October 19, 2004

Wanted: Dead or Alive

Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since").

Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to be UBL offering gold in return for Jerry Bremer's assasination. Pretty piddling fare for Osama, no? Reduced to offering grams of gold for the head of a mere American proconsul? Note that was about half a year ago.

Before that, there was that "truce" offer--ostensibly for the benefit of those baddies in 'New' Europe--back on April 15th (also, as far as I can tell, unauthenticated). And on January 4 of this year, another audiotape purporting to be Bin Laden aired on al-Jazeera. Interestingly, that was the first audio in which, according to the Guardian (ed. note: Did I just write that phrase straight-faced?], "the voice introduces itself as Osama bin Laden at the beginning of the tape." This raises my suspicion a little. After all, why must the great Sheikh explain it is He who is doing the speaking? Still, ostensibly, at least some analysts judged the audio to likely be authentic. But other reports I've seen are more cautious about confirming its authenticity [ed. note: The Beeb vs. CBS!?! I link, you decide!]

The last video (rather than audio) tape? You have to go back to October 19th, 2003--about a year ago. But there is no voiceover, no attempt to evidence the date of the footage, and UBL appears "healthy" (in sharp contrast to a gaunt-looking UBL in December of '01)

Before then? A video on September 11, 2003. But there is no real time voice on this video either:

The tape shows a figure believed to be Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida network, dressed in Afghan-style robes and walking in rocky mountainous terrain, apparently accompanied by his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It was aired on the Arab television network al-Jazeera.

The men do not address the camera. But on a soundtrack accompanying the tape Zawahiri is heard exhorting fighters in Iraq to rise up against the occupying forces and "devour the Americans". He names the US president, George Bush, and Tony Blair as the "top criminals".

Funny, just two weeks later, Zawahiri releases a tape. Solo. Why not do a joint audio since, just a couple weeks back, they were strolling through the mountains together?

Next, check out this timeline. Note that al-Qaeda released three tapes between December '02 and April '03.

None featured UBL! Why?

After that, there was the November '03 audio tape, again purporting to be UBL's voice, that claimed responsibility for Bali etc. But, Swiss scientists deem it likely a fake.

Next, continuing in reverse chronological order? A tape where al-Qaeda formally take responsibility for 9/11--on Sept 10 2002. Again, it's supposed to be UBL--but note, per the Guardian: "There was nothing to indicate that the sound-only recording attributed to Bin Laden had been made since the war in Afghanistan."

On June 23rd of '02, al-Q spokesman Abu Ghaith informs us UBL is alive. Why does he need to so proclaim? Why doesn't UBL tell us himself?

Other videos? April 15th, 2002 (again, no speaking; no confirmation this is post Afghanistan).

Folks, bottom line: we have to go all the way back to December 26th 2001 to see a video of UBL that really seems to get close to passing a smell test evidencing that's he actually, you know, alive (and he didn't look too smashing in it either).

Now, does anyone seriously believe that UBL wouldn't, if he were alive, be doing his very damnedest to release a tape, soonest, rubbing Bush's nose in it for not having caught him--dead or alive? Just as a little pre-election present, say, maybe to give the opposition a little assist in hyping the disingenous Tora Bora meme? Doubtless, he would, no? Unless, of course, he's dead. Which, I'm beginning to feel pretty comfortable concluding, may well be the happy reality as we sit here today.

What gives me a little pause? Well, here's one thing. This recent Lally Weymouth interview of Pervez Musharraf. After all, wouldn't the good general be one of the best positioned people, on the planet, to have a pretty good feel for whether UBL is dead or not?

Weymouth: Do you think Osama bin Laden can be captured? We don't know where he is. Is he alive?

Musharraf: Most likely, almost certainly. [emphasis added]

But then why, in this
interview
, did Musharraf say: "I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a ... kidney patient."

What happened between Lally Weymouth's interview (UBL "almost certainly" alive and the old 2002 interview: "I think now, frankly, he is dead...")?

Well, I don't know, of course. But let me go out on a limb--Musharraf notwithstanding. I think Osama bin Laden is dead. And, if so, you might as well chalk that up, of course, on the positive side of the ledger vis-a-vis Bush's prosecution of the war on terror during his first term. Oh, be sure to think about that the next time you hear hysterical chiming-ons about all those myriad missed opportunities at Tora Bora and such.

Is all the above speculative, circumstantial, merely musings from the 'over here'? Yes, of course. But isn't it all pretty plausible and/or convincing? Sure, I'll have a huge amount of egg on my face should a convincing audio or video of him pop up in the next weeks and months. But, I gotta think, smart money would be betting he's dead rather than alive hunkered down in a back alley in Karachi.

(Um, guess Karl Rove is going to have to come up with a different October surprise...)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Particularly if you are in agreement with my argument above--well, don't become too persuaded until you go read Dan Darling's near magisterial counter-argument here!

Teaser (but be sure to go read his entire post): Dan thinks UBL is sheltering in Iran. I'm skeptical--but Dan's done his homework.

MORE: Don't miss what this B.D. commenter has to say.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at October 19, 2004 11:42 PM
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