Since December 22, 2001, U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai became the head of Afghanistan (first as the “interim” leader and later as the President), Osama bin Laden’s videos and audiotapes have mysteriously surfaced from time to time, sending the world reeling in fear and confusion. Headline news stories have continuously hyped the CIA’s claims that these recorded bin Laden appearances and voices were indeed from the most-wanted-man in the world, despite the odds against their authenticity.
Death of Osama bin Laden in 2001
Although the corpse of bin Laden would never be found, various sources alluded to the circumstances that led to his death in the Middle East.
According to United Press International (Oct. 31, 2001), bin Laden underwent clandestine kidney treatment by Dr. Terry Calloway (Canadian urologist) for 11 days in July at the American Hospital in Dubai. During his hospital stay, bin Laden met with a U.S. CIA agent, according to French daily Le Figaro and Radio France International. The day before the infamous September 11 terrorist attacks, bin Laden entered a military hospital for further kidney dialysis treatment in Raqalpindi, Pakistan, reported by CBS (Jan. 28, 2002).
In an interview with CNN (Jan. 19, 2002), Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf hinted, “He (bin Laden) is dead for the reason he is a ...kidney patient.” Musharraf also mentioned that bin Laden took two dialysis machines with him into Afghanistan.
A few days later, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN (Jan. 21, 2002) gave his professional assessment of bin Laden’s medical condition based on the videotape broadcasted by al Jazeera on December 27, 2001. He explained that bin Laden’s ghastly appearance — “grayness of beard, paleness of skin, very gaunt sort of features” — is often associated with chronic kidney failure or renal failure. He also noted that bin Laden couldn’t move his left arm probably due to a stroke because people suffering from kidney failures have a higher risk for stroke. Dr. Gupta pointed out that dialysis machines require electricity, clean water and a sterile environment to function properly. Without an operational machine, a patient could only survive for less than a week.
During December 2001, the U.S. Air Force, after cornering the Taliban combatants in the mountainous Tora Bora, relentlessly blasted the area for days, unleashing an estimated 1.8 million kg of explosives, including the deadly bunker-busting bombs to implode caves. According to the Pentagon, radio transmissions of bin Laden's voice were detected regularly until December 14, 2001.
An Egyptian paper posted on December 26, 2001, ran an obituary on Osama bin Laden whose death resulted from lack of proper medical care for “serious lung complications.” A Taliban official told the Pakistan Observer that he saw bin Laden’s face before the burial in Tora Bora where some members of bin Laden’s family, friends and al Qaeda fighters gathered for his funeral. Asked whether he could pinpoint the spot where bin Laden was buried, he answered, "I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora that particular place too must have vanished," implying that it was obliterated by U.S. aerial bombing.
According to Washington Post (Oct. 28.2002), the Arabic-language al-Majallah obtained bin Laden’s will from a “very reliable” source in Afghanistan. The will — typed, signed by bin Laden and dated December 14, 2001— includes verses of Koran and the words of a man “who appeared desperate and on the verge of death.”
Tapes — Authentic vs. Fake
It is certain that all videos of bin Laden released in 2001 were authentic, except the one found by anti-Taliban forces, which was an obvious fake. It was difficult to determine the exact time the real videos were made but they were all filmed outdoors. More importantly, the sequential release of videos was showing bin Laden’s health deteriorating before our eyes. Bruce Lawrence, a Duke professor, who authored Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (Verso, 2005) based on 20 complete speeches and interviews of bin Laden, pointed out that authentic tapes contain several key elements:
verses quoted from the Koran because bin Laden was a devout Muslim;
references to past Western atrocities against Muslims;
lengthy taped messages (shortest one was 18 minutes).
The fake one, released by Pentagon on December 13, 2001, was conveniently left in a deserted house in Jalalabad. The poor-quality video not only showed a well-fed man posing as bin Laden, resembling nothing like the al Qaeda chief, but also writing with his right hand (bin Laden was left-handed). At a small gathering, the imposter was laughing and joking about how he had carried out the September 11 atrocities, except he got the names wrong on two hijackers.
Another fraudulent video of bin Laden aired by al Jazeera on October 29, 2004, occurred just four days before the U.S. presidential election. Besides missing key elements, this particular tape (shot indoors) depicted a blurry image of supposedly bin Laden (contrast to his previous sharp images), standing behind a podium against a brown canvas backdrop. In a new twist, the speaker (fully recovered from poor health) claimed direct responsibility for the 2001 attacks against the United States. (Although bin Laden praised the September 11 hijackers, he never took credit for their attacks in any of his 2001 videos.) Even Walter Cronkite, the well-known retired news reporter, suggested that the whole scenario was a concoction by Karl Rove to secure the re-election for George W. Bush.
As for audiotapes, they started to appear in 2002 almost on a regular and politically-timed basis, some of which claimed to be voices of al Qaeda members, while others were attributed to al Zawahiri or bin Laden. Strangely, the fact that al Qaeda adopted new tactics for relaying messages has never raised any public suspicion. More troubling, al Qaeda has a history of secrecy and deception — never giving warnings or claiming responsibility for any attacks; yet, the emergence of numerous taped messages suggests that al Qaeda has broken away from its usual practice of silence by claiming responsibility for various global terrorist attacks.
One audiotape purported to be from bin Laden (released on November 12, 2002) was confirmed by U.S. intelligence to be genuine after completing a technical and linguistic analysis. However, IDIAP, the world’s foremost voice identification experts in Switzerland, reached a contrary conclusion — the voice on the tape didn’t belong to bin Laden but to someone whose voice patterns resembled bin Laden. Swiss researchers declared their scientific voice analysis to be 95 per cent accurate, with risk of error just five per cent. This audiotape was the only one analyzed by an independent group of experts.
Behind Fake Tapes
Obviously, to release a “terrorist” video or an audiotape would have an explosive impact on society. There is no rational explanation for al Qaeda to release fake tapes. Some argue that it has been done to keep the myth that bin Laden is still alive. If so, there would be no need to have taped messages of other al Qaeda members speak for bin Laden if he really were alive. Furthermore, there would be no reason for al Qaeda to make a fake tape when they could make a real one to draw attention to its future and past terrorist acts or even call forth a coordinated attack.
The fact that the fake tapes do exist implies only one possibility — the party responsible for releasing such tapes wanted to incite public fear and confusion, instill blame on the targeted enemies, and justify the fight against terrorism anywhere in the world. As clearly demonstrated in the recent appearance of bin Laden audiotape (Jan. 19, 2006), President Bush told reporters: “When he says he’s going to hurt the American people again, or try to, he means it.” Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich pitched in: “we recognize that al-Qaida remains committed to striking the homeland.” Vice President Cheney stated: “I think you have to destroy them (terrorists). It’s the only way to deal with them.”
The next time a bin Laden tape surfaces, it must be from the ghost of Osama bin Laden.
(First published on UniOrb.com, February 1, 2006)