Senate report is the fantasy smoking gun on bin Laden
More specifically, it’s the actions of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chariman, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is still insisting his presidential campaign is right five years on:
The Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate has long argued the Bush administration missed a chance to get the al-Qaida leader and top deputies when they were holed up in the forbidding mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan only three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Although limited to a review of military operations eight years old, the report could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now.
Funny enough, Kerry did not have such enthusiasm for elevated troop levels back in 2007:
“Another 21,000 troops sent into Iraq, with no visible end or strategy, ignores the best advice from our own generals and isn’t the best way to keep faith with the courage and commitment of our soldiers,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in his party’s weekly radio address.
But then again, Kerry said that that was a misguided war, even though he was fully on record voting in favour of the 2003 invasion and would constantly defend his vote. Now that the theatre is Afghanistan, suddenly a surge of a similar number of troops is the greatest idea ever.
A lot of the speculation on whether Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora in December of 2001 is based largely on a book written by former CIA officer Gary Berntsen called Jawbreaker, sharing the name of the team that was supposed to capture bin Laden. General Tommy Franks had said before that bin Laden was not likely in the mountains during that 2001 battle, contradicting Berntsen. Even by Berntsen’s account, it might have been a very perilous action to try to capture bin Laden at that time:
The U.S. military, the soldiers that were with us on the ground there, fought like lions. They did a wonderful job. The problem was, was Tora Bora was a very, very difficult place to access. It was an area that was far away, it was high, it was cold. It would have been very difficult and it would have been risky to put soldiers in.
There likely would have been significant casualties. The fact is is no one, whether they’re in the CIA or the military gets ahead taking risks. It would have been a risky endeavor. But I put my four men in there. They went up. And actually two of my men were CIA officers and two of them were JSOC officers that had been assigned over to me. This is a fact of the war.
By the sounds of Mr. Bertsen’s words, a large-scale push into the mountains might have been a particularly risky endeavour. Gary also had this to say when asked if he was a Democrat by MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell:
No, I’m a Republican. And I’m a loyal supporter of the president and I think the president is doing a good job in the fight on terrorism.
That quote there is not just some partisan hack job–even the person in charge of on-the-ground ops, who is convinced that Osama bin Laden was allowed to escape to Pakistan, thought that the larger war on terrorism has at its periphery one Osama bin Laden. Even the Senate report coming out today is stating that “[r]emoving the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat.” Here comes the safety switch:
“But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism.”
Osama bin Laden’s involvement with Al Qaeda since then has been debatable. He could have just as easily become a fundraising symbol had he died in any of the attacks on Afghanistan, and he does not appear to be in any way orchestrating any Taliban operations, and with Al Qaeda largely dismantled across the world, it is doubtful that he is still a large player. That there is a resurgence in places such as Pakistan only means that they have been contained.
“Let me say it plainly: No American president should be for torture before he’s against it.” So Senator Kerry says in 2006. Indeed, he even said that waterboarding was flat-out torture. How bad would Senator Kerry want to capture Osama bin Laden? Would he torture for it, as he refers to waterboarding? Would he support the death penalty for terrorists, as is his one exception? Come to think of it, the death penalty implies a trial. Is he willing to grant him the same trial that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will receive in civilian court? Is he even sure he can be determined to be found guilty? Come to think of it, where is the evidence that he is still alive today?
The report can be found here, which is nothing more than a hit piece disguised as intellignece gathering. It’s nothing but a smattering of book excerpts from Bob Woodward and Michael DeLong. The thrust of the report, that not enough troops were sent to Afghanistan to facilitate capturing bin Laden and his possible escape strengthens the Al Qaeda cause, is virtually unprovable. We don’t know if Osama bin Laden actually did escpae, and several of his associates have all given conflicting testimony to where he might have escaped. Bin Laden’s chef said he went to Chechnya, other sources had him returning to Yemen or Oman, and Michael Leeden had Iranian sources tell him he had made it to Iran. Being nearly psychic, many of bin Laden’s followers moved to northern Iraq.
Perhaps also if the US could have gotten a little more cooperation out of Pakistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might have a case for bin Laden having escaped unnecessarily. This paper makes zero recommendations for the future, such as what to do about Afghanistan now, or future plans for detainees of war, or what Al Qaeda’s status is today. This paper is not an indictment of Donald Rumsfeld, but of the continual unpreparedness of the US government to thoroughly tackle the war on terrorism.