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Robert Fisk Recounts His Interviews with Osama bin Laden, as Well as Father of Alleged Hijacker

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Journalist Robert Fisk, Mideast correspondent for The Independent of London, joins us to discuss his interviews with Osama bin Laden in 1994 and 1997. Fisk recalls a disturbing remark by bin Laden in their last meeting: "'We believe that God used our holy war in Afghanistan to destroy the Russian army and the Soviet Union.' He said, 'We did this from the top of the very mountain on which you are sitting, Mr. Robert. And now we ask God to use us one more time to do the same to America, to make it a shadow of itself.'" Fisk also discusses his recent interview with the father of Ziad Jarrah, one of the suspected hijackers in last week’s attacks. [includes rush transcript]

Guest:

  • Robert Fisk, Mideast correspondent for The Independent of London.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a piece by Robert Fisk from the 1998 issue of The Nation magazine, as he begins: "The last time I saw Osama bin Laden was in a tent on a mountaintop camp in Afghanistan last year. A few meters away was a 25-foot-high air raid shelter cut into the rock, a relic of bin Laden’s days fighting the Soviet Army, but bombproof against even a cruise missile. bin Laden had entered the tent in his white Saudi robes, shaken hands with me and sat cross-legged on the rug."

Robert Fisk joins us now from Beirut.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.

ROBERT FISK: Hi, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So tell us about that meeting you had with him.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, well, the meeting was for my own newspaper, The London Independent, not for The Nation, though I did write a piece for The Nation.

It was—looking back on it, I suppose it was a prescient meeting, although at the time, of course, it was interesting enough. We knew that the Americans were fingering bin Laden as the man behind attacks on American troops in the Gulf. We knew that bin Laden was being accused of running an international network of "World Terror Inc.," as the sobriquet went from the State Department and, of course, Time magazine.

And it was a strange meeting, in that it took me hours to get up this mountainside with guards, his armed guards, up a road which he, himself, had built with his own construction equipment during the Afghan-Russian war so that the mujahideen could get up the mountainsides and could physically get high enough to fire British Blowpipe missiles at Russian MiG fighters. It was a journey, with—the clouds were below us. There were waterfalls frozen above us. The Toyota jeep screeching on the scree on the side of the mountainside. At one point I thought we were in great danger of not surviving this. But at one point, in fact, the driver, who was a Tunisian fighter for bin Laden, turned and said, "Toyota is good for jihad." I didn’t know Toyotas were good for holy war. But anyway, we got up the top of the mountain, and I went—I was taken to a tent next to the air raid shelter, and I waited in there. And after about an hour, bin Laden walked in in very humble white Saudi robes. I noticed on the latest videotape he’s wearing some kind of gold, embroidered gold cloth, which seems to me that something’s changed in him. But anyway, in those days he was still the same. He had a slight infirmity in the leg, a kind of—gave him a small limp.

But I still have my notes, scribbled in the frozen darkness with an oil lamp sputtering between us. I’ve got the quotes which I thought were most frightening. He started off with the old cliché: "I’m not against the American people, only their government." Decades of dictatorship out here, of course, have persuaded many Muslims of the region that governments don’t represent their people. And I tried to explain to bin Laden that this was not so in the West, that the American people, against whom he supposedly had no argument, regarded their government as their elected representatives. He didn’t say much to this, merely the observation that "We are still at the beginning of our military action against the American forces." He was talking there about American forces in the Gulf—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and so on.

