---The title may seem like a simple question. But it is not. The answer you like may depend on whether you are a Clinton/Democrat or a Bush/Republican.
For example, last Wednesday (March 31st) on Al Franken's new liberal radio show, "The O'Franken Factor," Al's guest former Senator and 9-11 commission member Bob Kerrey said that Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States on February 23, 1998. It seems like he mentioned that date at least twice when he and Franken were talking about who's at fault regarding the 9-11 attacks (sorry no transcript available at this time). Senator Kerrey is citing the document entitled: "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders" -World Islamic Front Statement dated 23-February-1998.
Since former-Senator Kerrey is on the 9-11 commission you would assume this fact is correct. The commission members presumably have access to all of the research and details about bin Laden. They could almost call this "The Osama bin Laden Commission," but that would put the focus on the criminal rather than the crime.
However, what if bin Laden had declared war on the United States before February 23rd, 1998? What if he declared war on the US in August 1996 or perhaps even earlier? How does that matter? It simply means that the Clinton Administration is on the hook longer for ignoring a national security threat. A year and a half more of not focusing on the nation's number one security threat (in hindsight).
The record shows that Osama bin Laden really declared war on the United States in 1996, not 1998.
Wikipedia reports that:
Osama bin Laden wrote what is referred to as a fatwa in August 1996, and was one of several signatories of another and shorter fatwa in February 1998. Both documents appeared initially in the Arabic-language London newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. At the time, bin Laden was not a wanted man in any country except his native Saudi Arabia, and was not yet known as the leader of the international terrorist organisation al-Qaeda. Therefore these fatwas, or fatawa, received relatively little attention until after the August 1998 United States embassy bombings, for which bin Laden is indicted. The indictment mentions the first fatwa, and claims that Khalid al-Fawwaz, of bin Laden's Advice and Reformation Committee in London, participated in its communication to the press.Regarding the 1996 fatwa, The Washington Post website said:
Bin Laden's 1996 fatwa is entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places". This document is sometimes called the Ladenese epistle, a term derived from bin Laden's surname. It is a long piece, and complains of American activities in numerous countries...
"Osama bin Laden has published two religious orders seeking to justify violence against Western interests in the Middle East. The first was a document entitled, "Ladenese Epistle: Declaration of War." Written in August 1996, it was published in Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based newspaper that bin Laden has often used to communicate his views. The text presented here was translated by the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, a pro-bin Laden organization, and posted on the Internet in October 1996."The Washington Post then re-printed the entire document. So does the pbs.org website which introduces the 1996 "Declaration of War" by saying:
"The following text is a fatwa, or declaration of war, by Osama bin Laden first published in Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based newspaper, in August, 1996. The fatwa is entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."Granted this August 1996 "declaration of war" is a rambling 12-page rant with scads of Islamic metaphors but it does sound like a declaration of war. The title of the document should be clear enough. Here are a few snips from the document:
"Terrorising you (USA), while you are carrying arms on our land, is a legitimate and morally demanded duty."Suggest that if you're interested that you read through the whole document and draw your own conclusions.
"An infidel, and enemy of God like you, cannot be in the same hell with his righteous executioner."
"It is a duty now on every tribe in the Arab Peninsula to fight, Jihad, in the cause of Allah and to cleanse the land from those occupiers."
Therefore, given this 1996 fatwa declaration, is Democrat Bob Kerrey trying to revise history to make it appear that the Clinton Administration didn't have enough time to react to the threat of Osama bin Laden? Clinton was in office for 35 months after the 1998 declaration. Or did he simply misspeak and make an honest factual error? Perhaps this is just a question that can be spun several ways and that reasonable people can honestly disagree over.
Kerrey predicted on Franken's Radio Show that the commission's report would become a big political football before the election. He's right, it will, if the 9-11 commission reports that Osama bin Laden declared war on February 1998 instead of August 1996. Republicans might want to make the argument that this is not true and the commission is playing politics with "factual" history.
It might also be a tad bit ironic if Al Franken's "The O'Franken Factor" Radio Show started off on its first day with a rather large factual mistake (conservatives please don't call it a lie). Should it turn out that August 1996 is generally regarded as the date bin Laden declared war on the United States. We shall see.
update: I see "The O'Franken Factor" Radio Show blog is now up and running at www.ofrankenfactor.com maybe they'll respond to this question?
Recap of First "The O'Franken Factor" Radio Show [TJN]
Terrorism: Q&A | Osama bin Laden [Council on Foreign Relations]
Wikipedia: 9/11 Commission
Wikipedia: 9/11 Commission Report
GPOAccess.gov: The 9/11 Commission Report - Authorized Edition(2.3 MB PDF)
The 9/11 report cites the Februaray 1998 fatwa as the date of Bin Laden's declaration of war. Therefore it is not factually correct. Excerpt from page 47 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
THE FOUNDATION OF
THE NEW TERRORISM
THE NEW TERRORISM
2.1 A DECLARATION OF WAR
In February 1998, the 40-year-old Saudi exile Usama Bin Ladin and a fugitive Egyptian physician, Ayman al Zawahiri, arranged from their Afghan headquarters for an Arabic newspaper in London to publish what they termed a fatwa issued in the name of a “World Islamic Front.” A fatwa is normally an interpretation of Islamic law by a respected Islamic authority,but neither Bin Ladin, Zawahiri, nor the three others who signed this statement were scholars of Islamic law. Claiming that America had declared war against God and his messenger, they called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the “individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”
Three months later, when interviewed in Afghanistan by ABC-TV, Bin Ladin enlarged on these themes.2 He claimed it was more important for Muslims to kill Americans than to kill other infidels.“It is far better for anyone to kill a single American soldier than to squander his efforts on other activities,” he said.Asked whether he approved of terrorism and of attacks on civilians, he replied:“We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retaliation in kind.We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets.”