A Criminologist Questions the Bin Laden Episode

Just last month (February 11),  Esquire magazine published a lengthy article by Phil Bronstein purporting to supply the definitive "insider" account of what transpired in connection with the May 1, 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Bronstein's account is supposedly predicated on testimony from the very Seal Team 6  member (referred to as the "Shooter" by Bronstein) who terminated OBL, and includes what are in many instances highly detailed descriptions of the termination itself as well as surrounding events.

Comes now (March 27, to be exact) Peter Bergen, CNN's National Security Analyst, with an article provocatively entitled "Who Really Killed Bin Laden"?

In the Bergen article, we find the following language:

Now, another member of the secretive SEAL Team 6, which executed the bin Laden raid, tells CNN the story of the Shooter as presented in Esquire is false. According to this serving SEAL Team 6 operator, the story is "complete B-S."

Essentially, the Bergen article disputes Bronstein's relayed account of just how, just when, and in just what circumstances Bin Laden was shot.

That Bergen's SEAL Team 6 operator was motivated to label the account in Bronstein's article "B-S" suggests, at a minimum, that they think important inaccuracies need to be corrected, which in turn implies that we cannot consider both accounts true.

A third Navy Seal source, Matt Bissonnette, has come forward with yet another version of the raid.

So what did happen?

Perhaps we do not know; perhaps we cannot be sure.  How can we be if two descriptions that we are to suppose are inside accounts offer very different descriptions of what happened?

In such an environment, perhaps it is best to look at what we can believe with some confidence. 

Soon after the raid, successive Obama administration renditions of the event were sufficiently contradictory that even the leftist London Guardian was motivated to acknowledge the inconsistencies.

Was Bin Laden armed, or wasn't he?  Did he resist, or didn't he?  Did he use women as shields, or didn't he?  Was the compound luxurious, or not?

The Obama administration said different things at different times in regard to these issues, which the London Guardian (and almost every other MSM outlet) attributed to the "fog of war."

There should be little doubt that on-the-ground information can get scrambled in tumultuous conditions, and when you conjoin tumultuous conditions with the relay of information from recipient to recipient, the kind of confusion about certain details that Jay Carney expressed in the linked Daily Caller article can arise.

However, there is one detail about the raid the uncertainty about which seems difficult to attribute to the fog of war.    

At the bottom of the above-linked Guardian article, we have current CIA Director Mr. John Brennan stating:

We were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation from its commencement to its time on target to the extraction of the remains and to then the egress off of the target... we were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation. I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there, but it was - it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis.

It didn't take long for then CIA Director (and Clintonite) Leon Panetta to contradict this by stating:

CIA director Leon Panetta told PBS on Tuesday: "Once those teams went into the compound, I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on."

Who is telling the truth? 

Once again, how can we be sure?  No matter who is telling the truth, though, how can the "fog of war" explanation of confusion about facts on the ground account for whether (whatever the facts were), they were observed as they unfolded by the people who said they so observed them?

Now consider the following article right here at American Thinker by Mara Zebest.

Zebest provides good reasons for thinking that the famous Situation Room photo -- which we are to believe depicts Mr. Obama and others (including Mr. Brennan) observing the Bin Laden raid as it unfolded -- was photoshopped.

If Ms. Zebrest is correct and the Situation Room photo was photoshopped, then the Administration was lying insofar as the photo did not depict what it purported to depict.

When you look at the inconsistencies about the raid that flowed from the Administration (including the Brennan-Panetta contradiction), at the Seal Team 6 disparate accounts, at Zebrest's analysis, and much else besides (some of which follows) we might ask: if lies may have been told about certain aspects of the raid, what other lies may have been told in connection with the event?

In this regard, it is most interesting to reflect back on what Peter Bergen -- the same Peter Bergen who authored the above cited article "Who Really Killed Bin Laden" -- said of Bin Laden back in  February, 2002.  In an interview with Paula Zahn that inquired about a recently released Bin Laden tape, Bergen -- who had previously interviewed Bin Laden -- and CNN remarked:  

CNN: The last interview you did with bin Laden was back in 1997. How different was the Osama bin Laden we saw in this tape, the interview taped late in October of 2001?

BERGEN: He's actually quite similar. I mean, in terms of his demeanor and his voice -- these kinds of things are quite similar. The big difference is that he's aged enormously between '97 and October of last year.

This is a man who was clearly not well. I mean, as you see from these pictures here, he's really, by December he's looking pretty terrible. But by December, of course, that tape that was aired then, he's barely moving the left side of his body. So he's clearly got diabetes. He has low blood pressure. He's got a wound in his foot. He's apparently got dialysis ... for kidney problems.

I mean, this is a man who has a number of health problems, apart from the fact that anybody running around the Afghan mountains is not going to be in great shape.

CNN: And, of course, the question that people continue to debate is not only is he not well, is he still alive today? Peter Bergen, thank you very much for coming along to share your insights with us this morning.

