersh

Here is another thing to remember. When anyone from the CIA, or anyone else from the intelligence community for that matter, tells you something, you can apply yet another standard of credibility. Call it, “I don’t listen to political criminals.” For years the CIA ran an archipelago of secret prisons, whose main purpose was to hold people while the CIA tortured them. When the torture program first came to light, the CIA denied it existed. Then they said it was legal and effective. They have never admitted they did anything wrong. In fact, no one in the executive branch has ever said the way government officials treated prisoners was wrong.

What do we hear instead? We hear the president say, in his off-hand way, “Yeah, we tortured some folks.” In light of their crimes, why would anyone from the CIA, or from the intelligence community, expect us to listen to what they have to say about Osama bin Laden? I can think of several possibilities:

  • They don’t care if they appear to be fools.
  • They expect that we have forgotten about the torture program: each new day wipes the memory slate clean.
  • They have forgotten about the torture program: each new day starts with a new fund of trustworthiness.
  • They think we will believe what they say because they are in positions of authority.
  • They do not know how to evaluate evidence, draw conclusions from evidence, or do any of the things Hersh does in his article.

A fool lies, and does not care whether or not other people believe him. As we try to figure out why the CIA would try to rebut Hersh in public, we can go with the first possibility, with support from the other four.

I have not read all of Hersh’s article, but most of what he says was obvious from the day the White House began bragging about bin Laden’s assassination. The quality of the public relations effort was even worse than for Benghazi, where the White House had nothing to brag about. For a big public relations coup, the rollout was amazingly bad. They could not get their story straight. That indicates two things: (1) the White House decided on short notice to announce the raid, and (2) White House coordination with the intelligence community, with special forces, with the Pakistanis, and with everyone else involved was not good.

I do not know as much as Hersh does about the raid, but you can say one thing with confidence: the story the White House rolled out the week after the assassination was an obvious mess of half truths, chest thumping, and falsehoods. It was the sorriest piece of government PR ever. Give Seymour Hersh credit for revisiting that episode, to sort what actually happened from Obama’s roman candle of happy stories to tell your children at bedtime.

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