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Why They Hate Us
By Jose Rodriguez
The course of history was irrevocably altered by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The horrific images of the World Trade Center towers replayed on television screens over and over again, like the recurrence of a frightening nightmare. The common refrain, in the following days, was the question, “Why do they hate us?” Those persons in power had a simple answer: these were evil people who hated American freedom and democracy. This explanation seemed to soothe the general populace, and placed the terrorist acts in a context that was black and white, and thus easier to comprehend. The true reasons are far more nuanced and complicated, and would force the American government to admit some level of guilt. The truth is that the attacks on 9/11 are a direct result of American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is the refusal to acknowledge these truths that has exacerbated anti-Americanism in the region and has led to an increase in terrorism around the world.
The concept of blowback is very controversial and it tends to cause heated debates. The idea that one’s own government is responsible for tragedy is abhorrent to many who would describe themselves as patriotic. However, the purpose of such discourse is not to say that America deserved the attacks, nor would any sane individual justify such attacks or apologize for them. Terrorism is reprehensible, regardless of the perpetrators, and regardless of the victims. In a society such as the United States, with the advantage of the freedom of speech, it is absolutely imperative to allow discussions, such as this, so that the root causes of anti-Americanism can be determined and solutions found. It is in this context of openness that the rest of this argument will be placed.
There really should not be any confusion about why we were attacked on 9/11. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, laid out his grievances in his declaration of war on August 23, 1996 (Bergen, 164). In that declaration, he has three grievances: the occupation of the Holy Lands (Mecca and Medina), the US-led sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the United States’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory. This declaration is not some fanatical religious tirade, nor does he express any rage or contempt for American democracy and freedom. What he lays out is a clear and rational criticism of US policy in the Middle East. One “effective weapon” against the United States, he argues, is the boycotting of American goods and services (Bergen, 165). He reiterated these points on May 26, 1998 at a news conference in eastern Afghanistan with Ayman al Zawahiri, and urged his followers to conduct acts of terrorism against the United States (Bergen, 202). Not more than two months later, Al Qaeda carried out terrorist attacks against two US embassies in Africa. In retaliation, President Clinton launched cruise missile attacks against Al Qaeda, but failed to kill bin Laden, which only served to elevate his status in the eyes of the Islamic terrorist groups (Bergen, 219). Although he is a radical terrorist, many of his grievances are shared by the Arab world and his defiance is respected across the region.
Osama bin Laden’s hatred for the United States can be traced back to the beginning of the Gulf War. Indeed, even before the Gulf War started, bin Laden was one of the many mujahideen in Afghanistan that benefited from the support of the United States. US support was welcomed by the mujahideen as they were in an armed struggle to expel the atheist Soviet Union from their country. After the war, with the success of the mujahideen over the Soviet forces, the US packed up and left the country to suffer a horrific civil war that resulted in the rise of the Taliban government. However, the return of the United States to the Middle East during the Gulf War enraged and offended Osama bin Laden.
In the years following 9/11, many people tried to connect Iraq with Al Qaeda in a belated attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq. In reality, Osama bin Laden and his followers have been fiercely anti-Saddam due to the late dictator’s secularization of Iraq during his brutal reign. Jamal al-Fadl, a former Al Qaeda agent, testified during the 1998 trial against the seven men accused of the African embassy bombings that bin Laden had been very critical of Hussein and warned that, “one day he going to take all of Gulf area [sic].” (Bergen, 111) Khaled Batarfi, a former friend of bin Laden’s, recalls that in the months before the Kuwait invasion bin Laden had said, “We should train our people, our young and increase our army and prepare for the day when we are eventually attacked This guy [Saddam] can never be trusted.” (Bergen, 111) The warnings were prophetic as Saddam invaded neighboring Kuwait in August 1990. Osama bin Laden went to Saudi intelligence officials and proposed that he be allowed to gather 100,000 mujahideen fighters, trained in the Afghan war, in order to defend itself from Hussein’s expansion (Bergen, 112; Abukhalil, 77).
