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

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

Washington Post, Osama bin Laden
The Washington Post reporting Osama bin Laden’s death  Photo credit:  Justin Grimes / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Reading Time: 7 minutes

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:

•  12 Questions About bin Laden

•  More Questions About bin Laden

•  Demanding the Evidence on Abbottabad: Even the Media Establishment is Wary

•  Doubts on “Official Story” of bin Laden Killing


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.

Osama bin Laden , George Bush, Abdulla, 9-11

Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah, NYC 9/11  Photo credit:  Ansar Al-Haqq / YouTube, David Bohrer / White House and National Park Service / Wikimedia

As we seek to connect the dots between these related parties and events, we cannot help but tote up some of the key factors in the Abbottabad story. We ask that you consider certain elements:

(1) The story of the raid changed over the course of several days, even though the commanders and those officials providing the narrative here at home had been in steady contact.

(2)  Instead of presenting pictures of the corpse, as was done with Saddam, Qaddafi and most other “villains”, the U.S. government opted not to show it.

(3)  Instead of keeping the body at an undisclosed location for comprehensive, DNA, and other identification measures, the U.S. government claims they hastily tossed his body into the ocean — after, we are told, advice to do so came from….the Saudi government.

(4)  The photos we saw of the man purported to be living in that Abbottabad villa look strikingly different from prior photos of him.

Osama bin Laden, Abbottabad Compound, MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter

Osama bin Laden, Abbottabad Compound and MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
Photo credit:  DoD, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and US  Army

(5)  Just before the SEALs charged up the stairs toward the man who would be killed, they experienced a wardrobe malfunction — the transmission from their helmet cams suddenly stopped feeding into the White House Situation Room. So the president and his team actually saw nothing.

(6)  When bin Laden purportedly died at 1 a.m. Pakistan local time on May 2, 2011, almost none of the Navy SEALs conducting the operation actually saw him.

(7) Former SEAL Mark Owen’s book “No Easy Day,” which received a lot of attention and became the definitive inside account of what took place, was reportedly frowned upon by the military — yet the military, which could have easily halted the publication if it wished to do so, did not.

(8)  We have been told that the SEALs themselves had been given the choice of whether to capture bin Laden or to kill him.

(9)  Consider the incalculable intelligence value of an Osama captured alive.

(10) During the operation, one of two helicopters crashed into a wall in Osama’s compound and was essentially destroyed — yet we are told that every one of the inhabitants walked away without serious injury.

(11)  A neighbor reportedly saw the crash and claimed no one emerged.

(12)  Shortly after this debacle, another contingent of Navy SEALs perished in what we were told was an unrelated crash across the border in Afghanistan.

(13)  We have heard no more of bin Laden’s wives and others who purportedly survived the raid. What happened to them? Were they punished? Were they interrogated? Were they remanded to Saudi custody?

(14)  Consider what a tremendous publicity coup this was — for President Obama, who was preparing for his re-election bid, for the military and for the CIA. From the simple vantage point of wishful thinking, there was no reason for Obama or his ambitious Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to doubt or express doubts about this heroic achievement they were told had come on their watch.

Is it madness to exhibit skepticism, to ask that we be shown some kind of proof by a government that clearly cannot be trusted to level with us on matters of “national security?”

On this fifth anniversary of this extraordinary event, we pause to note how, as in so many situations, the great majority of the media — from the corporate, mainstream entities to the ideologically-driven organs of Left and Right — accept at face value the official story.

In the years since, the only significant voice to question the official story is Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

Hersh maintains another version, as told to him by a retired senior U.S. intelligence official who goes unnamed. As Hersh heard it, the Saudis were working with the Pakistanis to hide bin Laden, and were “financing (his) upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis.”  Further, according to another anonymous Hersh source, the U.S. chose to execute bin Laden rather than capture him as a war criminal.

Hersh’s interpretation, for which he has faced harsh criticism, is an interesting one. Nonetheless, it does not adequately address the questions we have posed, primarily because it accepts that the person in the compound was indeed bin Laden, and that this person was indeed killed. We’ll withhold judgment on that until we see real evidence.

Why? Because there are two scenarios.

