There is no Ouija board to give the right
answer, but logical interpretation of the facts suggests that Osama bin
died in late 2001. Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, suggested publicly in two interviews in January 2002
that bin Laden was killed either directly or indirectly by the bombing of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, the month before.
Musharraf, a Bush ally, made some of his
comments on CNN. The FBI speculated openly around the same time
that bin Laden was dead. So did the Pentagon.
According to "The News," Islamabad's main
newspaper, "Fed up by the questioning [about bin Laden], the U.S. military
authorities announced finally that they would stop chasing shadows and instead focus on other aspects of the so-called
war on terrorism." ("Musharraf Advised to be Less Forthcoming While Commenting on bin Laden," Jan. 20, 2002).
As reported in numerous newspapers here
and abroad, fighting was heavy in Tora Bora in December 2001, with more
American and British soldiers, than earlier in the military campaign, shipped out through the airport in Jacobabad, Pakistan.
An intense two-week bombardment of caves
and tunnels around Tora Bora officially ceased and, on December 16, 2001,
the military declared victory over bin Laden's guerrillas. The administration decided to send a team of experts to
Afghanistan to confirm bin Laden's death.
General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central
Command, was reported to have told the same Pakistani newspaper that
bin Laden was in Tora Bora. Foreign newspapers have reported since April 2000 that bin Laden was suffering from kidney
failure. Presumably, bin Laden's weakness was one excuse for Pakistan's continuing support of the Taliban.
Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, chief of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (secret service), visited the Clinton administration
in April 2000 and then visited the Bush administration the first week of September 2001, although the visits were not widely
reported in the United States. Musharraf and others have said publicly that bin Laden's kidney ailment required dialysis.
News reports of bin Laden's illness were corroborated by his appearance in his last videotape, in fall 2001.
Pale and gaunt, with a stiffened left side,
he looked like a man with heart problems from approaching renal shutdown.
He has not been seen since 2001. Purported audiotapes have been of poor quality and doubted by experts.
Assertions that bin Laden is in hiding have been vague, confused and contradictory.
Musharraf now hints that bin Laden must
be on the run in the rubble of Afghanistan. The Afghanis have accused
Pakistan of concealing him, despite his height (6'4"), his distinctive appearance and his wealth.
The recently captured 9-11 "mastermind,"
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, apparently first said that bin Laden is dead
- and then that he is alive.
After Musharraf's interview, newspapers
around the world reported that Musharraf was asked to tone down his
comments by U.S. officials. The bin Laden videotape, which had been held by authorities for a month, was released
about the same time.
There is, basically, no administration story
on bin Laden. There has been no consistent official line on his position
a year and a half. The White House's lack of concern over bin Laden's whereabouts was preceded first by promises
to get him, and then by indifferent "dead or alive" slogans, hinting that he needn't be captured for interrogation.
From the point of view of intelligence,
it is heartbreaking that the White House apparently did not simply pressure
Taliban into giving up bin Laden. With U.S. power and global sympathy on their side, they readily could have done so,
probably within a month of 9/11, and could have learned a lot.
But dead men tell no tales.
Instead, they bombed a country, ostensibly
to get one man. One casualty in the process was Wall Street Journal reporter
Daniel Pearl, whose abduction and killing in Pakistan this past January probably was retaliation for bin Laden's death,
and for the continuing assault afterward.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration's
online Civil Aviation Registry lists at least 15 bin Ladens who got
pilots licenses or other flight certification in the United States.
One would think some of them might have
had useful information, but in fall 2001, according to London's "The Independent,"
the White House quietly assisted remaining members of the bin Laden family to fly out of the country ("Fears of Reprisal
Force bin Laden Family To Flee Their Homes in U.S.", Sept. 26, 2001.)
Margie Burns, a teacher and writer who lives in Cheverly, can be reached at: email@example.com.
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