Vote Is For Bush"
By Robert Fisk
& Amy Goodman
02 November, 2004
As the newest
videotaped message from Osama bin Laden is broadcast four days before
the election, we speak with veteran Middle East correspondent Robert
Fisk, who has interviewed bin Laden three times. Fisk also discusses
Iraqi civilian casualties, kidnapped humanitarian worker Margaret Hassan,
Palestinian leader Yasser Araft's ailing health and much more. [includes
The Battle for the
White House," The final Gallup poll of the 2004 election was released
yesterday showing President Bush and John Kerry in the closest presidential
race in the history of Gallup Polls. The poll puts the two in a statistical
dead heat, 49-49.
At least 10 states
could end up going to either Bush or Kerry. Of six states polled by
Gallup, Kerry was slightly ahead in three: Ohio, Florida and Minnesota.
Bush had slight leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa, although
a Des Moines Register poll released Sunday had Kerry up slightly in
Iowa. And other polls released over the weekend showed Kerry ahead in
Pennsylvania and Bush ahead in Florida. In all six states, terrorism
or the war in Iraq were named by at least half of prospective voters
as their primary concern.
The poll comes as
the newest videotaped message from Osama bin Laden dominated the Sunday
talk shows. Some are calling it a mini-October surprise. The tape was
broadcast on Friday afternoon by the Arabic network al Jazeera. Bin
Laden appears to be in good health and is dressed in a gold colored
robe standing at a podium reading from prepared notes. The 18 minutes
address was directed at the American people. Bin Laden mentioned both
Bush and Kerry by name, saying that neither of them can bring security
to the people of the United States.
On the tape, bin
Laden says that the motivation for the September 11 attacks goes back
to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the US support for the invasion.
He said "As I was looking at those towers that were destroyed in
Lebanon, it occurred to me that we have to punish the transgressor with
the same -- and that we had to destroy the towers in America so that
they taste what we tasted, and they stop killing our women and children."
Bin Laden blasts
Bush's handling of the 9/11 attacks saying, "We never knew that
the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000
of his people in the two towers to face those events by themselves when
they were in the most urgent need of their leader. He was more interested
in listening to the child's story about the goat rather than worry about
what was happening to the towers. So, we had three times the time necessary
to accomplish the events."
He compares the
Bush administration and the Bush family to Gulf monarchies and military
dictatorships in the Middle East, saying Bush "moved the tyranny
and suppression of freedom to his own country, and they called it the
Patriot Act, under the disguise of fighting terrorism. And Bush, the
father, found it good to install his children as governors and leaders."
Bin Laden dismissed
the Bush administration's contention that the attacks were carried out
because al Qaeda hates freedom. Bin Laden asks, if we hate freedom --let
him tell us then, "Why did we not attack Sweden?"
Robert Fisk, chief
Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. He is the author
of "Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon"
AMY GOODMAN: Robert
Fisk joins us on the line right now, the chief Middle East correspondent
for The London Independent, author of, Pity the Nation: The Abduction
of Lebanon. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.
ROBERT FISK: Thank
AMY GOODMAN: Your
reaction to the Bin Laden tape.
ROBERT FISK: Well,
it is clearly timed for the election, and indeed it, looks to me like
he's voting for Bush. Although he tells the American people, it is in
their hands, it is not Bush or Kerry. He has always had this notion.
I remember in 1996, I thought it was outlandish, I didn't put it in
my report of my meeting, he had this idea that the American people would
shrug off the American government, and would -- their individual states
of the union would become individual countries, a bit like Yugoslavia
has now become. I said to him at the time, I don't think you seem to
realize the American people vote for the government in the United States,
which they don't of course in Saudi Arabia and most other states in
the Middle East. And he just seemed to let that go. He was obsessed
at the time with Somalia and how the Americans were paper tigers there.
I must say when I read that he was telling the American people that
Bush couldn't protect them, he didn't do very well in protecting the
Afghanistan from the Americans, did he? But no, this is clearly Osama
Bin Laden coming back into the picture. You have to realize that he
is, and this is a fact I can promise you, he keeps up with television
news reports, writing, and so on. So, he knows what is being said. The
idea of thinking that he is out of touch, he might have been many years
ago but not now.
