Why Shouldn't The United States Present Evidence Of Ussama Bin Laden's Guilt Before Bombing Afghanistan?

We were so pleased to see Tim Russert put before Secretary Of State Colin Powell the two questions that so few have been willing to ask. Russert asked Secretary Powell two questions, which we paraphrase: 1) Are you sure that Bin Laden is responsible for the terrorist attack and 2) Will you be releasing a white paper that will show evidence of who was involved in “order to put people’s minds at ease”? Powell’s response was that they were sure that if not Bin Laden, than his group Al-Queda was involved and that sometime in the future a paper will be released that will make crystal clear all of the evidence against Bin Laden and associates.

We were interested in Russert’s line of questioning because we did not find the Taliban’s response to President Bush’s demand, Thursday night, that they turn over Bin Laden to the United States, to be unreasonable. The Taliban said that they would not hand Bin Laden over until they were provided with evidence of his involvement in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. U.S. government officials and the media shirked at the Taliban’s response all day Friday and into the weekend, with some ridiculing their counter-position, but we didn’t find anything worth mocking in what the Taliban requested.

While many people may detest Bin Laden and the Taliban for a variety of reasons we don’t see how that disposition should justify the United States’ stance that the Taliban must hand over Bin Laden, without evidence, or suffer the fate they have planned for him. The do-what-we-say-no-questions-asked approach is not only inappropriate but feeds into the argument that the United States is a bastion of imperialism believing that it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whomever it wants.

In addition, we wonder about the mob-mentality that so comfortably accepts, on face-value, the U.S. government's evolving assertion(s) regarding who is responsible for the WTC and Pentagon attack. First we were told that Bin Laden is the sole mastermind behind the planning. Then it is broadcast that more than Bin Laden is behind what happened and that it involves the international Al-Queda network. Now we are asked to believe that Bin Laden and Al-Queda are responsible for the attack but possibly with an assist from Saddam Hussein and/or Iraqi intelligence agents. And all along the way, the general public finds itself increasingly dependent upon a media that is getting all of its "breaking news"; regarding who is responsible for the attacks from "anonymous", "senior" or "high-level" Pentagon, State Department or White House officials, speaking on background.

Our first reaction to the Taliban's response to President Bush's address to the entire U.S. Congress and nation, was that it was reasonable in terms of what international law mandates and consistent with how the United States would respond if it were confronted with the same demand. Certainly, the United States government would never hand over an American citizen who was a suspected criminal, no matter how notorious, without being presented with some form of evidence or an indictment regarding the alleged crimes of that individual.

In addition to that reaction we also immediately remembered that the United States government has already impaneled a grand jury that is reviewing evidence regarding the September 11th attack. What is the purpose of a grand jury and the evidence and search for truth that it concerns itself with, if the Commander-In-Chief and his top advisers are going to arbitrarily assign guilt and responsibility for the attack to whomever they like?

In light of the fact that the United States has established a grand jury in White Plains, New York which is reviewing evidence, we think the Taliban is taking an appropriate position when it asks that it be provided with evidence regarding Bin Laden's alleged masterminding or involvement in what happened. Whatever the grand jury returns, in the way of indictment(s) should be formally presented to the Taliban and an extradition request should be formally filed, we initially thought.

But here is where the crux of the problem lies. Because the United States and the Taliban have no treaty of extradition both sides are provided cover for their respective positions. The United States can refuse to provide the Taliban with evidence because it is under no obligation to do so. Therefore it can hold the Taliban responsible once it refuses to hand Bin Laden over and can bomb Afghanistan without impunity, theoretically. And the Taliban can say that it is not required to hand over Bin Laden because it has not been provided evidence. Therefore any effort to attack Bin Laden and Afghanistan is unjustified, theoretically.

We are of the opinion that the United States government really is not interested in providing evidence of Bin Laden's alleged guilt in private or in public. Even her supposed partners in the war on terrorism are being offered political favors and financial aid, directly and indirectly, in return for their assistance, but not actual evidence of Bin Laden's guilt. And we are certainly convinced that the U.S. government has not demonstrated that it is interested in providing such evidence to her own people. This was evident when President Bush outright stated that Bin Laden and Al-Queda were responsible for the terrorist attacks, and gave his ultimatum to the Taliban, without offering a shred of evidence or informing the public that such evidence is forthcoming. And maybe most importantly, in none of his public remarks, that we have witnessed, has President Bush mentioned that a grand jury is currently doing the work of gathering evidence pertaining to the attacks.

