Are the recent revelations by Seymour Hersh the final truth about Osama Bin Laden’s death or just another layer of fog and confusion in the already over-contested, under-documented and bewildering question of post-911 OBL and “his” organisation, Al Qaeda?
It’s timely to remember that Bin Laden’s ill-health and subsequent death from kidney failure was widely reported back in 2001/2. Let’s revisit some of those news articles.
Let’s begin with the Guardian, 1 November 2001, when it reported,in an article entitled “CIA agent alleged to have met Bin laden in July”:
Bin Laden has often been reported to be in poor health. Some accounts claim that he is suffering from Hepatitis C, and can expect to live for only two more years.
According to Le Figaro, last year he ordered a mobile dialysis machine to be delivered to his base at Kandahar in Afghanistan
It’s fortunate Osama’s Afghan cave was allegedly tricked out like SPECTRE’s volcano hideout, or he’d have had a pretty poor chance of running a dialysis machine there. Or then again, maybe it wasn’t and he couldn’t, because by late 2001 rumours were flying about his demise. On December 26 2001, Fox News claimed:
Usama bin Laden has died a peaceful death due to an untreated lung complication, the Pakistan Observer reported, citing a Taliban leader who allegedly attended the funeral of the Al Qaeda leader.
“The Coalition troops are engaged in a mad search operation but they would never be able to fulfill their cherished goal of getting Usama alive or dead,” the source said.
And in January 2002, CNN also chimed in, quoting no less an authority than the President of Pakistan:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Pakistan’s president says he thinks Osama bin Laden is most likely dead because the suspected terrorist has been unable to get treatment for his kidney disease.
“I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a … kidney patient,” Gen. Pervez Musharraf said on Friday in an interview with CNN.
At around the same time the Egyptian newspaper al-Ward allegedly published a funeral oration for Bin Laden, an English translation of which appeared on Global Research in 2013:
al-Wafd, Wednesday, December 26, 2001 Vol 15 No 4633
News of Bin Laden’s Death and Funeral 10 days ago
Islamabad – A prominent official in the Afghan Taleban movement announced yesterday the death of Osama bin Laden, the chief of al-Qa’da organization, stating that binLaden suffered serious complications in the lungs and died a natural and quiet death.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated to The Observer of Pakistan that he had himself attended the funeral of bin Laden and saw his face prior to burial in Tora Bora 10 days ago. He mentioned that 30 of al-Qa’da fighters attended the burial as well as members of his family and some friends from the Taleban.
In the farewell ceremony to his final rest guns were fired in the air. The official stated that it is difficult to pinpoint the burial location of bin Laden because according to the Wahhabi tradition no mark is left by the grave. He stressed that it is unlikely that the American forces would ever uncover any traces of bin Laden.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Bin Laden would need help if on dialysis
Speculation about the whereabouts and health of Osama bin Laden picked up over the weekend when Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said he thought bin Laden had likely died of kidney failure.
CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke Monday with CNN’s Paula Zahn about bin Laden’s appearance in recently released videotapes and the possibility that the accused terrorist leader was undergoing kidney treatment.
ZAHN: For a point of reference, I’d like for you to analyze pictures of Osama bin Laden that apparently were taken prior to September 11. Describe to us the color and the tone of his skin, and then I want you to contrast that with pictures we know to have been taken much later.
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.
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 in the rest of the videotape, he does move his right side a little bit more than he does his left. So those are some of the things that are sort of “of note” here in this more recent videotape.
ZAHN: I think we need to remind the viewers once again that the president of Pakistan talked about [bin Laden] importing two dialysis machines into Afghanistan. Of course, no one other than the president of Pakistan right now is confirming that [bin Laden] in fact needed dialysis.
GUPTA: That’s right. 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.
ZAHN: If he had all these things you’re talking about to keep the dialysis machine running, how much help does he need around him to administer the treatment?
GUPTA: You certainly need someone who really knows how to run that dialysis machine. You have to have someone who’s actually assessing his blood, Osama bin Laden’s blood, to see what particular dialysate he would need, and to be able to change his dialysate as needed. So you’d need a kidney specialist, a technician — quite a few people around him.
