Osama on a Silver Platter? Yeah, Right.
At the hearings just starting right now, with Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke, you may or may not hear mention of a person by the name of Mansoor Ijaz, and how Clinton was offered Osama bin Laden in 1996 (and possibly in 2000), but let him go. Quite frankly, I’m getting sick and tired of this old overcooked falsehood repeated again and again. The idea is that Clinton was given a viable chance to get bin Laden and somehow decided, “nah, we could put him in prison, but let’s intentionally let him go free.” This is unadulterated Drudge-style garbage.
The oft-repeated right-wing version of the story originates from one Mansoor Ijaz, an investment banker now based in New York, a former “lobbyist for Pakistan” who is now a regular Clinton hit-man on conservative FOX News and the National Review. The story seems to have many variations, that Osama was offered up once, twice, even three times. However, Ijaz has no evidence whatsoever that he was integral, or more than just a liar–and the Clinton White House fully denied that Ijaz was of any use in the situation. They saw him as self-serving, having business ties with Sudan, which was then under embargo for their terrorist ties, wanting the embargo lifted so he could position himself profitably when Sudan opened its oil fields for export as planned in 1997. Clinton’s people, having worked with him before in dealing with Pakistan, this time disregarded him because of the conflicts inherent in his Sudan business connections, not to mention Ijaz’s tendencies to present himself inaccurately to several foreign nations as “agent” of the U.S. government. The Clinton administration underwent negotiations with Sudan without Ijaz, but Ijaz’s self-important story gets repeated ad nauseam–by Ijaz himself–with right-wing platforms eager to give him air time and column space. Ijaz later made even more fantastic claims that he could get Osama extradited in 2000, again unsupported. Apparently, Ijaz would have us believe that he had Osama in a bottle and pleaded with Clinton to take him, but Clinton maliciously unleashed him to wreak havoc upon the world.
Here is the story as it happened:
The government of Sudan, using a back channel direct from its president to the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, offered in the early spring of 1996 to arrest Osama bin Laden and place him in custody in Saudi Arabia, according to officials and former officials in all three countries.
The Clinton administration struggled to find a way to accept the offer in secret contacts that stretched from a meeting at hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3, 1996, to a fax that closed the door on the effort 10 weeks later.
Unable to persuade the Saudis to accept Mr. bin Laden, and lacking a case to indict him in U.S. courts, the Clinton administration finally gave up on the capture. …
Resigned to Mr. bin Laden’s departure from Sudan, some officials raised the possibility of shooting down his chartered aircraft, but the idea was never seriously pursued because Mr. bin Laden had not been linked to a dead American, and it was inconceivable that Mr. Clinton would sign the “lethal finding” necessary under the circumstances.
In short, Sudan claimed that it would arrest Osama and extradite him to another country, though the veracity of that offer has never been confirmed, and was doubted by many. But the Clinton administration tried to achieve this. However, the U.S. itself could not take him because at that time (and this is what the right-wing hatchet stories usually leave out), bin Laden had not been connected with any U.S. deaths, and the U.S. did not have any jurisdiction to try him. So they tried to convince the Saudis to take him, but the Saudis refused. To suggest that Clinton had the ability to nab bin Laden but decided not to goes contrary to Clinton’s 10-week effort to get bin Laden put in a Saudi jail and possibly executed there. The deal was simply unworkable, pure and simple.
It will interesting to see what Clarke does say, in the light of an unrelenting smear campaign against him by the Bush administration. Cheney, for example, said that Clarke was “out of the loop,” which is bizarre considering that he was the head of the administration’s counter-terrorist operations. Powell claimed that no one handed them a plan for dealing with al Qaeda (though Berger is at this moment claiming the exact opposite, that he told Rice she would be dealing more with al Qaeda than anything else), and in general Bush people are saying, “hey, no one told us” among attempts to pain Clarke a partisan, a bitter and disgruntled man, or a profiteer. Of course, none of that fits the profile for Clarke, and the fact that he served under Reagan and both Bushes as well as Clinton–and that others back up his story.
There are just too many people saying the same things, Clarke is the icing on the cake. At some point, the rantings of the Bush administration, aimed now at so many different people, are going to wear impossibly thin on the ears of the American people (if they haven’t already). With so many respectable names coming out and saying that Bush is a dangerous fool, it is becoming more and more clear that they’re not all kooks, liars and profiteers.