Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Strong Evidence Emerges That 'Osama bin Laden' in New 9/11 Video Is an Impostor

Al-Qaida Leader Has Not Been Seen Since Northern Pakistan Region Where He's Suspected to Be Hiding Was Devastated By a Major Earthquake in 2005 That Killed 75,000 People -- Raising Doubts That the World's No. 1 Fugitive Is Still Alive

Contrast: Osama bin Laden in a 2004 video (l) and in the new video (r) (AFP)

You be the judge: On the left, Osama bin Laden in an image made from an undated video broadcast on October. 29, 2004 by the Arab TV news network al-Jazeera. On the right, a man purported to be bin Laden is shown in an image taken last Thursday from an Islamic militant Web site on which al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, frequently posts messages. (AP Photo)

(Updated 9:00 a.m. EDT Friday, September 14, 2007)

By Skeeter Sanders

Two new videotaped messages purported to be from Osama bin Laden that have appeared in the past week -- just in time for Tuesday's sixth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States -- have revived the game of questions over the fugitive al-Qaida leader's health and whereabouts.

But the authenticity of one of the videos -- showing bin Laden with his hair and beard trimmed and dyed black -- is being openly challenged, with a former U.S. Army linguist saying that there are noticeable discrepancies between the recording's audio track and its video image.

A British journalist and a Duke University professor are also calling the authenticity of the bin Laden video into question, with the journalist strongly suggesting that the image of bin Laden was electronically altered and the professor -- who believes that bin Laden is dead -- calling it "a voice from the grave."

September 11 'Martyr' Praised in 2nd Video Is Very Much Alive

The authenticity of a second video that purportedly praises the "martyrdom" of Waleed al-Shehri, who it said was one of the hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, was quickly undermined Wednesday when the British Broadcasting Corporation disclosed that al-Shehri is still very much alive in Morocco -- and is vehemently protesting his innocence.

Indeed, within hours of the BBC's disclosure, al-Shehri told reporters at a hastily-called press conference in Casablanca that he had nothing to do with the attacks on New York and Washington and had been in Morocco when they happened. He has contacted both the Saudi and American authorities, according to Saudi press reports.

The Saudi Arabian-born al-Shehri was one of five men that the FBI said had deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower. The bureau released his photograph, which subsequently appeared in newspapers and on television around the world.

Al-Shehri acknowledged that he is indeed the same man whom the FBI named and that he attended a flight-training school at Daytona Beach, Florida. But, he told reporters, he returned to Saudi Arabia a year ago to become a pilot with the Saudi national airline and is currently on a further training course in Morocco.

Even al-Jazeera Has Doubts About the New Footage

Unlike previous bin Laden videos, this one was not first obtained by the Arab TV news network al-Jazeera. Instead, the new message was obtained by Associated Press Television News from the IntelCenter, a private monitoring group based in suburban Washington.

And for the first time, al-Jazeera refused to acknowledge directly that this new video came from al-Qaida -- either on the air or on its Web sites -- instead reporting that "A videotape purporting to show [emphasis added] Osama bin Laden has been released in which the al-Qaida leader warns [President] Bush that he is repeating the 'mistakes of the former Soviet Union.'"

The network reported on its English-language Web site that U. S. intelligence officials "were studying the tape, which, if proved to be genuine [emphasis added], would be the first message from bin Laden for nearly three years."

The release of the two videos was purposefully timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. But they made a bigger-than-expected splash in the mainstream media at a time when the 2008 campaign to elect a successor to President Bush is in full swing -- and against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter partisan debate in Washington over the war in Iraq, which opinion polls show is becoming as unpopular to the American public as the Vietnam conflict a generation ago.

Ex-Army Linguist: New bin Laden Video 'Is a Forgery'

In a blog entry posted Sunday on the Web site, George Maschke, a former U.S. Army linguist who specialized in Arabic and Farsi (the official language of Iran), wrote that the new bin Laden video "has a peculiarity that casts serious doubt" on its authenticity.

The video image "freezes" 90 seconds after the recording begins and does not move again until 11 minutes later, Maschke reported. "The video image then freezes again" at the 14-minute mark and remains frozen until the message ends.

