Hersh’s Big Story: Is It Real & Does It Matter?

So the big takedown of Sy Hersh’s story on the assassination of Osama bin Laden is from Max Fisher of Vox, who goes after the thin sourcing of the story:

The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

But here’s Hersh’s story:

The truth, Hersh says, is that Pakistani intelligence services captured bin Laden in 2006 and kept him locked up with support from Saudi Arabia, using him as leverage against al-Qaeda. In 2010, Pakistan agreed to sell bin Laden to the US for increased military aid and a “freer hand in Afghanistan.” Rather than kill him or hand him over discreetly, Hersh says the Pakistanis insisted on staging an elaborate American “raid” with Pakistani support.

Fisher proceeds with a deconstruction of Hersh’s claims, and then goes into an unfriendly review of the great journalist’s previous descents into conspiracy theory.

You can take Fisher’s account–and for that matter Hersh’s–with the requisite pinch of salt. But I’d add a rather pertinent question: does it really matter? Nothing in the Hersh story denies that the U.S. killed Osama in Pakistan. It’s all about the runup and aftermath. And while you’d like to think the President of the United States always tells us the truth, sometimes the details really are classified. This particular event is important enough that we need to know. But “the truth” may not reinforce the views of Obama’s critics.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.