In one, Osama was the wayward child, a rebel against his parent country, a man whom the U.S. and Saudis wanted obliterated. In 1994, he was expelled from Saudi Arabia.

But in the other, Osama bin Laden played a valuable role for the Saudi royal family, keeping the war away from its own borders, focusing fundamentalist anger on the West. And because Osama bin Laden gave the always-hungry Western war machine the replacement villain for the Soviet “evil empire” — a casus belli that necessitates never-ending combat and never-ending and incalculable spending and riches for the military-industrial complex.

Obama’s counterterrorism advisor at the time of the raid, John Brennan, had been CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia just before 9/11 — and subsequent to the raid was made CIA director.

For so many, Osama seemed to be the gift that kept on giving.

Is it possible that he would not, in the end, be punished? That he would instead be protected, perhaps given a new identity like much lesser pawns in the games of power that nations and other entities play?

It may sound far-fetched. But in light of the unanswered questions about May 2, 2011, good journalism — indeed sound mental health — dictates that we not dismiss logical scenarios in favor of fundamentally illogical ones simply because we are told to do so.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said the SEAL who wrote “No Easy Day” admitted that he did not see the body of bin Laden. That was incorrect. We would like to thank reader TomS for pointing this out to us and regret the error.

Related front page panorama photo credit: President Barack Obama walking through the Cross Hall and delivering a statement in the East Room. (White House 1, 2, 3)

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45 responses to “Reasons to Doubt the Official Osama Raid Story — Five Years Later”

  1. Avatar Bud Spofford says:

    It is hard to believe the narration on the raid (or the whole Osama story from the beginning.) One would think Bin Laden would have some kind of body guards or at the least some weapons. He must have known he was a hunted man. And how does a Blackhawk even get close to the so-called compound without anyone there hearing a thing? They could have heard it at least a mile or two away and had plenty of time to react. The story stinks.

  2. Avatar James says:

    The CIA used the well-connected NGO, Save the Children, to track Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

    Save The Children were used in relation to the Abbottabad property and were kicked out of Pakistan for it.

    However their name also appears in a Telegraph article about an earlier property tied to Osama. The landlord said after the two Pashtun brothers left, Save the Children rented the house.

    Perhaps it was for the same reason that they carried out a vaccination program in Abbottabad.

    see ‘Osama bin Laden’s 2004 house in Pakistan back on the market’.

  3. Avatar Zurls says:

    According to accounts published in the Pakistan Observer in 2001 Osama Bin Laden died of Marfan Syndrome in December of 2001 and was buried in Tora Bora at an unmarked location.

    As for the actual “raid” a Pakistani National TV reporter interviewed a Muhammad Bashir who lived next door to the compound that was raided in Abbottabad and he says he witnesses the entire thing. He says that a helicopter came and circled the compound, eventually dropping 10 to 12 people on the roof and the helicopter flew off to a location over the mountains where it circled for about 20 minutes. He says that after 20 minutes it returned and landed. Two other helicopters came – one from the north and one from the west – which circled. The helicopter that landed, after a few minutes attempted to take off but there was a sudden, massive explosion from within the helicopter and the wreckage burned fiercely. He states that anyone who got onto that helicopter died instantly. He says the other two helicopters circled briefly, DID NOT LAND, and then the one that came from the west flew off in the direction of Mansehra (north), and the one that came from the north flew off to the south. The witness said that people from the area rushed in, himself included, and could see bits of metal and body parts burning everywhere, and that they couldn’t get close to the wreckage due to the fire. He says the explosion was massive enough that wreckage had been blasted into the area between the buildings and even onto his roof next door. After 5 or 6 minutes there was another smaller explosion and all the the folk who went in to look ran out. About 15 minutes after that the Pakistani army arrived and moved everyone out of the area and cordoned it off. One other thing: the witness says that the 10 to 12 people dropped on the roof all shouted – to each other to local people to stay away – and all spoke Pashtu, the main language of Pakistan. So according to this eyewitness EVERYONE who were dropped there, and anyone that they took with them were killed when the helicopter exploded and no other helicopter landed. Besides the locals who rushed in the next people there were the Pakistani army.

  4. Avatar James says:

    I want to know when the helicopter crashed. Either on arrival or on departure. I can’t get that story straight.

