Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The second most recent bin Laden tape (they're arriving so fast it's hard to keep up with them) is the tape that the Bush junta misrepresented as constituting the proof of the close connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam, when of course it actually proves that bin Laden hates the apostate Saddam and only supports the struggle of the Iraqi people against American aggression (here is a transcript). Colin Powell announced that this tape would be broadcast on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, which it in fact eventually was. The problem lies in the details:

  1. Powell announced on Tuesday February 11 before the Senate Budget Committee that the tape would play on al-Jazeera later that day. This was before the station said that it had the tape. Al-Jazeera in fact dismissed Powell's assertion as a rumor, a rumor that in fact had been circulating for several weeks. Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press that al-Jazeera had no such tape.

  2. On Tuesday night, hours after Powell had read a transcript of the tape at the hearing, Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press that al-Jazeera had just received an audio tape with bin Laden's voice.

  3. The explanation for this is that there was a secret arrangement whereby al-Jazeera gave the audiotape to the Qatari government, which in turn gave it to the U.S. government (al-Jazeera is said to usually receive bin Laden tapes by mail). This was said to be in accordance with an arrangement between Qatar and the United States. Presumably the Official Story is that the U. S. government received the tape from Qatar, then prepared the transcript that Powell read, and Powell was able to announce that al-Jazeera would broadcast the tape later in the day.

  4. The problem with the explanation is that al-Jazeera had no knowledge of the tape on Tuesday afternoon, and in fact dismissed Powell's assertion as a rumor. Therefore, it is impossible that al-Jazeera could have given the tape to the Qatari government. The tape only arrived at al-Jazeera on Tuesday night. As well, Mohammad Jassem al-Ali, Al-Jazeera's general manager, denied that his station had any involvement in such a transaction and denied turning the tape over to the Qatari government.

  5. "Yasser Thabet, a broadcast editor at Al-Jazeera, said the tape appeared to be authentic because the television station got it through the same means as previous bin Laden statements." How can this be true if the station usually gets the tapes by mail and this time seemed to get it from the Americans?

  6. A U. S. 'intelligence source' claimed that the U. S. knew about the latest Osama bin Laden tape five days before it was broadcast by the Qatar-based TV station al-Jazeera, and that it came from the Qatar government who got it from al-Jezeera management. But:

    "Yesterday, al-Jazeera staff appeared surprised at the arrangements for submitting Bin Laden tapes to the US via the Qatari government. 'I'm not aware of this procedure at all,' said a spokesman. 'We got the tape at the station literally two hours before it was aired. A group of us huddled round and listened to it, and discussed what to do with it in the light of Mr Powell's statement.'"

  7. Powell was oddly certain that the tape was legitimate and was by bin Laden, even though in the past it had taken the CIA a number of days to verify that the voice was that of bin Laden. Of course, if the U. S. had had it for five days before Powell discussed it, they may have confirmed its validity during that time, although it is odd that they announced its validity only on Friday. The Americans were so keen to have the tape broadcast that they did not make an issue of whether there might be hidden terrorist instructions contained in the tape.

  8. The Qatari government has developed an unusually close relationship with the United States, and is the only Arab state that remains enthusiastic about the presence of U. S. troops on its territory. The main shareholder of al-Jazeera is Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar. Al-Jazeera has generally been described in the U. S. press in a very positive way, as if it was a light in the wilderness of Arab media (see general al-Jezeera links here). Other Arab countries are often less enthusiastic. I would not be surprised if the CIA were somehow involved in it.

It appears unlikely that the Official Story is true. Al-Jazeera probably did not receive the tape until just before it was broadcast, and therefore probably wasn't the source of the tape. All the evidence points to the fact that the tape didn't come to the station first, and probably didn't come into Qatar until it arrived at the station from the Americans. The tape is unlikely to be a fake made by the American government, as it clearly demolishes the American theory that bin Laden is allied with Saddam. One possibility is that the tape is from an Islamic fundamentalist group still using the bin Laden identity (if bin Laden is not still alive) and came to the United States through the same channels of cooperation between these groups and the CIA that have existed since the 1970's and continue up to the present day. The whole Qatar/al-Jezeera story may be a clumsy attempt to hide the real source of the tape as the admission of a connection between the CIA and these fundamentalists would raise too many embarrassing questions.