He's not a -- an
internationally shrewd figure. He has never traveled very much although
oddly enough, he has been to Sweden. I did notice that reference to
Sweden in the text. He has actually been there, but he does understand
what's going on in the rest of the world. So, therefore, this was a
clear attempt to come in. My belief is that he would calculate correctly,
that a tape in which there's a further threat against the United States
by the people who -- well, he actually says himself, he admits it the
idea occurred to me of the twin towers and the international crimes
against humanity of September 11, 2001. I'm sure he realizes that further
threats are more likely to help Bush than Kerry and what Osama Bin Laden
wants now, of course, is a president to be elected who will further
mire the country into the Middle East swamp, and cause, of course more
American casualties, which Bush will surely do. So, I think that this
is probably Osama Bin Laden's vote for George W. Bush.
AMY GOODMAN: We're
talking to Robert Fisk, who interviewed Osama Bin Laden twice.
ROBERT FISK: Three
AMY GOODMAN: Three
times? When did you interview him and how does he compare in how he
looks to when you interviewed him?
ROBERT FISK: Well,
it's an odd thing to say, and I noticed this before the American bombardment
of Afghanistan. When I used to see him, he was always dressed very humbly,
in a white Jallabia, a cheap cotton gown and Keffiyeh headdress like
any Palestinian or Gulf Arab might wear. But more and more now he appears,
when he does appear in videos, in sort of gold-fringed robes. And I
wonder if that is not a certain amount of vanity crept into his personality.
After all, he is a fairly well known guy now. And I wonder if this isnt
if I could see something of the Mahdi there, the person who began
to believe he was a personal sort of interpreter for some higher being.
It's interesting that he constantly wants to be portrayed as did before
as being in a cave. Of course, the prophet Mohammad lived in a cave.
And indeed he was on a mountain outcrop when he first received the message
from God. And I wonder what is actually going on not politically over
the United States or attacks, but I wonder what's going none the Bin
Laden mind. That's not the first time he has had such a smart gown on.
He was wearing it like that all in 2000. But before that he was a much
more humble figure, but I suppose could you say that, before he probably
thought he had more to be humble about.
AMY GOODMAN: And
yet interestingly, he did not make any reference to the Koran.
ROBERT FISK: Well,
I think that the tape was slightly longer than the one that you have
seen. And I believe he does make reference to the Koran in the full
half hour tape. You thought it was 18 minutes. But it hasn't all been
aired. I have spoken to the people who got the original tape and there
are a number of Koranic expressions. That's not quite right, but it
is not your fault that you got it wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted
to read you to Walter Cronkite's comments. I don't know if you heard
ROBERT FISK: Well,
I know who Walter Cronkite is but I don't know about his comments.
AMY GOODMAN: Well,
he said this on Larry King. He said, so now the question is basically
right now, how will this affect the election. And I have a feeling it
could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I'm inclined to think that Karl
Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever
man, he probably set up Bin Laden to this thing. The advantage to the
Republican side is to get rid of, as a principle subject of the campaigns
right now, get rid of the whole problem of the Al-Qaqaa explosive dump.
ROBERT FISK: I don't
really think it's worth much comment. I know the timing and the dates
when this tape originally arrived in Islamabad. I don't think anything
could have been -- it wasnt -- for example it didn't arrive five
weeks ago and was then held up until the right moment in the election
if that's what Cronkite was suggesting. I dont think there is
any -- yeah, I think that's a conspiratorial theory. There's a lot of
things in this, which suggest that Bin Laden is oddly enough actually
trying to torture Americans. You see, at the very beginning, when he
says, Bush is still misleading you and misinforming you by not telling
you the truth. The odd thing about that is an awful lot of people think
that Bin Laden is quite correct and accurate in saying that. He is not
correct in much else, but in that he is. He never was of course in Beirut
in 1982, you know, he keeps going back to the Lebanese invasion. Although
he certainly would have seen pictures. And I saw the real thing in Beirut,
whole apartment blocks crumbling to the ground with all of the occupants
inside, with -- after the Israelis had bombed the buildings from the
air, claiming that terrorists were inside, when in fact
in almost all cases, I went to, they were just civilians families, babies,
children, who of course were flattened like pancakes underneath this
mass of concrete and iron. They looked frankly when I saw them very
much like the dead looked of September 11. So, I'm not making a dark
comparison. That's what Bin Laden is doing. But I understand what he
is talking about when he talks about the destroyed towers in Lebanon.
