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.
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'
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
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.,
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
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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