Bin Laden's sole post-September 11 TV interview aired
Fugitive al Qaeda leader vows fight to the death
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden said "the battle has moved to inside America" in the only television interview he's granted since the September 11 attacks -- now airing for the first time.
The interview was conducted by the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera network in late October. Al-Jazeera decided not to televise it. CNN has obtained the videotape and began airing it Thursday night.
"We will work to continue this battle, God permitting, until victory or until we meet God," bin Laden -- the world's most-wanted fugitive, whose current whereabouts are a mystery -- told the Kabul reporter for the Qatar-based network.
"I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed," bin Laden said as the U.S. war on terrorism raged in Afghanistan. "The U.S. government will lead the American people in -- and the West in general -- into an unbearable hell and a choking life."
When asked about U.S. accusations of his "collusion" in the attacks in New York and Washington, bin Laden responded, "America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted."
But he then added, "If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists."
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer reacted to the bin Laden interview. "Everybody knows how evil Osama bin Laden is," Fleischer told CNN. "Other tapes have shown him take credit for the attacks and show he had advanced knowledge of the attacks. This tape showed the importance of completing the mission and protecting freedom, a mission that is bigger than Osama bin Laden."
Al-Jazeera conducted the exclusive interview with bin Laden on October 21, but declined to air it. Nearly two months later, the network said it did not meet its standards and was not newsworthy.
CNN felt otherwise.
"Once that videotape was in our possession, we felt we had to report on it, and show it because it is extremely newsworthy," said Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive. "And we really were dumbfounded as to why Al-Jazeera would decide not to air or even acknowledge the existence of the videotape."
Thursday, Al-Jazeera said it was severing its relationship with CNN and taking "the necessary action to punish the organizations and individuals who stole this video and distributed it illegally."
"Al-Jazeera does not feel it is obligated to explain its position and its reasoning of why it chose not to air the interview," it said in a statement.
CNN issued a statement saying: "CNN did nothing illegal in obtaining this tape, and nothing illegal in airing it -- our affiliate agreement with Al-Jazeera gives us the express right to use any and all footage owned or controlled by Al-Jazeera, without limitation."
Jordan said CNN has worked "very hard to establish and maintain and grow a very, very good relationship with Al-Jazeera, but this is a tough spot." He said the network "has some very tough questions to answer. Among them, why was the interview not ever televised, why did Al-Jazeera initially deny the existence of the tape, and what other tape does Al-Jazeera have, or did it have, that had never been acknowledged or televised. Clearly a lot of interesting material has fallen into Al-Jazeera's hands."
Al-Jazeera has not disclosed where the hour-long interview was conducted. The reporter seemed to have a professional rapport with bin Laden and asked him if he was behind the anthrax attacks in the United States that began some weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes.
Bin Laden did not offer a direct response but said, "These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers' prayers in Lebanon and Palestine."
Later, bin Laden said, "We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically."
The reporter then said, "So what you are saying is that this is a type of reciprocal treatment. They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?"
Bin Laden's response: "So we kill their innocents, and I say it is permissible in Islamic law and logic."
During the interview, which was taped in late October bin Laden ridiculed White House concerns that other on-camera statements he has issued since September 11 might carry hidden messages.
"They made hilarious claims. They said that Osama's messages have codes in them to the terrorists. It's as if we were living in the time of mail by carrier pigeon, when there are no phones, no travelers, no Internet, no regular mail, no express mail and no electronic mail. I mean, these are very humorous things. They discount people's intellect," bin Laden said.
Bin Laden cited the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan and the United States' failed 1993 mission in Somalia as examples to suggest a U.S. defeat in Afghanistan was within reach.
"We believe that the defeat of America is possible, with the help of God, and is even easier for us -- God permitting -- than the defeat of the Soviet Union was before."
In Somalia, U.S. forces pulled out after 18 U.S. special operations personnel were killed during a raid against a warlord faction in the capital Mogadishu.
"Our brothers with Somali mujahedeen and God's power fought the Americans. God granted them victory. America exited dragging its tails in failure, defeat, and ruin," bin Laden said.
The claim came just a few weeks before the collapse of his Taliban supporters in Afghanistan and the dispersal of his hardcore al Qaeda loyalists.
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