Having said that, we do not side with the Taliban in this argument. We are not interested in any effort to "save" them. On the contrary, it is the truth and a standard with which the conduct of all nations can be judged and held accountable to that we are siding with and trying to "save". It is not only the Taliban, but we, that would like to see the supposed overwhelming evidence against Bin Laden; the paper trail that connects him and his associates in Afghanistan and Egypt and other places with what happened in New York and right outside of Washington D.C. If it exists and he is privy to it, President Bush should make it available to the U.S. Congress and his countrymen. At the very least he should wait on the work of the grand jury to be completed before he announces a guilt that he cannot prove, and certainly before he launches a military attack in Afghanistan.

Having said that, we recognize that the Taliban has been duplicitous and even disingenuous in some of its arguments against the U.S. government regarding the presentation of "evidence" in the past. One of the most recent instances of this was in an informative interview the Taliban's Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid gave to the Final Call newspaper.

FC: The United States government says that they want stronger sanctions against the Taliban to force your government to hand over Osama bin Laden. What do you say to the U.S. government?

AHM: We didn't bring this person to Afghanistan. He came to Afghanistan some 15, 16 years ago as a member of the Islamic Brotherhood. At the time we were fighting the Russians and he helped us. After the defeat of the Russians, Osama bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia, but his citizenship there was taken away. From the Sudan, in 1994, he came to us. In 1995, at the request of the United States, we transferred him from the Eastern part of the country to a Taliban headquarters in another sector, to be controlled. With further pressure and request of the United States, we captured all means of communication from Osama bin Laden: telephones, fax (machines) and other means. After the bombing allegations against him, he came to the Islamic Taliban Movement, (and said) "I come to you to reject these kinds of allegations (of terrorism). I didn't do this bombing."

In spite of Osama bin Laden's declarations, we established a court against him and declared all over the world to any government, if they have any kind of evidence to put it before our court. No country came forward to claim that Osama was a criminal. So, we ended this trial. But, the United States continued with these accusations and we again asked them to come to Afghanistan with their evidence. We have no treaty of extradition with the United States. The United States continues to say that they do not recognize our government and therefore will not do business with us. They continue to insist that they will seek other means of extradition of this man from our country.

Our problem is that on one side we have the United States government and the sanctions of the UN Security Council, and the other hand we have very strong values, tradition and what is strong ideology along these lines. This is the dilemma. We do not want to protect Osama bin Laden or use him against any country, especially the United States, who helped us against the Russians. But, the United States and Russian Federation are using this very delicate situation to divide the Afghan people, because they understand the people will turn against the Taliban, if we turn him over.

Otherwise, we will not allow Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan against any country. In Afghanistan no one is above the law, if he is committing crimes, he will be punished. We want to solve the issue of bin Laden, but the U.S. and Russian Federation have other designs. They want to use him as an excuse for political pressure and to scare other nations from speaking up against them.

Much of what the Taliban's amabassador says is true but they do leave out some of the essential facts. The Taliban is not being totally honest when it says that it was not presented with any evidence of Bin Laden's involvement in the African embassy bombings. This is simply not true. A grand jury in the U.S. returned a 157-page indictment naming Bin Laden and others for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks against the U.S. embassies in Africa embassies. Certainly, the accuracy of the indictment is open to debate but not the fact that it was public and that the Taliban was made aware of it. But because the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan and the U.S. have no treaty of extradition, the Taliban can set up its own court which the U.S. will not recognize, and ask for evidence to be presented against Bin Laden and then say that they didn't receive any.

Understanding that, our interest and concern is that the United States be required to gather and present evidence, preferably in the form of an indictment against Bin Laden before Afghanistan is arbitrarily bombed. And we think that the presentation of evidence should not be a private affair where the United States takes the case against Bin Laden only to those who it wishes to make its coalition partners. There are already enormous questions even among those who are sympathetic to the U.S. cause. There are media reports that Pakistan and several other nations are only being provided with a view of the evidence of Bin Laden pertaining to the 1998 African embassy bombings but next-to-nothing regarding the September 11th bombing.

We think that in addition to honoring the Taliban's request, that the evidence against Bin Laden should be presented to both the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). And if the UN and OIC find the evidence credible and the Taliban still does not hand over Bin Laden, then the United States may be justified in arbitrarily acting to arrest Bin Laden and his associates in a manner similar to how it "arrested" Panamanian leader Manuel Norieaga. But the bombing of an entire nation, if it occurs, without a formal presentation of evidence is difficult to swallow, especially in a country that prides itself on the rule of law and justice.

Once the United States lowers itself to that standard it guarantees that it will lose its war against terrorists, by becoming one itself. Not just in the eyes of the innocent Afghanistan civilians that will be harmed by indiscriminate American bombs, but also in the eyes of all those who seek after justice and the truth.

The U.S. government should allow the White Plains grand jury to do its job before it drops bombs.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, September 24, 2001