    There was a member of islamic jihad who says bin Laden wore a suicide belt and blew himself up. That would sure explain a few bits of the story.

    Also I don’t believe it was a kill mission as Special Forces aren’t used for kill missions. Drones are.
    The claim it was a kill mission from the outset doesn’t make sense.

  5. Avatar FlannigansRun says:

    In the future the past fifty years will be known as “The Golden Age” of conspiracy theories.

  6. Avatar mikefromwichita says:

    Hmmmm, there is every reason to believe that OBL has been dead of kidney failure since around 2002.

    • Avatar Maynard says:

      Fox News reported his death and it was also reported in other Middle Eastern media.

  7. Avatar Occams says:

    Nice job of censoring comments there, whowhatwhy. Trying to hide the truth, allowing idiots like R. Riversong to post left-handed nonsense for the sheep?

  8. Avatar Bill says:

    Question didn’t he have so many health issues that he wouldn’t of lived long? I heard he died in 2001.

  9. Avatar Spartyvector says:

    They also plastered the bloody photos of uday and quesay hussein all over the television for days. Also look up the life expectancy of Marfan’s syndrome.OBL had it in September of 2001.

  10. Avatar knifemare69 says:

    Bin Laden’s obituary appeared in Pakistani media in December 2001, and the cause of death was listed as kidney failure. Everything about his supposed death since then has been unsubstantiated government hot air without any evidence worth mentioning. No body, no pictures, nothing – a faith based ‘raid’…

    • Avatar JamzHelm says:

      I posted this info with a link to the article on Rivero’s site, but apparently it didn’t make the “Comments editor” cut.

    • Avatar Zuzana Rehakova says:

      Not only Pakistani media, the Egyptian media published the obituary as well.
      Benazir Bhuto stated in an interview for the BBC that he was dead, and a neighbour of the compound says no Osama lived there ever.

  11. Avatar BubblePuppy7 says:

    Interesting article. As Judge Judy would say; “It doesn’t make sense. And if it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.”

  12. Avatar Troy says:

    Died of renal failure in 2004 as reported in papers. Never seen in public after that.

  13. Avatar Eric Jacobson says:

    I recently heard an interview with Charles and Mary Ann Strange, parents of Michael Strange; Petty Officer first class, who was one of the Seal Team Six that purportedly killed Bin Laden. He and fourteen other members of Seal Team Six were killed in a suspicious helicopter shoot-down in Afghanistan.

    This event was no ordinary tragedy, and was deeply suspicious in its nature to say the least.

    Strange and other families that lost loved ones that day have continued to press their catalouge of unanswered questions and the US government continues to evade these questions and are unwilling to satisfactorily answer them. Another government cover up at the cost of American lives?
    It appears that way.

  14. Avatar therevolutionwas says:

    I’m all for the opinion that Bin Laden was already dead prior to this event.

  15. Avatar Roddy Pfeiffer says:

    I get “server error” for 2 of the links above.

    • Avatar Comments editor says:

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will notify the technical department immediately.

  16. Avatar anarchyst says:

    Bin Laden is not dead. He is running a 7-Eleven in Bakersfield CA…

  17. Avatar Mo Raf says:

    There is no such thing as burial at sea in Islam, and such a funeral is considered an act of disbelief according to the Salafi/Wahhaabi/Takfeeri doctrines of the Saudis. Pivotal to their puritanical creed (aqeedah) is the rejection of all innovations, since all innovations are from the fire of hell. Therefore it is totally unbelievable and inconsistent that such funeral innovations were recommended by their ‘scholars’.

  18. Avatar TomS says:

    Not trying to be an ass but you’ve got the details wrong for No Easy Day. Mark Owen (Matt Bissonnette) says he was second up the stairs behind the shooter, and that he
    himself shot Bin Laden to ensure he was dead, and that he took pictures
    of Bin Laden.

    There are lots of problems and questions I have about that book, but your line that ‘In his “tell all,” Owen admits — almost in passing — that he did not see Bin Laden, and was not in on the
    actual kill’ is so wrong I’m wondering if you’ve actually read the book.

