Bin Laden's Death and the Fairy Tale of the War on Terror
Recent revelations have challenged the official version of Bin Laden’s death, but the real cover-up concerns the motivations behind the War on Terror.
By Peter Bloom /

The pioneering investigative reporter Seymour Hersh shook the political world recently with a story alleging that the killing of Osama Bin Laden was a cover-up by the US government and Pakistan. Among his most startling claims is that the US and Pakistan collaborated on this mission; a deal that was later betrayed by President Obama’s public announcement of the death as a US-led raid.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration has flatly denied these allegations,referring to the charges as completely “baseless.” White House national security spokesman Ned Price publicly dismissed the claims, stating “There are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece to fact-check each one.”

In a spirited response, Hersh stood by his “alternative history of the War on Terror.” By contrast, he accuses the official versions of the events as beingriddled with “lies” and describes them as comparable to a children’s “fairy tale.”

Many in the media have gone on record substantially challenging Hersh’s reporting. Echoing the CIA’s own rejection of the story as “utter nonsense,” a CNN analyst and author of a book about the raid called the report a “farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.”

In a more personal attack, Max Fisher at Vox declared that this, “sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”

These criticisms miss the bigger picture. The furor over how Bin Laden was killed — whether the administration’s account is true or not — means little in the face of the broader “fairy tale” and cover-up that is the War on Terror itself.

The Fantasy of Terror

According to the official story, Bin Laden died in a US-planned and US-led navy seal raid in his secret compound hide-out located in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Citing the administration’s national security spokesman again:

As we said at the time, knowledge of this operation was confined to a very small circle of senior US officials. The president decided early on not to inform any other government, including the Pakistani government, which was not notified until after the raid had occurred. We had been and continue to be partners with Pakistan in our joint effort to destroy Al Qaeda, but this was a US operation through and through.

Hersh, by contrast, alleges, among other things, that Pakistan was holding Bin Laden for “leverage,” that the US gained knowledge of his whereabouts from a secret Pakistani reporter, and that they put serious pressure on the Pakistani military to cooperate with them in secretly assassinating the Al Qaeda leader.

There is a growing chorus of support for some of Hersh’s claims. Carlotta Gallnoted in the New York Times that “the detail in the Seymour Hersh story that rings true” is that the US may have been tipped off by an inside source. Even NBC News reported that intelligence sources had confirmed that “a ‘walk in’ asset from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where the most wanted man in the world was hiding — and these two sources plus a third say that the Pakistani government knew where Bin Laden was hiding all along.” The UK paper The Independent more recently passed on that Pakistan is in fact set to publicly “out” who this source is.

Yet the way Bin Laden died is only half the story. After the announcement of his extra-juridical murder there were celebrations across the US, such as the spontaneous celebration by thousands in New York, where people jubilantly waved the US flag, chanting “USA, USA.” Obama proclaimed in a similarly celebratory tone:

For over two decades, Bin Laden has been Al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of Bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.

This is the real “fairy tale” of the War on Terror: the idea that all we need to do to save the world is to kill all the evil terrorist villains and their henchmen — like a real-life American action movie where the good guys have finally won. This promised Hollywood ending ignores why the war started in the first place, and how we can prevent an even more deadly sequel in the future.

The Global Cover-Up

The effort to catch Bin Laden reflected a Hollywood-type political narrative where all that was needed to save the world was to “get the bad guys.” In the process, it covered up the deeper historical and structural problems of colonialism and global inequality at the heart of this conflict.

The War on Terror is built on a legacy of past imperialism that still scars the Middle East and Asia today. Beginning in the late 18th century, Western powers had almost completely colonized the region for its resources and their own political advantage. “By the early twentieth century,” Bernard Lewis writes in theNew Yorker, “almost the entire Muslim world had been incorporated into the four European empires of Britain, France, Russia, and the Netherlands.”

In the 21st century, this European imperialism has given way to the efforts of the US and its Western allies to assert their regional interests through political manipulation, dictatorial client states and at times outright invasion.

These policies of imperialism are being extended into the present era, in which the US exerts its hegemony in competition with other global powers. Indeed, the US famously helped “create” Al Qaeda by supporting and arming it as a paramilitary organization that could defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. This strategy is in line with ongoing attempts to support compliant and elite client states in the region.

Even the Obama administration has admitted that underlying factors of poverty, rather than simply blind fanaticism and irrational hatred toward the West, were the major drivers of terrorism. The Secretary of State observed in 2013 that “getting this [the fight against terrorism] right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment.” Echoing these sentiments two years later, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declared:

We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium- to longer-term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, whether it’s a lack of opportunity for jobs, whether we can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.

Extremism is driven by the political and material inequality and underdevelopment that characterize both present-day imperialism and corporate globalization. Religious fundamentalism has been mobilized as a powerful identity to counter the sense of powerlessness experienced by many who are trapped in circumstances of poverty, domestic oppression and foreign exploitation. The public campaign to “kill terrorists” should therefore be seen as part of a much wider campaign to “cover up” the real roots of this violence.

The Terrorist “Fairy Tale”

Nevertheless, the War on Terror remains an affective and effective story for mobilizing popular opinion on both sides of the conflict. “International terrorism is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians,” notes the provocative British author and commentator Adam Curtis. “It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media.”

Politically, Western governments have used this crusade against terrorists to justify disastrous military invasions as well as human rights abuses both at home and abroad. It also masks the massive financial windfall that these invasions have provided for certain Western elites.

Meanwhile, foreign governments and fundamentalist organizations alike have used this discourse to their own political and economic advantage. The framing of the War on Terror as a global struggle has “caused even local terror attacks to be perceived as part of the broader struggle.” Just as troubling is that these global networks are increasingly transforming into attempts to establish a permanent “Islamic State” in the political vacuum left behind by the US invasion of Iraq.

Further, it should be noted that the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the relative taming of Al Qaeda as political and military force has not brought this war to an end. Instead of closing credits, there are new “enemies” like ISIS that must be destroyed. The fight against terror has gone from a blockbuster to a profitable franchise series that is paid for in both blood and gold.

The real conspiracy is that there is no conspiracy. It is the transparent truth that the West and its elite allies would rather perpetuate a fantasy of terrorism than allow its economic and political hegemony to be substantially challenged. The US and its supporters believe that they can torture, invade, assassinate, repress and manipulate this terrorist problem into oblivion; that all it needs to do is kill and ban enough extremist villains and its prosperity (not to mention its continued global domination) will be assured.

What is required now is a new story of hope and radicalism — one based not on hollow action-packed morality tales, where the superpower is the superhero, but one that instead looks truthfully at what lies behind this destruction in order to implement radical changes for the ends of shared economic prosperity and real political freedom. What we need is a narrative in which the driver of this progress is not a crusading imperialist nation hellbent on “righteous” revenge, but democratic and social justice movements uniting together to change the world from the bottom up.

No matter how Bin Laden died, the War on Terror tragically remains the real “fairy tale.”

Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. He writes on issues of ideology, power and politics within contemporary capitalism and is currently completing a manuscript entitled ‘Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization’.

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Bin Laden's Death and the Fairy Tale of the War on Terror