The Full Osama Tape


Osama bin Laden doesn’t seem nearly so cocky in the unedited version of a videotape aired on al-Jazeera, complaining that the manhunt against him has hampered al Qaeda. AFP/Getty ImagesBin Laden the impotent / Opinion: Page 27 Osama bin Laden’s newest tape may have thrust him to the forefront of the presidential election, but what was not seen was the cave-dwelling terror lord talking about the setbacks al Qaeda has faced in recent months.

Officials said that in the 18-minute long tape — of which only six minutes were aired on the al-Jazeera Arab television network in the Middle East on Friday — bin Laden bemoans the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the lack of violence involved with it. On the tape, bin Laden also says his terror organization has been hurt by the U.S. military’s unrelenting manhunt for him and his cohorts on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A portion of the left-out footage includes a tirade aimed at President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, claiming the war in Iraq is purely over oil.

The tape also sparked some concern that an attack aimed at disrupting Tuesday’s election may be planned. But those who have seen the tape have said there was no specific information regarding an attack. “We are taking this very seriously,” said one counterterrorism official. “This is cause for great concern and we are certainly going on higher alert because of this.”

This is interesting on a couple of levels. Clearly, despite election year claims to the contrary, our efforts have in fact disrupted al Qaeda and set back the jihadist cause. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorism is going to cease being a threat any time soon, as the problem is much larger than just Osama or al Qaeda.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. If the media reports this story; that Osama threatened any state (wilaya=province) which doesn’t vote his way with special retaliation, I wonder what will happen with this election.

  2. krs says:

    This is interesting, though it’s important to note a few things. There’s no doubt that the international effort to disrupt the specific al-Qaeda organization that existed on 9/11 has had an effect on the organization. While Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy has jeopardized that international cooperation, countries have too much at stake to ignore al-Qaeda just to spite Bush. The combination of that increased pressure plus the war in Iraq means that al-Qaeda has evolved into a less heirarchical structure, in which bin Laden has more symbolic power, but less logistical power. The State Department tells us that terrorism around the world has spiked. Recruiting efforts are easier, but maintaining a heirarchical structure and a well-defined financial network has gotten harder. Of course after 9/11 we’re going to try to crack down on al-Qaeda. The question should be whether we’ve done all we can, and whether our policies are as sensible as they should be. We’ve made it more difficult for al-Qaeda to do specific things, but we’ve also countered that by invading an Arab nation that wasn’t bothering us. That nation had virtually no al-Qaeda presence before, but today it’s a hub and breeding grounds for al-Qaeda-style anti-American extremists.

    What most Americans feel inherently by now, I believe, is that the war on terror has had some success DESPITE Iraq, not because of it as Bush has claimed. But the war on terror is primarily an international effort of collaboration with governments around the world, and Bush’s policies have jeopardized this effort. Further, Bush hasn’t done nearly as much on homeland security as many recommended, and he’s spending way more than enough in Iraq to pay for those recommended changes.

    The fact is, America is not an easy place to attack from the outside. Think about it. Two oceans, two allies. That’s it. We’re nowhere near the Middle East, and nowhere near any of our enemies, for that matter. (Well, 40% of Canadian teens now believe Americans are a “force for evil in the world,” according to Fox News, but that still leaves a healthy 60% who force themselves to tolerate us.) America just doesn’t get attacked that often. That’s the historical precedent. The Bush administration had a clear motivation for telling us another attack was inevitable right away. But based on what? Certainly not history. The first World Trade Center attack came nearly a decade before. In between we had Timothy McVeigh, the Columbine massacre, and countless other internal attacks, but not a lot from outside.

    There’s no way that after 9/11 a president wouldn’t spend more time on homeland security. Bt a lot of that is happening at the state and local levels. Bush has even cut a few key areas of homeland security at the national level, including oddly enough several programs having to do with first responders. (He even slightly cut back the air marshal program, strangely.) Then abroad, Bush’s policies have increased multiple-fold the motivation for others to want to attack America, which means the younger guys abroad are now becoming the next generation of recruits. They aren’t as internationally-organized, thanks largely to international efforts against them that have succeeded despite Bush’s unilateralism, but they are equally menacing in a different way. (Take Spain for example. It had never seen anything on the scale of the Madrid train bombings.)