The Saudi royal family turned down bin Laden’s offer and opted, instead, to allow US forces to defend Saudi Arabia. This was a crucial decision and was opposed not only by bin Laden, but also by Muslim clerics and the crown prince, who warned “that US troops may never leave Saudi territory once they (arrive)”. (Abukhalil, 73) According to the Wahhabiyyah clerics, the presence of non-Muslims, especially when they are soldiers from a predominantly Christian nation, are strictly prohibited from stepping foot on the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina. Yet, President George H.W. Bush deployed the military to the Holy Lands anyways. Despite being there to defend Saudi land from Iraqi aggression, it was the Saudi military that was responsible for expelling Iraqi troops. The arrival of US forces marked the departure of bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, his homeland. Since then, he believes that the American presence has caused the moral decline of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden also viewed the presence of US forces as an attempt to establish hegemony over a country rich in oil, oil that belongs to the Arabs.
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait ended his country’s privilege of being a client state and entered them into the category of “Rogue State”. During the eighties, the United States was providing Saddam with military and diplomatic support as they waged war with Iran (also a former client state). The weapons of mass destruction that the United States harshly criticized Saddam for having, came from the United States to begin with. The mass killings of the northern Kurds was possible because of those weapons, and was later made possible by the refusal of the United States to acknowledge that the atrocities had even occurred (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201). It was only when the client state got out of control and decided to act without US consent that Iraq became a “Rogue State”. Iraq had to be punished.
The US led sanctions on Iraq fueled anti-Americanism in the region and served as a daily reminder of American hegemony. UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million people died as a direct result of the sanction imposed on Iraq; of those deaths were among children under five years of age (Chomsky, “Acts” 60). When confronted with these statistics on 60 Minutes in May of 1996, Madeline Albright said that, “We think the price is worth it,” when referring to civilian deaths. Iraqi hospitals were filled with people who were dying of illnesses that are perfectly curable, such as dysentery, and the flu. For those individuals with cancer, the only prospect was death. The sanctions prevented the importation of machines for hospital use, medicine, and ambulances (out of fear that they could be used as a troop transporter). Doctors in Iraq struggled to help the elderly, the children, and the chronically ill even without the basic tools they needed. It is difficult to imagine the frustration they felt as they watched, helplessly, as their patients died of completely curable diseases. With such poor conditions and limited tools, it is no wonder that so many people died in Iraqi hospitals.
The sanctions have also prevented Iraqi’s from having the basic necessities for life. Because of these sanctions, Iraqi’s are unable to have the tools or supplies (such as chlorine) necessary for purifying water, which has become filthy and disease-ridden. The conditions were so despicable that the UN’s Humanitarian co-coordinator in Baghdad, Dennis Halliday, resigned in protest, saying, “I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 200) His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest over the sanctions. The US, until after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, supported the sanctions, believing that they would weaken Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the sanctions only strengthened Saddam’s control over the suffering Iraqi people. They argue that the sanctions are Saddam’s fault., yet the United States government persists in helping him devastate his own population (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201).
The central issue in the Arab region that inflames anti-Americanism, is the US’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories. The UN created the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland in 1948, creating some 1,380,000 Palestinian refugees (Reinhart, 7). These refugees, to this day, have not been allowed to return to their homeland, even though a UN Resolution demanded Israel do just that. This was the beginning of a pattern. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved because of American intervention. In 1967, Israel expanded its border by seizing the Sinai, Gaza, the Golan heights, and the West Bank, which created another wave of about 250,000 refugees (Reinhart, 8). The United States, watching the situation unfold, took steps to ally itself with Israel. Israel, the logic went, would be a formidable ally in the region and could serve as a base of operations against the Soviet Union. A 1976 UN resolution calling for a Palestinian state was vetoed by the US, a move which signaled to the Arab world that the United States had no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168). So, the military occupation of the Palestinian lands continued with the full diplomatic support of the United States.
Over the next 40 years, Israel continued its hostile attitude towards the Arab people. In 1982, for example, the Israeli army invaded and occupied southern Lebanon, which left roughly 20,000 Lebanese dead (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 167). However, hostilities actually began in 1976. The UN tried to stop Israeli aggression with a UN resolution, but it, too, was vetoed by the United States. According to Israeli sources, the purpose was to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Organization and to “persuade Palestinians to accept Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168) However, in 1987 the Palestinian people organized themselves into an uprising (intifada) against the military occupation of Israel. With this uprising was a formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist in its pre-1967 borders and a call for a free and independent Palestinian state (Reinhart, 10). The first intifada came to an end as both sides came together for the Oslo Accords.
