The Bin Laden Tape
Jude Wanniski
February 13, 2003


Memo To: Maureen Dowd, NYTimes columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: You Are in Perfect Focus!!

I’ve been saying for years that you are the best “political photographer” in the Washington press corps. By that I mean one who sees the Capital’s political forces without an ideological or partisan filter, your twice-weekly columns snapping pictures of what’s really going on. Your Tuesday column, “Pass the Duct Tape,” is a treasure, a perfectly focused snapshot of the nonsense coming out of the Bush administration’s warriors about this new “Osama Bin Laden” tape. The editor of the Times editorial page, Gail Collins, was not taken in by the ruse either. In her lead editorial Wednesday, “Duck and Cover,” she “couldn’t help wondering if [bin Laden’s] expression of solidarity with Iraq might have been a way of luring the United States into an attack on Baghdad that would rally the Muslim world against the West, producing new converts to Al Qaeda.” Absolutely. It looks like the ladies of the Times are sharper than the fellows in seeing through the charades of the GOP warhawks. But then, Men are from Mars, Women from Venus.

I’m going to run a good bit of your column, Maureen, but will provide the link to it so readers can get the full flavor if they find the excerpts appealing to the eye. I’m also appending some revelations by William Rivers Pitt about how the Bin Laden tape was misrepresented by Secretary of State Colin Powell when he first revealed knowledge of it. At first accurately represents the tape in which bin Laden calls for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it then alters the report to get in line with Powell’s misrepresentation – as the original report did not fit the needs of the Pentagon. Who can you trust anymore? Certainly not any of the administration’s warhawks, who think it is okay to prevaricate for a good cause, in this case war. No, I’d rather trust your camera!!

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Pass the Duct Tape
By Maureen Dowd

WASHINGTON: Osama bin Laden came to the rescue of George W. Bush yesterday.

The president and his secretary of state had been huffing and puffing to prove a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. George Tenet, who presides over a C.I.A. full of skepticism about the tie, did his best for the boss, playing up the link to the Senate.

Ignoring all the blatant Qaeda hooks to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan; ignoring the fact that Osama has never had any use for the drinking, smoking, womanizing, secular Saddam; ignoring the fact that Saddam has no proven record of sharing weapons with Al Qaeda, the Bushies have been hellbent on making the 9/11 connection.

The world wasn't entirely buying that rationale for war.

And then who but Osama himself should pop up on an audio tape, calling on Muslims to fight the U.S. if the "infidels" attack "our brothers in Iraq."

Osama's disdain for Saddam still gleamed through. He barely mentioned the Iraqi leader and seemed to be holding his nose when he gave permission to his Qaeda brethren to fight "the Crusaders" alongside Saddam's Baath Party, "even if we believe and declare that the socialists are apostates," and whether Saddam remains in power or not.

Still, the administration pounced on the tape, hoping it would prove to those epicene Old Europeans, with their poufy blue-helmeted U.N. force, that Al Qaeda and Iraq were "bound by a common hatred," as the State Department's Richard Boucher said.

Mr. Powell was so eager to publicize Osama's statements that he broke the news himself at a Senate Budget Committee hearing, hours before Al Jazeera even acknowledged it had the tape. He said the tape showed that Osama was "in partnership with Iraq," and proved that the U.S. could not count simply on a beefed-up inspection force in Iraq.

In the past, Condi Rice has implored the networks not to broadcast the tapes outright, fearing he might be activating sleeper cells in code. But this time the administration flacked the tape. And Fox, the official Bush news agency, rushed the entire tape onto the air.

So the Bushies no longer care if Osama sends a coded message to his thugs as long as he stays on message for the White House?

To get Saddam, the Bush administration is even willing to remind the American public that it failed to get bin Laden. Its fixation on Saddam seems to have blinded it to the possibility that Osama might be perversely encouraging America in this war.

The administration and Al Qaeda both have a purpose for invading Iraq, and both want a regime change. Both talk about "liberating" the Arab people, but Osama's vision is apocalyptic. He wants the Middle East - Israel and the Arab monarchies - to go up in flames. By Zionizing our battle with Iraq and promising an anti-American theocracy, he hopes to radicalize recruits for a jihad against an American occupation of Arab land....

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You can find the report of William Rivers Pitt at Truthout, a solid source of antiwar reporting. Pitt, by the way, is a Boston high school teacher who had two NYT bestsellers in the last year, one co-authored with Scott Ritter, the weapons inspector: Here is the heart of his report:

Secretary of State Colin Powell set the stage for this new bin Laden statement early on Tuesday, much to the surprise of CIA Director George Tenet. Powell, during testimony at a Senate Budget Committee meeting, let it drop that the Middle East news network Al Jazeera had in hand a tape of Osama bin Laden. Tenet, seated with the Intelligence Committee, had not heard of this tape. One is left wondering at Powell's sources, especially after the story unfolded.