Maschke said that the audio track's references to current events, including the 62nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan in August, the election of Nicholas Sarkozy as president of France in late July and the ascension of Gordon Brown as prime minister of Britain in May "occur when the video is frozen."

On the other hand, the words spoken "when the video [image] is in motion contain no references to contemporary events," Maschke continued, "and could have been -- and likely were -- made before the U.S. invasion of Iraq [in 2003]."

Maschke, who is also a polygraph expert, acknowledged that the voice on the audio track "does appear to be...the voice of a single speaker." He suspects that "an older, unreleased video was dubbed over for this release," but said he has "no doubt" that the new video "is a forgery."

British Journalist, Duke Professor Also Question Video's Veracity

In an interview with al-Jazeera, Adel Darwish, political editor of the London-based Middle East magazine, said that he, too, had "doubts" about the authenticity of the tape and believes that it was electronically altered.

"Any kid these days with an electronic kit can alter images and edit the way that he or she likes," he said.

Meanwhile, Bruce Lawrence, a Duke University professor of religious studies, flatly rejected the authenticity of the new bin Laden video. He believes that the fugitive al-Qaida leader is dead. "It [the video] was like a voice from the grave," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Lawrence, who noted that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this week, was struck by the complete absence of references to the Qu'ran, the Muslim holy book, in the video.

"[Bin Laden is], by his own standards, a faithful Muslim," Lawrence said. "He routinely quotes quranic scripture in defense of his actions. There's no quotation from the Qu'ran in the excerpts we got. No reference to [previous al-Qaida attacks]. No reference to past atrocities."

Was bin Laden Killed in 2005 Pakistan Earthquake?

Lawrence may have good reason to believe that bin Laden is dead. There had been no new video footage of the al-Qaida leader since al-Jazeera last broadcast footage of him in October 2004. U.S. officials have long believed that bin Laden is hiding in the rugged mountains of northwestern Pakistan since he was driven out of Tora Bora in the December 2001 U.S. assault on Afghanistan.

But on October 8, 2005, the region was devastated by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 75,000 people, injured another 100,000 and left up to two million people homeless, according to Pakistani government figures -- the world's worst quake-related disaster since the 2004 South Asian tsunami.

The quake, which was centered in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, was the most powerful temblor to strike Pakistan in 70 years; a 7.7-magnitude quake leveled the city of Quetta, capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, in 1935, killing anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people.

Since the Kashmir earthquake, bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, has been the international public face of the al-Qaida network, issuing numerous videos and audiotapes, leading some analysts to believe that the Egyptian-born al-Zawahri had taken a more direct hand in the al-Qaida leadership -- perhaps even taken over as the terror network's top leader.

The longer bin Laden remained out of sight, the greater the speculation grew about whether he was alive or dead. The dramatic differences in bin Laden's appearance in the new video is casting serious doubt that he is still alive.

Taliban Commander Says bin Laden 'Alive and Well' -- But Furnishes No Proof

A top TalIban commander said in a television interview Wednesday that bin Laden and Afghanistan's former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are alive and well. "I am in contact with Mullah Omar and take directions from him," Mullah Akhtar Usmani told Pakistan's privately-run Geo television.

But Mullah Usmani did not provide any proof that the fugitive al-Qaida leader is indeed alive -- and as long as bin Laden's whereabouts remain unknown, there is no way to independently verify his claim.

Mullah Usmani was a senior commander in the Taliban before its fall in 2001. He is since considered to be the operational head of the Taleban resistance.

The United States has offered bounties of $25 million and $10 million for the capture of the Saudi-born bin Laden and Mullah Omar, respectively, in connection with the September 11 attacks.

The '04 and '07 Videos: Difference in Face, Beard, Hair -- And Body Size

The differences in bin Laden's physical appearance in the three years between his last previous video and the one released last week are striking even to this blogger -- so striking as to call into question whether the man in the new video is really bin Laden.

The most striking difference is in the length and color of the al-Qaida leader's beard. Bin Laden's beard had grown longer and progressively grayer in the many videos of him released in the years since the September 11 attacks. But in the latest video, the beard is black -- and trimmed.

