Sunday, 16 September 2007
FORMER HEAD OF CIA BIN LADEN UNIT, ANALYSES BIN LADEN's LATEST STATEMENT
Analysis of Osama bin Laden's September 7 Video Statement
By Michael Scheuer
JAMESTOWN Terrorism Focus - September 11, 2007 - Volume IV, Issue 28
[Scheuer's book, (pictured) is recommended by Bin Laden in his latest video statement as a good explanation as to the US's failure to win the war against Al-Qaeda - Sukant Chandan, OURAIM]
The September 7 release of a new video statement by Osama bin Laden
puts to rest, at least for now, widespread speculation that he is
dead, retired, or has been pushed aside by his deputy, Ayman al-
Zawahiri . With a newly trimmed and dyed beard, comfortable robes
rather than a camouflage jacket, and a clear and patient speaking
style, bin Laden achieved a major purpose of his speech before he said
a word: he clearly showed Muslims and Americans that he was still
alive, that he was healthy and not at death's door, that he spoke from
secure surroundings unthreatened by the U.S.-led coalition in
Afghanistan, and that he, al-Qaeda and their allies were ready to
continue the war. As usual, this message was wrapped in an as-Sahab
Productions video displaying high level production values .
Some of the substance of bin Laden's speech was partially new to him
specifically, but the West's failure to analyze what he and his
lieutenants have been talking about for the past few years was
repeatedly displayed by such foreign policy experts as a former deputy
director of the Central Intelligence Agency and New York Times
journalist David Brooks, both of whom suggested that bin Laden sounded
like a left-wing, 1960s Marxist blogger. The Islamist expert Walid
Phares even described him as "Trotskyite" (Family Security Matters,
September 10). Speeches by bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda leaders
are intended to have an accumulating impact; that is, most of their
major speeches and statements build on those that have preceded them
over the past decade. Bin Laden and his associates assume, perhaps
incorrectly, that their Western foes will not treat each statement,
speech and interview as an isolated and unconnected event.
The commentators mentioned above and many other pundits-both right and
left on the political spectrum-have described bin Laden's speech as
something new and a blatant attempt to remain relevant in the
contemporary world. That is incorrect. Bin Laden has talked previously
on numerous occasions about the negative factors of capitalism and the
inequities and fragility of the U.S. economy; many of his post-9/11
speeches featured his bleed-America-to-bankruptcy scheme, as did
several of his interviews before 9/11.
In addition, al-Zawahiri and Azzam al-Amriki (the U.S. citizen Adam
Gadahn) have repeatedly spoken in detail about these themes .
Indeed, al-Zawahiri's extensive February 2005 essay, entitled "The
Freeing of Humanity and Homelands Under the Banner of the Quran,"
marked the start of al-Qaeda's now well-developed campaign of trying
to support and deepen already existing anti-Americanism among non-
Muslim groups-such as anti-Globalists, environmentalists, nuclear
disarmament activists, anti-U.S. Europeans and other "oppressed
people." These two men also have focused on the imperfect state of
black-white race relations in the United States and championed the
Islamic ideas of Malcolm X, and bin Laden-possibly for the first time-
hit on this theme in his September 7 statement. "It is severer than
what the slaves used to suffer at your hands centuries ago," bin Laden
said in regard to conditions for white and especially black U.S.
soldiers in Iraq, "and it is as if some of them have gone from one
slavery to another more severe and harmful, even if it be in the fancy
dress of the Defense Department's financial enticements" .
Western officials and journalists have also concluded that there is no
"overt threat" in bin Laden's new message. Unless these experts truly
believe that at some point in time bin Laden is going to explicitly
state the time and location of an attack, it is hard to understand how
they came to that conclusion. If Americans do not convert to Islam,
said bin Laden-and he probably is not expecting many takers-our duty
"is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you."
