Fox News is recycling old news about a 1998 plan to kill Osama bin Laden, calling recently released audio of Clinton discussing decisions not to pursue the plan as "disturbing" and "sickening." In reality, the 9-11 Commission detailed this very plan in its report years ago, reporting that top military and intelligence officials worried it would have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and would not have succeeded in killing bin Laden.
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Fox Hypes Audio Of Clinton To Gin Up Phony Controversy Over Bin Laden Strike
Australian News Outlet Aired Audio Of Bill Clinton Discussing Decision Not To Pursue Bin Laden Strike That Would Have Killed 300 Civilians. The July 30 edition of Sky News' Paul Murray Live aired audio of former President Bill Clinton on September 10, 2001, describing a December 1998 decision not to target Osama bin Laden in a missile strike because it would have killed hundreds of civilians. [Sky News, Paul Murray Live, 7/30/14]
Sean Hannity: Clinton Comments Are "Disturbing" And "Frightening." On July 31, Fox News host Sean Hannity aired Sky News' audio clip of Clinton from September 2001, deeming Clinton's remarks "disturbing" and claiming that 9/11 was the logical conclusion of Clinton's decision not to strike bin Laden (emphasis added):
HANNITY: New disturbing audio has surfaced of former President Bill Clinton from September 10, 2001, saying that he once had a golden opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden. Now here's what he said just hours before the 9/11 terrorist attack that left 3,000 people dead.
He didn't do it and look what happened to this country as a result just one day later. America changed forever on 9/11/2001. And what Bill Clinton didn't seem to understand on September 10, 2001, he had a chance to prevent that day of infamy from ever happening. And what's even more frightening is much like Clinton, President Obama to this very day refuses to recognize the real and clear, present danger posed by radical Islam. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/31/14]
Fox & Friends: Clinton Comments Are "Almost Sickening To Hear." Fox & Friends highlighted the clip on August 1, calling it a "Clinton Shocker" in an on-air graphic. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck alleged that there could have been "many missed opportunities to get bin Laden" and that Clinton may not have taken al Qaeda seriously:
STEVE DOOCY: But just the fact that Bill Clinton says on tape -- and have we really heard him say this since - 'I could have killed him.' There are the families of 3,000 Americans who, when they hear this, are going, 'you know what, Mr. President? You should have done it.'
HASSELBECK: Well, it sends chills down the spine of anyone who heard that in this moment here.
DOOCY: And that was the day before September 11. September 10 in Australia, Bill Clinton revealed he could have killed him, but he didn't.
HASSELBECK: Almost sickening to hear. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/1/14]
The Fact That The Plan Wasn't Pursued Is Old News: 9/11 Commission Detailed Military And Intel Resistance To Strike, Determined It Would Not Have Killed Bin Laden
9/11 Commission Report: Top Military And Counter-Terrorism Officials Opposed Strike In December 1998. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, known as the 9/11 commission, was an "independent, bipartisan commission" tasked with investigating the U.S.'s preparedness for and response to the September 11, 2001 attacks and offering recommendations for future national security improvements. The Commission's July 2004 public report discussed the December 1998 decision not to attempt to target bin Laden with a cruise missile strike on Kandahar. Though some low-level officials supported the attack, high-level officials including former CENTCOM Commander in Chief General Anthony Zinni, special assistant to the president specializing in counterterrorism Richard Clarke, and Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet all noted their concerns about civilian collateral damage. From page 131 of the 9/11 Commission Report (emphasis added):
The CIA reported on December 18 that Bin Laden might be traveling to Kandahar and could be targeted there with cruise missiles. Vessels with Tomahawk cruise missiles were on station in the Arabian sea, and could fire within a few hours of receiving target data.
On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Laden would be spending the night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor's residence in Kandahar. The chief of the Bin Laden unit, "Mike," told us that he promptly briefed Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA's Gary Schroen advised: "Hit him tonight - we may not get another chance." An urgent teleconference of principals was arranged.
