Former Bill Clinton operative turned Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos on Friday spun for his ex-boss in the wake of newly released audio about Osama bin Laden. In the recording from September 10, 2001, Bill Clinton justified not ordering the killing of the terrorist mastermind: "I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and killed 300 innocent women and children and then I would have been no better than him." [MP3 audio here.]
Talking to Brian Ross, Stephanopoulos touted that the administration "could never be sure bin Laden was there." He highlighted, "And number two, as President Clinton talked about in that tape, the risk of killing innocent civilians." At no time in the segment did Stephanopoulos or Ross offer any criticism of Clinton's decision or question if the Democrat could have stopped 3000 deaths on September 11, 2001.
Instead, Stephanopoulos narrated, "The chilling tape reveals just how close he came to taking out Osama bin laden and why he did not pull the trigger."
Reporter Ross pointed to human intelligence inside Afghanistan saying that the specific plan referred to in the tape wouldn't have gotten bin Laden. He added, "Therefore, the strike would not have killed him and Clinton's judgment in fact was vindicated."
CBS This Morning co-host Norah O'Donnell at least considered the ramifications of Clinton's decision: "It is chilling to hear that video, especially, I'm sure, for many victims of 9/11 that the U.S. had the opportunity to take out Osama bin Laden."
Former CIA official Michael Scheuer appeared on Fox News, Friday, and rebuffed Clinton's claims. Via Mediaite:
Scheuer, identified as head of CIA’s bin Laden unit 1995-1999, disputed Clinton’s recollection. He said the attack on bin Laden “would have occurred in the middle of the night” and “it would have killed no one but Taliban people and Osama bin Laden and his crew.”
Scheuer took a shot at Clinton, saying, “if you looked up the word ‘lie’ his face (Clinton’s) would be right next to it.”
That point of view, of course, never made it to GMA.
A transcript of the August 1 segment:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Newly unearthed audio of former president Clinton the day before the September 11th attacks.
BILL CLINTON: And I could have gotten -- I could have killed him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The chilling tape reveals just how close he came to taking out Osama bin laden and why he did not pull the trigger.
7:09:46 to 7:11:28
1 minute and 42 seconds
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn to an eerie recording hidden away for more than a decade of former President Bill Clinton just hours before the 9/11 attacks, telling a group of Australian businessmen why he did not order a strike against Osama bin Laden. Here it is.
BILL CLINTON: Well, I am just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden, he's a very smart guy. I spent a lot of time thinking about him and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him and I could have gotten -- I could have killed him but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and killed 300 innocent women and children and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn't do it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross here right now. And it's just so chilling to hear that knowing within just hours before the attack.
ROSS: Exactly. And of course, bin Laden had no compunction about killing innocent civilians.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But this does track what we had learned in early reports, specifically a report of the 9/11 Commission about previous attempts to go after Osama bin Laden.
ROSS: Right. They found three separate incidents between 1998 and 1999 where U.S. intelligence was deemed credible enough to warn for possible strikes to kill bin Laden, but the intelligence was so sketchy was so sketchy they concluded it did not offset the risks of killing innocent civilians and they didn't go ahead.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, two separate sets of concerns for all those and the former CIA director George Tenet has talked about this, as well, number one, they could never be sure Osama bin laden was there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, number two as President Clinton talked about in that tape, the risk of killing innocent civilians.
ROSS: And in the case he's talking about, in Kandahar, they had a human intelligence source that put bin Laden there but it turns out that he had left the room just before the supposed strike.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He, bin laden.
ROSS: And, therefore, the strike would not have killed him and Clinton's judgment in fact was vindicated.