And then, later on, there was a much more disturbing remark, or certainly disturbing in the light of what happened last week. And this does not mean he was responsible, but it obviously raises the question in my mind. He said, "We believe that God used our holy war in Afghanistan to destroy the Russian army and the Soviet Union." He said, "We did this from the top of the very mountain on which you are sitting, Mr. Robert. And now we ask God to use us one more time to do the same to America, to make it a shadow of itself. We also believe that our battle against America is much simpler than our battle against the Russians." And he went on to say that the reason for this was that some of his men had fought the Americans in Somalia. He meant the doomed U.N. mission to Somalia. And he said that that gave him the impression that—he said, "Our men were surprised at the collapse of American morale in Somalia. This convinced us that the Americans are a paper tiger." Well, in the coming days, weeks or months, he may change that view of the Americans being a paper tiger, but that’s what he said to me at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Robert Fisk describing his interview with Osama bin Laden. And this was in—when? 1997?

ROBERT FISK: March the 26th, 1997, is the date on my notes.

AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm. And how difficult was it to make contact with him and to reach him?

ROBERT FISK: Well, you have to understand, it wasn’t that simple. I had first met him in Sudan in 1994, when he was already being fingered by the United States, but not for anything particularly specific. And at the time, he was using his own road construction equipment, the same bulldozers and earth movers he had had in Afghanistan, to build a road for a small village, which would connect that village to the main highway between Port Sudan and Khartoum. And when I arrived, there were sort of festivities going on, and villagers were dancing and slaughtering sheep in his honor. And when I approached him, I think he thought I was going to ask him about World Terror Inc. But, in fact, I was more interested in hearing about his life—this, of course, was 1994 we’re talking about—his life when he was fighting the Russians.

He was wounded six times. He was undoubtedly a brave man in that war. He didn’t really want to talk about himself, but I pushed him, and he did. And he talked about how one day, in an attack on a Russian firebase in Nangarhar province—that’s around the area of Jalalabad in southeastern Afghanistan—a shell, probably a mortar shell from the Russians, landed at his feet. And in the few milliseconds he waited to die, he said he felt this great tranquility come over him, a great calmness of spirit, which he associated with his religion. And then—no doubt the Americans today would wish it otherwise—the shell did not explode. But it obviously was a considerable religious experience for him, and I was interested to see what was making him what he was. And I think the war did it. There’s no doubt. You’ve just heard the quotation from him about how he moved from the war against the Russians, whom of course he regarded as a corrupt Western power—from the Saudi Afghan point of view, that’s what they were—to the war against America.

And anyway, I know that he secured a copy of the newspaper later on, and apparently he thought it was fair. He expected it was all going to be about World Terror Inc. And so, later, when I was in Afghanistan, I was able to make contact. And after many weeks, I received a—a boy came to a hotel in a ruined city and said to me, "Mr. Osama will see you." I was then told to be ready the next day, when someone rattled a car key on my bedroom window, and I was taken out to a road where six young men—not that young, actually—with rocket launchers and rifles were sitting on an open-top truck. I was a bit worried they might be Pakistani security or intelligence, though this was inside Afghanistan, of course. And they took me off across the—across wastelands. We went through an extraordinary—we must have gone hundreds of miles through deserted areas. There were whole Afghan villages bombed to pieces by the Russians, burned-out tanks, naked babies playing in the ruins, a huge number of areas which no one went into because of mines. There are 10 million mines in Afghanistan today, 10 million. That’s a tenth of all the world’s mines. Mr. Bush will not be thinking of that if he sends his soldiers in there. And eventually, in the evening, we came across a sort of orchard and a small stream. And I waded through the stream to the other side. And out of a mud hut with a lamp burning in it came bin Laden. And he said, how was I? And I said, "I’ve come a long way." And he said, "Well, I’ve come a long way, too." He had obviously been traveling from the far end of Afghanistan to meet me.

And there, we had another conversation, which very much revolved around his desire to destroy the Arab pro-American regimes—not the countries, but the regimes—first and foremost, the Saudi regime, which he regarded as corrupt. At one point he pulled out a little notebook and started reading off all the millions of dollars and statistics, which he believed various Saudi princes had misappropriated from the people’s money—of the people’s money. And he then went on talking about Egypt and about Jordan, both of whom he saw as being basically pro-Western regimes whose governments repress their own people with torture. He spoke very movingly—at least I thought so at the time, of course I might not think so now—of the tens of thousands of children who were suffering under U.N. sanctions—there weren’t as many dead then, of course, as there are now—in Iraq. He hated Saddam and made that very clear to me.

