8 October 2001
The Smoking Gun
The Taliban Agreed To Extradite
Osama Bin Laden To Another Country
In the aftermath of 11 September, we now
have a 'smoking gun'. But it is not evidence of Osama bin Laden's
guilt in relation to the atrocities of 11 September. It is evidence
of Government lies about the basis for the current war against
Afghanistan. This is an unnecessary war.
According to the Prime Minister, it is impossible
by any nonviolent means to secure the extradition from Afghanistan
of the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden who the British Government
holds responsible for the 11 September atrocities. This is why
force has to be used to destroy bin Laden's infrastructure in
Afghanistan, and to retaliate against the Taliban regime which
But this argument is completely undermined
by a report in the Daily Telegraph,
which appeared on the day Tony Blair set out the Government's
'evidence' in Parliament. There are three main questions in this
war: What is the evidence against bin Laden? If he is guilty,
are there nonviolent methods of securing him for trial? Is the
force being used by the Government legal?
On the first point, the 70 point dossier
produced by the Government has been described by the Independent
on Sunday as little more than 'conjecture, supposition and assertions
of fact' (7 Oct., p. 7; see briefing
6 for more details). On the third point, it is clear this
is neither a war of self-defence nor an authorised use of force.
On the matter of extradition, the subject
of this briefing, the Daily Telegraph
has reported that not only is bin Laden's extradition from Afghanistan
possible in theory, an agreement to extradite has actually been
reached in fact.
The Taliban - And Bin Laden - Agree Extradition
This new evidence came to light on Thurs.
4 Oct., just as the Prime Minister was setting out his case in
Parliament. The Daily Telegraph reported an extraordinary story
under the heading 'Pakistan halts secret plan for bin Laden trial'.
According to this report, leaders of two
Pakistani Islamic parties, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamaat
Ulema-e-Islam, negotiated bin Laden's extradition to Pakistan
to stand trial for the 11 September attacks. Bin Laden would be
held under house arrest in Peshawar.
The first stage of the negotiations was carried
out in Islamabad on Sat. 29 Sept., in Pakistan, when Mullah Abdul
Salaam Zaeef, the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, met with Qazi
Hussain Ahmad, leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, and Hamid Gul, former
director of Pakistan's inter-service intelligence agency.
The final stage of the negotiations was in
Kandahar, on Mon. 1 Oct., when Qazi, and Maaulana Fazlur Rahman,
head of the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, met Taliban supreme leader Mullah
'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.'
(Telegraph, 4 Oct., p. 9)
The British Government says that there is
no nonviolent way to secure the capture or extradition of Osama
bin Laden. But the Taliban have agreed an extradition deal. Amazingly,
this extradition deal is reported to have had 'bin Laden's approval'.
Admittedly, the deal only guaranteed extradition to Pakistan,
but given Pakistan's new role as a US ally in the so-called "war
on terrorism", the transfer from Afghanistan to Pakistan
should have been a welcome step in bringing bin Laden to trial.
Furthermore, the report clearly states that extradition to the
United States would be a real possibility under this deal.
The Deal Fails
Why did the deal not go ahead? Despite being
agreed by Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, the extradition was
vetoed by Pakistan's President Musharraf. The ostensible stumbling
block 'was that he [Musharraf] could not guarantee bin Laden's
safety'. (Telegraph, 4 Oct., p.
9) This is implausible.
It is intriguing that, according to the Telegraph,
the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, was notified
in advance of the mission to meet Mullah Omar. 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) Perhaps a US veto killed the deal.
No Justification For War
This story blows an enormous hole in the
Government's rationale for war. We are being told that we must
go to war because the Taliban have refused point-blank to hand
over bin Laden. Now we know that in fact the Taliban, far from
refusing to contemplate extradition, have agreed in principle
to 'hand over' bin Laden for trial in Pakistan and possibly the
Whether or not the evidence against bin Laden
is 'incontrovertible' and 'compelling', the fact of the matter
is that there is a nonviolent alternative to war - and it is being
rejected not by the Taliban regime, but by the British and US
governments. The nonviolent alternative is to negotiate extradition.
Negotiation of international conflicts is a solemn duty under
Article 33 of the United Nations Charter.
The Taliban's agreement on extradition is
of a piece with its position all the way through this crisis.
The Taliban Information Minister, Qudrutullah Jamal, said early
on, '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) Three days later, Taliban 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 a US 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)
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.)
front-page opened with the statement that the Taliban 'gave no
indication they were prepared to hand him over.' This was flatly
contradicted by the quotation eight paragraphs later of Mullah
Zaeef, Taliban Ambassador: 'We are thinking of negotiation. [If
direct evidence of bin Laden's involvement were produced] it might
change things.' (Independent, 1 Oct., p.1)
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"' ('Analysis: Decoding Taleban's
message', BBC News Online, 30
Sept., 15:52 GMT)
The most recent reported Taliban offer was
noted in the Observer, but in a typically distorted fashion: 'Although
most recent statements by Mullah Omar have been stridently defiant,
there have been hints in recent days that the relentless diplomatic
and military pressure on the Taliban is beginning to tell. On
Friday [5 Oct.], senior [Taliban] officials offered to put Osama
bin Laden, the prime suspect for the 11 September attacks in America,
on trial in an Islamic court if given sufficient evidence.' (Observer,
7 Oct., p. 2) In fact, of course, such offers have been made throughout.
In the same issue, it is claimed that whenever Mullah Omar 'detected
any possible weakness in the statements of his envoys in Pakistan
or elsewhere he was swift to countermand them. There would be
(p. 17) In the real world, Mullah Omar had
made his position clear earlier (in the Guardian
- the Observer's stable mate):
'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
countries]. But these offers have all been rejected.' (21 Sept.,
The Taliban regime has not 'refused to hand
over bin Laden'. Up until 1 Oct., the Taliban refused to to 'hand
over Osama bin Laden without evidence'
(Mullah Zaeef, Times, 22 Sept.,
p. 1, emphasis added). On 1 Oct., they agreed to bin Laden's extradition
to Pakistan without evidence of his guilt.
The US has consistently brushed aside such
diplomatic feelers. Ari Fleischer, White House spokesperson has
said repeatedly, that there will be 'no negotiations, no discussions'
with the Taliban. (Telegraph,
22 Sept, p. 1)
President Bush says 'I gave them a fair chance'.
(Times, 8 Oct., p. 2) The reality
is that he has rejected negotiations and nonviolent alternatives
to war. Extradition from Afghanistan was possible, and may still
be possible if the war is ended. The media have effectively suppressed
evidence of the Taliban's offers, and have distorted the Taliban's
position - thereby making war seem natural and inevitable. It
is neither. Public pressure can help to force the media into more
honest reporting, and help end this illegal and unnecessary war.
'What we need less of is war rhetoric
and war against Afghanistan in particular, and to explore the
possibility of a judicial solution. In the short term, the first
priority should be to hunt down and arrest the criminals with
the goal of achieving justice, not revenge. This is a task left
not to the military but to investigative police forces, who can
prepare for a trial.'
'The last thing I wanted was for more widows and fatherless children
to be created in my name. It would only produce a backlash. As
the victim of violence, I'd never want this to happen to another
Professor Robin Therkauf is a
lecturer in the political science department at Yale University.
She lost her husband Tom in the World Trade Centre on 11 September.
(Quotes taken from Radio 4, 2 Oct., and the Friend, 28 Sept.)
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