There was an aura of euphoria and excitement as it seemed that peace was at hand. There was rejoicing in the streets and many PLO militants put down their weapons in anticipation of what they believed to be an end to the conflict (Reinhart, 14). However, as the process got underway, it became clearer and clearer that the status quo was to stay the same. Israeli settlements continued unabated, and unemployment in the Palestinian territories increased. The promises made in the Oslo agreements by Israel were never met, nor did they really intend to meet those agreements.
In 2000, President Clinton convened the Camp David meetings in an ostensible attempt to bring about a peace agreement. However, the what the Israeli’s offered Yaser Arafat was nothing more than control over municipal affairs. The Palestinian lands were divided up into cantons that were surrounded on all sides by Israeli territory. In other words, the food, electricity, water, and freedom of movement would still be controlled by Israel. The offer was not acceptable to Arafat. Had he accepted it, he would have been renounced all across the Arab world as a traitor. The failure of Israel to offer anything substantial, the failure of the US to pressure Israel to comply with the Oslo accords of 1993,and Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, led to the second Intifada.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved quickly and easily, but there is no desire to do this. The United States has vetoed and rejected symbolic resolutions and treaties that might affect Israel. For instance, in 1987 the UN put forth a resolution condemning terrorism, but the US effectively vetoed the condemnation because it include a clause that gave the right of self-determination and the right to armed struggle against an occupying force. The General Assembly overwhelmingly supported the resolution, with only two votes against it: the US and Israel. Another similar vetoed occurred when the US rejected a Human Rights treaty made in Vienna that included a sentence declaring that, “foreign occupation is a human rights violation.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 187) The tanks that roll through the streets of the occupied territories, and the helicopters that rain missiles upon the homes of civilians, are all provided by the United States. The victims and their families all know this. The United States could withhold its economic and military aid (which is the most given to any nation in the world) from Israel until it agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state. This is unthinkable in Washington and would never happen.
The claims by some that the motivations behind the 9/11 attacks are religiously based miss the point entirely. Yes, the people use religious imagery and language, but so too does every other religious nation. The reasons for the attacks are clear. Bin Laden stated clearly that his grievances are with US forces on the Holy Lands, the Iraqi Sanctions, and the support of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territory. These views are not unique to him, but are shared by virtually all of the Arab world. The only way to combat terrorism is to recognize the root causes of anti-Americanism and then find ways to solve those issues. Violence and the continued support of state terror is not going to end these feelings of resentment, but will only inflame them further. Instead of asking, “Why do they hate us?” we should be asking, “What can we do to help?”
Abukhalil, As’ad. Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New “War on Terrorism”. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2006.
Chomsky, Noam. 9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001.
– Acts of Aggression: Policing “Rogue States”. New York: Open Media, 1999.
– Hegemony or Survival. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003.
– Middle East Illusions. New York: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.
– The Umbrella of US Power. New York: Open Media, 1999.
— Power and Terror. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
Reinhart, Tanya. Israel/ Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
Zinn, Howard. Terrorism and War. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
Some fun with Hillary Clinton!
And on to some depressing crap about Barack Obama…
Someone created a video and posted it on youtube.com that was really insulting to Barack Obama because it questioned his patriotism. This “someone” is conservative Lee Habeeb, a former producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and is currently the director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network, the conservative talk radio powerhouse. What a bastard. Here’s the video:
1) I find the Reverend’s remarks very incendiary and very divisive. There was no talk of forgiveness or unity, only hate. He would not have been my Pastor.
2) There is a well of anger and resentment that still exists within the black community.There is no way that African-Americans can possibly overcome the centuries old oppression in a mere 44 years. Poverty, jut like wealth, is inherited, as is desperation. Just because they were given equal rights in ’64, did not mean that they were suddenly on par with whites. Whites are miles ahead of blacks still, to this day. There is still racism on both sides of the racial divide, as the reverend’s remarks make absolutely clear. It will take more time to heal the wounds and to level the playing field. This country needs to talk honestly about race, but I think we’re not ready yet. People, on both sides, are too immature and sensitive to hold an honest and open discussion.
