Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2001/ 28 Kislev 5762

Wesley Pruden

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When 'going live' can mean going dead -- EVEN terrorists - or maybe terrorists most of all - can't resist the seductive lure of show biz.

Everybody wants to make the Evening News. The sight of a camera rolling makes air hogs of us all.

Osama bin Laden has carefully avoided taking credit, or accepting the blame, for the monstrous evil of September 11, seeking to undercut the obvious, that he was the mastermind of the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. But when someone brought out a video camera, the Evil One just couldn't help himself.

He shot off his mouth, and it's all the evidence George W. Bush needs to blow off the rest of his head (with or without the verdict of a military tribunal).

On the tape, Osama clearly reveals how he calculated in advance how many dead "the enemy" would suffer, and in reciting details to his favorite men of Allah took diabolical delight in seeing his estimate surpassed. This is the smoking gun Mr. Bush needs to shut up the nervous nellies, skeptics and other old women of Europe once and for all. It ought to be enough as well to silence the illiterates in "the Muslim street," with their insatiable appetite for the weird, the bizarre and the irrational, who lapped up the grotesque fiction that the Israelis did it after tipping off "thousands of Jews" not to go to work at the World Trade Center on September 11. It ought to be, but no gun smokes enough to convince the street where the fantastical is golden and facts are dross.

The president, who earlier asked the television networks not to broadcast bin Laden tapes lest credulous viewers be taken in by crude propaganda or bin Laden's cells abroad receive coded operational messages, wants to show this video to worldwide television audiences if he can get permission from his intelligence and security experts (speaking of nervous nellies). He wants to make sure his experts are satisfied that release of the videotape won't compromise "intelligence sources," though it isn't clear why U.S. intelligence sources should worry about compromising an unidentified al Qaeda cameraman, and Osama himself is not likely to be shocked to see himself in his own videotape.

"The president wants to share as much as possible with the country, to be as forthright as possible and to let people come to their own judgments by seeing things for themselves," says Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary. "The president also wants to make certain that the ability to see things in the future is in no way impaired as a result of sharing something now. The president understands that balance, and his security people are taking a look, crossing t's and dotting i's."

The intelligence-gathering methods employed appear to have consisted of picking up the tape in the search of an abandoned house in Jalalabad and taking it back to the office, where it was put on a VCR. A highly trained intelligence operative then pushed the "on" button, and images popped up on the TV monitor. Since then several of the president's closest aides have watched the flickering images of bin Laden at his boasting worst.

"The body language that I saw really was just disgusting," says Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense. "That people would delight in having killed innocent civilians is horrible."

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is eager for the public to see it, too, and particularly the Muslim skeptics for whom he still holds hope. "It's important that the world see this tape because there are still some places where there is suspicion about whether there is evidence to link bin Laden to the events of September 11," he told CBS-TV interviewers yesterday.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, being a Republican, takes a more cautious view. He's afraid that Osama might be able to figure out who made the tape and how it fell into American hands. (Note to Mr. Gibbons: see explanation, above.) "If there is an inadvertent disclosure," he says, "people's lives could be at risk. You have to weigh that public good versus the danger."

The White House may not have much time. London's Daily Mirror reported that Osama and one of his many "elder sons" are planning a new television spectacular. One of his ex-wives says the old man wants the elder son to off him, on camera, so the world can watch. "This will be the signal for a new wave of terror," says the ex-wife, Sabiha, who is regarded as a source fully as reliable as your average ex-wife. "The targets this time are the [U.S.] Capitol, Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower."

No word on how credible the White House regards all this, but if true it would certainly send their Jalalabad video into early re-runs.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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