By Rajeev Sharma
Two new books have been published in the United States on the killing of al Qaida founder chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. The books’ launch coincided with the 9/11 anniversary and have already ignited politics in the US as well as Pakistan.
While one book throws barbs at US President Barack Obama and hints at US-Pakistan collusion in the killing of Osama, another one gives graphic eyewitness account from a marine who was involved in the operation to kill Osama. In fact, Osama’s ghost is set to impact both Pakistan and the US in a major way. The stakes for the Americans are even higher as the presidential elections there are just less than two months away and President Obama would be pitching Osama as an election issue and would be hoping to see his Operation Osama as a major swing factor.
Obama will be riding the ghost of Osama to ensure his re-election in the November 2 US presidential election. But things may not play out in a hunky dory fashion that the world’s most powerful leader may be hoping for. The two books that give hitherto unknown account of Osama’s killing may hold the key as these may have something for both Obama as well as his Republican rival Mitt Romney. In fact, a war of words has already taken place between the Democrats and the Republicans over the two Osama books.
The second book, ‘Leading from Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him’, authored by noted American journalist Richard Miniter, is even more explosive in its contents. The book hit the stands on August 21 and is likely to figure prominently in the US presidential campaign in the weeks to come. It is sure to open up a can of worms for the American as well as the Pakistani leadership.
Miniter has exploded the myth of Obama as a decisive leader who overruled his indecisive officials over the issue of manhunt for Osama and has projected Obama as a doubting Thomas. The author has contended that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a major role in tracking down and eventual elimination of Osama, while Obama was “studiously undecided” about the entire operation. Minister has also said that Obama has been in the awe of three dominant women – Clinton, his wife Michelle and top adviser Valerie Jarret.
Sample the following quote from Miniter’s book which is highly damaging for Obama’s re-election bid: “Obama was often disengaged as the bin Laden operation took shape; he left critical decisions to the then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, then-Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama feared taking responsibility for a risky raid that might go tragically wrong.”
As for Jarret, the author says that Hillary Clinton was quite upset about her meddling in vital affairs of the nation like the Osama hunt. This is what Miniter has to say: “Jarrett opposed the idea. She worried about a backlash against the president if the operation failed, or even if it succeeded. Clinton privately fumed about Jarrett’s relentless presence and her injection of political considerations at every turn. Throughout 2009 Obama demanded more and more certainty about U.S. intelligence concerning bin Laden. Jarrett repeatedly reminded Obama and other executive-branch officials that the president had campaigned on the ‘intelligence failures’ of the Bush years. There was no need, she said, to hand our political rivals a set of intelligence failures of our own.”
On the security side, one of the stunning claims made by Miniter in his book is that a Colonel of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was an important cog in the wheel in Operation Osama who gave the Americans a vital lead regarding Osama’s whereabouts in Pakistan. Here is a relevant quote from the book: “A colonel in Pakistan’s feared intelligence service, the ISI, provided vital help in locating Bin Laden when he walked into the CIA’s Islamabad station in August 2010.”
Another disclosure made in this book is that Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was briefed by the Americans on its impending Osama operation a good five months in advance. Miniter, who has worked as a reporter in such leading American newspapers as ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and ‘The Washington Post’, has claimed that Kayani may have been briefed in December 2010.
Miniter says: “In a never-before-reported account, Pakistan was more involved in the bin Laden operation than Obama’s team admitted. When the CIA revealed that an ISI colonel had contacted the CIA in Islamabad and offered information about bin Laden, a debate followed.”
The first book under discussion here is ‘No Easy Day: The First-hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden’ which hit the news shelves on September 4. It has been written by a navy Seal under the pseudonym Mark Owen with co-author Kevin Maurer. Owen is a pseudonym and his actual name, as revealed by Fox News, is Matt Bissonnette. He was a member of the US Navy SEAL Team Six that launched the commando operation against Osama.
The author says that Osama’s killing was “just another job” and insists that the world’s most wanted man did not try to fight or hide behind his wives before he was shot, unarmed, while peeking through a doorway. His meticulous narrative of the raid adds new wrinkles to the conventional account. The book is replete with atmospheric details, from the terror of an initial helicopter crash to his cleaning of blood from Osama’s face for identifying photos.
The 336-page book is authentic enough to provoke Pentagon legal threats and indeed it has done so already. Pentagon’s General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson alleged the writer violated secrecy agreements and broke federal law. “In the judgment of the Department of Defence, you are in material breach and violation of the nondisclosure agreements you signed. Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements,” Johnson threatened.
Interestingly, the book was not vetted by government agencies. The idea was that no secrets are revealed. This is rather queer and against the well-known thumb rules for ex defence personnel who choose to write a book after retirement. In fact, in this case it is not known whether the author has retired in the first place.
The publisher’s spokeswoman, however, has said on record that the book was vetted by a former special operations attorney “for tactical, technical, and procedural information as well as information that could be considered classified by compilation and found it to be without risk to national security.” And yet conflicting accounts have appeared from Washington and White House spokesman Tommy Vietor has been quoted as saying thus: “We learned about this book from press reports. We haven’t reviewed it and don’t know what it says.” The Pentagon too has been on a denial mode and said it had neither vetted the book nor provided any information to the author.
Publisher Dutton had originally planned to release 300,000 copies, but after fevered hype, it increased the number to 575,000, Publisher’s Weekly has said.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and strategic analyst who can be reached at [email protected])