3) As for Patriotism, I do not question either Obama’s or Clinton’s patriotism. They are both serving as civil servants, which is a noble and altruistic sacrifice. However, I do think, as far as politics go, that Barack Obama would be better off if he would wear the pin and salute the flag. I don’t really care either way, but there are millions of other people who do. Common sense should have told him to wear the stupid pin and salute the flag, if only for appearances sake.
4) As for “the chickens are coming home to roost,” what about that is not factually correct? Again, his presentation is very abrasive and divisive, but his basic point is right on: America has committed a number of atrocities (including Nagasaki and Hiroshima) but they are viewed by Americans to be okay. They do not view American foreign policy as aggressive or hostile, but benevolent and peaceful. The terrorists are at war with us because of our policies in the middle-east, not because they hate us for being Christian or because we have freedom and democracy. They hate that we support Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine; we imposed sanctions on Iraq that were devastating the Iraqi people and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqi civilians; and because we had troops on the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina. Those are the reasons Usama bin Laden gave when he declared war on the United States in 1996, not religious reasons. So, whether people agree that the policies are wrong or not is a completely different argument, but the fact remains that the terrorists perceive them as being negative and harmful, so they have to fight us. That’s the truth. It’s called “blowback.” One might say that the “chickens are coming home to roost.”
5) And finally, I think Obama’s handling of the situation has been sub-par, which is par for his course of dealing with negative attention. People can celebrate and jump for joy over his speech, but he really has not adequately distanced himself from the remarks nor the pastor, which is what’s really bothering people. The “god damn America” part, coupled with the pin and salute and his wife’s remarks, really paint an unflattering portrait of Obama’s patriotism. This is a republican’s wet dream. They’re all about patriotism over there. They don’t have to make any other arguments than the patriotism argument and that will be enough to sway that block of voters. Obama’s problem all along is that he really doesn’t know how to strike back. Hillary is great at that. He can talk all he wants to about unity and change and bi-partisanship, but if he becomes President the republicans aren’t going to give up and say, “Oh, okay! We’ll work together now! Yay!” They are going to kick and scream and yell their way to defeating anything he wants to do, particularly with the war and health care. We need someone who can work with republicans when neccessary, but kick in some skulls when something needs to get done. I don’t think, judging from how he has thus far handled crises, that he is the man for the job.
And another thing, I hate to admit it, but watching CNN is like watching an orgy for Obama. I’m so sickened by this that I watch Fox News (which is equally sickening, but at least they’re not ejaculating over everthing Obama says or does). Everything about Obama is positve, or when they deal with something negative they’re always defensive. With Hillary it’s always negative and hateful. Just today, they were going after her because she finally made a statement about the Reverend Wright scandal. She did not go out of her way to bring up the subject– she was asked a question and she gave her answer. They make her seem like a vindictive bitch. If they’re butt-hurt over her comments, then they’re going to get a rude awakening when the Election gets underway and the republicans really start their attacks.
I fuckin hate Bill O’Reilly, so imagine my headache when I actually agreed with him!
I always hear things that really irritate me, but there are several that bug me more than most. Of these things that I hear, the most irritating is the one that says President Bill Clinton dropped the ball when he failed to accept a Sudanese deal to hand over Osama bin Laden. It simply is not true, is based on zero fact, and is refuted by US Intelligence Agencies. Yet, talk radio (particularly Sean Hannity) and their conservative listeners constantly refer to it as though it is fact, conventional wisdom, even. Well, it isn’t. Here’s why…
We can start with Richard Clarke’s testimony to the 9/11 Commission. In his prepared statement, which he read publicly on March 24, 2004, he makes a point of not only disputing the claim, but he also makes the point that President Clinton really made counter-terrorism one of his top priorities.
While bin Ladin was in Sudan, he was hosted by its leader, Hasan Turabi.
Under Turabi, Sudan had become a safe haven for many terrorist groups, but bin Ladin had special status. He funded many development programs such as roads and dined often with Turabi and his family. Turabi and bin Ladin were ideological brethren. Following the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Mubarek, the US and Egypt successfully proposed UN sanctions on Sudan because of its support of terrorism. Because of the growing economic damage to Sudan due to its support of terrorism, bin Ladin offered to move to Afghanistan. Sudan at no time detained him, nor was there ever a credible offer by Sudan to arrest and render him.
