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Democrats rip failure to find bin Laden

Lawmakers: U.S. too 'bogged down' in Iraq to focus on al Qaeda

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Sen. John Kerry says bin Laden could have been caught in Afghanistan's Tora Bora region.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Several Democratic U.S. lawmakers pointed to a newly broadcast audiotape purported to be from Osama bin Laden as a sign that the Bush administration has wasted efforts in Iraq instead of adequately cracking down on al Qaeda.

"It underscores the failure of this administration to capture him," said Sen. John Kerry on ABC's "This Week.

"This is one of the reasons that [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld should resign," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "Osama bin Laden is loose today because we allowed him to escape at Tora Bora. It's that simple."

The Bush administration has previously cast doubt on Kerry's assertion that the nation could have captured bin Laden in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border during the war that toppled the Taliban in 2001.

But reports from the region and analysts have supported Kerry's account. (CNN analyst Peter Bergen: Bin Laden wants to show he's still influential -- 5:21)

Former CIA agent Gary Schroen, who helped lead the effort to capture bin Laden in late 2001, said last year he had "no doubt" that bin Laden escaped Tora Bora amid the U.S. assault.

During his failed 2004 campaign for president, Kerry repeatedly charged that bin Laden escaped because U.S. forces "outsourced" the task of capturing him to Afghan forces. But the man who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, disputed that charge.

Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera broadcast parts of a tape Sunday in which bin Laden attacks the West for cutting off funds to the Palestinian Hamas-led government and calls on his followers to fight a proposed international force in Sudan. (Full story)

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said Sunday that Americans "ought to be very concerned" about bin Laden's "impact on us and on Islam and take, hopefully, actions that we can address both his threat but also the threat that he represents."

"I think we took our eye off the ball when President Bush decided to go after Iraq instead of al Qaeda, the people who had attacked us on 9/11, and their leader," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

"And the way we fought the [Iraq] war, I think, has also played into the hands of bin Laden, with much of the rhetoric which has accompanied this war."

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the United States isn't finding bin Laden or his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri "because there are a lot of hiding places," but "very intensive efforts have been made.

"But frankly, I'm very dissatisfied that we haven't brought him to justice and I think it has to be a top priority," he told CNN, adding, "One day, we'll catch him."

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, cast the tape as part of al Qaeda's "ongoing and very sophisticated communications effort."

"It recognizes that much of this war, this, the battle that we're fighting, is about winning the hearts and the minds of moderate Islam, and they are focused on that. We need to be focused on it," he told "Fox News Sunday."

"I've seen what they're doing on the Internet. It is very, very good. It would make a politician proud. They use the right words. They use instantaneous response," he said.

Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, told Fox, "the tape reminds us that four years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the subject of the largest manhunt in history, and we haven't been able to find him. Part of the reason is because we've been bogged down in Iraq."

Harman, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said it's also a reminder that al Qaeda and "copycat organizations" present threats around the world.

"Our challenge is to project America in such a way that we diminish this call to arms," she said. "Our values have to be out there. We have to govern by the rule of law. We can't send messages that make us look as bad as those who would attack us."

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the mountainous region of the Pakistani-Afghan border. There is a $25 million reward for his capture.

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