Experts in Muslim culture say that trimming one's beard is frowned upon -- and that dyeing it is strictly taboo.

Other noticeable differences in bin Laden's video appearance between 2004 and now can be found in the nose (it's thinner), lower lip (it's more curved) and left eyebrow (a higher arch). And the al-Qaida leader's overall body appears thinner in the older video.

If bin Laden -- who, if he is still alive, is 50 years old -- really was killed in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, why would al-Qaida keep his death a secret -- other than, perhaps, to save face with its followers? After all, what would happen to al-Qaida's standing among Muslim extremists if they -- and the world -- knew that their spiritual leader was killed by an act of Allah?

# # #

Volume II, Number 46
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, September 10, 2007

Romney's Utah Campaign Finance Chief Reportedly Fired in Teen-Abuse Scandal

Candidate's Beehive State Finance Committee Co-Chairman Named a Defendant in Lawsuit Charging Youth-Services Agency He Headed With Physically and Sexually Abusing Its Clients; National Campaign Finance Chief Headed Similar Youth Program That Got Sued Out of Existence


Another headache for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor must now deal with a scandal involving two of his campaign aides. His Utah state finance committee co-chairman, Robert Lichfield, and his national campaign finance chief, Mel Sembler, founded and headed two youth-services agencies that have been sued on charges of physical and sexual abuse of its teen-aged clients. Romney has reportedly fired Lichfield. (Photo: Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

(Updated 1:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, September 11, 2007)

By Skeeter Sanders

Already under fire by hard-line social conservatives over pornographic TV shows offered by the Marriott hotel chain on whose board he once served -- and by gay-rights activists for his changing position on same-gender marriage -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney now must confront questions about the former finance chief of his campaign in Utah.

Robert Lichfield, co-chairman of the Romney campaign's Beehive State finance committee, was fired personally by the former Massachusetts governor in July amid a growing scandal over allegations of fraud and abuse in a controversial network of schools for troubled teens operated by a youth-services agency that Lichfield co-founded in the late 1970s, according to the online edition of Radar magazine,

The chairman of the Romney campaign's national finance committee, Mel Sembler, headed a second youth agency that
also came under harsh scrutiny over nearly-identical allegations of abuse of its teenaged clients and was ultimately sued out of existence in the early 1990s, The 'Skeeter Bites Report has learned.

Lichfield is one of Utah's largest political donors. He organized a fundraiser in February in his hometown of St. George that netted nearly $300,000 for the Romney campaign, and members of the Lichfield family have personally donated $17,000.



BOSTON -- The presidential campaign headquarters of Mitt Romney were burglarized overnight in the North End, a campaign spokesman said Monday.

There was "forced entry" into the three-story waterfront building and several computers and a television were stolen, said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. The break-in, which occurred either late Sunday night or the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, did not appear to be politically motivated, he said.

"By all appearances this is a routine burglary," Fehrnstrom said. "There were a number of items that were left untouched -- files and the like."

Fehrnstrom referred additional questions to Boston police. He declined to described how the burglar or burglars broke into the building.

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the case said someone at Romney's campaign headquarters reported the crime in a 911 call at 9:40 a.m. and said that $20,000 worth of equipment was stolen.

According to a preliminary police report, entry was made through a third-floor window and eight laptops and a 32-inch television were stolen. A Crime Scene Unit responded to process the scene, and detectives from District A-1 are conducting interviews.

-- The Boston Globe


Lawsuit Claims 140 Youths Were Abused at Schools Run By Lichfield's Agency

Lichfield was named as a co-defendant in a lawsuit filed three months ago in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City by the families of 140 youths who have attended schools associated with the Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), alleging that they were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

The non-profit WWASP provides consulting services to schools specializing in "behavior modification" for wayward teenagers. Ken Kay, the agency's president, confirmed in an e-mail sent to -- which first broke the story on Wednesday -- that Romney asked Lichfield to resign his campaign post and to stop participating in fundraising activities for the campaign.

