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Document suggests bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora

Military brief appears to contradict past Pentagon statements

From Mike Mount


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Osama Bin Laden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A document from the U.S. military appears to contradict the Pentagon's previous statements that it does not know whether al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden escaped U.S. forces at Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001.

The legal document, which summarizes evidence against a terror suspect in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, states the prisoner "assisted in the escape of Usama Bin Laden from Tora Bora."

There is no date or time frame given.

Originally released after a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press, the document is now on the Pentagon Web site. Who wrote it and what level of information that person had is unclear.

The document is dated December 14, 2004. It is part of what the U.S. military calls Combatant Status Review Boards, a process to determine whether a detainee is an enemy combatant and should continue to be held or if he should be released.

Pentagon officials would not discuss the information in the document and the numerous others released with it, saying the statements were generated from classified information.

Neither the prisoner's name or nationality was disclosed. In the document, he is said to be associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and is described as having had bodyguards at one point, indicating he may have been of some importance.

The document also says the detainee was a commander for bin Laden during the Afghan fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and at some point called for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.

Other evidence cited against the detainee states the person organized at least one rocket attack against U.S. troops and supported others.

The December 2001 siege of Tora Bora, aimed at killing or capturing bin Laden, has been hotly debated. U.S. military commanders have repeatedly said they didn't know if bin Laden was in the region or if he got away.

At a Pentagon news conference during the 2001 manhunt, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters: "I'm not sure how close we ever really have been. We have narrowed it down to an area. Indicators were there, and now indicators are not there. So maybe he still is here, maybe he was killed, or maybe he's left."

The matter surfaced again during the 2004 presidential campaign. (Full story)

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry repeatedly asserted that President Bush let bin Laden escape by using Afghan forces instead of American troops against al Qaeda in Tora Bora.

In an October 2004 opinion article in The New York Times, Gen. Tommy Franks wrote, "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time."

Franks was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time.

"Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives ... but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp," wrote Franks, who retired in 2003 and backed Bush in the election.

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