Who told them where he was?

Tariq Ali · Bin Laden

A US Special Forces operation in Pakistan has taken out Osama bin Laden and a few others. He was in a safe house close to Kakul Military Academy (Pakistan’s Sandhurst). The only interesting question is who betrayed his whereabouts and why. The leak could only have come from the ISI and, if this is the case, which I’m convinced it is, then General Kayani, the military boss of the country, must have green-lighted the decision. What pressure was put on him will come out sooner or later. The event took me back to a conversation I had a few years ago.

In 2006 on my way back from Lahore I encountered an acquaintance from my youth. Shamefacedly he confessed that he was a senior intelligence officer on his way to a European conference to discuss better ways of combating terrorism. The following conversation (a lengthier version can be found in The Duel: Pakistan on the Flightpath of American Power) ensued:

‘Is OBL still alive?’
He didn’t reply.
‘When you don’t reply,’ I said, ‘I’ll assume the answer is yes.’
I repeated the question. He didn’t reply.
‘Do you know where he is?’
He burst out laughing.
‘I don’t, and even if I did, do you think I’d tell you?’
‘No, but I thought I’d ask anyway. Does anyone else know where he is?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
I insisted: 'Nothing in our wonderful country is ever a secret. Someone must know.'
'Three people know. Possibly four. You can guess who they are.'
I could. ‘And Washington?’
'They don’t want him alive.'
'And your boys can’t kill him?'
'Listen friend, why should we kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?'

Now the Americans have killed the goose themselves. What was the bounty promised and to whom? Would that they also now brought to an end the war and occupation that was supposedly fought to take out Osama and that has already led to civilian casualties that are, at the very least, four times higher than the casualties of Twin Towers. Will they? Like hell they will.


  • 2 May 2011 at 11:33am
    mbastos says:
    Dear Tariq, since I've read your book, I've been almost convinced that OBL location would be in Pakistan. I've voiced this among friends and family, and little seriousness was put on that. I've just reminded to them, this morning, this very episode you again describe. Thank you Tariq Ali! Well done!

  • 2 May 2011 at 12:36pm
    Joe Morison says:
    The US has put out a plausible sounding (to the ignorant like me) story about how they tracked him down (well, they would, wouldn't they?). Why do you dismiss it so confidently?

    • 2 May 2011 at 4:21pm
      I thought the most implausible bit of the above account was "Since 9/11, multiple agencies within our intelligence community have worked tirelessly to track down bin Laden, knowing that his removal from al Qaeda would strike a crippling blow to the organization and its militant allies". His death will make no difference, and they know it.

    • 2 May 2011 at 4:28pm
      None of this is going to matter, either, is it?

      Current Guardian top story :

      "Osama bin Laden dead – but Clinton vows to continue war on al-Qaida"

      Business as usual. What I find bizarre is the sight of Americans celebrating such an empty victory. Trillions wasted, thousands of soldiers dead and maimed, thousands of civilians killed, millions displaced, but, here we are, a moment of purest revenge for the 9/11 attacks, so time to start whooping and waving flags. And within hours, the WH message that it changes precisely nothing.

      Did Kate and Wills wedding give him an extra 72 hours grace?

    • 2 May 2011 at 5:41pm
      Joe Morison says: @ pinhut
      That last thought is both bizarre and plausible: i heard a Beeb reporter saying that unsuitable weather had caused the operation to be delayed for two days. As the whole point of killing Bin Laden was propaganda, and the Wedding was about the only thing that could have kept it off the front pages, it makes a horrible sense.

    • 3 May 2011 at 3:06am
      pinhut says: @ Joe Morison
      "Bizarre and plausible" - best description of Pinhut, ever.

  • 2 May 2011 at 2:28pm
    pinhut says:
    "Buried at sea"!

    Shot in the head. It's Saddam Hussein all over again.

    Torture non-entities in Gitmo for a decade to learn next to nothing, shoot in the head those who know far too much.