  19. Avatar JMG says:

    The Bin Laden raid really is a testament to doubt the government’s official story on nearly everything. The two most inescapable problems are these.
    1) There are no independent confirmations that it was in fact Bin Laden, considering he was public enemy #1.
    2) There has never been any physical evidence shown that the person hit was Bin Laden, rather just hearsay from government paid operatives. Due to the lack of evidence, it is a matter of belief the president Obama is a big hero because he was in office when they allegedly bagged Bin Laden.

  20. Avatar constitutionalist says:

    The evidence says that ObL had nothing to do with 9-11. Not speculation, but hard evidence – he and his cadre could not have had access to the sort of weaponry that turned the six buildings in Manhattan into dust, steel and all, and destroyed the other three Manhattan buildings.

    In confirmation, ObL himself specifically denied any involvement in 9-11 (a fact that the media attempted to cover up by showing videos of an actor made up with a long beard “confessing.”)
    In further confirmation, the FBI has stated they have never had any evidence implicating him.
    So why do we continue to see photo montages that include ObL next to a picture of a 9-11 event?

    A good lesson in how to lie without actually speaking the falsehood.

  21. Avatar Nneal says:

    Another oddity: What kind of person takes videos of someone flicking through TV channels with a remote?

    • Avatar greg says:

      …and then kills him????

    • Avatar punkyboy says:

      Wouldn’t he, by that time, have some inkling that a herd of SEALS was pounding its way up his staircase to do him bodily harm, with helicopters, presumably, roaring overhead before that? Maybe he was just going to calmly “pause” his show until he saw what the ruckus was about? Just like all the other assassination mysteries (which have actually had identifiable bodies – JFK, RFK, MLK, Lennon, probably Saddam and Gaddafi,and countless other hapless foreign leaders), we will never know who is in that picture or who was – maybe – dumped at sea.

    • Avatar PappyYokum says:

      The video of the man in the blanket watching TV was “found” during the raid, not recorded during the raid. My question is why is ObL, who was left-handed, using his right hand to work the remote?

  22. Avatar Mark says:

    The best work on the topic of Osama Bin Laden and his mysterious end has been done by David Ray Griffin. He makes a very good case that Bin Laden died at the end of 2001 or early 2002. Certainly all of the videos purporting to show Bin Laden post 2001 can be shown to be fakes.

    When this set of facts is added on top of Russ’ analysis showing that the story behind the supposed killing of Bin Laden does hold together, the post 9/11 Osama Bin Laden story is most clearly viewed as yet another intelligence myth.

  23. Avatar PSViticus says:

    Why not take alive the most important component of the event? It’s all a complete fabrication to cover up who really ordered it.

  24. Avatar lofty1 says:

    Or… as some have said in varying accounts, that he was already dead for quite some time and somebody felt this “fictional” Bin Laden needed to be put to rest for good as he had outlived his usefulness and was becoming a liability.

    • Avatar Bruce Lewis says:

      This is very interesting. I think someone should do some research to try to discover if that fake Bin Laden’s cover was about to be blown in Pakistan. I think that could be done, and I think it would signify a great deal.

    • Avatar lofty1 says:

      That begs the question…which fake Bin Laden? I was thinking along the lines that there was more than one fictional Bin Laden around (compare all the post 9/11 videos for all the marginally similar versions of Bin Laden trotted out at convenient moments) and that it was becoming a bit obvious that public boogeyman number one was not real. That and the current powers that be had no use for him other than to make themselves appear as heroes to a gullible public for having offed him.

  25. Avatar 0040 says:

    I’ve followed Mr. Hersh’s columns since he brought My Lai to light . I find his version of the murder of Bin Laden more credible than Obamba’s.

  26. Avatar Robert Riversong says:

    Yes, the official story must be questioned, but this rambling article – more conspiracy mongering than reporting – ignores that the Seymour Hersh retelling is quite credible, well-sourced and answers most of the lingering questions.

    It was Bush, who had close political and personal relationships with the bin Laden and Saudi royal families, who had reason to allow bin Laden (as he did) to go unpunished for eight years. Obama needed some anti-terrorism chops to push his re-election, and this allegedly “surgical” raid was the perfect opportunity.

