WASHINGTON – Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who told schoolchildren Osama bin Laden was beloved by his people because of his compassionate social spending programs, was one of 13 U.S. senators to urge the Bush administration to send $30 million in taxpayer aid to his Taliban hosts in Afghanistan just five months before Sept. 11.
On May 2, 2001, 13 senators released to the press a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell calling on the administration to provide $30 million in emergency aid for Afghanistan, warning failure to act could spark a humanitarian crisis of “massive proportions.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Last Wednesday, at the conclusion of a session with students at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Wash., Murray said she wanted to bring up a further point to add to their discussion about alternatives to war.
“We’ve got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?” she said in reference to bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Why are people so supportive of him in many countries that are riddled with poverty?”
Murray said, according to the Vancouver Columbian newspaper, that bin Laden has been “out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven’t done that.”
The second-term senator asked the students to ponder: “How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?”
Despite Murray’s claim that bin Laden had invested heavily in social infrastructure and improved lives among the people who supported him, five months before Sept. 11 she was describing an Afghanistan on the verge of social catastrophe.
Indeed, tens of thousands of Afghans were facing starvation brought on by a serious drought and civil war.
“The conditions in temporary camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan are horrendous, and people are dying daily from starvation, cold and disease,” said the letter to Powell. “If we fail to act, the world may soon be witness to a humanitarian crisis of even more massive proportions. We urge your immediate attention to this matter.”
Even before some $43 million in additional aid was released to the Taliban, described six months later by President Bush as one of the most repressive regimes the world has ever known, the U.S. was already the biggest aid donor to Afghanistan – even bigger than bin Laden.
Bin Laden had provided an estimated $100 million in cash and military assistance to the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan over the five years leading up to Sept. 11, according to intelligence information presented to President Bush and his senior national security advisers after the terrorist attacks.
But, those sources said, the money he provided to the Taliban did not come from his personal fortune. The money comes from three primary sources: legal and illegal businesses or front companies bin Laden operated directly or indirectly; tribute payments he received from several Persian Gulf states, companies or individuals that gave him funds so he and his al-Qaida supporters would stay out of or minimize activities in their countries; and entities masked as charities.
Bin Laden even reportedly used a network of shops selling honey to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs and agents throughout his terrorist network. But the goal, terrorism experts insist, was always the funding of his terrorist infrastructure – not the improvement of social conditions.
Both the Taliban government and bin Laden’s terrorist organization were always funded in part by the opium poppies of Afghanistan.
When the U.S. committed $43 million in aid to Afghanistan in May 2001, it brought the total of U.S. aid to the country that year alone to $124 million. Powell’s aid package came just two weeks after Murray and 12 other U.S. senators including Joseph Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Russell Feingold, Edward Kennedy, Mary Landrieu, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Mikulski, Harry Reid, Debbie Stabenow and Paul Wellstone, lobbied for $30 million.
The request from Murray and her colleagues in May 2001 came after a team of officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development toured Afghanistan in April. It was the first time U.S. officials had set foot in Afghanistan since before President Clinton’s August 1998 missile strikes on terrorist camps there.
While Murray has not yet paid much of a political price for her comments attributing humanitarian motives to bin Laden, Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., who is considering running against Murray in 2004, has publicly challenged her, characterizing her remarks as “bizarre” and “uninformed.”
Roger Hedgecock, filling in for talk radio host Rush Limbaugh Monday, asked, after noting the story was picked up by only a few media sources, including WND: “Where was the shock? Where was the outrage?”
“Osama bin Laden hasn’t been building schools and health-care facilities and infrastructure and roads,” Hedgecock said. “He’s been building terrorist training camps. He’s been exploding bombs and murdering people. He hasn’t been building an infrastructure.”
While some of Murray’s remarks to the schoolchildren also appeared to be critical of Bush’s war policies in Afghanistan, she was immediately supportive of those plans in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and following his address to the joint session of Congress.
“These attacks were meant to divide us, but what they’ve done is bring us closer together,” she said in a statement Sept. 20. “From the heroes in New York and Washington, D.C., to a fifth-grade class in Lynnwood, Washington, that is holding a bake sale to benefit the Red Cross, last week’s tragedy has brought out the best in America.”
In response to the political brushfire kicked up by Murray’s comments to the school children, she issued a statement calling bin Laden “an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.”
“While we continue to search every corner of the globe to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, should we also consider the longer-term issue of what else can be done to improve relations with all nations including the Arab world?” she asked in the statement.
As to the question of whether Murray’s comments have provided aid and comfort to bin Laden’s supporters, the Islamist website Taliban Online reprinted the opening section of WND’s original story that included Murray’s glowing comments about bin Laden, complete with a hyperlink back to WND.