He goes on…
CIA and FBI did not report the existence of an organization named al Qida until the mid-1990s, seven years after it was apparently created… The White House urged CIA in 1994 to place greater focus on what the Agency called “the terrorist financier, Osama bin Ladin.” After the creation of a “virtual station” to examine bin Ladin, CIA identified a multi-national network of cells and of affiliated terrorist organizations. That network was attempting to wage “jihad” in Bosnia and planned to have a significant role in a new Bosnian government. US and Allied actions halted the war in Bosnia and caused most of the al Qida related jihadists to leave. The White House asked CIA and DOD to develop plans for operating against al Qida in Sudan, the country of its headquarters. Neither department was able successfully to develop a plan to do so. Immediately following Osama bin Ladin’s move to Afghanistan, the White House requested that plans be developed to operate against al Qida there. CIA developed ties to a group which reported on al Qida activity, but which was unable to mount successful operations against al Qida in Afghanistan. CIA opposed using its own personnel to do so.
Former CIA Director George Tenet testified before an Inquiry Committee on October 17, 2002. Here is part of what he had to say…
Beginning in January 1996, we began to receive reports that Bin Ladin planned to move from Sudan. Confirming these reports was especially difficult because of the closure in February of the US Embassy as well as the CIA station in Khartoum for security reasons. We have read the allegations that, around this time, the Sudanese Government offered to surrender Bin Ladin to American custody.
Mr. Chairman, CIA has no knowledge of such an offer.
The 9/11 Commission concluded…
In late 1995, when Bin Ladin was still in Sudan, the State Department and the CIA learned that Sudanese officials were discussing with the Saudi gov-ernment the possibility of expelling Bin Ladin. U.S.Ambassador Timothy Carney encouraged the Sudanese to pursue this course. The Saudis, however, did not want Bin Ladin, giving as their reason their revocation of his citizenship. Sudan’s minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to hand Bin Ladin over to the United States. The Commission has found no credible evidence that this was so. Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push the Sudanese to expel Bin Ladin. Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment outstanding.
So, there was an actual meeting between the US and Sudanese officials, held on March 8, 1996. Here is a memo, obtained by the Washington Post, about what the US wanted from Sudan. Notice, there is no desire to have Sudan render bin Laden…
MEASURES SUDAN CAN TAKE TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES1. Provide us with informaton (names, business associations and results of your investigation) on the owners and operators on specific dates noted of the following Sudanese license plates used in cars that surveilled US Embassy officers. Two incidents are described below:• . . . [From] 1-18 July 1995, a white Toyota pick-up truck, license number “1392,” was engaged in a coordinated surveillance operation against an Embassy officer’s residence in the al-Riyadh section of Khartoum. The Toyota coordinated the surveillance activities with a static surveillant posted nearby. During the same period, motorcycles without license plates regularly followed this officer from his residence to the Embassy.• On 26 March 1995, an Embassy officer left the Embassy and while driving north on Hariyah Street was surveilled by two light skinned males with thick beards and no hats driving south on Hiriyah street in a 1993 or 1994 four door Isuzu pick-up truck with plate number “KHA” or “LAM” 792 or 793. [Made a] . . . u-turn and took up a surveillance position approximately 100 meters to the rear of the Embassy officer’s car. [Didn't stop until] . . . a demarche to your government protesting this activity2. Provide us with names, dates of arrival, departure and destination and passport data on mujahedin that Osama Bin Laden has brought into Sudan.
• Since mid-1994 your government has allowed more than 200 of Bin Laden’s operatives into Sudan
3. Provide information (names, numbers, photos) on passports/visas used by Egyptian Gama’at al-Islamiyya, Algerian Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad entering and leaving Sudan.
• Provide us . . . Gama’at members Mustafa Hamza, Izzat Abu Yassin and Husayn Ahmad Shahid Ali (AKA Muhammad Sirajl) – the three terrorists implicated in the attack against President Mubarak. (Your government claims that the three have left Sudan. We are convinced that, if true, your government has information that substantiates where they have gone and when.)
4. Bulldoze the Merkhiyat Military Camp located at the geographic coordinates 15-43-30N 32-24-07E, west of Omdurman. In the US demarche to your government in September 1994 it was noted that the US had specific evidence that this camp has been used to train HAMAS and other terrorist elements.
• Provide evidence that this camp has been torn down, such as allowing US officials to inspect the camp
5. Provide a presence list of all official and unofficial Iranians, including the 200 IRGC members publicly identified by senior Iranian officials in Sudan.