  • 2 May 2011 at 2:30pm
    Bob Beck says:
    Of course the story is plausible; and it might even be true, or substantially so. Or it might be too good to be true. Absent some independent information, my money's on the latter. I'm just disinclined to take at face value the word of he US government in something like this, no matter who leads said gov't. Call me old-fashioned, if you will.

    • 2 May 2011 at 4:17pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Bob Beck
      I agree that it would be foolish to take the US government's word for it, but that doubt gives no grounds for believing anything else.

    • 2 May 2011 at 4:39pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Joe Morison
      Fair enough. I believe little of what I hear and -- on a good day -- only around half what I actually see.

      Meanwhile: I didn't think it was possible, but "taken out" manages to be both macho and euphemistic.

    • 2 May 2011 at 5:37pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Bob Beck
      And also a bit weird because one 'takes out' people one is particularly fond of on dates.

  • 2 May 2011 at 7:46pm
    majoka says:
    Pakistanis had no idea whatsoever. Obama was just being gracious. You'd think they'd have moved him away from his 2 acre house in the heart of the most prestigious cantonment, if for no other reason than to avoid (obvious) implication in public.
    Tariq Ali needs to move out of Lahore drawing-room atmosphere and fairy tales of geese laying golden eggs.

  • 3 May 2011 at 12:25am
    gdrys says:
    The euphoria over the death of binLaden is reminiscent of supporters whose football team has won the finals: in the USA there is dancing in the streets, politicians further inflating their own egos and credentials, and the misapprehension that a major victory has been acheived and justice delivered.
    All of which are grossly inaccurate.
    Without binLaden being brought before an independent court or tribunal and his guilt being proved, all that exists to condemn him is USA hyperbole and propaganda, and the unshakeable belief that many have - not just Americans - that this is an immutable truth.
    Make no mistake Bin laden was one nasty specimen - but he was not alone: consecutive USA President's have waged continuous war since 1942, often with the complicity of Australian PMs. The political leaders of my country - Australia - are now celebrating in the death of binLaden, they greet his death with a perverse enthusiasm, to such an extent that the Labor PM - Julia Gillard and her Ministers - have conveniently forgotten their past and declare themselves to be ardent supporters of the US war against Afghanistan.
    War, violence and exploitation only ever reap what they sow.
    The celebratory euphoria surrounding Bin Laden's death is repulsive and shows that many of our politicians & those dancing in US streets are in fact no better than than Bin laden himself: both sides are responsible for the deaths of many thousands of innocents, people with loved ones, people no different than us.

  • 3 May 2011 at 12:26pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    It's the perfect story for the conspiracy experts, but gdrys' final par4agraph is a travesty. A huge generalisation in which the celebrators are placed on the same level as Bin Laden. I was watching Monty Python last night as the news programmes waffled on about the whole process. The search for the Holy Grail is nothing compared to the productions of the past two days.

    • 3 May 2011 at 5:11pm
      pinhut says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Personal experience this week has shown once again that the ugliness of the American spirit crosses all party lines. I've been disowned by supposedly 'good liberals' (one who writes, laughably, it would seem, for HuffPo and Counterpunch). My crime was simply to suggest that dancing in the street, chanting like beasts, is not the most appropriate reaction after a decade of destruction. But there you go.

      Greenwald has a good piece on this.

    • 3 May 2011 at 8:00pm
      Joe Morison says: @ pinhut
      Excellent piece by Greenwald. It reminds me of the US commentator who got into deep shit after 9/11 for suggesting that whatever else the suicide crews had been, they hadn't been cowards.

    • 3 May 2011 at 8:57pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Joe Morison
      Bill Maher that was, if I remember right.

      Did he, or did someone like that, go so far as suggesting that firing cruise missiles from a safe distance was cowardly? (Drones, I think, weren't quite so ubiquitous then as now).

    • 4 May 2011 at 1:16am
      pinhut says: @ Bob Beck
      The heroes are patently always on our side, which is good. When our side has an Abu Graib, that is a few rotten apples, when the other side employs brutality, that is the essential signature of who they are, of their ideology, of their fanaticism.