    However, according to Hersh’s inside sources, it was a botched raid, even though it was expedited by the local Pakistani authorities and there was no resistance in the compound, and bin Laden’s body was so riddled with bullets that pictures could not be revealed to the world.

    As a life-long reporter of REAL government conspiracies, I’m satisfied that Hersch has given us the real scoop, but web sites like this one thrive on having no answers and only questions.

    • Avatar Jeff Clyburn says:

      So, if you don’t have all the answers, then you shouldn’t ask any questions? Interesting journalistic approach to ever-evolving news stories. I’m pretty sure Woodward and Bernstein were still searching for all answers when their first pieces on the Watergate scandal went to print.

      As the author suggests: A lot of this debate could have been squashed a long time ago… Just show the images. We did it for Saddam, Uday, Qusai and the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah, among countless other examples. Let’s stop pretending the American public can’t handle carnage.

      No body, interrupted video feed, hasty burial, changing official narrative … How hard is it to just show the proof?

    • Avatar Robert Riversong says:

      We do have the answers, but most refuse to even look at them.

      It’s not the American people the government is worried about. If we showed the images of bin Laden’s desecrated body, torn apart by rifle fire, it would inflame the entire Muslim world and there would be no quarter for those Americans.

    • Avatar Jeff Clyburn says:

      His dead image wouldn’t change much re: “uniting the entire Muslim world.” … In my firm opinion, we passed that threshold with the Muslim world long ago. Our allies wouldn’t be fazed at this point, and our enemies couldn’t be more fanatical than they are already.

      It’s unfortunate that you’d straw man that I somehow “enjoy” carnage, and a clear indication that this is no longer productive.

    • Avatar Occams says:


      You mean the people defending their countries we’ve illegally and fraudulently invaded?

    • Avatar punkyboy says:

      Why is it so hard for most Americans to see that if some country – any country – attacked us like we’ve attacked the Middle East, we would be madder than hornets and take revenge as quickly and thoroughly as possible with every weapon at our disposal. Oh, wait – we already did that after 9/11 – only we attacked the wrong country – Iraq. Should have been Saudi Arabia.

    • Avatar Occams says:

      Why? They were OUR and Israel’s patsy?

    • Avatar Robert Riversong says:

      Your “firm” opinion is merely the ranting of the willfully ignorant and terminally prejudiced.

    • Avatar freewheelinfranklin543 says:

      Bin Laden died in 2001.Even Faux News reported it. The rest is nonsense.

    • Avatar Robert Riversong says:

      Anyone who reads Faux News is looking for nonsense.

    • Avatar Bruce Lewis says:

      I think Hersh’s version is quite credible, too, but consider this: it aligns quite well with the theory that a Bin Laden “double” was being kept on a short leash in Pakistan whilst both Saudi Arabia and the American foreign policy establishment kept alive the threat of his continuing activity. Then, perhaps–not part of Hersh’s scenario, but perfectly compatible with it–the American and Saudi spooks discover that the fake Bin Laden’s cover is about to be blown in Pakistan, and they decide to preclude it by “executing” their scapegoat. How much does it sound like a re-play of the “execution” of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, and the purported CIA “execution” of Bobby Kennedy by a hypnotized Sirhan Sirhan, who can’t even remember all of what took place in that Los Angeles pantry? I’m perfectly convinced that this is what “intelligence agencies” worldwide regularly do. Someone should go to Pakistan and find out how many ordinary Pakistanis knew that a CIA “patsy” calling himself “Osama Bin Laden” was living in that compound. I’m betting money that it was a large number of people living in the vicinity of Abbottobad (twp hours from the ISI’s headquarters).

    • Avatar Robert Riversong says:

      That imaginative narrative is about as credible or substantive as the “magic bullet” theory.

      The only thing more troubling than people who believe government coverup stories are those who need to invent conspiracies where there are none.

    • Avatar Libertymike says:


      What has caused more death, destruction, and loss of liberty?

      A free society can better suffer those who are always suspicious of government spooks and their masters than those who believe anything their rulers tell them.

    • Avatar Robert Riversong says:

      A free and functioning society cannot tolerate either unfounded suspicion (a la the Bundy boys) or unthinking gullibility.

      There is a middle ground to all but those who choose extremism.