Down the Osama Rabbit Hole and Into the War on Terror Wonderland


By Kristina Borjesson

Here we go again. President Bush goes to Israel. He talks to the Israeli Knesset about standing “together against terror and extremism.” He cites the example of Osama bin Laden teaching that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” The next day, yet another unauthenticated bin Laden tape surfaces. “In a tape marking Israel’s 60th anniversary,” reported the BBC, “the speaker pledged to continue fighting the Israelis and not give up a ‘single inch of Palestine.’” Once again, the lead was followed by what has now become the standard second line, “The tape’s authenticity could not be verified.” Once again, the timing is interesting. Bin Laden’s message was just in time to help President Bush make his point.

The BBC’s May 16, 2008 report continues with this: “The last messages attributed to Bin Laden were aired in March.” Those messages couldn’t be verified either.

Photo of Usama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden

The last clear videotape of bin Laden was released to al Jazeera on December 27, 2001. The CIA released one two weeks earlier that they claimed had been shot the month before, but the video is very fuzzy and the purported bin Laden in the tape doesn’t altogether look like the bin Laden in authentic photos and videos. A couple of other videos were released in 2004 and 2007, both of which were fuzzy enough to raise questions. The 2007 video looked exactly like the 2004 video, except that the purported bin Laden’s beard was black in the 2007 video and streaked with gray in the earlier 2004 video. This discrepancy was startling enough to catch mainstream media’s eye. On October 29, 2007, MSNBC released a story titled “Was Bin Laden’s Last Video Faked?”

Meanwhile, virtually no one in the US media followed up on Benazir Bhutto’s stunning comment to British correspondent David Frost in a November 2007 interview following the assassination attempt she survived. At one point, Bhutto describes the backers behind her would-be assassins as having had “dealings” with Omar Sheikh, the “man who murdered bin Laden.” Frost didn’t follow up on her explosive comment either.

If a series of unauthenticated bin Laden tapes aren’t Alice in Wonderlandish enough, here’s an additional Rabbit Hole dimension: last month, the BBC reported that Al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, complained about Iran’s anti-Israel media circulating “persistent rumors in the Middle East that Israel was involved in the 9/11 attacks.” This upset him because al Qaeda needs to keep the credit for the spectacular 9/11 job to maintain its player status in the Middle East. Ironically, Osama bin Laden is not wanted by the FBI for 9/11, but the US government agrees with al Zawahiri that al Qaeda did it.

Meanwhile, not helping to quell the rumors were reports that in April 2008, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University that 9/11 was good for Israel. “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” the Israeli paper Ma’ariv quoted him saying and adding that 9/11 “swung American public opinion in our favor.”

But Middle Eastern public opinion is what matters to al Zawahiri. According to BBC security correspondent Rob Watson, al Zawahiri needs the 9/11 street creds to continue building al Qaeda’s Sunni power base against Shia Iran’s growing influence in the region. Watson said that al Zawahiri’s attack on Iran seemed to be “designed to play on Sunni fears throughout the region of growing [Shia] Iranian influence, and to present al Qaeda as the best bulwark against Teheran.” Again, US and al Qaeda interests converge in their mutual desire to diminish Iran’s influence.

The collaborative virtual reality created by al Qaeda and the Bush administration’s messages are matched by hard realities on the ground. A while back, investigative journalist Sy Hersh reported that the Bush administration was secretly funding Sunni groups in Iraq with ties to al Qaeda to counter Iran-backed Shia insurgents there. It’s surreal to contemplate the US government working with al Qaeda-connected groups under any circumstances. And then to think that by sharing an anti-Iran policy with al Qaeda, US efforts to weaken Iran will benefit al Qaeda. This would be compounding the irony, insult and injury of the fact that the US invasion of Iraq brought al Qaeda to that country in the first place.

But getting back to al Qaeda’s number two man, al Zawahiri. It’s interesting to note that when he wants to send a message, he often does it via videotape. His videotapes are always in focus and the image is always unequivocally his. If al Zawahiri can manage this, why can’t bin Laden? If  bin Laden really is alive, why does he keep resorting to releasing audiotapes that can’t be authenticated?

The strange trail of unauthenticated bin Laden audiotapes and problematic videotapes suggest that Bhutto may be right and that bin Laden has been dead for years now while the Bush administration and al Zawahiri keep him “alive” for their respective and intertwined purposes. America’s War on Terrorism needs a bogeyman and al Qaeda needs a leader of mythic proportions. Bin Laden, dead or alive, fits the bill for both.

[For a more detailed rundown of the problems with the video and audiotapes as well as the sites you can visit to see the videotapes, see my previous BUZZFLASH editorial, “Are the Osama Tapes Fake?” here at:]

Kristina Borjesson is an independent investigative reporter and media critic. Both of her books, Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11, Top Journalists Speak Out, and Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, won the Independent Publishers Award for Best Book in the Current Events category.
Into the Buzzsaw also garnered the National Press Club’s Arthur Rowse award for media criticism. In television, Borjesson has garnered Emmy and Murrow awards for her investigative reporting. This editorial is the latest in a series that Borjesson has been writing that examine messages purported to be released by Osama bin Laden.

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