A new documentary reveals that the U.S. had an opportunity to kill Usama bin Laden in the 1990s after tracking his location with the help of Afghan tribal informants, but were unable to do so because of an order signed by then-President Bill Clinton.
That order allowed the CIA to engage in “lethal activity” against the Al Qaeda leader, but the purpose of the strike could not be to kill him.
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“We were being asked to remove this threat to the United States essentially with one hand tied behind our backs,” said now-former CIA station chief Bob Grenier in Showtime’s “The Longest War,” in a clip posted by The Daily Beast. Grenier was based in Islamabad, Pakistan at the time.
“Our tribal contacts came to us and said, ‘Look, he’s in this location now. When he leaves, he’s going to have to go through this particular crossroads.’ And so what they proposed was to bury a huge cache of explosives underneath those crossroads so that when his convoy came through they could simply blow it up. And we said absolutely not. We were risking jail if we didn’t tell them that.”
The documentary’s director Greg Barker told The Daily Beast that at that point in time, the president, State Department, and other officials did not view bin Laden as much of a threat, and senior officials “ignored and even ridiculed” those who said otherwise.
Clinton has in the past discussed why he did not go after bin Laden on another occasion, essentially arguing that he did not want to kill innocent bystanders. The documentary explores what could have happened if the administration took action at the time.
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“The threat was real,” Marty Martin, who was a CIA counterterrorism officer at the time, said in the documentary. “And if President Clinton had taken action and killed Usama bin Laden, there wouldn’t have been a 9/11, and if there wouldn’t have been a 9/11 there wouldn’t have been an Afghanistan, and if there wouldn’t have been an Afghanistan there wouldn’t have been an Iraq. What would the world be like?”