Powell used the existence of this tape, and the words he claimed bin Laden had said on it, to further tie Saddam Hussein to international terrorism. He claimed bin Laden was clearly establishing a connection between himself and Hussein on the tape, beyond all question. "This nexus between terrorists and states that are developing weapons of mass destruction," said Powell, "can no longer be looked away from and ignored."

The actual tape, played and translated live on every major cable news channel, told a very different story. Osama bin Laden swore vengeance against America if Iraq was attacked, and demanded that the Muslim world stand in solidarity with the Muslim people of Iraq. In very clear words, Osama bin Laden told the people of Iraq to rise up against both American aggression and against "socialist" Saddam Hussein. If the translations that were provided were reliable, there is no ambiguity in bin Laden's words on the matter. So much, it seems, for Powell's case that Hussein and bin Laden are working together.

And this is where it gets interesting.

An report on the bin Laden tape carried the following sentence: "At the same time, the message also called on Iraqis to rise up and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is a secular leader." This clearly confirms the clarity of mind Osama bin Laden displayed in regard to Saddam Hussein, and conforms to the recorded message heard by millions and millions of people around the world.

Less than twenty minutes after this report appeared on MSNBC, that sentence was deleted from the report. A few intrepid Internet news junkies, including myself, preserved what is called a 'screen-grab' of the original article before it was scrubbed. The version of the article currently in existence has replaced the text above with this far more benign text: "The taped statement reflected Saddam, a secular leader, but made it clear that Saddam was not the immediate target." A similar story line, bereft of the portions describing bin Laden's wish that Hussein be killed, has appeared in virtually every mainstream news media report on the matter.

The manner in which this story unfolded brings forth a number of serious questions.

First of all, questions must be asked regarding Colin Powell's motives in this. The recording heard by the world diverged significantly from the spin Powell put on it before the Budget Committee. Osama bin Laden did not state an alliance with Saddam Hussein, but with the Muslim civilians in Iraq who will bear the bloody brunt of any American attack. In fact, bin Laden told the Iraqi people to rise up against Hussein. This is not the way allies deal with each other.

Why would Powell go to such lengths to stretch the glaringly obvious truth in this matter? He is already suffering from a deficit of credibility in the aftermath of the plagiarism scandal that is currently rocking Tony Blair's administration. Powell stood before the UN last week and praised a British intelligence dossier that contained cut-and-pasted pages and pages of an essay, with all spelling and grammatical errors intact, written by a postgraduate student from California. The data was years out of date, flat-out contradictory in several key areas, used without the student's awareness, and yet was offered as an up-to-the-minute assessment of Iraqi weapons capabilities.

This, in combination with Powell's obviously skewed interpretation of Tuesday's bin Laden recording, forces us to call into question every single word he and the Bush administration have said on the matter. The question of whether Saddam Hussein has ties to al Qaeda terrorism and Osama bin Laden can be put to bed now, it seems, alongside the tatters and shreds of honor and dignity formerly enjoyed by the Secretary of State.

More ominously, why would a news network like MSNBC so obviously haul water for the failed allegations of the Bush administration? Events happen in seconds on the internet, but merely scrubbing uncomfortable sentences from articles cannot stop the tens of thousands of readers who are wise enough now to save the evidence before it evaporates in a cloud of silicon.

These deletions display a manifest breach of faith on behalf of MSNBC, and call to mind issues surrounding the conflict of interest that are inherent in the ownership of this network. MSNBC, along with NBC and CNBC, are owned by the corporate giant General Electric. GE is one of the largest defense contractors on the face of the earth, and will, bluntly, be paid a king's ransom in the event of a war. Following this line of questioning leads to some dark corners, indeed. How often is the data being manipulated by the corporate-owned media? Are we to rely solely on the nimble fingers of keyboarded citizens to get to the heart of the matter?

A report appearing later on Tuesday on served to refute the claims of collusion between bin Laden and Hussein. "Although Powell sought to characterize the tape as a concrete link between al-Qaida and the Iraqi government," the report read, "White House officials acknowledged later to NBC News that it did not. Powell did not know it had not been broadcast when he spoke to the committee and was 'a little on the front of his skis,' a government source said." These lines were buried deep within the report.

By Wednesday morning, this text had been completely removed from the article.