The principals considered a cruise missile strike to try to kill Bin Ladin. One issue they discussed was the potential collateral damage--the number of innocent bystanders who would be killed or wounded. General Zinni predicted a number well over 200 and was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque. The senior intelligence officer on the Joint Staff apparently made a different calculation, estimating half as much collateral damage and not predicting damage to the mosque. By the end of the meeting, the principals decided against recommending to the President that he order a strike. A few weeks later, in January 1999, Clarke wrote that the principals had thought the intelligence only half reliable and had worried about killing or injuring perhaps 300 people. Tenet said he remembered doubts about the reliability of the source and concern about hitting the nearby mosque. "Mike" remembered Tenet telling him that the military was concerned that a few hours had passed since the last sighting of Bin Ladin and that this persuaded everyone that the chance of failure was too great. [The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, accessed 8/1/14]
9/11 Commission Report: Strike Would Not Have Hit Bin Laden. The 9/11 Commission Report noted that even if the planned missile strike had been carried out, it would not have killed bin Laden. This knowledge contributed to officials' reluctance to take another strike at bin Laden in Kandahar in May 1999. From page 140 of the 9/11 Commission Report (emphasis added):
The decision not to strike in May 1999 may now seem hard to understand. In fairness,we note two points: First, In December 1998, the principals' wariness about ordering a strike appears to have been vindicated: Bin Ladin left his room unexpectedly, and if a strike had been ordered he would not have been hit. [The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, accessed 8/1/14]
Reality: Bill Clinton Actually Launched A Missile Strike In August 1998 That Narrowly Missed Bin Laden
9/11 Commission Report: An August 1998 Tomahawk Missile Strike Against Bin Laden Barely Missed Killing Him. The 9/11 Commission reported that the Clinton administration approved Tomahawk missile strikes against bin Laden on August 20, 1998, but the attacks missed bin Laden by hours, and as the Commission noted, "public commentary turned immediately to scalding criticism that the action was too aggressive." From the 9/11 Commission Report (emphasis added):
By the early hours of the morning of August 20, President Clinton and all his principal advisers had agreed to strike Bin Ladin camps in Afghanistan near Khowst, as well as hitting al Shifa.The President took the Sudanese tannery off the target list because he saw little point in killing uninvolved people without doing significant harm to Bin Ladin. The principal with the most qualms regarding al Shifa was Attorney General Reno. She expressed concern about attacking two Muslim countries at the same time. Looking back, she said that she felt the "premise kept shifting."
Later on August 20, Navy vessels in the Arabian Sea fired their cruise missiles. Though most of them hit their intended targets, neither Bin Ladin nor any other terrorist leader was killed. Berger told us that an after-action review by Director Tenet concluded that the strikes had killed 20-30 people in the camps but probably missed Bin Ladin by a few hours. Since the missiles headed for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or Bin Ladin. [The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, accessed 8/1/14]
Sec. Of State Hillary Clinton Played Key Role In Deliberations Over Successful 2011 Raid On Bin Laden
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton "Gave Unwavering Support For The Raid Almost As Soon As She Heard It Might Be Possible." As the Washington Post reported on June 2, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was an immediate, "staunch" backer of the military raid that killed bin Laden in 2011:
[A] review of Clinton's limited public remarks on the mission, as well as the recollections of others in the Obama administration, make the outlines of her role fairly clear. She gave unwavering support for the raid into Pakistan almost as soon as she heard it might be possible, and before President Obama had made up his mind.
Through weeks of sometimes heated White House debate in 2011, Clinton was alone among the president's topmost cabinet officers to back it. Vice President Biden, a potential political rival for Clinton in 2016, opposed it. So did then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
"What she looks like is someone decisive, smart and risk-taking in the right way," said Robert Shrum, a top strategist on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John F. Kerry. "This wasn't about risking thousands or tens of thousands of American troops. This was about taking a risk that if it failed would hurt her and the president, but it's the kind of thing you do if you are president or if you are secretary of state." [Washington Post, 6/2/14]