A document from September 23 notes that Mahmud planned to meet with the Taliban a second time, and that he emphasized to the U.S. that “A negotiated solution would be preferable to military action”, but was told that “his trip could not delay military planning” and that “The time for negotiation was past.” In his further meeting, Mahmud would ask Omar to “surrender Usama Bin Laden and his Al Qaida lieutenants”, and reiterated Pakistan’s pledge of support for the U.S. effort, but replied by saying, “I implore you not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations…. Reasoning with them to get rid of terrorism will be better than the use of brute force. If the strategic objective is Al Quaida [sic] and UBL, it is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout.” Overthrowing the Taliban regime would “leave a dangerous political vacuum” and Afghanistan would “revert to warlordism”, Mahmud warned. He further cautioned that “a strike will produce thousands of frustrated young Muslim men. It will be an incubator of anger that will explode two or three years from now.” The U.S. dismissed these concerns, which were subsequently proven to have been prescient.
Secretary of State Colin Powell at the same time told Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I am absolutely convinced that the al Qaeda network, which he heads, was responsible for this attack.” When asked whether the government would “release publicly a white paper which links him and his organization to this attack”, Powell replied, “We are hard at work bringing all the information together, intelligence information, law enforcement information. And I think in the near future we will be able to put out a paper, a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack.” The promised white paper was never delivered.
The U.S. war against Afghanistan commenced on October 7, and the Taliban again repeated offers to negotiate handing over bin Laden. Taliban deputy prime minister Haji Abdul Kabir announced that “If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved” and the U.S. stopped its bombing, “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”. President George W. Bush rejected the offer as “non-negotiable”, adding, “There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty.” Refusing to provide evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, Bush reiterated the U.S. ultimatum: “If they want us to stop our military operations, they’ve just got to meet my conditions. When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations.”
The Taliban then dropped their demand for evidence and repeated their offer to turn bin Laden over to a third country. The London Guardian reported that Taliban minister Muttawakil met with officials from the CIA and ISI to propose the offer, which was once again dismissed by U.S. officials. Taliban spokesman Amir Khan Muttaqi said at the end of October, “We do not want to fight…. We will negotiate. But talk to us like a sovereign country. We are not a province of the United States, to be issued orders to. We have asked for proof of Osama’s involvement, but they have refused. Why?” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher responded by falsely claiming, “All one has to do is watch television to find Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for the September 11 bombings.”
In fact, as already noted, bin Laden had in denied any involvement in the attacks. On September 16, bin Laden issued a statement saying: “Following the latest explosions in the United States, some Americans are pointing the finger at me, but I deny that because I have not done it…. Reiterating once again, I say that I have not done it….” He added that the Taliban had forbidden terrorist attacks from being “carried out from Afghanistan’s territory”, and that this message had been delivered to him personally from Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Again on September 28, in an interview with the Karachi daily Ummat, bin Laden denied involvement: “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. Neither I had any knowledge of these attacks nor I consider the killing of innocent women, children, and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children, and other people…. Whoever committed the act of 11 September are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed.”
He went on to suggest that the attacks were an inside job: “Then there are intelligence agencies in the US, which require billions of dollars worth of funds from the Congress and the government every year. This [funding issue] was not a big problem till the existence of the former Soviet Union but after that the budget of these agencies has been in danger. They needed an enemy. So, they first started propaganda against Usama and Taliban and then this incident happened…. What is this? Is it not that there exists a government within the government in the United States? That secret government must be asked as to who made the attacks.”
Bin Laden was correct in his observation that U.S. policymakers perceived the need for an external enemy in order to pursue their policy goals. Without such a threat, the goal of many after the end of the Cold War not only to maintain U.S. military expenditures, but to effect a “transformation” of the military into a force for U.S. global hegemony, could not be realized. The neoconservative think tank The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), acknowledged this in its September 2000 manifesto “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”, which argued the case for maintaining U.S. preeminence and global hegemony, and to “extend the current Pax Americana” through a buildup of the military. But this “process of transformation” was “likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
This assessment echoed that of Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on March 5, 1999. After stating that “There appears to be a general agreement concerning the need to transform the U.S. military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars,” he noted that “this verbal support has not been translated into a defense program supporting transformation.” He stated further that “While there is growing support in Congress for transformation the ‘critical mass’ needed to affect it has not yet been achieved.” In conclusion, he said, “in the absence of a strong external shock to the United States—a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts—surmounting the barriers to transformation will likely prove a long, arduous process.”
While the U.S. never produced the white paper it promised that was to present the evidence against bin Laden in making its case for war, the British government did present a paper Tony Blair insisted demonstrated his guilt. Yet “Downing Street acknowledged that the 21-page dossier did not amount to a prosecutable case against bin Laden in a court of law.” Harder evidence, the document claimed, was “too sensitive to release.”
To this day, the attacks of 9/11 are not listed as being among the crimes for which Osama bin Laden is wanted by the FBI, because there is not enough evidence against him to bring an indictment against him in a court of law.
The threshold of evidence required for waging a war is apparently much lower than that to issue an indictment in a court of law. As a direct consequence of the war, Afghanistan once again became far and away the world’s leading producer of opium and heroin; it indeed returned to a state of warlordism, chaos, and violence, just as the U.S. had been warned; many more Afghan civilians have been killed than Americans who died on 9/11, and Osama bin Laden was never captured.