WASHINGTON (AP) Osama bin Laden claims he calculated in advance how many casualties “the enemy” would suffer on Sept. 11 and was delighted to see his estimate surpassed, according to a videotape President Bush wants the world to see.
The president said the tape “just reminds me of what a murderer he is.”
Two senior administration officials said privately that Bush was leaning toward making public the tape seized in Afghanistan. They said he was holding off on a final decision while intelligence officials recheck their Arabic translation and anything that might betray intelligence-gathering methods. The tape could be released in the next two days, officials said.
Bush, during a White House event celebrating Hanukkah, did not address whether he would release the tape but said of bin Laden: “This man wants to destroy any semblance of civilization for his own power.” The chilling nature of the tape stands in contrast to the spirit of the holiday season, Bush said.
“For those who see this tape, they realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul. He represents the worst of civilization,” Bush said.
The tape, which was discovered about 10 days ago in an abandoned apartment in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, was described to reporters by the small circle of administration officials who have seen the video or read a translation of its contents. A date stamped on the tape suggests it was produced in November, one of the officials said.
“The body language that I saw, really was just disgusting. I mean, that people would take delight in having killed innocent civilians is horrible,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Apparently made by an amateur with a handheld camera, the videotape shows bin Laden being interviewed or meeting with a cleric about the suicide hijackings that killed thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The suspected terrorist mastermind, speaking in Arabic, reportedly tells the story of how he tuned into news shows on the morning of Sept. 11, waited for reports of the first strikes on the World Trade Center, and then told companions there was more to come evidently referring to planes that later crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. He says he had only expected New York”s twin towers to collapse only down to the level of where the hijacked airliners struck.
Two intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said bin Laden also revealed that, in advance of Sept. 11, he tallied up how many Americans could be killed, a casualty estimate “for the enemy.” Some 3,300 people died in the attacks.
In another section of the crudely produced tape, bin Laden”s comments suggest that the plot”s ringleaders did not tell all the hijackers that their mission would end in death. He also says that the suicide hijackers will be awarded virgins in the afterlife, sources said.
“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,” said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who read a transcript of the tape.