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UK government's 'evidence document' against Osama is a string of conjectures

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Saturday October 06, 2001-- Rajab 18,1422 A.H

UK government's 'evidence document' against Osama is a string of conjectures

By Kaleem Omar

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a 4-hour stopover in Islamabad on Friday evening for talks with President Pervez Musharraf on the situation arising out of the September 11 attacks on the United States and the role that Pakistan has pledged to play in the American and UK government's planned joint action against Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban regime.

Blair's visit came only a day after his government released a 70-point "evidence document" on Thursday purportedly "proving" Osama Bin Laden's responsibility for the September 11 attacks. But only nine of the 70 points in the document relate to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and even these rely more on loose conjectures and even looser assertions than on hard evidence.

For one thing, the document itself begins with a disclaimer: "This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law. Intelligence often cannot be used evidentially, due both to the strict rules of admissibility and the need to protect the safety of sources. But on the basis of all the information available Her Majesty's Government is confident of its conclusions as expressed in this document."

For another, if the "evidence" contained in the document is not sufficient to "provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law," as the British government itself admits, how is it sufficient evidence to justify going to war against him and the Taliban regime?

Be that as it may, the conjectures and assertions contained in the document are unlikely to rally the Arab world to the West's "war against terrorism." In Riyadh, visiting US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted on Thursday that the Saudi government is worried about the "secondary effects" of a "war on terror." Anti-American feeling is reported to be running high in throughout the Arab Middle East, including in the Gulf states and Egypt - Rumsfeld's next destination.

In its introduction, the British document says: "The clear conclusions reached by the government are: Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, planned and carried out the atrocities on September 11, 2001; Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda retain the will and resources to carry out further atrocities; the United Kingdom, and United Kingdom nationals are potential targets; and Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were able to commit these atrocities because of their close alliance with the Taliban regime, which allowed them to operate with impunity in pursuing their terrorist activity."

All these "clear conclusions" are, in fact, no more than assertions for which the document furnishes no evidence. If the British government has any hard evidence to substantiate these assertions, it should make it public. Until it does, the jury on its case will have to remain out. Anybody can say that this or that group "retain the will and resources" to carry out atrocities; proving it is something else. Similarly, anybody can say that this or that country and its nationals are "potential targets" for terrorist attacks. But if the Blair government contends that the UK and UK nationals are potential targets, it should come out with the facts on which this contention is based.

In the absence of any hard evidence, the Blair government's contention that "Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were able to commit these atrocities because of their close alliance with the Taliban regime," is also only an assertion that, again, could be made by anybody about any individual or group in any country. Assertions are not facts, no matter how often they are repeated. The only known fact in this regard is that Osama Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan since 1996, when he had to leave Sudan due to US pressure on the Sudanese government. But does Bin Laden's mere presence in Afghanistan make him the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks?

Point 2 of the British document says: "The material in respect of 1998 and the USS Cole comes from indictments and intelligence sources. The material in respect of 11 September comes from intelligence and the criminal investigation to date. The details of some aspects cannot be given, but the facts are clear from the intelligence."

It is amazing that the document places so much reliance on intelligence sources. If these intelligence sources are so knowledgeable, how is it that no American or British intelligence agency had the slightest inkling that the September 11 attacks were in the offing, or that anything like them was even planned? In fact, as a US congressman said in a CNN interview on the evening of September 11, the attacks represented a "massive failure on the part of the American intelligence agencies." The congressman went on to say that the US government had "failed the American people today."

The British document tries to get around this awkward fact by saying: "The document does not contain the totality of the material known to Her Majesty's Government, given the continuing and absolute need to protect intelligence sources." Again, just how good are these intelligence sources, and just how reliable is their information? The answer to this question has to be that these sources are neither very good nor very reliable, given the fact that they had no clue that the attacks were coming. Yet we are expected to believe that these same intelligence sources have now suddenly become a fount of reliable information and evidence.

The document says: "The relevant facts show: Al Qaeda is a terrorist organisation with ties to a global network, which has been in existence for over 10 years. It was founded, and has been led at all times, by Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida have been engages in a jihad against the United States, and its allies. One of their stated aims is the murder of US citizens, and attacks on America's allies."

In this context, it's all very well to say that "the relevant facts show," but just what are the "relevant" facts the document does not say. Second, all this talk about "a global network" (talk that is also being heard endlessly in the Western media since the September 11 attacks) will remain no more than talk until it is backed up by hard evidence. So far, that evidence has not being forthcoming, neither from the Americans nor the British nor anybody else.

The document says: "Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime have a close and mutually dependent alliance. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda provide the Taleban regime with material, financial and military support. They jointly exploit the drugs trade. The Taleban regime allows Bin Laden to operate his terrorist training camps and activities from Afghanistan, protects him from attacks from outside, and protects the drugs stockpiles. Osama Bin Laden could not operate his terrorist activities without the alliance and support of the Taleban regime. The Taleban's strength would be seriously weakened without Osama Bin Laden's military and financial support."

The point to be noted here is that there was no Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan when the Taleban emerged in Kandahar in 1994 and proceeded to take over most of the country over the next two years, capturing Kabul in 1996 and ousting the coalition government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmed Shah Massoud and company. If the Taleban didn't need Bin Laden's military or financial support in those days, why has this support become so crucial now, when the Taleban control 95 per cent of Afghanistan and the opposition Northern Alliance only 5 per cent?

In this context, it is significant that Ahmed Shah Massoud, the commander of the Northern Alliance forces, was quoted as saying in his last published interview (three days before he was fatally wounded in a bomb attack) that he knew only too well that the Northern Alliance could not capture back any more territory from the Taleban or ever defeat them and get back into power in Kabul. That was the considered view of the Northern Alliance's most celebrated military commander. Yet the British government's document contends that "the Taleban's strength would be seriously weakened without Osama Bin Laden's military and financial support."

The document says: "After 11 September we learned that, not long before, Bin Laden had indicated he was about to launch a major attack on America. The detailed planning for the terrorist attacks of 11 September was carried out by one of Osama Bin Laden's close associates. Of the 19 hijackers involved in 11 September 2001, it has already been established that at least three had links with Al Qaeda. The attacks on 11 September were similar in both their ambition to previous attacks undertaken by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and also had features in common..."

The question, here, is, how was it that the British and the Americans learned only after September 11 that Osmaa Bin Laden had indicated, "not long before," that "he was about to launch a major attack on America"? If the British and the Americans have such good sources of information, why didn't these same sources tell them about what Bin Laden's "close associate" was "planning" before the attacks occurred?

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