"Governor Romney has asked Mr. Lichfield to step down and not be involved in any more fundraising until the lawsuit is resolved in the positive, which we are confident will happen," said Kay, a longtime associate of Lichfield's, who dismissed the lawsuit's allegations as"ludicrous."

"We don't condone any type of child abuse and it's highly unlikely that any of the incidents ever happened," Kay told, noting that troubled teens "often have a record of fabricating stories." WWASP, he said, "simply provides administrative and other business services to schools, does not deal directly with students, and is not responsible for any mistreatment."

Plaintiff Claims Sexual Abuse; Ex-Counselor Convicted of Assault

Plaintiff Chase Wood, who attended Lichfield's Cross Creek Center for Boys and another WWASP-affiliated school, claims he was fondled, forced to eat his own vomit, and locked in a dog cage.

The lawsuit alleges that the Cross Creek boys were also exercised to exhaustion, deprived of food and sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures without adequate clothing or water, forced to clean toilets with toothbrushes and then brush their teeth with them, severely kicked and beaten, emotionally brutalized, thrown and slammed to the ground and forced into sexual acts.

The suit was filed a week after Randall Hinton, an educational counselor who worked at Cross Creek and at many other schools affiliated with WWASP, was convicted by a Colorado jury of third-degree assault and false imprisonment for slamming the head of a 15-year-old boy at Royal Gorge Academy in Colorado into a stairwell and forcing a 17-year-old youth to lie flat on his stomach for so long he had to vomit.

Hinton faces up to three years in prison.

2006 Lawsuit Against Lichfield Claims Fraud

A separate 2006 class-action lawsuit accusing Lichfield of fraud alleges that he makes $90 million a year through a complicated network of businesses based around behavior modification and has owned or operated a total of 26 schools worldwide, some of which have been closed by local authorities for mistreatment.

The class-action suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, claims that the Academy at Ivy Ridge, a school that sits on land owned by Lichfield and for which he has provided consulting services, admitted students for five years without any accreditation as an educational institution from the state.

Agency Once Headed By Sembler Also Charged With Abuse of Youths

Lichfield, who could not be reached for comment, isn't the only member of Romney's fundraising team who's tainted by scandal over alleged abuse of teenagers. Sembler, the Romney campaign's national finance co-chair and former Republican Party campaign finance chief during the 2000 election, once headed his own nationwide network of treatment programs for troubled youths.

Known as Straight Inc., it variously operated nine programs in seven states between 1976 and 1993. And, like WWASP, Straight Inc. has come under scrutiny by state investigators and by plaintiffs in civil lawsuits for scores of alleged abuses of youths.

Straight Inc. was highly controversial throughout its 16-year history due to the style of therapy it used, called "tough love," that critics likened to cult-like brainwashing. The abuses reportedly included youths being beaten, deprived of food and sleep for days, restrained by fellow youths for hours, bound, sexually humiliated, abused and spat upon.

According to a series of articles published in 1990 in the Los Angeles Times, California state investigators uncovered multiple cases of Straight Inc.youths “subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse… and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.”

Several lawsuits filed from 1983 to 1985 in Ohio complained that youngsters in Straight Inc.'s treatment center in Milford, near Cincinnati, were beaten, painfully restrained, held for long periods in small isolation rooms and deprived of adequate sleep and food, the newspaper said.

Soon after the Times series was published, the Virginia State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation filed suit, charging that clients in Straight Inc.'s Springfield, Virginia program were restrained by thumb-bending, were yelled at and spat upon, were deprived of food, sleep, family visits and access to toilets and were strip-searched by other clients.

That lawsuit led ultimately to Straight, Inc. going out of business in July 1993.

Many former patients of Straight Inc. have formed "survivor groups" assembling themselves in small numbers seeking a means to understand the trauma suffered and supporting one another in grasping the reality of what happened in their lives.

Romney Campaign Spokesman Hotly Denies Lichfield Firing

A spokesman for the Romney campaign hotly denied Thursday that Lichfield was fired, insisting that the former finance chief resigned voluntarily. "Robert Lichfield resigned on his own accord from the Romney campaign and is not a part of any campaign or finance activities," said spokesman Stephen Smith in an e-mail sent to the news site,

Smith was quick to make clear that Kay has no role in the Romney campaign.