    The US’s failure to keep its eye on bin Laden has had a huge symbolic effect, as well as a lesser but still very significant logistical effect. The US said “dead or alive,” but the guy’s still here. Bush said “the most important thing” is to nab bin Laden. But then a few months later he changed his mind, saying that he wasn’t “that concerned about him” and didn’t “spend that much time on him.” If for no other reason, nabbing bin Laden is critical simply so that justice around the world can be served. America’s leading the world, but takes its eye off a guy who kills 3000 innocent civilians and toppples a couple of skyscrapers? But bin Laden is also a powerful symbol for many of how someone can defy the Western world. He defied the West in an atrocious way, and what does he have to show for it? Well, he’s hated in many quarters. But in many other quarters, he’s hailed as a hero and an inspiration, a model for how best to make a political statement. Bin Laden is a peculiar mixture of intelligence and narrow-minded brutality, and he’s got an unusual gift for inspiring others, whether he opens his mouth or doesn’t. But he’s also a wily logistical opponent, a man who has proven he knows how to do a lot with a little; he showed that while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and he showed it while leading an organization that killed 3000 people without employing a single weapon over $5. Bin Laden’s a patient man. He doesn’t strive for speed; he strives for stealth. And we can bet that if he remains on the loose, something will happen; few Americans doubt that.

    Bush’s line that three-quarters of al-Qaeda have been captured or killed is 100% false, and he knows it. What’s more true is that the organization as it existed on 9/11 has more trouble operating, for obvious reasons. (And this would be true even if the US did nothing, or actively sabatoged efforts to dismantle it; in some cases we have actually sabatoged the efforts.) But when someone is captured or killed, al-Qaeda doesn’t just say, “You win.” It replaces the guy; duh. When someone at a corporation quits, the corp. doesn’t just say, “Well, that position was nice while it lasted.” They replace the person. American foreign policy has made it easy for recruiters to find people who hate the US and the West and are willing to participate. The likeness of the al-Qaeda organization has evolved, but the danger that the organization presents is far greater than it could be, in part due to flawed American policies.

    Bush has gotten a long way on his “war on terror” rhetoric. But how does the rhetoric match his accomplishments? This is something a lot of people, strangely enough, haven’t bothered to ask, but perhaps it’s time they do.

    p.s. It’s not just bin Laden who’s out there. All of the very top guys are still on the loose. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who sort of co-ran the organization with bin Laden. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, who sheltered them. And throw a new one into the mix. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was NOT a member of al-Qaeda prior to the Iraq invasion. Since then he has decided to negotiate with al-Qaeda to make common cause against the US. So al-Qaeda has actually gained a top leader lately. Theoretically Zarqawi should be the easiest to catch, since he’s popping his head out more than the others. STILL, we’ve had little luck in getting him. Also embarrassing on the Zarqawi front is that the US had a chance to bomb his camp (which was located in the Kurdish section of Iraq, outside Saddam’s control) before the war, but decided against it largely because they thought it would undermine a key rationale for the war (or at least a pretended rationale; in truth they had full access to the Kurdish region as it was).

  3. krs says:

    I just want to respond to one more thing:

    “…our efforts have in fact disrupted al Qaeda and set back the jihadist cause…”

    I believe this may be misleading. Our crude approach to the “war on terror” has in many ways elevated the jihadist cause substantially. It’s also united that cause (which is really more political more than it is jihadist, since it’s derived from political grudges, not the Koran). How often did we used to read about the beheadings of Americans and American-allies? It wasn’t too common. Our enemies are changing, but not weakening, and they are uniting against us. Our ultra-military-centric approach to reducing terrorism has little proven track record; on the contrary, through history such an approach has tended to escalate the problem. But it’s even more true today, since al-Qaeda is present in at least 60 nations around the world, and is privately-sponsored. You can’t take out a privately-sponsored group by bombing them. What are we thinking?

    Regardless, Saddam Hussein was a secular leader who tried to root out Islamic extremists. We might ask ourselves how taking him out is hurting the cause of the jihadists. They didn’t like him (called his government “infidels”). They don’t like us. The extremists, however, are now overrunning a country Saddam once kept relatively clean of them.

  4. vdibart says:

    “On the tape, bin Laden also says his terror organization has been hurt by the U.S. military’s unrelenting manhunt for him and his cohorts on the Afghan-Pakistani border.”

    As Democrat, I actually hope they do release this part of the video. The portions of the video that were released have (thankfully) had little effect on undecideds, but it’s hard to argue that this unreleased portion isn’t an attempt to get people to flock to Bush.

    It’s absurd to listen to a man who is the stated enemy of the United Stats rant about how he’s been set back some and *not* think that he’s trying to convince people that Bush is slowly beating him, therefore he should be elected. This is a rare moment of “weakness” from a man who who routinely claims that American blood will run through the streets and states that he wants to kill 4 million Americans, and how convenient that it was caught on tape!

    Whatever your opinion on who Osama wants to win was before, what terrorist leader in his right mind would actually admit *any* defeat to his enemy unless he was hoping to gain something from it. It’s painfully transparent, so I say let ‘er rip.