Veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh on Monday vehemently defended his weekend exposé
that claims the official story behind the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was inaccurate, while others said they do not believe what the Pulitzer Prize-winner reported.
"I've been around a long time. I'm long-of-tooth in this business, and I understand the consequences of what I'm saying," Hersh told CNN's Chris Cuomo on the network's "New Day" program, answering to Cuomo's contention that Hersh had reported much of his story based on one unnamed source.
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"The story says clearly that I was able to vet and verify information with others in the community," said Hersh. "It's very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively."
In his 10,000-word article,
printed in the The London Review of Books, Hersh asserts that bin Laden was captured after an informant, who collected most of a $25 million reward, turned the al-Qaida mastermind in to the CIA. Further, Hersh's article says the Pakistan government had been holding bin Laden at Abbottabad and had full knowledge of the raid.
He also calls bin Laden's death an assassination, going against the official White House accounting that says the terrorist leader was killed in a firefight.
"The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance," Hersh wrote. "This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account."
The White House has not responded to Hersh's story, but former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CBS "This Morning" host Charlie Rose
on Monday that the story was "all wrong."
"I started reading the article last night," he told Rose. "I got a third of the way through and I stopped, because every sentence I was reading was wrong. The source that Hersh talked to has no idea what he's talking about."
Morell also said that the Pakistani government did not know about the operation and "were furious with us" over going ahead without letting them know.
"The president sent me to Pakistan after the raid to try to start smoothing things over," he told Rose.
But Hersh told Cuomo that the motive for the inaccuracies are "very simple," as the United States had had the reward out since 2002, and "some guy walks in, basically involved in the protection of bin Laden on behalf of the Pakistani intelligence service."
Hersh said that the alternative to believing the informant was to believe "a Lewis Carroll fairy tale, that bin Laden, the most hunted man since 2002, decided the one safe place to live is in a compound 40 miles from the main capital of Pakistan."
But, he added, the death of bin Laden "was an assassination from the get-go, despite what the White House says. They had to kill him."
Cuomo argued: "On the SEAL side, you have they were training for a raid that you say they didn't need to do. Why were they training so hard? You have it in Utah, but it was supposedly in Nevada, then you have the SEALs telling such a different account."
Cuomo then turned the tables on Hersh, pointing out that not all stories turn out how reporters want, but Hersh told him he would "argue that a lot of the stories I wrote pretty much were on mark."
Hersh also said that two generals who he names in it would have a hard time being safe if they admitted they knew about the attack in advance.
Instead, once Obama made his announcement, Pakistan decided its best option was to take the blame for not knowing of bin Laden's whereabouts.
"In fact, the Pakistani military is a very proud institution. It was a big blow to their whole image and the country," said Hersh. "It was a very unhappy time for the Pakistanis."
CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen,
who was at the scene of bin Laden's capture, rebutted Hersh's story Monday, writing that his "account of the bin Laden raid is a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense."
Hersh was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reporting on the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, reports CNN,
but has also come under criticism for his heavy use of unnamed sources in his stories.
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