A Blast from the Past

Every now and then, you come across something that missed the memory hole. Here, for your reading pleasure, is a piece by Loren Jenkins that ran in Salon back in 1998.

My favorite passage:

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.

In other words, the US government has never presented the American public with any hard proof that Osama bin Laden has carried out a single terrorist attack against us. Yet both President Clinton and Generalissimo El Busho have used him as a bête noire responsible for everything from bad food to bad music.

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.”

Even if we captured Osama, in other words, we wouldn’t be nabbing the guy who hit our embassies, or the Cole, or the World Trade Center. And what about the groups that actually carried out those attacks?

Bush won’t even talk about them, much less try to bring them to justice.

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