WASHINGTON – Translators are going over a videotape of Usama bin Laden talking about the Sept. 11 terror attacks to ensure accuracy "before anything is released to the world," President Bush's spokesman said Wednesday.
Numerous U.S. officials have already seen the tape and translations of what's on it. They say it proves bin Laden is behind the attacks.
Four nongovernment translators, brought in by the Pentagon, are listening to the tape to interpret bin Laden's spoken Arabic and agree on a uniform version of his remarks, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
He said that the quality of the video footage is not good, and the step was taken "to be thorough, to be accurate, before anything is released to the world."
"Clearly the president hopes that information can be shared with the public," Fleischer said. "The only thing that would stand in the way is if there is anything from intelligence or security that can be compromised. That is not looking like it is likely."
Administration officials say the Pentagon plans to release the tape on Thursday, barring an unforeseen hitch in the translation or objections from U.S. intelligence officials. Fleischer said officials will provide versions of what the tape says in Arabic and in an English translation.
Officials, including senators who viewed the tape, say they hope it will convince the rest of the world that bin Laden is responsible for the terrorist attacks that killed thousands in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard four hijacked jets. Many have called for the Bush administration to release it.
The video, apparently not meant for public viewing, records a meal and conversation between bin Laden and a Saudi Arabian sheik, a prominent cleric with a disability whom officials have declined to identify. At one point, the sheik kisses bin Laden on the forehead — a sign of great respect in the Muslim world.
Two bin Laden associates, spiritual adviser Ayman al-Zawahri and spokesman Abu Ghaith, also appear in the tape.
The tape is about an hour long, but it contains stretches of incongruous — and apparently unrelated — footage of children playing, said officials who had viewed it.
In it, bin Laden describes preparing for the news of the attacks, and demonstrates he had specific knowledge of the time, location and method, officials have said.
U.S. intelligence officers found the tape in a residence in Jalalabad. It bears a date stamp that says it was made Nov. 9.
Several members of the intelligence committees have called on the Bush administration to release the tape, but Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., told the House that she was "concerned that the bin Laden tape is damaging to American security."
Harman has said the tape may have been planted and could contain bin Laden sending covert messages to his followers, and broadcasting it may play into his hands.
"I would have preferred that its distribution be limited to those with a need to know," Harman said.
Officials had voiced similar concerns about other tapes bin Laden produced, but those were clearly meant for public release. Officials asked U.S. broadcasters not to air those tapes in their entirety.
But U.S. officials don't think that's the case with this tape.
"There are fewer and fewer security concerns about it," Fleischer said.