The odd thing is that there's a slightly wrong translation from the
Arabic. He says that, you know, he never thought of an attack on the
twin towers in New York. What he actually says in the Arabic was, I
had never thought of doing it until I saw what happened in Lebanon.
Then the idea occurred to me. In other words, he's saying that the inspiration
came from Israel's invasion rather than him sitting down and saying
there's a good target. I'm not sure I believe him because it's quite
clear that the targets, which were chosen were to represent finance
and the military. And I -- if indeed Ziad Jarrahs plane, the Lebanese
hijacker, I would have thought that would have gone for the legislature
and Capitol Hill. Interesting enough, Ziad Jarrah himself was in the
Beirut siege and his family who I met managed to get him out. He was
a small boy at the time, fascinated by airplanes and flying. He was
just a schoolboy. Actually attending a Christian school. And his father
told me that after he had gotten out of Beirut and he had seen the air
attacks, he refused to play with his sister in the park or go to the
swings because he said, what had happened in Beirut was too serious.
Of course, he naturally occurred to me when I heard Bin Laden speaking,
that if he had met Ziad Jarrah, and I rather suspect he had, Jarrah
himself may have given his childhood memories of what happened in Lebanon
to Bin Laden, but that might sound as conspiratorial as Walter Cronkite.
I dont know.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert
Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, we have to break,
when we come back I want to ask you about Yasser Arafat, his health
and the significance of his going to France, and his leadership in Palestine
and Israel's struggle. And I want to ask you about the deadliest weekend
we have seen in Iraq over the last six months for U.S. soldiers. And
then the study, 100,000 Iraqis dead.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert
Fisk on the line us with, Middle East correspondent for The Independent.
You wrote a piece on Saturday, Robert, the title, The Truth is
that Yasser Arafat died years ago. He married the revolution. And in
the end, he became a little dictator, falsely promising democracy.
Your response to the latest news of Yasser Arafat and his health?
ROBERT FISK: Well,
he has been -- he's died so many times, hasn't he? We were told originally,
he died in one of the air raids in Beirut in 1982, and he didn't. Then
he had a crash in the Libyan desert in his plane and he was okay, but
the pilot was killed. Then he had a blood clot in the brain on the way
to Baghdad from Amman and Jordanian doctors saved him. This time, of
course, it clearly is serious. Although, I mean in a way, when you look
at it symbolically, this old man like an elderly owl who has been trapped
inside this rubble for three years, still talking about going to Jerusalem
and leading his people to a new state, and so on, peace of the brave,
and then eventually, he's hauled out on a stretcher looking like a skeleton
and taken off to a foreign country from which he may never return alive.
It's not the way in which leaders should go, but the problem is, you
see, all along, he never allowed a new leadership to take shape around
him. He was a corrupt man. He is a corrupt man. He won't be doing much
corruption for a while now, but all this time, and this is the great
tragedy of the Palestinians, apart from the fact their living under
occupation, which is a greater tragedy for them, is that this is a man
who didn't allow young and educated Palestinians to take their place
in a new political entity. If you look at the pictures or look at any
of the pictures that you see of Arafat outside the Mukada building in
Ramallah, you look at the pictures of him coming out when he was led
out of the building and put in the helicopter, all the men around him
are paunchy, 50-60 year olds from the days of fighting the Israelis
in Lebanon in the 80s. Whenever a bright young spokesman has popped
up on television from the Palestinian side, they are being slapped out
and the old men are being brought back. Like, for example, the Palestinian
representative of the United Nations, who is almost incomprehensible
on television or radio. Especially when the Israelis put up extremely
eloquent and well educated young people to represent their country.