The World Tribune ran the following, October 2002:
Israeli intelligence: Bin Laden is dead, heir has been chosen
TEL AVIV – Osama Bin Laden appears to be dead but his colleagues have decided that Al Qaida and its insurgency campaign against the United States will continue, Israeli intelligence sources said.
Al Qaida terrorists have launched a new campaign of economic warfare and are targeting shipping in the Middle East, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The Israeli sources said Israel and the United States assess that Bin Laden probably died in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in December. They said the emergence of new messages by Bin Laden are probably fabrications, Middle East Newsline reported.
The sources said Al Qaida has already determined Bin Laden’s heir. They said the heir has not been identified, but is probably not Bin Laden’s son, Saad. Saad is said to be in his 20s and ranked within the top 20 members of Al Qaida.
Earlier this week, Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, was said to have released a videotape in which he claims that the Al Qaida leader is alive and functioning. Bin Laden’s voice was not heard on the tape….
So, in 2002 there was a growing conviction in many quarters that OBL was dead – though exactly how he had died was apparently open to free interpretation. Possibly lung disease or failing kidneys, possibly killed by US military action. But dead either way. The claim was made again, in 2007, by Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Interviewed by David Frost just seven weeks before her assassination, she claimed in a throwaway but completely unambiguous remark that OBL had been “murdered” some years earlier.
In fact by 2009, the idea that OBL had died in the early 2000s had become so mainstream it was even reported in the UK Daily Mail, which, on September 11 2009 quoted two US academics on their own doubts about the continued survival of Osama:
The theory first received an airing in the American Spectator magazine earlier this year when former U.S. foreign intelligence officer and senior editor Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, stated bluntly: ‘All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.’
Prof Codevilla pointed to inconsistencies in the videos and claimed there have been no reputable sightings of Bin Laden for years (for instance, all interceptions by the West of communications made by the Al Qaeda leader suddenly ceased in late 2001).
Prof Codevilla asserted: ‘The video and audio tapes alleged to be Osama’s never convince the impartial observer,’ he asserted. ‘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 the colours and styles of his beard are small stuff.’
There are other doubters, too. Professor Bruce Lawrence, head of Duke University’s religious studies’ department and the foremost Bin Laden expert, argues that the increasingly secular language in the video and audio tapes of Osama (his earliest ones are littered with references to God and the Prophet Mohammed) are inconsistent with his strict Islamic religion, Wahhabism.
He notes that, on one video, Bin Laden wears golden rings on his fingers, an adornment banned among Wahhabi followers.
You could almost say that, prior to the alleged killing in 2011, the majority, or at any rate a large minority, of public opinion was entertaining the possibility that Osama Bin Laden was well dead and his alleged videos were all fakes. Understandably so, given some of the “Osamas” on offer, at least one of which was quite blatantly not the real deal.
This suspicion was only wiped away once and for all with the hugely publicised killing of OBL by US Navy Seals in an operation straight out of a Rambo movie. The resulting hysteria (not all of it appropriate or attractive) in press and population effectively put an end to any speculation about how and when the real Osama really died. It’s now widely accepted that he died on 2 May 2011, at the hands of US operatives, who subsequently dropped his body in the sea. With some unseemly haste the movie Zero Dark Thirty gave the story the Hollywood stamp of Official Truth.
But still the anomalies do remain. What was Benazir talking about just weeks before her death in 2007? Were the Israeli Intelligence reports just wrong? And if OBL was really alive and kicking, why was Al Qaeda fielding hopeless “lookalikes” in some of their videos?
Is it remotely possible, even after all the hoopla and celebration, that Osama Bin Laden did die of kidney failure/lung disease/US military action/murder in 2001-2? And all the rest was simply a perfect storm of convenience, confusion and narratives taking on lives of their own?
And let’s not forget the “conspiracy theorists” and their views on OBL as government patsy. This is a good moment to recall some of that also. This video by James Corbett is a cogent and coherent assessment of that POV: