When Seymour Hersh published his 10,000-word article challenging the US government's version of Bin Laden's death in the London Review of Books in May, the White House and commentators queued up to rebut his claims. The Bin Laden Conspiracy? proved to be an unimaginative primer of that debate rather than any cat-among-the-pigeons stuff.
Presenter Jane Corbin, a BBC stalwart and al-Qaeda specialist, attempted balance but was thwarted by lack of footage and sources. This is not the place to go into the intricacies of the theory but essentially, Hersh claims that the 2011 killing of the al-Qaeda leader was a joint effort between the Pakistani and American intelligence agencies rather than a covert US-led operation. Hersh, as we were reminded, has form embarrassing the US government (he won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the cover-up of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and he later reported on the torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq).
He appeared unassuming-looking in a spartan office piled high with files, belying the bull within. Anyone accepting of the government's version of events was living in "Lewis Carroll land," he barked.
We had Mike Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA giving his account and a couple of people who backed up parts of Hersh's story but this programme was more characterised by absence. There was no sign of the "retired senior intelligence official", Hersh's most vital source; none of the Navy Seals on the operation contributed; the compound in Abbottabad that housed Bin Laden has been destroyed; no pictorial evidence of his body was ever released. Instead we got old news reports, oft-used Obama's bunker snaps and elderly footage of Corbin in Abbottabad and Tora Bora. New material consisted mostly of night footage and dimly lit reconstructed scenes, including Bin Laden in a Stetson (one of his key disguises, brilliantly).
We were left having learnt pretty much nothing. Thank goodness Morrell was there to clarify things: "100 per cent of the story that is out there is true but not 100 per cent of the story is out there."Reuse content