I tried to draw him a little bit on his past. All he could remember—he had visited London once, and he could remember, as a little boy of five or six, looking out the window of a hotel—no doubt a very luxurious hotel, because his family are multi-billionaires—and seeing red London buses. But that was really the only content he had left from the West that he chose to talk about. And he then talked over and over again about some bombs which had gone off in al-Khobar near Dhahran in Saudi Arabia and in Riyadh. He admitted, in the last conversation we had, on the top of the mountain, that he knew two of the men involved in the bombing in al-Khobar, who had since been executed, beheaded by the Saudis. But he said, "I didn’t plan it. It wasn’t my doing, although I wish I had had the honor to participate." That’s what he said—

AMY GOODMAN: The bombing of the U.S. military.

ROBERT FISK: —which is, of course, a bit chilling.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the bombing of the U.S. military.

ROBERT FISK: Bombing a U.S. military base in Riyadh and Dhahran, or the al-Khobar area of Dhahran, yeah, 24 Americans killed in the second, I think 19 in the first—military, of course. At that time, of course, I was still talking to a man who was talking about combating military forces, not civilians. And I also have to add, I simply do not have any proof that he is behind the—I don’t think "atrocities" are really good enough. I think the word is "crimes against humanity," which took place in New York and Washington last week. I don’t have the proof. But obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about it and going back through my notes and reading what he said. And that—that phrase, "a shadow of itself," about America, somehow, if you think of that, and you see the World Trade Center coming down and the buildings around it, it sort of comes together in a rather chilling way. But again, that’s not evidence, and that’s not proof.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert Fisk, you went to Almarj, Lebanon, and met the family of Ziad Jarrah, who died trying to destroy the White House. Can you talk about this trip that you’ve just written about in The Independent?

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, well, Almarj is a sprawling, quite well-off village in the Bekaa Valley. It’s a Sunni and Christian village. It’s not Shiite. It’s not associated with the Hezbollah or previous suicide bombings in Lebanon of any kind. His father agreed to see me, probably because there’s some knowledge there that I wrote a book about Lebanon, which is a fairly sort of compassionate account of what happened to his country in the civil war. And we sat for perhaps two hours, two-and-a-half hours in all. A very broken man. He had had a heart surgery in February of this year.

And he told me about his son, who very definitely didn’t appear to him to be an Islamist, or at least that’s what he said. He said that he had a very normal life, that he’d gone off five years ago to a university in eastern Germany, the eastern part of the modern Germany, to study mechanical engineering, and then had moved to Bochum, Hamburg, to study aeronautical engineering. He wanted to be a pilot. The father regularly sent him quite large amounts of money. He bought a private home for himself in Germany. He had a girlfriend, a Turkish girlfriend called Aysel, whom he lived with in Germany. And he enjoyed nightclubs, and he drank alcohol. He came home. He would go out for a drink with friends. So this was not like the men around bin Laden, who would never dream of smoking, let alone touching alcohol, who would get out of their vehicles in mine fields and pray five times a day, as I saw them do in front of me in Afghanistan.

His girlfriend, 18 months ago, so his uncle—this is his uncle Jamal, who was sitting close to Samir, the father, told me his girlfriend, 18 months ago, reported him missing and was worried that he had gone for five weeks to Afghanistan. And I understand, though the family did not admit this to me, that they contacted somebody in Peshawar to try and get him out, if he was there. The family now claim officially that in fact it turned out he said he was just changing universities, from eastern Germany to Hamburg, and hadn’t been in touch during that period, though I have to admit, I find that very strange, since—not to tell the girl you’re living with for five weeks where you are, when all you’re doing is transferring from one academic institution to another, seems very peculiar to me.

