News Release

Are Obama and Clinton Being Honest About How Afghan War Began?

“Only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden [did we send] our troops into Afghanistan.”
Barack Obama at West Point, Dec. 1

“[The Taliban] were given a chance to turn over al Qaeda and bin Laden before we attacked them and they refused.”
Hillary Clinton in response to questioning by Rep. Ron Paul, Dec. 2

Sept. 22, 2001: Washington Post reports: “The Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan said his government wants proof that bin Laden was involved in last week’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before considering whether to extradite him. ‘We are not ready to hand over Osama bin Laden without evidence,’ said the envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef [who would later be imprisoned and then released from Guantanamo]. In Washington, U.S. officials said they would not provide evidence to the Taliban about bin Laden’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there would be ‘no discussions and no negotiations’ with the Taliban. Releasing evidence about the attacks, Fleischer said, could provide ‘meaningful assistance’ to suspects still being sought by law enforcement authorities.”

Oct. 3, 2001: Washington Post writes: “In Afghanistan, leaders of the ruling Taliban militia, which has been harboring bin Laden, urged the United States to share its evidence with them, saying they hoped for a negotiated settlement instead of a military conflict. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said his government would be willing to talk to the United States about bin Laden, but ‘we don’t want to surrender without any proof, any evidence.’ … But President Bush ruled out any discussions with the Taliban and reiterated his demand that bin Laden and members of al Qaeda be surrendered unconditionally. ‘I have said that the Taliban must turn over the al Qaeda organization living in Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps,’ Bush said in Washington. ‘They must do so, otherwise there will be a consequence. There are no negotiations. There is no calendar.’”

Oct. 4, 2001: Reuters runs the headline: “Taliban won’t give up bin Laden even if proof — paper” based on an interview with an Arabic newspaper: “Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, told the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Khaleej newspaper the movement would ‘thoroughly check’ U.S. documents linking bin Laden to the devastating attacks on New York and Washington before putting him on trial in an Islamic sharia court.”

Oct. 5, 2001: Guardian (UK) reports: “Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeff, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, said: ‘We are prepared to try him, if America provides solid evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in attacks in New York and Washington.’ Asked whether the Taliban would allow a trial of Bin Laden in another country, he said: ‘We are willing to talk about that, but the first is that we must be given the evidence.’ The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted Mullah Zaeff as saying: ‘If America is not satisfied with our trial of Osama, we are also ready to find another Islamic way of trying him.’ But asked whether the Taliban were ready to hand over Bin Laden, he said: ‘This is a later thing, we cannot take any step that hurts our Islamic or Afghan dignity.’”

Oct. 6, 2001: AP reports: “‘Tony Blair has come to encourage war,’ Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said. ‘We have no message for him. Had he come for negotiations and talks, then we would have liked to have said something.’ … Bin Laden is the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. ‘The issue is not Osama,’ Zaeef said. ‘The issue is Islam. Osama is a Muslim; he is a citizen of a Muslim country. We cannot hand him over to the United States. We are ready to try him before an Islamic court or under Islamic law. If we send him to the United States, there will be no justice.’”

Oct. 7, 2001: Bombing of Afghanistan begins. Bin Laden tape released in which he lauds the attacks but does not actually claim responsibility (something he would not do until just before the 2004 U.S. election): “neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it” and “its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that.”

Oct. 12, 2001: Slate publishes a legal analysis “Taliban vs. Osama Bin Laden: Would an Islamic court convict or acquit Bin Laden of murder?” by Dahlia Lithwick

Oct. 14, 2001: Guardian (UK) reports: “Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over,” which states: “President George Bush rejected as ‘non-negotiable’ an offer by the Taliban to discuss turning over Osama bin Laden if the United States ended the bombing in Afghanistan.”

Oct. 15, 2001: Washington Post reports: “President Bush rejected an offer from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to turn over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden to a neutral third country yesterday as an eighth day of bombing made clear that military coercion, not diplomacy, remains the crux of U.S. policy toward the regime. ‘They must have not heard: There’s no negotiations,’ Bush told reporters on the White House South Lawn after returning from Camp David. That brusque dismissal came on a day when Attorney General John D. Ashcroft warned in television appearances that nearly 200 people with potential links to the Sept. 11 attacks — some of whom he believes are probably terrorists themselves — remain at large in the United States.”

Oct. 17, 2001: The Guardian (UK) publishes “New offer on Bin Laden: Minister makes secret trip to offer trial in third country,” which states: “A senior Taliban minister has offered a last-minute deal to hand over Osama bin Laden during a secret visit to Islamabad, senior sources in Pakistan told the Guardian last night… For the first time, the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial in a country other than the U.S. without asking to see evidence first in return for a halt to the bombing, a source close to Pakistan’s military leadership said.”

Oct. 29, 2001: Washington Post publishes “Diplomats Met With Taliban on Bin Laden: Some Contend U.S. Missed Its Chance,” which states: “Over three years and on as many continents, U.S. officials met in public and secret at least 20 times with Taliban representatives to discuss ways the regime could bring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice. Talks continued until just days before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Taliban representatives repeatedly suggested they would hand over bin Laden if their conditions were met, sources close to the discussions said.”

Nov. 1, 2001: AP reports: “‘We do not want to fight,’ Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, said in an interview. ‘We will negotiate. But talk to us like a sovereign country. We are not a province of the United States, to be issued orders to. We have asked for proof of Osama’s involvement, but they have refused. Why?’”

SAM HUSSEINI
Communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Husseini said today: “It’s quite deceptive of Obama and Clinton to claim simply that the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden. The reality is that the Bush administration refused to discuss how that might be done. The Taliban continually asked for evidence that bin Laden was responsible. We don’t know whether the Taliban would have responded to such evidence, but it should have been made public in any case. Now, if Obama and Clinton want an exit strategy, they should be forthright about such issues.” Husseini wrote the article “The Exit Strategy.”

RAHUL MAHAJAN
Mahajan is author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond, and publisher of Empire Notes.

He said today: “President Obama’s statement during his speech at West Point that the United States went to war ‘only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden’ is a half-truth, as is his implication that the UN Security Council authorized the war on Afghanistan. The truth is that CIA and Special Forces were operating in Afghanistan almost immediately after 9/11. And well before the advent of aerial bombing on Oct. 7, the Taliban made numerous statements indicating willingness to negotiate. They wanted the United States to provide evidence regarding bin Laden’s involvement before considering extradition — a normal demand in any criminal case — and Colin Powell said that evidence would be provided to the world, but the Bush administration almost immediately reneged on that commitment. They also wanted bin Laden tried in an Islamic court in a Muslim country. Their offered negotiating positions softened as the bombing continued. Whether negotiations would have led anywhere or not, the Bush administration resolutely refused to accept any possibility of avoiding war.

“It’s not clear how well President Obama and his advisers know this history, although it was all documented in Western newspapers at the time; what is clear is that his suggestion that the Taliban refused to negotiate is not primarily about justifying the war post-9/11 — that still remains unquestioned in mainstream U.S. politics — but rather about justifying his current position that strenuous anti-Taliban efforts in Afghanistan, including the recently announced surge, are a necessary part of ensuring U.S. national security.”

Mahajan noted the Taliban’s position in an IPA news release on Oct. 7, 2001.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167