The president said Sunday that he knew that bin Laden was a threat before the 9/11 attacks at a time when "nobody" had "ever heard of" bin Laden

By Sam Gillette
October 28, 2019 04:03 PM
Donald Trump France
President Donald Trump

On Sunday, President Donald Trump confirmed that long-hunted Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.

Then he claimed, not for the first time, that if anyone had bothered listening to him back in 2000, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden would have been killed long before 2011.

After announcing Baghdadi’s death, the president said Sunday that he knew that bin Laden was a threat before the 9/11 attacks at a time when “nobody” had “ever heard of” bin Laden. Indeed, Trump boasted, he had spelled out these concerns in a book.

This is not true, but it is in keeping with a president who has a history of exaggerations, lies and misstatements of fact.

“About a year — you’ll have to check — a year, year and a half before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out,” Trump told reporters on Sunday at a White House news conference about al-Baghdadi’s death.

“I was talking about Osama bin Laden,” Trump said, referring to his book The America We Deserve, published in January 2000. “I said, ‘You have to kill him. You have to take him out.’ Nobody listened to me.”

He continued, “Let’s put it this way: If they would have listened to me, a lot of things would have been different.”

Trump claimed that people still applaud him for this demand for bin Laden’s death — echoing a favorite rhetorical tactic in which he alludes, without evidence, to widespread anonymous support.

“To this day, I get people coming up to me,” Trump told reporters. “And they said, ‘You know what one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen about you is that you predicted that Osama bin Laden had to be killed before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’ It’s true. Now, most of the press doesn’t want to write that, but it is true. If you go back, look at my book.”

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
| Credit: Getty

In reality, bin Laden was a known threat when The America We Deserve was first published. The terrorist was only mentioned in the book in passing, according to the Associated Press.

Trump wrote that bin Laden was just one of many threats that the U.S. faced at the time.

“One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jet fighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan,” Trump wrote. “He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”

Trump never called for bin Laden’s death or advised that American forces should take further action, according to the AP.

In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton ordered military action in Afghanistan and Sudan following the al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies. Clinton was criticized (as was his successor, President George W. Bush) for not doing more because bin Laden survived, per the AP. Three years later, al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center, which previously had been bombed in 1993.

In The America We Deserve, Trump did correctly infer that a big attack was coming — and acknowledged that this idea was also shared among experts.

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“I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the [’93] bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers,” Trump wrote, according to CNN. “No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.”

Trump did not write that bin Laden would orchestrate the attack. But his claim otherwise mirrors what he wrote on Twitter a year ago.

“Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 19, 2018. “I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!..”

Multiple outlets were quick to fact check Trump following his tweet and after his comments on Sunday.

The White House had no comment.