The boy came home in February, when the father—Ziad Jarrah came home in February of this year, when the father had his open-heart surgery, and was with him every day in the hospital, fetching things, bringing things, looking after his mother and his two sisters. He was an only son, so he mattered a lot to the family and mattered a lot to the father, especially in this part of the world. He was the man who was going to carry on the father’s name. His full name, you see, was Ziad Samir Jarrah, taking his father’s name as his middle name, as many of us do in the West.

Anyway, in the summer, when he was back in America, his girlfriend Aysel said she wanted to come to Lebanon to meet his family, and he said he was too busy to come, he was very sorry. But the girl came on her own. She wanted to meet her future in-laws, which again I thought was strange. What young man in love with a young woman, and was going to marry her, would not want to travel with her on her first visit to meet her future family, her Lebanese side of her family—in other words, her future mother- and father-in-law?

Two days before the planes were hijacked, Ziad Jarrah rang his father to thank him for a money order of $2,000, which Samir, the father, had sent him. I said to the father, "That’s a lot of money." He said, "Well, he had a girlfriend to look after. He had a house to look after in Germany, a private house. He had to look after his tuition fees." I obviously wondered whether that $2,000 was buying airline tickets.

I asked what he was doing on a flight to California. And he said, "Oh, he must have been just a passenger." I said, "Did he tell you he was going to California?" "No, he did not." So I said, "Isn’t that a bit strange? He rings you to thank you for the money, and he doesn’t mention, in two days’ time, he’s going on a 2,000-mile, three—however far the distance is across the States—journey? He’s going—where’s he going? A holiday? Traveling with friends, perhaps?"

Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian involved in one of the two planes, the pilot of one of the two planes that hit the World Trade Center, was at the same university at the same time with him. And we believe that the two other men—two of the three other men who were on this flight, which went to Pennsylvania and crashed in the ground, with apparently Ziad Jarrah at the controls, were also staying with him at one point in Germany. So, very strong circumstantial evidence to suggest he was not just a passenger, not just a tourist or another hijacked passenger.

Now, since then, I’ve understood from security sources here in Lebanon that he did in fact go to Afghanistan 18 months ago, just before he went to America, and spent 40 days there. And when he came back, his neighbors were surprised to see he had a beard.

Now, I know no more than that. And the family, I have to say in fairness, say that that is not true, that he did not go to Afghanistan. They don’t believe it.

But the hole in the story, if you can use that phrase, for me is, if he’s one of bin Laden’s men, how come the booze? How come the women? How come the nightclubs? It doesn’t come in parallel with what I saw in Afghanistan. Oh, and I met a lot of bin Laden fighters—Algerian GIA men, Egyptians, Syrians, Gulf Arabs, Palestinians. They would never have behaved like that. The only possible, I suppose, thought that would go through one’s mind is that some kind of special dispensation was given on the grounds that you’ve got to seem like a Westerner. If you behave like a very conservative Islamist, American intelligence operatives could start to get suspicious. Now, I don’t know. That’s purely a guess. I have speculation; I have no knowledge of it. But clearly, there is a hole in the story there. It’s inexplicable that one of bin Laden’s men, if that’s what he was, should be behaving like any ordinary Western man and breaking an awful lot of the rules of strict Islam.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk is our guest, speaking to us from Beirut, Lebanon, has just come from interviewing the family of Ziad Jarrah, who died trying to destroy the White House. His piece begins, "When Ziad Jarrah climbed aboard United Airlines flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, was he planning to holiday in California or to destroy the White House? The United States says the latter. His family begs visitors and friends to believe in his innocence. His father Samir sat beside [Robert Fisk] yesterday afternoon and opened his palms in that gesture of innocence which is also a form of special pleading," Robert Fisk writes.

