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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 02

24 September 2001

The Propaganda War:
The Taliban Did Not Refuse

As British forces prepare to go into action over and in Afghanistan, we desperately need honest reporting and a proper framing of the issues in front of us. Unfortunately, the mass media are reproducing government lies, and distorting the situation, making war seem natural, legitimate and inevitable.

Not Refused

Washington has demanded that the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan hand over the man being blamed for the atrocities in New York and Washington DC, Osama bin Laden.

After the Taliban's Islamic council invited bin Laden to leave the country, Tony Blair said, 'We have no option but to act.' (Independent, 21 Sept., p. 1) The White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said, 'It's a time for action, not words.' (Guardian, 21 Sept., p. 1)

The media followed the official line that the Taliban had rejected the demand that bin Laden be handed over: 'US prepares for long war as Taliban close path to peace' said the Guardian (20 Sept., p. 1).

Notice how descriptions of the Taliban's posture changed over the next 24 hours. The Independent reported on 20 Sept., that, 'The "compromise" which emerged from, Kabul has left the White House utterly unimpressed' (p. 1).

The next day, the Independent said that 'Afghanistan's rulers refused point-blank to expel the world's most wanted man, the Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, and, in effect, challenged the US to come and get him.' (p. 1) The "compromise" has become a 'point-blank refusal' and a 'challenge'.

The Demand For Proof

The Taliban actually made a number of offers to the US. Because the existence of these offers undermine the US claim to the moral high ground, they have been effectively eliminated from history.

The Telegraph ran an article with the headline, 'We won't hand over bin Laden, say defiant Taliban'. No Taliban official is quoted until paragraph six when the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, says, 'The Americans should show control, conduct an investigation and show us proof before they attack. The United Nations and Organisation of Islamic Conference should also investigate'. (22 Sept., p. 4) In other words, 'We are not ready to hand over Osama bin Laden without evidence' (emphasis added) - Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef again (Times, 22 Sept., p. 1). The mass media is systematically and repeatedly misrepresenting this reasonable position as a 'point blank refusal' by the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden.

The Requirement For Negotiations

The former military chief of staff in Pakistan, General Mirza Aslam Beg, set out several of the diplomatic moves the Afghans made: 'First the Taliban demanded that the US produce evidence against bin Laden. Then it was suggested that a three-country commission, consisting of China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, examine the case against him. If they now propose to ask him to leave without any of those preliminaries, they have moved a long way.' (Independent, 21 Sept., p. 8)

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, told the Taliban's Islamic council as it deliberated the fate of Osama bin Laden, 'We have told America that if it has any evidence, give it to the Afghan supreme court, or let the clerics from any three Islamic countries decide his case, or he could be placed under the observation of the organisation of the Islamic conference [representing 52 Islamic countries]. But these offers have all been rejected' (Guardian, 21 Sept., p. 4).

Taliban spokesperson Abdul Har Mutamen 'told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press… "We have tried to solve the matter through negotiations but America is stubborn in its power."' (Independent, 24 Sept., p. 9) Given the evidence sketched above, this seems a reasonable summary of the process so far.

The seriousness of the Taliban's offers was demonstrated by their elaboration of possible terms for extraditing bin Laden. 'These included trial in a third country, lifting of sanctions and the ending of support for the Afghan opposition, the Northern Alliance.' (London Evening Standard, 18 Sept., p. 2).

There was no 'point-blank refusal', but an attempt to secure evidence before extradition, and offers to negotiate a compromise. This is in line with the legal duty to negotiate international conflicts incorporated into the UN Charter. Parties to 'any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security', shall, first of all, 'seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice' (Article 33).

It is the US which has rejected negotiations: 'It is time for actions not negotiations with the Taliban', said the White House spokesperson. (Guardian, 20 Sept., p. 1) Ari Fleischer added emphatically, there will be 'no negotations, no discussions'. (Telegraph, 22 Sept., p. 1) This position is in contravention of the UN Charter.


President Bush has 'peremptorily dismissed a request from the Taliban for proof that Mr bin Laden was behind the outrages on 11 September.' (Independent, 22 Sept., p. 1)

After the coup in Chile in Sept. 1973, the military regime led by Augusto Pincochet killed an estimated 11,000 people in three months. Massive crimes, larger in scale than the atrocities in Washington DC and New York this September.

When a Spanish court requested the extradition of General Pinochet from Britain, Britain did not instantly hand him over, but had to be convinced that there was a legal case to be answered.

When Britain requested the extradition of suspected IRA members from the USA, the request of US courts for evidence against the accused was taken seriously, and not 'peremptorily dismissed'.

No one ever suggested bombing London or Boston.

Designed To Be Refused

A US official has been quoted as saying that 'casting the objectives too narrowly would risk a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr bin Laden were captured'. (FT, 20 Sept., p. 7)

In other words, the overriding objective is not to capture bin Laden, but to mount a larger campaign. The real objective is not to 'smoke out' the alleged perpetrator, but to launch a wider war, free of previous constraints. Capturing bin Laden too early would mean losing the opportunity to wage this larger campaign against US enemies.

Hence the rejection of negotiations which could lead to bin Laden being handed over to other authorities by the Taliban. Hence also the delivery by President Bush of a humiliating list of demands, designed to be refused and to pave the way for war: hand over 'all of the leaders' of bin Laden's organisation; release all foreign nationals 'you have unjustly imprisoned';

'Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan'; 'hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities'.

Crucially, Bush demanded that the Afghans 'Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating' - US troops demonstrating the Taliban's humiliation on Afghan soil. (Times, 22 Sept., p. 16)

This is a package of demands designed to be refused, not a basis for negotiation. And indeed Mr Bush spelt it out: 'These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.' (Times, 22 Sept., p. 16)


The British media are reporting the Taliban as hard-line fanatics dedicated to confrontation with the West. But the evidence is that they have sought nonviolent solutions to the crisis over Osama bin Laden - whose guilt has not been proven at the time of writing.

The evidence is that it is the United States, supported by Britain, which has refused to seek a nonviolent, negotiated solution in accord with international law. A refusal masked by the mass media.

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