Mudcat Café message #1828003 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #94226   Message #1828003
Posted By: Old Guy
05-Sep-06 - 09:00 PM
Thread Name: BS: Plamegate over Armitage done it
Subject: RE: BS: Plamegate over Armitage done it
"which makes the incendiary claim that the Clinton administration passed on a surefire chance to kill or catch bin Laden—never happened."

Sudan's Angle
How Clinton passed up an opportunity to stop Osama bin Laden.

BY RICHARD MINITER
Monday, October 8, 2001 12:01 a.m. EDT

Hours before cruise missiles began raining out of the dark skies of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden appeared on Al-Jazeera, an Arabic-language television network. America "deserved" the attacks of Sept. 11, he said, and called on all Muslims to rise up and strike back at the free world. "America is full of fear from its north to its south, from its east to its west," he said. "Thank God for that."

How did we get here? It seems clear that the storm clouds of war began to gather during the Clinton presidency, which was paralyzed by dangerous indecisiveness in combating bin Laden. President Clinton and his top officials knew that the archterrorist posed a real threat to our way of life--beginning with his gunners shooting at American soldiers in Somalia in 1993, a plot to kill Americans in a Yemen hotel, and escalating into simultaneous bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa--which killed 224 people--and the assault on the USS Cole a year ago this week. Yet the administration did little to thwart this menace.

Consider a seemingly small event in 1996 to which future historians may devote volumes as a turning point that set the world on a course toward war.

That year the government of Sudan offered to arrest bin Laden, then living in its capital city, and turn him over to American authorities, the Washington Post and several British newspapers reported last week. This prompts two questions: If President Clinton could have taken bin Laden into custody, prosecuted him for murderous attacks on Americans in Somalia and spared the lives of thousands who were killed or wounded in future attacks, why didn't he do it? And can we believe the Sudanese government is telling us the truth about its plan to arrest bin Laden?

The answers to those two questions are tightly intertwined in a disturbing tale of deliberately missed opportunities that defines the Clinton legacy.

In the early 1990s, bin Laden was comfortably ensconced in Khartoum, Sudan's dusty, dreary capital. He chose Sudan for the same reasons he later chose Afghanistan: It was run by Islamic militants who had seized power in a largely bloodless coup and who enforced religious law at the point of an AK-47. Its leaders also desperately needed the millions of dollars bin Laden could bring to one of the poorest Muslim countries. And a low-grade continuing civil war promised to keep its government in his debt. And the Sudanese--at the time--cast an indulgent eye toward terrorists.

At first all went according to plan. Bin Laden invested in a string of ventures in Sudan, ranging from airport construction to farms and factories. No doubt along the way Sudanese officials received bribes. But within a few years, payoffs and poor business acumen took its toll. A bin Laden bookkeeper later told the press that the archterrorist lost some $150 million in his Sudanese ventures.

By 1996 bin Laden was wearing out his welcome. The government had extracted what it could from him and now his activities--along with those of the Sudanese government--were taking a heavy toll on the country. America and the United Nations imposed virtually every possible sanction on the Sudanese government. The U.S. and much of the developed world cut trade ties. U.S. and U.N. development aid was drying up. World Bank loans were suddenly impossible to secure.

The Western press, when it wasn't writing about Sudan's hospitality for terrorists, its poverty and its debilitating civil war, was focusing on a flourishing modern-day slave trade. Western evangelicals and human-rights activists were coming by truck from Uganda and by chartered plane from Kenya to visit, comfort and fund the rebels who fought for the rights of the predominantly Christian south and to end the slave trade. As a result, the avarice and ambition of Sudan's ruling elite--who hoped to tap the oil-rich lands held by the southern rebels--were frustrated.

As these powerful external pressures began to turn Khartoum against bin Laden, a split among the ruling factions sealed bin Laden's fate. Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, had come to power in a 1993 coup engineered with the help of an Islamic extremist named Hassan Turabi. By 1996 the two men were feuding. Mr. Turabi enjoyed the support of the various terrorist organizations then residing in Sudan, if the representatives of Sudan's government, with whom I've spoken over the past few weeks, are to be believed. This seems plausible given Mr. Turabi's militant take on Islam and his numerous public statements in support of various holy wars against the prosperous infidels of the Western world. President Bashir saw a unique opportunity to weaken his bitter foe while simultaneously repairing his ties with America and Western Europe by arresting and deporting the gun-toting guardians of his rival.