So, you have him buying these air tickets for the Boeing 757 flight to California. The other three men have been named as hijackers of Flight UA93: Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami and Saeed Alghamdi. "And if two of them lived with Ziad in Germany, his guilt seemed even more certain," you write, "when it was revealed that one of his fellow students was Mohamad Atta, the Egyptian-born pilot who crashed American Airlines flight AA11 into the World Trade Centre on Tuesday morning."

At this point, you also describe the mosque in the village of his family.

ROBERT FISK: Yes. Well, I’ve never seen such a massive mosque in such a small village, though I have to say that all villagers said that he had never seen—he was never seen going there. He didn’t pray five times a day. It’s also a Christian village, I just noted, because I thought that it was extraordinary that such a huge mosque should be there. I mean, it’s a towering construction with two huge minarets, and we’re talking about a village of maybe 3,000-4,000 people only, in not a wealthy part of the Bekaa, though the village itself has quite a lot of money. His father is well educated. In fact, the family as a whole, cousins and uncles, speak, many of them, English with American accents. They’ve lived in the States. They’re very Westernized. They speak pretty good English, quite good, anyway. So, you know, again, the mosque doesn’t cure the hole in the story, so to speak.

I have to say that whether that money that the father sent, or which he thanked the father for two days before the hijackings, was used on air tickets, I don’t know. But obviously, that was a question that came into my mind. If you’ll remember the mobile phone calls, those terribly sad calls that were made from that flight before it crashed in Pennsylvania, one of the men who got through to his wife described the four men as having red headbands. Now, that is more like an Islamist hijacker.

But, you know, it comes back to, you say, why would a guy, who has an attractive girlfriend who he’s going to marry, who enjoys nightclubs, who goes drinking, set off to kill himself and everyone on the plane? A person who enjoys the material things of life would not normally do that. But maybe there was something we don’t know about the makeup of that person. All the other 19 people or 18 people involved in this, it was a mass suicide, as well as a massacre of atrocious proportions, remember. So I came away troubled, but obviously a little bit convinced that the son was indeed one of the hijackers. But that he was bin Laden’s man, I would doubt totally, had it not been for the fact that I am certain he did go to Afghanistan for 40 days.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you raise an interesting question that people have to ask, when it comes to all information, and it has to do with skepticism. How do we know? I mean, Osama bin Laden has—was first named by Colin Powell, then by President Bush, as the prime suspect in this case.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of evidence that’s been presented to the public, at least, it is not clear at all why that connection has been made.

ROBERT FISK: Well, there’s a number of questions that obviously come to mind. First of all, the U.S. Department of Justice list of would-be hijackers or actual hijackers spells Jarrahi’s name wrongly. It puts an "I" on it. It’s "Jarrah," and they spelled it "Jarrahi," which is a bit sloppy, unless perhaps he had a passport that was spelled wrong.

We know that at the beginning they named one of the hijackers as Abdul Rahman Omari, al-Omari. And he was stated by the U.S. authorities to be a Saudi pilot and a father of four. Now, I’ve got the list in front of me. I’m just looking up al-Omari on here. And he is definitely listed as one of the men on Flight 11. This is the World Trade Center first aircraft to hit, piloted by Mohamed Atta. But in the later version of the list, his name was changed from Abdul Rahman to Abdulaziz al-Omari. And much more disturbingly, this Mr. al-Omari does indeed exist, but he is very much alive, very upset, and living in Jeddah with his four children, and he is a Saudi pilot. In fact, on Saturday, I gather, he went to the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and asked to point out, one, that he wasn’t a hijacker, and, two, that he wasn’t dead, but alive. The U.S. authorities have not yet been able to explain this.

