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Last Updated: 04/28/2003
Bin Laden is Dead: Unofficial. Or is it?
Simon Stander, Editor

As early as December 2001, the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, said he thought Bin Laden was dead. He said that Bin Laden had most likely been killed in the caves of Tora Bora. US intercepts, it was claimed by a number of sources, picked up Bin Laden's whereabouts in Tora Bora, the Pakistanis closed down the border while warplanes battered the caves. Since then there has been no reliable or confirmed sighting of the founder of al Qaeda.

In the current issue (April 2003) of Harper's Brendan I. Koerner of the esteemed Wired magazine looks at the latest (Feb 2003) alleged Bin Laden tape and finds it severely wanting as evidence despite the National Security Council's 97% certainty that the voice on the tape (all 2.2 seconds of it that was analysed) was genuinely the elusive Arab pimpernel. Odd, then, that (6 Feb 2002) Musharraf backed down on the belief that that Osama may be dead, and he now believes that he may be alive (though quite definitely not in Pakistan).

Musharraf's volte-face is especially odd, since, in the meantime, we have had the Dale Watson story. The press, on 17 July 2002, widely reported Dale Watson as saying at a rare public appearance that he thought Bin Laden was probably dead. No doubt you could count on Watson being reasonably well informed. After all, he was at the time FBI's head of counter-terrorism. He never repeated the suggestion, and he did not last much longer in the job he had held several years prior to 9/11. He retired the following month, somewhat ahead of time, being only 52 years of age. By September he had landed himself a lucrative job as a principal specializing in security with the management consultants Booz, Allen and Hamilton.

Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times also last September ("Bin Laden dead, say powers of deduction") came up with the view that most insiders in the Pentagon and FBI do believe that Bin Laden is dead, but no one will say so publicly.

If he is alive then his closest supporters are loyal indeed. A reward of $25-$30 millions is a lot of money, and the belief, certainly among those in Pakistan-Afghanistan, is that if he was alive someone would be claiming the reward by now. After all, it only cost the US government $200 million and a few mobile phones to buy off all the warlords supporting the Taleban.

Why is the US so reticent in saying whether the head of Al Qaeda is dead or not? While all the talk about Saddam is that he may be dead, and the US certainly wants him dead, having him alive, like the Kaiser in 1918, is high embarrassment. Bin Laden is another matter. When the current US administration have no need for him, they will pronounce him dead officially. For the moment a living Bin Laden may be needed to keep us all on our toes and maybe justify another military adventure or two.

Of course I stand to eat my words, Bin Laden may well be alive. So might Hitler, Butch Cassidy, Robin Hood, Ned Ludd and Captain Swing all chewing the cud in a remote jungle of the Amazon. If Bin Laden turns out to be alive, there is $50 waiting for the sender of the first email to reach the Monitor - and $100 for Butch Cassidy.