We still don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but on Friday, October 29 we appeared to see and hear from the al Qaeda leader, in person, on a videotape first aired on the Qatar-based news station al Jazeera. Bin Laden's spoken message ranged from talk of what he says inspired his jihad against the United States, to his first explicit public statement that he was responsible for the murderous attacks of September 11, 2001, to criticism of President Bush and the statement that "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands."
But for those of us here in the United States, heading into the final weekend of what has widely been termed one of the most important presidential elections in years, the most salient element of bin Laden's message may well be its timing.
How this new development will affect what seems to be a tick-tight race between President Bush and Senator John Kerry is difficult-to-impossible to judge right now. And perhaps it will have no net effect at all in the end, with likely voters leaning towards either Kerry or Bush all taking the tape in their own ways.
Even in the best of times, under the best of circumstances, Americans do not welcome intervention in their democratic affairs, particularly not their presidential elections. In the past, bin Laden and al Qaeda have always payed very close attention to timing, and it seems almost certain that the timing of this tape is in no way an accident. Coming as close to the election as it does, the questions become: Is it an attempt to influence the election's outcome? Or is it a more general effort to cast al Qaeda's cloud over Election Day? Or, more daunting still, is bin Laden trying to pass some kind of signal to his followers around the world? No matter what the answer, intervention of this sort in the U.S. presidential campaign, from the man who must be considered the man most reviled and hated by Americans, is as unwelcome as it gets.
Finally, this tape serves as an indication that bin Laden, more than three years after the murderous 9/11 attacks, is apparently still alive and therefore at large, with the United States still in his sights. Whether bin Laden and his organization are still capable of carrying out whatever attacks they may intend against the U.S. on our home soil remains uncertain. As does the extent of bin Laden's ability to reach into American hearts and minds and strike fear there—with a message that seems aimed at the democratic processes and traditions that we, in these United States value so highly.
By Dan Rather