President Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton

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.

Clarke Testifies

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 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…