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The story...

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said on-the-record that "The goal has never been to get bin Ladin". It's a clear example of how the US Government has ignored Al Qaeda.

Our take...

He did say this.. But including this quote alone, without context, doesn’t give you the full picture. Try this instead.

"Question: The big question for General Myers. One embarrassment for the U.S. is that in almost seven months after 9-11 we still haven't captured Osama bin Ladin. With the apprehension this week of one of his top lieutenants have we gotten enough information to being any closer to maybe finally getting bin Ladin?

General Myers: If you remember, if we go back to the beginning of the segment the goal has never been to get bin Ladin. Obviously that's desirable. I just read a piece by some analysts who said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You might be more effective going after the middle managers because they're harder to replace. I don't know if that's true or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Ladin.

But I think the fact that we've been able to disrupt operations, get a lot of the people just under him and maybe just a little bit further down has had some impact on their operation. We know we've disrupted four, five, six, seven active operations that they had planned, and probably more that we don't know about. So we're going to keep the hunt on. Finding one person, as we’ve talked about before, is a very difficult prospect but we will keep trying".

It's clear, once you read the full complete, that Myers would very much like to "get bin Ladin". All he's saying is that his work involves more than finding a single man. This looks like a misleading way to use a quote, but there are similarly incomplete examples to be found elsewhere.

on April 30, 2001, CNN reported that the Bush Administration's release of the government's annual terrorism report contained a serious change: "there was no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Ladin" as there had been in previous years. When asked why the Administration had reduced the focus, "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Ladin."

So they didn’t want to get him after all? That’s not the message conveyed when you go back to the original material.

The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there's no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Ladin. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Ladin and "personalizing terrorism."

still, Secretary of State Colin Powell says efforts to fight global terrorism will remain consistent.


POWELL: The results are clear: state sponsors of terrorism are increasingly isolated; terrorist groups on under growing pressure. Terrorists are being brought to justice, we will not let up. But we must also be aware of the nature of the threat before us. Terrorism is a persistent disease.


WOODRUFF: The secretary of state did go on to say that South Asia, particularly Afghanistan, continues to be the focal point for terrorism that is directed against the United States.

Again, they seem to be saying it’s wrong to focus on just one man, however the fight against terrorism continues as before, and Afghanistan (and so presumably al Qaeda) is a particular concern. No evidence of any major policy changes, or softening of attitudes here.

That hasn’t stopped the detractors, though, who also cite these similar Bush quotes:

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."

"I am truly not that concerned about him."
G.W. Bush

These sound impressive, until you look at the source. Then you discover that the first quote doesn’t exist, while as with Myers, the second omits a considerable amount of context:

Q  Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final part -- deep in your heart, don't you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won't really eliminate the threat of --

THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not; we haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. I'm more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is strong; that when we find enemy bunched up like we did in Shahikot Mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and do the job, which they did.

And there will be other battles in Afghanistan. There's going to be other struggles like Shahikot, and I'm just as confident about the outcome of those future battles as I was about Shahikot, where our soldiers are performing brilliantly. We're tough, we're strong, they're well-equipped. We have a good strategy. We are showing the world we know how to fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.

Q  But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.

But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a minute -- and if we find a training camp, we'll take care of it. Either we will or our friends will. That's one of the things -- part of the new phase that's becoming apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary, or training, or a place to hide, or a place to raise money.

And we've got more work to do. See, that's the thing the American people have got to understand, that we've only been at this six months. This is going to be a long struggle. I keep saying that; I don't know whether you all believe me or not. But time will show you that it's going to take a long time to achieve this objective. And I can assure you, I am not going to blink. And I'm not going to get tired. Because I know what is at stake. And history has called us to action, and I am going to seize this moment for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom.

Whatever you think of Bush, it’s plain that “I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority” is nothing like an accurate summary of the above press conference. Yet again, the message is not to trust snipped quotes: they can be deeply misleading.

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