Source: Cheney warned Al-Jazeera about bin Laden tapes
Network risked being 'Osama's outlet to the world'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day before Al-Jazeera network interviewed Osama bin Laden, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney urged the network to act "in a more responsible and representative way" when reporting on the suspected terrorist mastermind, a senior administration source told CNN Friday.
In a meeting with with the emir of Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, Cheney said the network ran the risk of being labeled "Osama's outlet to the world."
Cheney met in Washington on October 20 with the emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose family finances Al-Jazeera. The Arabic-language network is viewed by an estimated 35 million Arabs, including 150,000 in the United States, according to The Associated Press.
"Maybe the message was a little tough regarding Al-Jazeera, but the language was not tough at all. It was all very professional," this official said.
Al-Jazeera never aired the interview, taped October 21, but CNN obtained a copy of it and began broadcasting portions of it Thursday night. The Bush administration did not criticize CNN for airing the videotape, and said the interview underscored the importance of winning the war on terrorism.
Commenting on Cheney's meeting with the emir, another official said Cheney made a "blanket request" to the Qatari official not to give bin Laden a "platform or to use the Arab press to spread propaganda." The official said Cheney was concerned about Al-Jazeera conferring legitimacy on al Qaeda by freely broadcasting the bin Laden tapes.
"We didn't want them to help bin Laden and his merry band of freaks," the official said.
Al-Jazeera conducted its exclusive October interview with bin Laden, but declined to air it. Nearly two months after the taping, the network said the interview did not meet its standards and was not newsworthy: It initially had denied the interview occurred.
CNN's decision to air some of the bin Laden interview outraged Al-Jazeera and resulted in the network cutting its ties with CNN.
It was not immediately known if Cheney's conversation with the emir played any role in the network's decision not to air the interview.
The official said Cheney felt comfortable discussing the issue because "back to his days as secretary of defense he has known the Qatari royal family and has always had good and open discussions with them."
The main topic discussed at the October meeting in Washington was the emir's concern that the United States would not attend a November conference of the World Trade Organization in Doha, but Cheney assured him that U.S. representatives would be there if the proper security preparations were made.
More than two weeks following the Cheney meeting, Al-Jazeera released two bin Laden tapes: one on November 3 in which bin Laden lashed out at the United States and United Nations, and another tape on December 26 in which he called the September 11 attacks on the United States "blessed terror" and accused the West of hating Islam.
"We will work to continue this battle, God permitting, until victory or until we meet God," bin Laden told the Kabul reporter for the Qatar-based network.
"I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed," bin Laden said as the U.S. war on terrorism raged in Afghanistan. "The U.S. government will lead the American people in and the West in general into an unbearable hell and a choking life."
-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report
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