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Does the U.S. have evidence against Osama bin Laden?
Rush to judgment

September 28, 2001 | Page 6

LEE SUSTAR asks if the U.S. has any real evidence against Osama bin Laden.

THE U.S. wasted no time before declaring Osama bin Laden as its "number one suspect" in the air attacks on New York and Washington. There was only one problem: Lack of evidence.

"There is only circumstantial evidence linking the three alleged hijackers to the Saudi exile," the Wall Street Journal admitted eight days after the attacks. A New York Times chart of the supposed plot published four days later showed only a tentative link between bin Laden and the men thought to have hijacked the four airplanes used.

On September 21, the Times also published--in its back pages--a story admitting that five of the 19 men named as hijackers by the U.S. were cases of mistaken identity. Many of the hijackers had names that are as common in Saudi Arabia as Smith or Jones in the U.S.

"Some who share the same name as the suspects were alarmed to see their own faces staring back at them from newspapers and television networks which published photographs and personal details of the alleged perpetrators," Reuters reported. Two people reported as hijackers killed in the suicide attack have even contacted authorities to say that they are alive and well.

Some of the supposed "evidence" released by U.S. authorities can only be described as ludicrous. Authorities claim that the hijackers were ultra-strict Muslims--and in the same breath reported that they got drunk in a strip club the night before the attacks (though Islam forbids drinking) and left behind a copy of the Koran.

The most absurd piece of "evidence" was a passport found on the street near the World Trade Center that was tied to one of the hijackers--as if a paper document could have emerged intact from an airplane crash, explosion, fire and collapse of two 110-story buildings.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the U.S. would release solid evidence of bin Laden's involvement--but not yet. Meanwhile, a series of arrests took place in France and Germany that U.S. officials claim point to a "European lieutenant" of bin Laden who masterminded the operation.

At this stage, it's impossible to even speculate what individuals or organizations may have been involved in planning and carrying out the air attacks. But Washington has made it clear that it won't wait for proof that bin Laden was involved before it strikes Afghanistan and possibly other targets.

"In America, if I think you are a terrorist, is it properly justified that you should be punished without evidence?" a Taliban official asked reporters. "This is an international principle. If you use the principle, why do you not apply it to Afghanistan?"

Tangled web of spies and undercover cops

THE MEDIA endlessly repeats the claim that Osama bin Laden was involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a plot to blow up several New York City landmarks the following year. But both cases--for which more than a dozen people are imprisoned--are full of holes.

The most important fact is that the 1993 bomb was actually built by Emad Salem, a former agent for an Egyptian army officer who had been an informant for the FBI. Salem was assigned to penetrate a supposed terrorist cell--and he proceeded to organize the plot himself.

The New York Times reported that, in transcripts of tapes of Salem's conversations with FBI agents, the bureau dismissed his warnings that the bombing would take place. Afterward, federal authorities gave Salem $1 million for his testimony against others.

Another mystery in the bombing case is that the telephone number and apartment listed on the rental agreement for the van carrying the 1993 bomb were under the name of Josie Hadas, an agent of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. An FBI spokesperson told the International Herald Tribune in 1993: "We have no idea whether Hadas is a member of the Israeli Mossad, but even if it were true, we wouldn't tell you."

The political beneficiaries of the prosecution were clear enough. One of those convicted was Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, an Egyptian Muslim cleric who had helped the CIA recruit fighters against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. But he had become a leading opponent of the Egyptian government--the biggest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.

Ron Kuby, a lawyer who defended some of those accused of the bombing, argued that the plot was a government setup. As Kuby put it in an interview: "People were tragically misled by the FBI into believing that the FBI had in fact prevented something from taking place when the only thing it did was prevent the fruition of the very conspiracy that it had created itself."

The FBI's lies and blunders

BEFORE ANYONE accepts U.S. allegations that Osama bin Laden and his "terrorist" network were behind the Washington and New York air attacks, they'd better look at the record of those who are making the accusations.

The lead investigating agency in the case, the FBI, is a national laughingstock for widespread errors in its crime lab--and its habit of losing its guns. The bureau is still trying to live down the 1993 shootout with a religious sect in Waco, Texas, that led to the death of innocent children.

The FBI even bungled the handling of evidence in one of its biggest cases ever--the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Then, federal authorities launched a roundup of suspected Arab terrorists--until the perpetrator turned out to be homegrown Nazi Timothy McVeigh. Before McVeigh was caught, Arab Americans around the country faced numerous incidents of harassment and physical attacks.

When the U.S. decided that Osama bin Laden was behind the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, it launched a cruise missile attack on a supposed bin Laden camp in Afghanistan. A CNN reporter praised the "pinpoint accuracy" of the missiles--even though one hit the wrong country, neighboring Pakistan.

The U.S. missiles fired at Sudan did destroy their target--a pharmaceutical company supposedly tied to bin Laden. But it turned out that the company had no connection at all to bin Laden. High-ranking U.S. officials knew as much, according to a New York Times investigation, but the U.S. fired anyway, destroying the only source of several needed medicines in an impoverished, war-torn Sudan.

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