      I don't 'hate' the US or the Western powers, but I do despise being continually presented with their actions inside this simple exculpatory framework, that serves to always exonerate one side and to demonise the other.

      Love them or loathe them, Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban have waged war for over a decade against the mightiest military force in human history, yet, somehow, this was done without any heroism, and the dedication shown to their cause is never comparable to our own, because they are deranged, insane, medieval, etc, anything but not like us.

      The comparison between two 'drone strikes' hitting the twin towers and the thousands of drone strikes that are slowly racking up a death toll equivalent to 9/11 makes itself, and is an ongoing source of the deepest irony.

    • 4 May 2011 at 12:29pm
      strel99 says: @ pinhut
      The point is, if they ceased to threaten us by the use of terrorism then the drone attacks etc would also cease. This wouldnt happen the other other way round....

    • 4 May 2011 at 4:31pm
      pinhut says: @ strel99
      The drone strikes are targeting people generally referred to as 'militants', not terrorists.

      You need to brush up on your nonsense.

    • 14 May 2011 at 1:15am
      gdrys says: @ Geoff Roberts
      It is no secret that during the 1990s consecutive US administrations – supported by UK and Australian governments – enforced callous and cruel sanctions on the people of Iraq, sanctions that did not have the broad support of the UN, sanctions so insidious that an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children alone died due to the lack of basic medical supplies and equipment. All this was done with the malice of ‘democratically’ elected governments. Whilst not a war in conventional terms these sanctions were nonetheless just as violent. These sanctions came with imprimatur of the citizens of these countries who for over a decade continued to elect governments that actively engineered the deaths of innocents. Whilst debates over definitions and semantics are superfluous, it is difficult to refute this as being an act of terrorism.

      At the same time these very leaders – reputedly our leaders - supplied military training and hardware to the Indonesian government so that this treacherous regime could commit acts of genocide in Aceh, Papua and East Timor, where large proportions of the populations were exterminated. With the hard fought independence of East Timor many in the west congratulated themselves for their often tacit support of the struggles of the Timorese, but oh so conveniently now Papuans and Achinese have been largely abandoned, and our leaders continue to provide Indonesia with the prerequisites and legitimacy it needs for continuing its slaughter. For fifty years now Papuans been at war with an occupying force that has been supplied by the governments of Australia, the UK and USA, a fine example of our taxes at work accompanied by only minimal societal outcry and complaint. Whilst the line between those who commit acts of atrocity and those who finance it may be apparent to those of us in the west, I suspect that the victims deem it to be otherwise.

      Unless one is to completely abandon the notion that we the electorate are to totally ignore and abandon the concept of “consent of the governed”, which happens to be one of the fundamental principles of modern ‘democracies’, then the citizenry of the USA, the UK & Australia cannot exempt themselves from the responsibility that comes with the inhuman behaviour of some of our leaders. Whatever complaints and criticisms may be leveled against the variations of democracy as promoted in the aforementioned countries, all three leaders cannot operate without public approval, even the threat of being defeated at an election presumes that the electorate is not without minimal responsibility in the governance and policy of its leaders.

      In the months leading up to the Iraq war, opinion polls in Australia regularly indicated that 80-90% of the population preferred peace, in the days leading up to the war over 1 million hit the streets hoping that [then] PM Howard would withdraw support from the coalition of the willing. He valued compliant loyalty to Bush above the opinion of the nation. Regretfully, when war commenced, the protests ceased, all the angriest amongst us could manage was a letter to our regional liberal newspaper. Eventually, the ultimate seal of approval was granted when in all three countries the respective leaders were re-elected - they were all re-endorsed as national leaders who preferred an inhuman and illegal war in preference to a peaceful solution.

      By re-electing these warmongers, and worse still by not being far more assertive in demanding that our leaders conform to the will of the people and behave morally, we ensured that our consent remained intact, and so Bush jnr, Blair & Howard remained content that there was never any consideration by their respective publics that consent would ever be withdrawn.

