n the newly released
Osama bin Laden videotape the terror master states, "when people
see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the
strong horse." This Nietzchean excursion is almost a non sequitur
his interlocutor had been talking about the accommodations
and it is an amazingly unselfconscious statement considering
the fact that lately bin Laden hasn't exactly been a contender for
the Triple Crown.
The bin Laden
tape was made sometime in mid-November, about the time the writing
was on the wall for al Qaeda. Bin Laden is shown looking relaxed,
smiling, drinking tea, and holding court with his associates. It
is a surreal scene. One is reminded of stories told by Albert Speer
of Adolf Hitler's behavior as the noose began to close around him,
recounting stories of past triumphs with great nostalgia, and speaking
excitedly of the days ahead when he and Speer would design and build
a new modern Berlin, the capital of a united, national socialist
Europe, with a massive victory arch at its center. Soon Berlin would
be flattened and Hitler dead, but he was a believer in his personal
destiny to the end. The delusions in the bin Laden tape are manifest
the unnamed shayk with whom he is speaking states
that "People now are supporting us more, even those ones who
did not support us in the past, support us more now." He seems
to be talking about public support in Saudi Arabia or perhaps in
the Muslim world generally. Clearly bin Laden had been counting
on a Muslim uprising if the West mounted an armed counterattack
after September 11, and even by mid-November he might have been
expecting riots to break out at any minute. Perhaps he still thinks
the masses will save him bin Laden has issued a letter to
the "true Muslims" of Pakistan to come to his aid. His
denunciation of Pakistan in the first week of November had a hint
of desperation; the recent letter is simply pathetic. Hopefully
we will no longer hear American pundits talking about the "Muslim
street" as a locus of power.
Bin Laden grasps
for concrete signs of success. One tangible benefit of the attack
people wanting to learn more about Islam. "In Holland,"
he says, "at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted
Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than
the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years." Eleven
times the usual number? I'm guessing that they were starting from
a very low base. And if the impending Dutch jihad is the
best thing bin Laden has to show for his efforts, it is hardly a
prudent trade-off considering that over 300 million people in the
strongest country in the world want his head.
The tape has
a number of useful operational details that clear up a few questions.
Mohammed Atta was in charge, as suspected. The planning and operational
groups were compartmentalized. The cell structures were secret,
and even kept secret from the cells the strike teams didn't
assemble until the day of the attack. Only a few of the hijackers
knew they were on a suicide mission, so the fanaticism and level
of dedication of al Qaeda isn't as deep as had been supposed
only four voluntary martyrs instead of 20. And it also goes to show
they will victimize their own men, a good message to discourage
potential recruits. It is also interesting that the leadership did
not know how effective the attacks would be they had not
planned for the towers to collapse, and bin Laden was the "most
optimistic" in even believing the upper floors would fold up.
Personally, I never once believed they were smart enough to have
figured out how to bring the towers down; and besides, the fact
that they did collapse only catapulted the event to a level of brutality
and horror that gave instant legitimacy to any allied response.
And hitting the Pentagon? The home office? The place where Secretary
Rumsfeld goes to work every day? The sheer stupidity of that act
is still breathtaking.
And the strangest
parts of the tape, the parts that give us deep insight into the
intellectual, emotional, and strategic limitations of bin Laden,
are those in which he and others discuss their "visions."
Dreams and omens are referred to throughout the video, and in very
earnest tones. Abu-Al-Hasan Al-Masri, a Talib, was quoted as saying
he had a dream about a soccer game with America in which the al
Qaeda team were pilots this a year prior to the attack and
with no knowledge of the plot. A couple other people had visions
of planes hitting buildings, and the more they remembered the clearer
the "omens" became. In fact so many al Qaeda psychics
were having premonitions that bin Laden became nervous about operational
security. After hearing someone talk about a prescient dream shortly
before the attack, bin Laden said, "at that point, I was worried
that maybe the secret would be revealed if everyone starts seeing
it in their dreams. So I closed the subject. I told him if he sees
another dream, not to tell anybody, because people will be upset
with him." They really take this nonsense seriously.
be tricky business. I was reminded of Croesus, King of Lydia, who
was contemplating war with the Persians. He consulted the Delphic
Oracle and was told that if he attacked, "he would destroy
a great empire." Little did he know that the oracle was referring
to Lydia. Shaykh Salih Al-Shuaybi is mentioned as having had his
own vision a year prior to the attack "There will be
a great hit and people will go out by hundreds to Afghanistan."
Of course those hundreds could have been the Marines and Special
in the United States has focused on the question, is the tape "evidence?"
Will it stand up in court? Among those who think it won't is Hani
al-Subai, a London-based "researcher in the affairs of Islamic
groups" who gave his assessment of the evidentiary value of
the video on al Jazeera. "The internationally accepted principle
governing criminal procedures primarily stipulates that the original
video material should be kept with the competent public prosecutor's
office," he said. "The material should be kept sealed
in a special case or envelope and the seal can be broken only in
front of the judicial authority. The videotape has been tampered
with .... We all know that there is the so-called mixing and montage.
...They can change the voice of a man into that of a woman, or turn
the voice of an elderly man into that of a young boy. This technology,
which can amend colors and everything, does not hold any grounds
in front of the judicial authorities." This is the problem
with treating everything like a legal question. Our forces and operatives
in Afghanistan have enough to worry about without getting into a
"chain of custody" food fight, and our policymakers have
better things to do with their time than to deal with these types
of speculative arguments. Why do people insist on dragging lawyers
into this war? Don't they want to win?
The only reason
the authenticity of the tape would be relevant would be for those
die-hards who think that someone other than bin Laden was responsible
for the September 11 attacks. They should note well the part of
the video in which bin Laden states that on the day of the attack,
"the congratulations were coming on the phone non-stop."
One can imagine the content of those conversations. But my guess
is one won't have to just imagine them. If these calls were made,
they were probably intercepted, and if intercepted, they will be
revealed eventually. In fact there is no doubt all kinds of intelligence
out there we don't know about that proves the case conclusively.
Personally, I don't want to know the details, not for a long time.
It does no good for me to know now, but it could do harm to our
intel networks if the information went public. Remember, this video
is intelligence, not evidence. The allies are at war, not engaging
in law enforcement by means of strategic bombers. Bin Laden is not
a criminal, he is an enemy of humanity. The Fourth Amendment does
not exist in Tora Bora.
A report in
London's Arabic Al-Hayah newspaper stated that in one portion
of videotape a man standing off camera made derogatory comments
about the behavior of the U.S. national leadership in the hours
after the attack: "One seeks shelter and the other is underground."
Perhaps this statement was not audible or clear enough to be included
in the DOD transcription, but irony abounds three months
later it applies to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. Call it a vision,
or an omen, or the end of a dream.