'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Where There's Smoke ... ?

So a few posts back I reported on a Britich tabloid's claim that Bin Laden was "boxed in" by British and US forces, a claim quickly denied by Pakistan. Now, we have Iranian state radio reporting that Bin Laden is not just boxed in but was captured "a long time ago." The Iranian report specifically mentioned that the situation was being covered up to facillitate an October Surprise:

Tehran, Feb 28, IRNA -- Iran`s state radio has quoted an informed source as saying that Osama bin Laden had been captured in a tribal region in Pakistan.

The radio`s external service, broadcast in Pushtun, said US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld`s trip to Pakistan on Thursday had been made in connection with the capture.

The radio said, "The capture of the al-Qaeda leader has been made sometime before, but (US President George W.) Bush is intending to announce it when the American presidential election is held." Contacted by IRNA, an IRIB announcer at the Pusthtun service, confirmed the news, which he said, they had got from a `very reliable source` in Peshawar, Pakistan.

"Osama bin Laden has been arrested a long time ago, but (US President George W.) Bush is intending to use it for propaganda maneuvering in the presidential election," he said. Osama`s head on a platter is believed to be a big boost to Bush`s presidential chances, which are increasingly being eclipsed by Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry.

The Saudi-born dissident is accused of masterminding the September 11, 2001 attacks on American landmarks in New York and Washington. Visiting Kabul on Thursday, Rumsfeld said he believes Osama will be caught, but has no idea when.

The AP picked up the story, offered some tepid denials from the various players:

Larry Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman who traveled with Rumsfeld this week to Afghanistan, denied the report. "I don't have any reason to think it's true," he said Saturday.

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, also said he had no information to suggest bin Laden had been caught.

"Things are going well, and we believe we will eventually catch all the leaders of al-Qaeda, but I know nothing of that report," he said.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called the report "baseless." "We have neither arrested Osama nor we have any information about him," he told AP.

Pakistani Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan also said the report was not true. "That information is wrong," he said.

and claimed that a source for the Iranian story has since recanted, saying that he was misquoted.

At this point I'm starting to believe that at least the boxed-in rumor is true, and things like this Iranian claim are just confused echoes of the true story. What would be the motive of Iranian journalists in making up a story like this whole cloth? I think it's pretty clear -- based on the empirical observation that these news stories just aren't going away -- they're reporting an actual rumor, but is there any truth behind the rumor? ...

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