So he's -- you know, I have said many times, even Arafat as a physical
existence, that's not a face that you would see on a student dorm window
along with Che Guevara or even Castro. In a sense, he represents by
his continuity, by his desire to represent the revolution, to be married
to the revolution, as he put it, which is wife found out what that meant.
It has a consistency and a kind of courage to it, but he had everything
wrong with the Arabs in the sense that he turned into just another Arab
dictator, which is exactly what I think the Israelis wanted. They want
an obedient dictator to manage the occupation for them. It was interesting
that when the second Intifada broke out, the Israelis asked the question,
can Arafat control his own people, which of course was dutifully taken
up, the Israelis set the agenda for CNN and the BBC, who said, can care
fat control his people, having forgotten that the principle behind the
Oslo agreement was not that Arafat would control his people but that
he would represent them. And in a sense he does represent them, because
in the streets there are people who say we need control, you see? One
of the great sicknesses I think, the cancers of the Arab world is the
desire for people to put a form of authoritarian regime over the freedoms
of the kind of democracy that we think we live in. I would have to say,
however, that if he was an Iraqi, living in the hell of Iraq at the
moment, I might well look back wishfully on the terrible days of Saddam
compared to the infinitely more violent and dangerous days today.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking
of which, your latest question, what's happening in Iraq right now,
as well as the capture, the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, and the threatened,
what will happen to her, the killing of the U.S. soldiers, and the 100,000
report, which we're going to talk about in a minute, of casualties in
ROBERT FISK: Well,
you know, the problem is that although some of us, when we go to Iraq
are still moving around, most of my colleagues, and I don't blame them
at all, scarcely leave their hotels tells because it's too dangerous.
We still have the two French journalists missing. Although mostly, I
understand they're still alive. We have had journalists murdered; quite
a few of them. So, when you talk like this, for example, I just listened
to your questions. Excuse me. We are constantly faced by this kind of
theatrical facade. Who has Margaret Hassan? We don't know. I know Margaret
very well, but there's no claim from a particular group. There are no
armed men standing in the background with the Islamic banners. Who took
her? Why? We hear eight marines were killed. On operational duties.
What does that mean? Were they ambushed? Were they in a tank that blew
up? Were they in a helicopter that crashed? What does it mean? We hear
100,000 casualties. Well, there are two ways of getting a casualty rate,
an Iraq casualty rate in Iraq. One is to go around all of the scholarly
notebooks of doctors and morticians who wrote down five more bodies
at 2:17 p.m. this afternoon. To go to all of the hospitals, to go the
ministry of health and when we've done that, and of course, the associated
press had a pretty good go at this before most of Iraq went outside
of government control, we came up with a figure that got to around 20,000
or 30,000 Iraqis. The figure of 100,000 has been extrapolated from a
series of interviews in specific locations based upon percentages. In
other words, if they went to five houses in a street and found that
20 more people had died of violence in the previous year, then they
would extrapolate out from that increase in violence and what it meant.
But the 100,000 is not a record of actual deaths. It's an extrapolation
of percentages put forward in what is in effect a kind of opinion poll.
It may be less than 100,000. It may be considerably less, but I think
when you get to the point where you are sort of saying, "my god
it wasn't 30,000 but 100,000," you are beginning to forget the
individual and it's the individual Iraqi who is suffering every day,
every day, and there are many, many deaths will never be recorded simply
because in a small village out in the desert, they will bury the person
quickly and the authorities essentially have no control there anymore.
There's no one to take down deaths and no one to notify. In Baghdad
you still have to notify deaths. So you can go down to the Baghdad city
mortuary, and I actually go there and meet the doctors and morticians.
I actually stand there among the corpses and we can count them each
day. Now that I can do. I can tell you, on a certain day 27 people were
brought with gunshot wounds into this hospital. And I can do all the
hospitals in Baghdad. But I can't travel to Najaf and Samara and Fallujah
and count there, too. So there is and there will be no precise statistic.
That of course is precisely the way the United States and Britain and
the American military and America's appointed Iyad Allawi, so-called
interim prime minister, that's the way they want it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well
Robert Fisk, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Middle
east correspondent for The Independent, interviewed Osama Bin Laden