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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 05


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 harbours him.

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'. (p. 9)

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 Omar.

'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 US.

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.


Previous Offers

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.)

The Independent's 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)


Media Distortion

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 no surrender'.

(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., p. 4)

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)


Media Propaganda

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.


Restraint

'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 woman again.'

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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