      So how unreasonable is it that we in western democracies – who are too damned lazy to revoke our consent - be likened with those who advocate and initiate terrorism? Whilst it may be stretching it to assign responsibility at an individual level, to refute that we - as a collective - are not to bare a sizeable portion of the responsibility for our leaders’ appalling behaviour is a pathetic attempt to deny the conditions we assume when we grant our consent as the governed upon those elected to lead us.

  • 3 May 2011 at 3:23pm
    ecantarow says:
    Terrific post. I wholly agree w the commentator below that the US is now indulging in a self-congratulatory orgy, our press egging on poisonous hypernationalism and ignorance of who financed Bin Laden in first place; the whole history of US imperialism in the region; the fact that the US war against Iraq constituted, under the Nuremberg Charter, "the supreme war crime." There is much more. The US will reap much more hatred and, I'm afraid, will continue to be a terror state. Meanwhile, our society is crumbling; joblessness soars; corporate tyranny descends.

  • 4 May 2011 at 1:42am
    lostlit says:
    None of you know or will ever know exactly how it worked but it won't stop your egos from pretending, your minds from obsessively constructing the conspiracy.

    Will Tariq Ali not place a book plug in a post about a very sensitive, serious subject? Like hell he won't.

  • 4 May 2011 at 8:36am
    gringo_gus says:
    I am on the side of the multicultural cosmopolitans, old young black white african europeans rich poor men women sat next to each other on 7/7, who, for that very status were dismembered by Bin Laden followers on the London tube.

    Most of the postings on this thread are the exact inverse of Bush's with us/against us. I am glad the f***er is dead.

  • 4 May 2011 at 5:34pm
    Rory says:
    Wow...Unbelievable. Classic stuff Guys and Gals. It reminds me of Granta's shamefull reaction pieces to 9/11 itself and the subsequent bancruptcy of the Guardinista narrative.

    Can you really not understand why ordinary people feel a sense of release.......and, dare i say,,,,closure... and want to celebrate the death of a monster ???

    Metropolitan life must be so lonely

    • 5 May 2011 at 2:32am
      pinhut says: @ Rory
      Where are these bizarre people coming from?

      Well done on speaking for 'ordinary' people, who magically support your argument against those 'metropolitan' straw men that roam your imagination.

      I hope you supported those in the Middle East who found closure on 9/11 and danced in the streets to celebrate not the death of a monster, but it being given a sucker punch (x 2). If it was ordinary people doing it, well, then it must be right, right?

  • 5 May 2011 at 4:26am
    Bob Beck says:
    I'm about as ordinary as they come, me, and yet I find the celebration of violent death, and of revenge, sickening -- whatever "closure" it may supposedly bring. (Wonder how long that feeling of "closure" will last, anyway? What happens when it goes away?).

    I thought the point of civilization was that it was supposed to channel and control, or even supersede, these atavistic impulses?

    Blimey. I guess that makes me... metropolitan. Now what do I do? Being at once ordinary and metropolitan is going to be confusing.

    Perhaps I'll have to apply my intellect, such as it is, instead of whooping and hollering and slavering.

    Nah... sounds like too much work.

    "Yew -- Ess -- Eh! Yew -- Ess -- Eh!..."

  • 9 May 2011 at 6:46pm
    gringo_gus says:
    Of course, those of us in the UK are happy for this country to be represented by the chanting of "no surrender to the IRA" at football grounds, and various other nauseating things ? How about the EDL and the Daily Mail then ? But a few thousand American frat-boys-and-girls and Fox News is an "orgy", right ?

    In response to those Bob Beck's question about what to do about being metropolitan - well, one thing we metros have to do is be a lot more careful. For, because we are metropolitan, Bin Laden's followers want to kill us. It is warmaking on behalf of fascist ideology, not some anti-imperial people's struggle.

    And, for this, Bin Laden is the object of this thread's fine line moralizing. Didn't happen for Raoul Moate, funny that.

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