Of course, it is possible that he and perhaps someone else were using the identities of living people, of other living people. A lot of the guys who were training in Florida were saying, "We are sponsored by Saudi Airlines," which is the national airline of Saudi Arabia. But if you’re going to use someone else’s identity for month after month after month, I think you’ll probably get, as Mr. Bush would say, smoked out. It’s a dangerous thing to do. So how come that name went down the list? I don’t know. But there’s a lot more explaining to do. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that these were Arab Muslims involved. That is the most—most dangerous thing about the evidence insofar as nationalities and religions are concerned, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response right now where you are, in Lebanon?

ROBERT FISK: Oh, clerics, Muslim clerics, both here and in Egypt and Jordan, are lining up, shoulder to shoulder, to condemn what they refer to as "the atrocity." Mullahs, sheikhs, sayeds, you wouldn’t believe, from Beirut to Tehran, sending condolences and sympathy, and of course distancing themselves from an atrocity which many millions of Arab Muslims watched live on their television screens like you did. There is, of course, genuine outrage.

But it would be, perhaps—you know, the Americans like to make this out to be the Arabs are on our side, but the truth is that the Taliban, who do seem to be the shield of Osama bin Laden, have almost as many enemies in the Middle East as they do in America. You’ve got to remember that Iran—at the time when America was still saying that the Taliban were a stabilizing influence, after the raping and looting of the various mujahideen groups, the Taliban were being condemned by Iran as "obscurantists." They called them the "black Taliban." This is when America was quite happy with the Taliban. And remember, the Taliban were creations of—basically, a spiritual, theological creation of the Saudis. They’re Wahhabi Sunnis, and the Saudis supported them—our friends, the Saudis, who now turn out to have some of their citizens among the hijackers, and one particular ex-citizen called Osama bin Laden.

So you have a lot of people, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual guide to the Hezbollah, for example, the group which reinvented the art of suicide bombing against the Israeli occupation army in Lebanon, and whom Washington still blames for the kidnapping of Americans in Beirut in the 1980s. He has been saying, I quote, "No religion justifies such an action. It is not permissible to use innocent and peaceful civilians as a card to change a specific policy." He says that Muslims want to be friends with the American people. We reject violence as a means to solve problems. The Hezbollah came out with a slightly more crafty condemnation. The Hezbollah’s attitude was that it regretted the loss of innocent lives in the United States, but it warned America not to take advantage of the atrocities to practice, as it put it, to practice all sorts of aggression and terrorism under the pretext of fighting aggression and terrorism. So, by and large, there doesn’t seem to be any religious personage in the Middle East, of any senior kind anyway, who has not condemned in various—with various degrees. And they certainly have been harsher in their condemnation than the Chinese have.

But I would say, having said that, that that is—you know, there are various—on the one hand, the Arabs realize that the constant repetition of the same piece of videotape of Palestinians celebrating these appalling events has done them immense harm. They’re also very much aware of the danger Israel will use these events and the world’s distraction to take more territory back from the Palestinians. Indeed, that seems to have been happening in the last 24 hours. They’re aware that Mr. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, has been saying that Yasser Arafat is his bin Laden. And of course, there is a certain danger here. Mr. Sharon has already said he wants Israel to sign up to Mr. Bush’s war on world terror. Well, if Israel does sign up, and the Palestinians go on resisting occupation, they will, by extension, be on the side of world terror, because they’re fighting the Israelis. So there’s an awful lot of political, indeed military, dangers in the Middle East because of this.

But as I say, there’s no one out here who’s come out and said this was a good thing or this should be supported. So I think that, in a sense, the most Arab Muslim nations—all of them, really—have a clean bill of health as far as the Americans are concerned. But contrary to what Mr. Bush thinks, I don’t think they’re going to give them an awful lot of support when it comes to more military action against Muslims.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Israeli prime minister has called off talks with Yasser Arafat—

ROBERT FISK: Mm, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —between Arafat and Shimon Peres. There’s also question about the legitimacy of the videotape of the Palestinians who were supposedly celebrating. On the one hand, CNN absolutely vouches for it. This was in Nablus. I think questions have been raised by a Brazilian academic or filmmaker who said that this was footage from the Persian Gulf War. Do you know anything about that?

