US releases video to erase doubts of terrorists' guilt

Bin Laden tape: Response
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The White House was optimistic last night that any doubts about the role of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network in the 11 September attack on the United States would be erased with the release of a videotape that showed him talking to aides about the atrocity, and specifically the destruction of the twin towers.

The response in America itself was never in doubt. More important for President Bush, however, is how the rest of the world reacts to the tapes, which include sections where Mr bin Laden seems to give away that he had clear prior knowledge of the attacks and indeed helped to orchestrate them.

The tape, which was apparently made for internal use by al-Qa'ida, may be pivotal in turning around public opinion in Arab and Muslim countries. Scepticism about US motives remains high in those parts of the world, with many challenging the US to show clear evidence of Mr bin Laden's role in the assaults.

Members of the US Congress rushed to back up the message that the video provided just that. "This is damnable evidence," said Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. "This man is a guilty man, no doubt about it."

Senator Ron Wyden said, "The world will see that you are dealing with the level of pathology ... that is very, very twisted and sick."

The thought that Mr bin Laden may not have been behind the 11 September attacks is something that has not occurred to many Americans.

For residents of New York, in particular, the tape may none the less make for emotional viewing. Most painful, perhaps, will be the sight of Mr bin Laden and those with him smiling and laughing as they describe what happened at the World Trade Centre.

The tape will be most distressing, of course, for relatives of those who died. They include Stephen Push, whose wife was among those killed when another plane struck the Pentagon on the same day. But he appeared composed after viewing it yesterday.

"Nothing in this tape made that any worse than it already is," Mr Push said referring to his grief. But in some ways, he suggested, what he saw gave him solace. It showed, "how conceited and undisciplined bin Laden must be to make a full confession on videotape.

"It doesn't seem a very smart thing to do. It makes him seem like a less formidable enemy. And it makes him seem like a defeatable enemy."

Some experts believe the tape may have more of an impact domestically than overseas. But with US public support for Mr Bush at sky-high levels, it is not at home that the tape will be most important.

Robert Lichter, president of the non-partisan Centre for Media and Public Affairs: "This is going to intensify the anger of Americans much more than it's going to change opinions elsewhere in the world."

He suggested that Arabs doubtful about the US campaign in Afghanistan would interpret the tape differently. "If you feel strongly enough about something, the gun never smokes," he said.

There was also private concern that audiences in the Arab world will be suspicious that the translations provided by the Pentagon may be wrong or, worse, even that the videotape is itself a fabrication of the CIA. It may not help in this respect that the White House held back from releasing it for so long.

The point was conceded by a Defence Department spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke. "People will draw their own conclusions about the tape and its significance," she said.