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Down the Osama Rabbit Hole and Into the War on Terror Wonderland

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By Kristina Borjesson

Here we go again. President Bush goes to Israel. He talks to the Israeli Knesset
about standing "together against terror and extremism." He cites the
example of Osama bin Laden teaching that "the killing of Jews and Americans
is one of the biggest duties." The next day, yet another unauthenticated
bin Laden tape surfaces. "In a tape marking Israel’s 60th anniversary,"
reported the BBC, "the speaker pledged to continue fighting the Israelis
and not give up a ‘single inch of Palestine.’" Once again,
the lead was followed by what has now become the standard second line, "The
tape’s authenticity could not be verified." Once again, the timing
is interesting. Bin Laden’s message was just in time to help President
Bush make his point.

The BBC’s May 16, 2008 report continues with this: "The last messages
attributed to Bin Laden were aired in March." Those messages couldn’t
be verified either.

The last clear videotape of bin Laden was released to al Jazeera on December
27, 2001. The CIA released one two weeks earlier that they claimed had been
shot the month before, but the video is very fuzzy and the purported bin Laden
in the tape doesn’t altogether look like the bin Laden in authentic photos and
videos. A couple of other videos were released in 2004 and 2007, both of which
were fuzzy enough to raise questions. The 2007 video looked exactly like the
2004 video, except that the purported bin Laden’s beard was black in the
2007 video and streaked with gray in the earlier 2004 video. This discrepancy
was startling enough to catch mainstream media’s eye. On October 29, 2007,
MSNBC released a story titled "Was Bin Laden’s Last Video Faked?"

Meanwhile, virtually no one in the US media followed up on Benazir Bhutto’s
stunning comment to British correspondent David Frost in a November 2007 interview
following the assassination attempt she survived. At one point, Bhutto describes
the backers behind her would-be assassins as having had "dealings"
with Omar Sheikh, the "man who murdered bin Laden." Frost didn’t
follow up on her explosive comment either.

If a series of unauthenticated bin Laden tapes aren’t Alice in Wonderlandish
enough, here’s an additional Rabbit Hole dimension: last month, the BBC
reported that Al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, complained
about Iran’s anti-Israel media circulating "persistent rumors in
the Middle East that Israel was involved in the 9/11 attacks." This upset
him because al Qaeda needs to keep the credit for the spectacular 9/11 job to
maintain its player status in the Middle East. Ironically, Osama bin Laden is
not wanted by the FBI for 9/11, but the US government agrees with al Zawahiri
that al Qaeda did it.

Meanwhile, not helping to quell the rumors were reports that in April 2008,
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University that
9/11 was good for Israel. "We are benefiting from one thing, and that is
the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,"
the Israeli paper Ma’ariv quoted him saying and adding that 9/11 "swung
American public opinion in our favor."

But Middle Eastern public opinion is what matters to al Zawahiri. According
to BBC security correspondent Rob Watson, al Zawahiri needs the 9/11 street
creds to continue building al Qaeda’s Sunni power base against Shia Iran’s
growing influence in the region. Watson said that al Zawahiri’s attack
on Iran seemed to be "designed to play on Sunni fears throughout the region
of growing [Shia] Iranian influence, and to present al Qaeda as the best bulwark
against Teheran." Again, US and al Qaeda interests converge in their mutual
desire to diminish Iran’s influence.

The collaborative virtual reality created by al Qaeda and the Bush administration’s
messages are matched by hard realities on the ground. A while back, investigative
journalist Sy Hersh reported that the Bush administration was secretly funding
Sunni groups in Iraq with ties to al Qaeda to counter Iran-backed Shia insurgents
there. It’s surreal to contemplate the US government working with al Qaeda-connected
groups under any circumstances. And then to think that by sharing an anti-Iran
policy with al Qaeda, US efforts to weaken Iran will benefit al Qaeda. This
would be compounding the irony, insult and injury of the fact that the US invasion
of Iraq brought al Qaeda to that country in the first place.

But getting back to al Qaeda’s number two man, al Zawahiri. It’s
interesting to note that when he wants to send a message, he often does it via
videotape. His videotapes are always in focus and the image is always unequivocally
his. If al Zawahiri can manage this, why can’t bin Laden? If bin Laden
really is alive, why does he keep resorting to releasing audiotapes that can’t
be authenticated?

The strange trail of unauthenticated bin Laden audiotapes and problematic videotapes
suggest that Bhutto may be right and that bin Laden has been dead for years
now while the Bush administration and al Zawahiri keep him "alive"
for their respective and intertwined purposes. America’s War on Terrorism
needs a bogeyman and al Qaeda needs a leader of mythic proportions. Bin Laden,
dead or alive, fits the bill for both.

[For a more detailed rundown of the problems with the video and audiotapes
as well as the sites you can visit to see the videotapes, see my previous BUZZFLASH
editorial, "Are the Osama Tapes Fake?" here at:]

Kristina Borjesson is an independent investigative reporter and media critic.
Both of her books, Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11, Top Journalists Speak
Out, and Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press,
won the Independent Publishers Award for Best Book in the Current Events category.
Into the Buzzsaw also garnered the National Press Club’s Arthur Rowse
award for media criticism. In television, Borjesson has garnered Emmy and Murrow
awards for her investigative reporting. This editorial is the latest in a series
that Borjesson has been writing that examine messages purported to be released
by Osama bin Laden.

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