6. Reorient the Pan-Arab Islamic Conference away from its present role [as] a forum for meeting of various Islamic extremist groups engaged in terrorism.
In fact, as President Clinton’s National Security Advisor pointed out, they had no legal right to hold bin Laden even if he were offered by Sudan. An indictment was not bought against Osama bin Laden until 1998. President Clinton started bombing sites in Afghanistan in an attempt to kill bin Laden, but missed him by a couple of hours. His Republican critics in Congress accused him of using a “Wag the Dog” trick in order to distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. These are the same people who now say he didn’t do enough while he was President to kill bin Laden. Many people who are now beating the war drum criticized President Clinton’s focus on anti-terrorism. Here is an article from Salon.com dated Aug. 27, 1998, by Loren Jenkins, that makes my point even clearer…
“Our target was terror. Our mission was clear.”
– President Clinton, Aug. 20, 1998
To the litany of terrorist acts that President Clinton laid at the feet of renegade Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden in justification of his cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and the Sudan last week, the administration has now alleged a murky plot to assassinate the president as well.
The alleged plot against Clinton was to have taken place when he was to have visited Pakistan. The anonymous intelligence sources that have made such an industry in bin Laden revelations this week acknowledge that the plot never went beyond the coffee-shop talking stage. But the charge helped to reinforce the president’s claims that bin Laden is “perhaps the preeminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today,” and that there was “compelling” — if unrevealable — evidence that a network of terrorist groups he controlled was planning “further attacks against Americans and other freedom-loving groups.” At a time when presidential veracity is at an all-time low, one might have wished that the president and his national security advisors had laid out in detail just what was the “compelling evidence” that led the United States to launch some 75 missiles at two sovereign nations.
As it is, the public, both here in the United States and in the more critical world at large, is being asked to take a giant Kierkegaardian leap of faith in the president’s claims. Given Clinton’s recent track record in the “trust me” department, this is a lot to demand.
For while there is little doubt that bin Laden is a sworn enemy of the United States with the financial means to put some teeth in that enmity, his exact role in anti-American terrorism is unclear. The administration’s claims are based more on conjecture — mostly bin Laden’s own braggadocio and the bad company he apparently keeps — than hard and convincing evidence.
Clinton and his security staff have now blamed bin Laden for being behind almost every terrorist act in the past decade — from plotting the assassinations of the pope and the president of Egypt to the planned bombing of six U.S. jumbo jets over the Pacific, with massacres of German tourists at Luxor and the killings of U.S. troops in Somalia, fatal car bombings of U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia and this month’s truck bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam thrown in. Not since the ’70s heyday of the terrorist Carlos has there been such a Prince of Darkness, if the allegations are to be believed.
But so far, for all of the accusations, no government, not even that of the United States, has established enough credible evidence against bin Laden to conclusively prove his direct participation in, much less leadership of, any of the ugly plots and acts he stands accused of. To date no formal request for his extradition has ever been made, either to the Sudanese government that once housed him or to his current hosts, Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders.
Though it was suddenly leaked this week that a federal grand jury’s continuing investigation into the World Trade Center bombing in New York City in 1993 had belatedly handed up a sealed indictment against bin Laden in June, the indictment is understood to be only for “sedition,” that is, incitement to violence, not the violence itself. That is the same charge under which the Unites States previously convicted Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Trade Center bomber’s spiritual leader.
The only link between bin Laden and the World Trade Center bombing seems to be the fact that the mastermind of the bombing, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, was eventually detained by U.S. agents while living in a guest house in Pakistan reportedly rented by bin Laden. The Saudi was also implicated in a failed 1994 plan to blow up American jumbo jets over the Pacific because the plot mastermind, Wali Khan Amin Shah, reportedly was a “close friend” of bin Laden’s.
If bin Laden’s fingerprints were to be found on any terrorist acts of the last decade, they should have been on the two attacks against U.S. military personnel carried out in the years when he was still living in his Saudi Arabian homeland. Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi engineering graduate who became a radical Muslim after joining the war against Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, became virulently anti-American after U.S. troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.
