When the U.S. military had a chance to take out Osama bin Laden back in the 1990s — after tracking his location with the help of Afghan tribal informants — they couldn’t do so because of an order signed by then-President Bill Clinton, a new documentary reveals.
The order in effect at the time allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to engage in “lethal activity” against the Al Qaeda leader, who would leader orchestrate the 9-11 attacks on the U.S., but the purpose of the strike could not be to kill him.
“We were being asked to remove this threat to the United States essentially with one hand tied behind our backs,” said now-former CIA station chief Bob Grenier in Showtime’s “The Longest War,” in a clip posted by The Daily Beast. At the time, Grenier was based in Islamabad, Pakistan. The terrorist would be killed May 2, 2011, in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, not far from Islamabad.
“Our tribal contacts came to us and said, ‘Look, he’s in this location now. When he leaves, he’s going to have to go through this particular crossroads.’ And so what they proposed was to bury a huge cache of explosives underneath those crossroads so that when his convoy came through they could simply blow it up. And we said absolutely not. We were risking jail if we didn’t tell them that,” he said.
At the time, Clinton, the State Department, and other officials did not view bin Laden as a serious threat, the documentary’s director Greg Barker told The Beast. In fact, top Clinton officials “ignored and even ridiculed” anyone who said bin Laden was a danger.
Marty Martin, a CIA counterterrorism officer at the time, said in the documentary that “the threat was real.”
“And if President Clinton had taken action and killed Osama bin Laden, there wouldn’t have been a 9/11, and if there wouldn’t have been a 9/11 there wouldn’t have been an Afghanistan, and if there wouldn’t have been an Afghanistan there wouldn’t have been an Iraq. What would the world be like?” he said.
Clinton has discussed why he never took out bin Laden, saying he feared collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths. But the documentary
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said during a February 2016 debate that Clinton actually missed numerous opportunities to kill the terrorist.
“The responsibility of 9/11 falls on the fact that al Qaeda was allowed to grow and prosper and the decision was not made to take out their leader when the chance existed to do so. Not once but four times according to the 9/11 report. President Clinton has acknowledged that as a regret,” he said.
“The day before the Sept. 11 attacks,” The Washington Post reported in 2016, “Clinton told businessmen in Australia that he had decided against launching a strike in Kandahar out of concern for civilian casualties: ‘I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.’”