That seems a clear threat. Moreover, bin Laden's prolonged discussion
of his conversion offer is also clearly threatening in that it is an
action demanded by the Prophet Muhammad of Muslims before they attack
their enemy. As for another pre-attack requirement-multiple warnings-
al-Zawahiri and Gadahn have fired a great number of warnings at the
United States this year.
Finally, the new message's text and bin Laden's dyed beard seems to
have persuaded some Western commentators to superimpose their
fascination with celebrities and egos onto bin Laden. Since September
7, for example, Harvard's Dr. Noah Feldman-among others-described bin
Laden's cleaned-up personal appearance and the text of his statement
as an effort by the al-Qaeda chief to put himself in a position to
claim that "I was responsible for the American disaster in Iraq and
Afghanistan," attributing a huge dose of egotism to bin Laden's
performance (CNN, September 7). In reviewing the tape, such egotism is
hard to find. The first person "I" is used by bin Laden as a necessary
part of his offer to Americans to convert to Islam. He makes himself a
central player only because he is volunteering to guide Americans to
Allah. Asking Americans to "lend me your ears" to hear God's message
and then saying "I invite you to embrace Islam" constitute the role
bin Laden lays out for himself in this speech.
This point is made not to argue whether or not bin Laden is
egotistical, but to suggest that it would be unwise to believe that
our seemingly inevitable withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will be
seen by Muslims or identified by al-Qaeda's chief as victories for
Osama bin Laden. Instead, they will be seen by Muslims and publicized
by bin Laden-as he did after the Afghans' 1989 defeat of the Soviets-
as victories for Allah and Islam; al-Qaeda will give the major portion
of credit to Iraqi and Afghan mujahideen. It is imperative, from bin
Laden's perspective, that Muslims worldwide see U.S. disaster in Iraq
and Afghanistan as Allah-granted victories for Islam and faithful
Muslims. This perspective of "God's victory" will further erode
defeatism in the Muslim world and galvanize far more support for the
jihad than any bin Laden claim of glory for al-Qaeda's efforts.
Indeed, such a claim would undercut much of what bin Laden has
accomplished, and he knows it.
Michael Scheuer served as the Chief of the bin Laden Unit at the CIA's
Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999.
1. Osama bin Laden, "The Solution," as-Sahab Productions, September 7,
2007. It is worth noting that bin Laden also spoke in the plain and
direct manner of his pre-U.S.-presidential election speech of October
2004. The September 7 speech was without lengthy quotations from the
Quran, stories from Islamic history, or quotations from the Hadith.
Interestingly, at the end of the talk he drew the attention of
Christians to the similar beliefs that they and Muslims share
regarding Jesus and his mother Mary, and railed against what he called
"the fabrications of the Jews" against Mary. Having previously railed
against Christians as the "crusaders of the cross," this passage is
something of an anomaly for bin Laden.
2. When bin Laden did speak, the substance of his talk demonstrated
that he is still what Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett have described as
a "news junkie," and that he is completely capable of sating his
desire by following the adventures of U.S. interest rates and mortgage
defaults while likely inhabiting the terrain of Pakistan's North-West
3. Two of al-Qaeda's post-9/11 electronic journals-al-Nida and al-Ansar
-also published several analytical essays on these issues.
4. It seems fair to conclude that the American citizen Adam Gadahn has
contributed to broadening al-Qaeda commentary vis-à-vis U.S. economic
and social affairs. Born and reared by parents who propounded the
beliefs of the U.S. "hippy generation" that came of age in the 1960s,
Gadahn may well have imbibed an animus against capitalism and a taste
for analyzing U.S. history via the purported conspiracies of
capitalists. These seem to have seeped into bin Laden's rather
overdone criticism of capitalism. That said, the critique of
capitalism in bin Laden's new message and other statements by al-
Zawahiri and Gadahn have less to do with the traditional leftist-
socialist description of capitalism's evils and inevitable demise, and
more to do with emphasizing the ability of Islam to rectify societal
evils, promote social and economic equality and even lower taxes to a
limit "totaling 2.5 percent."