To him the American presence in Saudi Arabia, home of the holy Islamic sites Mecca and Medina, is a sacrilege he has vowed to reverse, along with toppling the “corrupt” Saudi royal family that has allowed it. Thus, when a car bomb exploded at a Saudi National Guard office in Riyadh in 1995, killing five Americans, and another blew up at the Khobar Towers Barracks in Dhahran a year later, killing another 19, bin Laden seemed the most likely suspect.
But neither the FBI, the CIA nor the Saudi intelligence services has ever been able to establish bin Laden’s links to those crimes after years of trying. What evidence that has emerged from those ongoing investigations points the finger at dissident Saudi Shiites, perhaps with the logistic support of the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, or even Iran.
Though much has been made of the fact that from his safe-houses in Afghanistan bin Laden has forged a loose alliance with perhaps a dozen different Islamic groups in the Muslim world from Algeria to Bangladesh, he seems to be more of a spiritual leader and financier than the sort of terrorist mastermind being alleged.
“Bin Laden is a true believer and a funder of Islamic causes, rather than a planner and active participant,” says Professor Shibley Telhani, a Middle East scholar from the University of Maryland who has followed his career. “His real influence is not as a mastermind of terrorism but as a person who is using a personal fortune to encourage others to wage war against the American interests in the Middle East he finds so objectionable.”
Indeed the sealed federal indictment just handed up, it would appear, is not based on any evidence directly linking him to either of those plots or others. Instead, it seems to have been motivated by a public call to arms against Americans that bin Laden published in the London Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi last February. Issued as an Islamic Fatwa, or holy order, even though bin Laden has no religious authority whatsoever, the broadside by bin Laden and other signers from various Islamic groups called for Muslims to “kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military” wherever they find them.
These are strong words indeed. But they are words, not deeds. And though it is all too likely that those words have inspired others to such actions as the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam last month, bin Laden himself is unlikely to have personally ordered those bombings or carried them out.
Unless the Clinton administration can come up with some hard evidence that bin Laden is in fact calling the shots of a vast new anti-American terrorist network, all the present allegations and faceless intelligence-source leaks claiming facts too secret and explosive to be revealed should be taken with a grain of salt.
Bin Laden may be a dangerous anti-American zealot with a mouth as big as his bankroll. But the evidence so far does not support him being a cerebral Islamic Dr. No moving an army of terrorist troops on a vast world chessboard to checkmate the United States.
What the fuck people? What the fuck? I guess we needed two burning buildings in New York to prove President Clinton was right. There is a lot of revisionism going on, mostly by Clinton-haters on the right, who want to paint President Clinton as a failure and coward, but the facts simply do not substantiate those claims. These Whig historians look at that meeting on March 8, 1996 and pass judgement on it, knowing what they know now about the threat from bin Laden. In other words, hindsight is 20/20. What they fail to acknowledge, is that Clinton was prescient in his drive to fight terrorism, meanwhile the Republican party was obsessed with him getting a blow job from an intern and were hell-bent on impeaching him. They accused him of trying to distract from the Lewinsky scandal, but what he was trying to do was stop someone he believed was a major threat. Did he succeed? No. But he tried a lot harder to kill bin Laden than the Bush administration. Richard Clarke, the former Terrorism Czar, said in an interview with 60 Minutes that he, “wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently — underlined urgently — a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo– wasn’t acted on.” He also said, “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” When he finally had his meeting, it was in April with Paul Wolfowitz, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, who had little to no patience for the idea that a small band of Arab Muslims could ever harm America. “I began saying, ‘We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.’ Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, ‘No, no, no. We don’t have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.’ And I said, ‘Paul, there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!‘ And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, ‘Isn’t that right?‘ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States.’”
There was no Cabinet level meeting (in other words, with the President) until one week before 9/11. At the meeting, Clarke suggested that President Bush bomb sites in Afghanistan where bin Laden might be hiding. Following 9/11, Clarke says that he was asked by Bush to find a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. “The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.‘ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this. I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.‘ He came back at me and said, ‘Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.‘ And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.”
The FBI and CIA both looked into the possibility and wrote a report concluding that there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. “It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, ‘Will you sign this report?‘ They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer. … Do it again.’“
In the final analysis, Clinton did his damndest to kill bin Laden. Bush failed to act because he was surrounded by Cold War relics who did not want to continue a Clinton policy of counter-terrorism. I think after Bush leaves office, more people will come forward from his administration to admit these failures in judgement.
Six months after 9/11…