ROBERT FISK: No, I don’t. But I’ll be quite honest with you. I’ve gone through the various excuses for Arab misbehavior before, and I probably go along with CNN, though, as you know from the past, it’s my least favorite television channel. There were demonstrations in Ramallah. There was a demonstration that took place in East Jerusalem. It was filmed. Here in Lebanon in the Ain al-Hilweh camp, there was about an hour of demonstrations of young men firing in the air to celebrate. This was filmed by a film crew who are friends of mine, Lebanese-Arab film crew, until an hour later, they were told to stop, and some kind of order was restored. So, whether one tiny bit of film was in question by a Brazilian cameraman is not the point. The demonstrations took place. The issue is whether the constant repetition over 24 hours on the television stations didn’t give a totally distorted view of the Arab response.

AMY GOODMAN: I think it was the Brazilian filmmaker himself who said that that was his footage. He pulled out the old footage, exactly the same kids.

ROBERT FISK: Well, fine. But I’ve seen five different bits of footage, and the footage in Lebanon is certainly genuine. And the same applies to the footage in East Jerusalem.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Osama bin Laden being located through sophisticated U.S. surveillance, British surveillance, Pakistani surveillance. Do you think they know where he is right now?

ROBERT FISK: No, not at all. Look, over and over again, we’ve been told about the enormous sophistication of the intercepts and the surveillance and the satellite pictures and so on. So why have they not got bin Laden 'til now? They were after him when I first met him in 1994. And then they were after him in 1996 when I met him. And then they were after him in 1997. If they have all this information, why didn't they use it? I’m sure they have bits and pieces. But, you see, the problem is that the Americans are blind on the ground. They don’t have—I love these phrases—HUMINT, human intelligence, on the ground in Afghanistan. Their one friend there, Shah Massoud, the guerrilla leader who was fighting the Taliban, was killed by two Arab suicide bombers just before the attack—the attacks took place in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Last Sunday, killed.

ROBERT FISK: It’s a very—I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: Last Sunday, killed.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, that’s right. Indeed, one of the suspicions that went through my mind, Amy—and I repeat, I have absolutely no proof—was to say, was his death the equivalent of a code word for the events to take place in America? Were those people told, "Wait until a leading enemy of the Taliban is murdered, and that is your—that’s your time"? I don’t know. It went through my mind when I started going back through the news stories, rather than forward. But again, I think you have to come back round to the question of bin Laden, where is he? Even if the Americans know where he is, how do they get to him? Can you really land paratroopers on a bare mountainside in Afghanistan? They have no friends. I mean, the Russians had some friends. They thought they had the Communist government of Babrak Karmal when they went in there in ’89—’79, ’80. The British used to think they had friends in Afghanistan— [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk? Well, that is one way to end a conversation. That was Robert Fisk speaking to us from Beirut, Lebanon. He has this last piece in The Independent newspaper—he’s been the Mideast correspondent for The Independent in London for, oh, more than 20 years, based in Beirut—is called "Stunned into Disbelief as Their 'Normal' Son is Blamed: Robert Fisk in Almarj, Lebanon, Meets the Family of Ziad Jarrah, Who Died Trying to Destroy the White House." Robert Fisk is also the reporter who spoke with Osama bin Laden in March of 1997 in the mountains of Afghanistan.

We didn’t break at our usual time today, because we didn’t want to lose Robert Fisk in Beirut. We will break now, and when we come back, we’ll hear for a moment from a peace vigil that took place in Union Square. And then we’ll go to attorney Michael Ratner to talk about the counterterrorism measures that are being introduced rapidly into the U.S. Congress, as we broadcast to you from now just outside the evacuation zone in downtown Manhattan, blocks from where the World Trade Center used to stand. You’re listening to Democracy Now! in Exile, as we break the sound barrier. Stay with us.

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