Through a back channel--an Arlington, Va.-based woman who had frequent contact with President Bashir--Sudan made an approach to both the CIA and the FBI in the spring of 1996. A secretive meeting near the Rosslyn Metro stop on March 3, 1996, and a series of cables and faxes fleshed out the offer. Sudan would take bin Laden into custody and turn him over to Washington--or to any other government the Clinton administration designated.

A few facts made Sudan's claim credible. Sudan turned over the infamous "Carlos the Jackal" to France--which makes it plausible that Khartoum would agree to hand over a then less infamous terrorist to a much greater power. To prove its bona fides, Sudan provided a series of surveillance photographs and other intelligence material that revealed that they kept close watch on bin Laden. They knew his whereabouts and had the ability to bring a large force to bear in a surprise attack on bin Laden. In fact, a Sudanese representative told me, bin Laden could have been captured as his truck moved through the streets of Khartoum.

In addition, Sudan offered to turn over all of its files on bin Laden--the result of more than four years of day-to-day surveillance. A Sudanese government representative indicated that these files filled several rooms and included the history of numerous financial transactions, which could be used to expose the global spider web known as al Qaeda.

Finally, Sudan has little incentive to lie about bin Laden these days. The U.N. Security Council recently lifted its sanctions on Khartoum, and Washington has warmed to the dictatorship whose help it may need to win the war on terrorism.

Ultimately the Clinton administration refused Khartoum's offer. Instead, the Clinton administration simply asked the Sudanese to deport bin Laden. Steven Simon, director of counterterrorism on President Clinton's National Security Council, told the Washington Post: "I really cared about one thing, and that was getting him out of Sudan."

The Clinton administration hoped that Saudi Arabia might agree to arrest, try and execute the terrorist. This was a mind-bogglingly shallow reading of Saudi politics. The Saudi regime is weak and fears the retaliation of the many militant groups active on its soil. "One can understand why the Saudis didn't want him--he was a hot potato--and, frankly, I would have been shocked at the time if the Saudis took him," Mr. Simon told the Post. The Clinton administration focused on buying time, not fighting terrorists. "My calculation was, 'it's going to take him a while to reconstitute, and that screws him up and buys time.,' "

Nor did the administration believe that extraditing bin Laden to America would be wise. "In the United States, we have this thing called the Constitution, so to bring him here is to bring him into the justice system," Sandy Berger, who in 1996 was deputy national security adviser, told the Post. "I don't think that was our first choice. Our first choice was to send him someplace where justice is more"--Mr. Berger paused, according to the Post--"streamlined."

Senior Clinton staffers told the Post about a "fantasy" in which the Saudis would kill bin Laden. But let's not pass too quickly over Mr. Berger's careless words. If the Clinton administration sought "streamlined" justice and saw bin Laden as a great enough threat to America's interests that they hoped another country would kill him, the president could have secretly overturned the executive order banning assassinations of terrorists and sent in a U.S. Army sniper team. Clearly what Clinton officials really wanted was for another country to take the political heat.

Mr. Berger's sentiments ignore the substantial benefits that would have accrued from putting bin Laden on trial in America. The time and expense would have produced a voluminous record that would have persuaded any fair-minded observer, in America or abroad, that bin Laden and his band were what U.S. intelligence thought they were--terrorists who had already succeeded in killing Americans.

When Saudi Arabia refused to take bin Laden, the Clinton administration had no backup plan. Washington simply told Khartoum to deport him. A Sudanese government representative told me American officials told their Sudanese counterparts, " 'We don't care where he goes.' " Shortly thereafter bin Laden left on a chartered plane for Afghanistan. Sudanese officials learned that he succeeded in transferring some of his financial assets out of Sudan. His departure bought time for President Clinton--and for bin Laden.

Even now U.S. intelligence sources have not examined the copious records that Sudan's spy network kept on bin Laden. For those in the U.S. government who doubt the account of the Sudanese and scoff at the reckless fecklessness of the Clinton administration, there is a simple resolution: Send a trusted agent to visit the file rooms of Khartoum.


http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/rminiter/?id=95001289