The key references are to Bin Laden's health, and, according to Bergen, Bin Laden's enormous aging.

A little less than two weeks before the Bergen interview, we find that a most curious interview with CNN's earnest Dr. Sanjay Gupta took place in which Gupta remarked:

GUPTA: You can look [at pictures from a December 2001 video] and notice that he has what some doctors refer to as sort of a frosting over of his features -- his sort of grayness of beard, his paleness of skin, very gaunt sort of features. A lot of times people associate this with chronic illness. Doctors can certainly look at that and determine some clinical features.

But even more than that, it's sometimes possible to differentiate the specific type of disease or illness that he may be suffering from. The sort of frosting of the appearance is something that people a lot of times associate with chronic kidney failure, renal failure, certainly someone who is requiring dialysis would have that.

Gupta went on to say:

He's also not moving his arms. I looked at this tape all the way through its entire length. He never moved his left arm at all. The reason that might be important is because people who have had a stroke -- and certainly people are at increased risk of stroke if they also have kidney failure -- he may have had a stroke and therefore is not moving his left side.

And, finally:

And again, renal dialysis -- talking about hemodialysis -- is something that really is reserved for patients in end-stage renal failure. That means their kidneys have just completely shut down.

The most common cause of something like that would be something like diabetes and hypertension. Once that's happened, if you're separated from your dialysis machine -- and incidentally, dialysis machines require electricity, they're going to require clean water, they're going to require a sterile setting -- infection is a huge risk with that. If you don't have all those things and a functioning dialysis machine, it's unlikely that you'd survive beyond several days or a week at the most.

Maybe Bin Laden had, while on the run from cave to cave, access to the various prerequisites for survival with such a condition, but maybe not.  Or, maybe Gupta was just wrong.

However, it's not so easy to see how Bin Laden had his left arm working again some 10 years later, which is what this Administration released video (#2) would have us believe (see, for example, around the 2:35 mark).

Or, perhaps Gupta was wrong about that too?


But, CNN was hardly the only organization questioning whether Bin Laden was still breathing air in 2002.

In the interests of brevity, here are two other examples (motivated readers will have no trouble locating many others).

Israeli intelligence stated in October 2002 that Bin Laden "appears to be dead."

And, an intellect no less keen and informed than Angelo Codevilla stated in 2009 (in an article entitled Osama bin Elvis) that:

Negative evidence alone compels the conclusion that Osama is long since dead. Since October 2001, when Al Jazeera's Tayseer Alouni interviewed him, no reputable person reports having seen him-not even after multiple-blind journeys through intermediaries. The audio and video tapes alleged to be Osama's never convinced impartial observers. The guy just does not look like Osama. Some videos show him with a Semitic aquiline nose, while others show him with a shorter, broader one. Next to that, differences between colors and styles of beard are small stuff.

Nor does the tapes' Osama sound like Osama. In 2007 Switzerland's Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compared the voices on 15 undisputed recordings of Osama with the voices on 15 subsequent ones attributed to Osama, to which they added two by native Arab speakers who had trained to imitate him and were reading his writings. All of the purported Osama recordings (with one falling into a gray area) differed clearly from one another as well as from the genuine ones. By contrast, the CIA found all the recordings authentic. It is hard to imagine what methodology might support this conclusion.

Also in 2007, Professor Bruce Lawrence, who heads Duke University's religious studies program, argued in a book on Osama's messages that their increasingly secular language is inconsistent with Osama's Wahhabism. Lawrence noted as well that the Osama figure in the December 2001 video, which many have taken as his assumption of responsibility for 9/11, wears golden rings -- decidedly un-Wahhabi. He also writes with the wrong hand. Lawrence concluded that the messages are fakes, and not very good ones. The CIA has judged them all good.

In connection with what Codevilla has to say regarding "negative evidence", we might ask: so what positive evidence do we have that Bin Laden died when the Obama administration says he did? 

The administration says it dumped the body of the world's most wanted terrorist in the ocean virtually as soon as it got it.

Photographs were not released to the general public, and were made available to select members of Congress only under highly controlled conditions.

What we have in terms of positive evidence is a plethora of inconsistencies, conflicting accounts, suspect portrayals, and the expectation that a free people should just trust government. 

Finally, we might reflect as follows.  Whatever else might or might not be true, we have two experts (Codevilla and Lawrence) doubting the authenticity of certain Bin Laden audio and video transmissions.

If even one of the transmissions was inauthentic, wouldn't Bin Laden have been motivated to denounce the fraudulent transmission, since failure to do so would present the risk that information released under his name in the future would not fit what he wanted?  Did such a "denouncing" video (or audio) ever emerge?

In sum, Bin Laden may or may not have died on May 1, 2011.  However that may be, there is no reason to believe he is alive now. 

Regardless, free people ask questions of government, especially when the MSM refuses to do so.

Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof2010@hotmail.com.