Maher Osseiran, who has written about Osama bin Laden and his many videos, recently wrote a rather scathing critique of David Ray Griffin’s Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive? I had planned to write about the book at more length, but, sparked by Osseiran’s article, I figure I’ll address one issue now.
In chapter 2, “Two Fake Bin Laden Videos in 2001,” Griffin discusses a recording that he calls the “October Video,” in which bin Laden makes statements some people regard as incriminating concerning the 9/11 attacks. Griffin points out that the contents of the video were previewed in the British media, but that when British Prime Minister Tony Blair then referred to them in a speech, he did not release the video.
Griffin argues that the British government would have released the video, “unless the video was a fake and the government decided, between November 11 [when the video’s existence was first revealed in the English-language press] and 14 [when Blair first mentioned it officially], that the fakery was so obvious that it should deny having a copy while merely releasing damning ‘excerpts.’”
Griffin later adds:
… while it is impossible to determine, on the basis of the evidence that has been made public, what really lay behind this strange episode, it seems likely that a fabrication of some sort occurred, because if a genuine bin Laden confession video had been obtained, the British government would almost certainly have made it public. Perhaps a fake video was made and then never broadcast. Or the fabrication could have been simply the claim that a bin Laden confession video existed.
I am hardly the world’s greatest bin Laden expert, but, based on Griffin’s 4-page discussion of the video, it was clear to me that this video was Al-Jazeera journalist Tayseer Allouni’s October 20 interview with bin Laden in Afghanistan.
An attempt [to publish the video of the interview] in mid November 2001, by Blair failed. An Al-Jazeera bureau chief explained what happened; Blair attempted to release a tape of a Bin Laden interview conducted by Al-Jazeera. The interview was to be comprised of responses to questions by both Al-Jazeera and CNN. When the Al-Jazeera’s team reached Bin Laden’s hideout to conduct the interview, their questions were tossed out and were informed that Bin Laden had his own set of questions with prepared answers. The news team objected, but feeling threatened, accepted to conduct the interview. Also, Bin Laden put a condition on Al-Jazeera, either Al-Jazeera airs all or none of the interview. Such a condition forced Al-Jazeera to choose none and refused to be intimidated or to act as Bin Laden’s mouthpiece.
A similar account of the interview and its non-publication can be found in Hugh Miles’ Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World, published in 2005 (pages 176-182 in the Abacus paperback edition). Also see here.
What neither Osseiran nor Griffin say is that the video is actually now public. Here’s a CNN article marking its first broadcast, which was on 31 January 2002, and here’s the transcript of the interview.
It is what we instigated for a while, in self-defence. If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism, let history be a witness that we are terrorists.
The interview transcript says:
If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists.
The British summary says:
The battle has been moved inside America, and we shall continue until we win this battle, or die in the cause and meet our maker.
The interview transcript says:
The battle has moved to inside America. We will work to continue this battle, God permitting, until victory or until we meet God before that occurs.
You have to ask the question: why did Griffin not point out that the video whose authenticity he was questioning had been public for seven years? If one is considering claiming that a video is fake, would it not be wise to actually view and analyse it, and then discuss that analysis with one’s readers? Of course, there is the possibility that Griffin remained unaware that the video had actually been broadcast, but this then says what about his research?
Whether bin Laden is dead or alive is a key issue in global politics with massive potential ramifications. The whole world runs on the assumption he is alive and that we must catch him, with massive resources being allocated and people being killed, at least in part, based on this assumption. Given the extreme uncertainty around whether bin Laden is dead or alive, Griffin’s book, albeit flawed, is to be welcomed as a contribution to a debate that is smaller than it should be.
Finally, in his conclusion Osseiran indulges in a very nasty and unnecessary attack on Griffin—accusing him of being an agent of the US government. This is silly and lowers the tone.