Bin Laden named 9 hijackers on tape
White House, Pentagon defend translation
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden named several of the alleged hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks on the United States, according to an independent review of a videotape of a meeting in Afghanistan between the suspected terrorist chief and supporters.
The translation and transcript released last week by the Pentagon said bin Laden spoke about "Mohamed," which the translators concluded was a reference to Mohamed Atta, who was on board the first airliner to slam into New York City's World Trade Center.
But experts who reviewed the tape for CNN said bin Laden also named the brothers Nawaf al Hazmi and Salam al Hazmi, cited by the Justice Department as hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Later, bin Laden said that four other hijackers were from the al Ghamdi tribe. He also mentioned two others, both named al Shehri.
In doing so, bin Laden makes reference to nine hijackers, not just one, according to the independent translator -- who did not want to be identified -- and Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Saudi Institute, a nonprofit organization that works for human rights for Saudis.
That finding would seem to bolster the government's view that bin Laden was involved in the planning of the hijackings.
But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the latest review wasn't all that startling. Bush administration officials have long said they are convinced of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks.
In cases where the four outside translators could not agree on what was said, Rumsfeld said no translation was provided.
Rumsfeld said the government was interested in reviewing "every bit" of the tape for intelligence, but added there is no value in providing a new, public transcript.
"From a public standpoint, as I stood up here and said, I don't stand behind that," he said of the tape. "I don't speak Arabic. And it's for everyone to make their own judgment. If someone wants to get their own translator, they can do it."
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the Pentagon did the best job it could to provide a complete translation and transcript, noting that four translators had been hired to review the Arabic-language tape.
"They did the best job they could," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said of the translators. "Where they could not understand words, phrases, sentences, they left it out or they put 'unintelligible' or they put 'phonetic.' Now the tape is what it is. The translation is what it is."
Tape believed to have been made in Kandahar
The tape, which the U.S. government said was found in a home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and had poor audio quality, was believed to have been made in Kandahar on or around November 9
The translators hired by CNN to independently review the tape concluded that significant elements of what bin Laden said were left out of the translation provided by the government.
"They missed the fact that there were fatwahs -- religious edicts issued and played on Saudi government radio supporting what happened in New York," said al-Ahmed.
"The translators missed a lot of things on the tape. They missed the names of the hijackers -- two of them mentioned by full names," he said. They missed that four hijackers that come from the same tribe were also mentioned, not by name, but by their tribe name, he added.
Al-Ahmed speculated the government might have reasons to leave out parts of the translation.
"If you want to use the conspiracy theory, (one could) say they didn't want to embarrass the Saudi government," Al-Ahmed said.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer dismissed the suggestion that the U.S. government had deliberately withheld information as "far-fetched."
"How is that in the interest of the government to leave out the names of the hijackers, proving that Osama bin Laden knew who the hijackers were," Fleischer added, when asked if the U.S. government was not upfront with the American people.
Al-Ahmed and the independent translator -- who did not want to be identified -- also said the original translation did not include the names of three Saudi clerics who publicly backed the attacks, according to the man speaking with bin Laden on the tape. At least one of those three Saudi clerics was possibly a government official.
Fleischer: Government was upfront about tape
According to al-Ahmed and the independent translator, there was one other striking example of detail left out of the government translation: bin Laden's description of exactly what he said to others just before the radio announcement was heard that the first of the attacks had succeeded.
They quote him as saying, "When you hear a breaking news announcement on the radio, kneel immediately, and that means they have hit the World Trade Center."
While the two claimed the information was left out, the two did not dispute the overall message: That bin Laden had known about the September 11 attacks ahead of time and boasted about the death and destruction that resulted from the attacks.
Fleischer said the administration, when it released the tape, encouraged news organizations to hire independent experts to assess the tape as well.
"And if you note, on the cover note of what the Department of Defense put out, they wrote, 'Due to the quality of the original tape, it is not a verbatim transcript of every word spoken during the meeting, but does convey the messages and information flow,'" Fleischer said.
The new translation "doesn't change anything for the president" because Bush already knew that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks, Fleischer said.
Correspondents David Ensor and Kelly Wallace, and Producer Brad Wright contributed to this report.
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