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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 04





1 October 2001

Media Lies Fuel War
The Taliban Have Agreed To Extradite Bin Laden

(Note: this should be read in conjunction with briefing 2, which it updates.)

A critical issue in the war debate is whether or not it is possible to secure the extradition of Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan without the use of military force. The position of the Government is that it is impossible to negotiate with the Taliban regime, and that the use of force is inevitable.

The media has colluded with the Government in effectively suppressing the real position of the Taliban, which is much more accommodating and flexible than the image portrayed in the British mass media.

The Taliban have not refused point-blank to hand over bin Laden. They have in fact negotiated the extradition of bin Laden to Pakistan: 'The proposal, which had bin Laden's approval, was that within the framework of Islamic shar'ia law evidence of his alleged involvement in the New York and Washington attacks would be placed before an international tribunal. The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America.' The deal was apparently agreed by Mullah Omar, Taliban supreme leader, but vetoed by Pakistan's President Musharraf. (Daily Telegraph, 4 Oct., p. 9) This article refutes the rationale for war offered by the Prime Minister.

On Sun. 30 Sept, the Taliban made another offer which was completely distorted and misrepresented by the Government and the media. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan said - in a quotation that appeared only in one newspaper, the Independent, and incompletely even there - 'We say if they change and talk to us, and if they present evidence, we will respect their negotiations and that might change things.' ('Bin Laden "hidden by Taleban", BBC News Online, 30 Sept.) The possibilities were indicated even then.


Independent Contradiction

In the case of the Independent, the front-page opening statement that the Taliban 'gave no indication they were prepared to hand him over,' (Independent, 1 Oct., p. 1) was flatly contradicted by the quotation eight paragraphs later of an offer by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban ambassador to Pakistan: 'We are thinking of negotiation. [If direct evidence of bin Laden's involvement were produced] it might change things.' (Independent, 1 Oct., p.1)


Twisting The Offer Into A Refusal

The latest statement from the Taliban has been twisted to serve as war propaganda. The headlines (1 Oct.) read 'Afghan regime admits it is protecting bin Laden', 'Taliban admit sheltering Bin Laden', 'We have bin Laden in safe haven, say Taliban', 'US ready for war as Taleban admits sheltering bin Laden'.

The mass media are twisting what is actually a serious negotiating step by the Taliban into a casus belli. 'Conflict in Afghanistan moved a step closer yesterday after the Taliban said Osama bin Laden was under their control but gave no indication they were prepared to hand him over.' (Independent, 1 Oct., p. 1) The second half of this opening sentence is flatly contradicted by the quotation eight paragraphs later of an offer from the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef: 'We are thinking of negotiation. [If direct evidence of bin Laden's involvement were produced] it might change things.' (Independent, 1 Oct., p.1)

It is true that Mullah Zaeef said that Osama bin Laden, suspected of involvement in the 11 September atrocities, was 'under our control'. (Telegraph, 1 Oct., p. 1) However, the point of this statement by the ambassador was clearly to reinforce the Taliban's long-standing offer to negotiate the extradition of bin Laden. If the Taliban had held to their previous position that bin Laden's whereabouts were unknown, they would have had no basis for offering to extradite him.

In this latest statement, Mullah Zaeef 'repeated a Taliban offer of negotiations with the US, while also demanding evidence of Mr bin Laden's involvement in last month's terrorist attacks'. (FT, 1 Oct., p. 1) 'Mullah Zaeef insisted the Taliban were still prepared to negotiate with the US, but only if proof was provided that the prime suspect was guilty of the September 11 attacks.' (Guardian, 1 Oct., p. 1) Mullah Zaeef said, 'We are thinking of negotiation. [If direct evidence of bin Laden's involvement were produced] it might change things.' (Independent, 1 Oct., p.1)

The only full quotation of Mullah Zaeef's second sentence in the British media that I have seen was in a BBC News Online report: 'We say if they change and talk to us, and if they present evidence, we will respect their negotiations and that might change things.' ('Bin Laden "hidden by Taleban", BBC News Online, 30 Sept, 16:54 GMT).

Daniel Lak of the BBC commented that it was 'unlikely' that Mullah Zaeef was simply saying that bin Laden was under Taliban protection and 'the Americans can do their worst'. 'The ambassador did ask the Americans, and it almost seems in a pleading tone, to start talks with the Taleban "because this might produce a good result"... His words would then represent an incremental movement towards Washington's demand that Bin Laden be handed over to them immediately.' ('Analysis: Decoding Taleban's message', BBC News Online, 30 Sept., 15:52 GMT)

The New York Times reported Mullah Zaeef as saying, 'As long as they are not taking the way of negotiations and talks, we are not going to discuss any surrenders'. ('Bin Laden Still in Afghanistan Under Taliban's Control, It Says', NYT website, 30 Sept., 03:04 EDT) The opening of negotiations and the provision of evidence are the two key pre-conditions to the extradition of bin Laden, it is clear. What is also clear is that the Taliban are not refusing point-blank to extradite bin Laden. They are not ruling extradition out entirely. They may even be 'pleading' with the United States.


Previous Offers

These statements are consistent with previous Taliban offers (details in full in ARROW Anti-War Briefing 2). The Taliban Information Minister, Qudrutullah Jamal, said, 'Anyone who is responsible for this act, Osama or not, we will not side with him. We told [the Pakistan delegation] to give us proof that he did it, because without that how can we give him up?' (Independent, 19 Sept., p. 1)

On 21 Sept., Ambassador Zaeef said, 'We are not ready to hand over Osama bin Laden without evidence' (emphasis added, Times, 22 Sept., p. 1). When US Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to publish the dossier of evidence against bin Laden (an offer subsequently withdrawn), Ambassador Zaeef responded positively. 'The ambassador said it was "good news" that the US intended to produce its evidence against Mr bin Laden. This could help to solve the issue "otherwise than fighting".' (Independent, 25 Sept., p. 3)


Ruling Out Alternatives To War

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) Is it because the evidence accumulated so far is so weak? Or is it because the US is determined to destroy the Taliban, whether or not they hand over bin Laden? Or do both reasons hold true?

In response to the latest Taliban statement, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld 'said he had no reason to believe the claim by the Taliban that Bin Laden was under their control'. (Guardian, 1 Oct., p. 1) Why should Rumsfeld emphasise his disbelief on this score? If the priority truly is to secure bin Laden's capture, then Washington ought to be enthusiastically engaging with anyone who says they have bin Laden under their control, and therefore is in a position to deliver him up. Rumsfeld's position ensures that there is no alternative to war.

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) Why should the British government follow the US in this intransigence?


Media Propoganda

The media are playing a crucial role in shaping public opinion, which in turn is a major factor in the ability of the US and UK to go to war. Public support or acquiescence in this war would drop away massively if there were honest reporting of the Taliban's position, and of this latest offer in particular. Public pressure can help to force the media into more honest reporting, and therefore help to stave off, or bring to an end, military action by the US and Britain.

Everyone who is concerned to stop military retaliation should be putting on all the pressure they can bring to bear on the mass media to report the Taliban's offers fairly and to refuse to parrot the government line that the Taliban are refusing point-blank to extradite Osama bin Laden.

Action

Please write to or phone up newspapers, especially the Independent, radio stations and television broadcasters, pointing out that:

1) The Taliban has consistently offered to negotiate bin Laden's extradition;

2) Their latest (30 Sept.) offer to negotiate has been misrepresented (FT, Guardian, Independent) or not reported at all (Times, Telegraph); and

3) The point of admitting bin Laden is under their control was surely to emphasise their willingness to extradite him - after compelling evidence of his guilt has been produced. ARROW

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