All about bin Laden
There's a 9/11 truth school of thought that says the US presence in Afghanistan was all about capturing bin Laden.
Read the back of David Ray Griffin's "Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive?", for instance, and you'll find quotes like "tbe US's present military escalation in Afghanistan is said to be necessary to 'get Osama bin Laden'", and "if Osama bin Laden is dead, the US should not be using its troops and treasure to hunt him down".
And we've regularly come across similar views in web forums. Bin Laden was initially held entirely responsible, they say, in order to justify the attack on Afghanistan; but after that the US backed off and seemed to forget about him.
But is this true? Look at the evidence, and you'll see not. Right from the beginning the US and others were regularly saying that this was about far more than just one individual.
White House press briefings
The regular press briefings provide an opportunity for the White House to put their spin on events. And so, if bin Laden is to be personally blamed for the attacks then this is the place to do it. However, while he was named early on as a "prime suspect" the White House was quick to explain that they were after much more than just him.
September 13, 2001
September 15 2001
September 17, 2001
September 18, 2001
September 19, 2001
September 21, 2001
October 2, 2001
October 4, 2001
October 8, 2001
The Blair Dossier
In early October 2001 the British government released a dossier assigning responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. The New York Times reported that this release was coordinated and approved by the US, who perhaps channeled the information through the UK to gain a little extra credibility:
There's reason to believe that the US had at least some, and perhaps a great deal of input into the document, then. And here's what that said about the responsibility for the attacks:
So: bin Laden has responsibility as the leader of al Qaeda, but the detailed planning, they believed, was carried out by someone else. Which is entirely consistent with the message we see elsewhere - the attack on Afghanistan was about more than just one man.
Presidential radio addresses
Every Saturday morning the sitting President of the United States delivers a radio address to the nation. This is Bush (or at least his writers) talking directly to the American people, without being filtered through the press, so if he wants to invoke bin Laden as an evil threat and justification for war then you'd expect him to do so here. But what did he actually say?
September 15, 2001
President Bush's first weekly radio address after the attacks came on September 15. He made no direct mention of bin Laden or al Qaeda.
September 29, 2001
The radio address of September 29 focused on "progress made in the war on terrorism", however it didn't mention bin Laden or al Qaeda, instead focusing on a wide range of fronts.
October 6, 2001
The radio address just before the Afghan war began stated that the Taliban "have much to fear". It refers to al Qaeda by inference, but makes no specific mention of bin Laden.
October 13, 2001
By October 13 the first attacks on Afghanistan had begun. If this was all about getting bin Laden in particular, if that's the justification for this war, then you might expect it to be mentioned here. But once again, the name bin Laden doesn't appear in Bush's address.
We checked a few more addresses, up to November 30, and found Al Qaeda rated one mention while the name bin Laden name didn't crop up at all. Plainly Bush was talking about him elsewhere, every day, but in terms of the Presidential radio addresses, and justifications for the Afghan attack, bin Laden didn't rate a mention.
Other media reports
Here's Rumsfeld on bin Laden and his importance:
Is the Obama administration using bin Laden as a major reason to stay in Afghanistan?
It seems not.
Gibbs doesn't insist that bin Laden must be alive, and yet again makes it clear that their objectives are about far more than focusing on a single person. And when confronted with a question asking specifically whether the "mission is still to catch bin Laden", he responds in just the same way:
Bin Laden has been frequently singled out in many quotes and stories from Bush and other US government figures. In many cases the name is used as a shorthand for al Qaeda, though, as one US reporter's comment above makes clear: "it's long been no secret that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organizations around the world have meant to do us harm on a massive and lethal scale." And for all the "bin Laden, dead or alive" and similar stories, the reality is that the US have said frequently, and from within days of the attack, that there's much more to their response than one man.
Bin Laden wasn't the reason why America invaded Afghanistan, then, and he's not the reason they're still present. As usual, the reality is far more complex than the 9/11 truth case would have you believe.