VIDEO Released Dec. 13 : Bin Laden Appeared Too Healthy (3 of 7)

Fascinating use of a propaganda icon. When they need to justify an invasion or escalation, they wheel out bin Laden’s corpse, wanted dead or alive.



by Prof David Ray Griffin


On December 13, 2001, the Pentagon released a video that was dated November 9, 2001, claiming that it had been found by US forces in a private home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in late November (after anti-Taliban forces had taken over the city). As I wrote in my book:

“The tape purportedly shows Osama bin Laden, in a private home, talking about the 9/11 attacks with a visiting Sheikh. During the course of the conversation, in which the bin Laden figure is seen and heard gloating about the success of the attacks, he states that he not only knew about them several days in advance but had also, in fact, planned them.” 37)

After showing that the tape had been widely used to confirm the US-British position that bin Laden had been responsible for the 9/11 attacks, I discussed several features of the tape that support the widespread view that it was a fake – that the bin Laden figure in it was not Osama bin Laden himself.

By calling this video a fake, Osseiran complained, I had “disregarded the truth” about it, which had been “pointed out to [me] on numerous occasions” – by which he meant that he had sent me several papers in which he had given an alternative theory of its creation. 38)

According to Osseiran’s theory, the video was made during a CIA-arranged sting operation that took place on September 26, 2001, ten days before the US attack on Afghanistan. The operation was based around Khaled al-Harbi, a wheelchair-bound Saudi sheikh whom bin Laden trusted. Al-Harbi had traveled from Saudi Arabia to a small village in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province with two CIA operatives in order to have a conversation with bin Laden. The conversation between the two men was videotaped, but bin Laden did not know this. When he spoke of his responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, therefore, he did not realize that he would be confessing to the world. 39)

The videotaping of Osama bin Laden’s confession was, according to Osseiran, the first part of a two-part sting operation. The second part was to kill or capture bin Laden. This could have been done right after the confession was taped, but the United States chose to postpone that part of the operation until later because, if bin Laden had been captured or killed at that time,

“there would have been diminished justification and therefore less support for military actions in Afghanistan. . . . [T]he Bush Administration would have met much greater resistance [by the American people] against its invasion of Afghanistan.” 40)

I am puzzled as to how Osseiran’s believes this statement to be consistent with his claim that the question raised by the title of my book – namely, whether bin Laden is dead or alive – is irrelevant.

Be that as it may, the killing or capture of bin Laden, Osseiran suggested, was to be carried out when he came back to the village again, which turned out to be on November 2. The plan was for him to be killed or captured by US forces transported to the village in a helicopter. This plan was foiled, however, when the US helicopter, encountering bad weather, crashed, so that bin Laden remained free. Then on December 13, the US government, anxious to supply evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11, released the tape, thereby allowing him to realize that his security had been compromised. He hence went into hiding, never to be heard from again.

Even though this videotape provides the clearest evidence that bin Laden was directly involved in planning the 9/11 attacks, Osseiran says, and even though the US government could prove the tape’s authenticity by explaining that it was produced during a CIA sting operation, it has refused to do this. Why? Because it does not want to admit that, although it could have killed or captured bin Laden on September 26, 2001, it did not, in order to retain its pretext for going to war. And to admit this would be to confess to treason. 41)

We can certainly admire Osseiran’s passion to undermine the rationale for the Afghan war by getting his account accepted, and this account has an initial plausibility, partly because it provides an alternative explanation, as I will point out below, for some of the features of the videotape that have led many of us to consider it a fake.


But this appearance of plausibility disappears when one begins probing Osseiran’s claim that the US operatives did not kill or capture bin Laden right after the tape was made because, had they done so, the American public would not have supported the invasion of Afghanistan. The problem with this claim is that the killing or capture of bin Laden would have undermined support for the invasion only if the American public knew about it, and his death or capture could have been concealed. After bin Laden had left the village, for example, US operatives could have secretly killed him and then buried his body where it could have been “discovered” later, after the goals of the invasion had been achieved. Alternatively, bin Laden could have been captured and held in secret custody until those goals were achieved, after which his freshly killed body could have been produced for all to see, along with a dramatic story about heroic US forces tracking him down and killing him. This could have been done, for example, just before the 2008 elections, giving Republicans a big boost.