"Ken Kay is not a part of the Romney campaign in any capacity whatsoever," Smith said in his e-mail. "Kay has not served on the Utah finance committee and is not a Romney donor. He has no standing to make the claim that he did."

Smith also downplayed Lichfield's fundraising impact on the campaign. "We have accepted contributions from tens of thousands of individuals across the country," he said. "And Mr. Lichfield has donated to numerous Republican candidates and committees."

Scandal Is the Latest Headache for Problem-Plagued Romney Campaign

For the Romney campaign, this latest scandal could not have come at a worse time, coming two months after the candidate came under sharp attack from anti-pornography crusaders who branded Romney a hypocrite for his refusal to stop hard-core X-rated hotel movie offerings during his nine-year tenure on the board of directors of Marriott International, one of the world's largest hoteliers.

"Marriott is a major pornographer," Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an anti-pornography group based on Ohio, said in July. "And even though he [Romney] may have fought it, everyone on that board is a hypocrite for presenting themselves as being pro-family values when their hotels offer 70 different types of hard-core pornography."

The scandal also comes against the backdrop of a lingering controversy over Romney's shifting opinion on same-gender marriage -- a shift that has infuriated gay-rights activists.

In an article published Saturday, The New York Times pointed out that Romney, while running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, met in a Boston gay bar with members of the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans and told them that while he believed that marriage should be limited to the union of a man and a woman, he promised not to campaign on either side of the issue.

But after the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared in 2003 that gay couples in the Bay State have a right under the state constitution's equal-rights amendment to marry, Romney became a fierce supporter of a state constitutional amendment to bar them from doing so.

The proposed amendment ultimately failed in the Massachusetts legislature earlier this year, but Romney has since made his opposition to same-gender marriage a cornerstorne of his presidential campaign, making himself an ever-more-visible crusader against such unions as he works to gain support among social conservatives who form a major part of the GOP's electoral base.

Many Christian Evangelicals Still Have a Problem With Romney's Mormon Faith, Poll Finds

With Romney already under fire by hard-line social conservatives allied with the Christian Right over the Marriott pornography issue and over his seeming "flip-flop" on abortion -- he freely acknowledges being pro-choice earlier in his life, but that he is now pro-life -- the scandal over alleged abuse of teenagers by agencies once headed by two of Romney's campaign aides is likely to further alienate conservative Christian evangelicals he's been trying for months to win over.

Underscoring Romney's problems is a newly-released poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press that strongly suggests that a candidate's religious views may be as much a liability as an asset, depending on the candidate.

While most Americans say that it is important for a president to have a strong religious faith, a candidate who comes across as an overt zealot -- such as televangelist Pat Robertson, who unsuccessfully sought the 1988 GOP nomination -- might not be acceptable to voters, according to the survey.

“So far, religion is not proving to be a clear-cut positive in the 2008 presidential campaign," said Andrew Kohut, the Pew Center's executive director. "The candidates viewed by voters as the least religious among the leading contenders are the current front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nominations -- [Senator] Hillary Clinton and [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, respectively."

“On the other hand," Kohut said, "the candidate seen as far and away the most religious -- Romney -- is handicapped by this perception because of voter concerns about his Mormon faith.”

The poll found that a quarter of Americans -- Democrats, independents and Republicans alike -- said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is a Mormon, with more than a third of self-described Christian evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, voicing that sentiment.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, officially considers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons are formally known, a cult.

Among the Pew Center poll's other findings:

* Social issues, such as abortion and same-gender marriage, are of much less interest to the average voter than the war in Iraq. The war has been -- and is likely to remain -- the overwhelmingly dominant issue in the 2008 campaign.

* Giuliani's image has been largely unaffected by his pro-choice stance on abortion, perhaps because public awareness of his position remains relatively small. Overall, only 22 percent of the public --and, more significantly, just 31 percent of rank-and-file Republicans -- know that Giuliani favors legal abortion.

The Pew survey was conducted August 1-18 among 3,002 adults nationwide and has an error margin of plus or minus two percentage points.

# # #

Volume II, Number 45
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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