There is, moreover, another problem with Osseiran’s scenario: Although his hypothesis addresses some of the reasons I gave for believing the video to be a fake, it does not address all of them, including the most serious one. I will now summarize these reasons, pointing out in each case whether Osseiran’s hypothesis can neutralize it.


In my book – in which I was assuming, for the sake of argument, the US view that bin Laden had been aware of the camera – I argued that he would have been most unlikely to confess responsibility to the 9/11 attacks. Even if he had been involved in planning the attacks, he would not have admitted this while the camera was running, given the fact that, until then, he had always publicly denied any involvement. For example, having been asked on September 28 whether he had been involved, bin Laden replied:

“I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks.”

Having made that denial, bin Laden would not on November 9 – the date on which the US government claims this video was made – have confessed to the attacks with a camera running. To have done so would have been to show the world that his previous statement – in which he said that he, as a Muslim, tried to avoid lying – had itself been a lie.

Although this argument is not relevant to Osseiran’s scenario, because he claims that bin Laden was unaware of the camera, his scenario faces an analogous problem: Given the fact that bin Laden had repeatedly denied in his public statements that he had been involved with the attacks, he surely – if he actually had been involved – would not have admitted this in front of anyone who might be untrustworthy. And yet, after saying that bin Laden was, out of caution, initially reluctant to talk about 9/11, Osseiran gives this explanation for why he finally did:

“Since his immediate entourage already knew of his complicity, and only two individuals apart from his visitor were strangers, he eventually and erroneously concluded that all were harmless.” 42)

According to Osseiran, therefore, this was the situation. There were strangers in the room, and bin Laden had taken no precautions to make sure that his remarks were not being recorded. And yet he, in this situation, revealed his big secret. Is that not extremely implausible?


In the last of the indubitably authentic bin Laden videos, which was made sometime between November 16 (when the bombing of Khost, which was mentioned on the tape, occurred) and December 27 (when the tape was publicly released), bin Laden had, in the words of London’s Telegraph, a “gaunt, frail appearance” and his “beard was much whiter than on November 3,” when the previous bin Laden video had been broadcast. Also, “bin Laden’s left arm . . . hung limply by his side while he gesticulated with his right.”43) Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent, likewise commented on bin Laden’s “grayness of beard, his paleness of skin, very gaunt sort of features,” along with the fact that “[h]e never moved his left arm at all.” 44)

In the video released December 13, by contrast, the bin Laden figure was rather well filled out, his skin and his beard were dark, and he was easily able to move both arms.

This contrast in appearance and ability formed a very strong argument against the government’s account, according to which this was a tape of bin Laden that had been made on November 9. It would be hard to believe that bin Laden’s appearance could have deteriorated so radically between November 9 and the day, sometime between November 16 and December 27, on which the tape of the “gaunt” bin Laden was made.

This argument does not apply against Osseiran’s theory, however, because he believes that this tape was made on September 26, so there would have been between 50 and 90 days for bin Laden’s appearance to have deteriorated before the “gaunt” video was made.

It is still the case, to be sure, that the bin Laden figure in the December 13-released video appears to be heavier than bin Laden as seen in the undoubtedly authentic videos made near September 26, when Osseiran believes that this one was made.

But he would argue that this problem is solved by an analysis provided by Ed Haas, according to which the event was probably recorded in PAL video format, which is common in Pakistan and has a higher spatial resolution than the NTSC format, which is used in the United States.

If so, the conversion from the PAL to the NTSC format could have resulted in “an image that appears to be ‘squashed’ along the vertical axis, making people and objects look fatter after the conversion.” 45)

Next:Omer bin Laden’s Statements – IV

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