Dutch TV Show Feeds Conspiracy Theories on Bin Laden's Role in 9/11

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Published April 15, 2009

| FoxNews.com

A fake jury that exonerated Usama bin Laden from the Sept. 11 terror attacks following a televised mock trial on a popular Dutch program sends a "disturbing" message to the world and fuels conspiracy theories, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other former U.S. prosecutors told FOXNews.com.

In just 30 minutes, the jury of three men and two women who appeared on the Dutch show "Devil's Advocate" ruled last Wednesday that there was no proof bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks or that he remains the head of Al Qaeda. The television jury did acknowledge, however, that bin Laden is a terrorist.

Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and Republican presidential candidate, said programs like this are dangerous.

"It's such a bizarre and irrational [ruling] that I don't think it'll have any weight with anyone, other than to fuel conspiracy theories," said Giuliani. "The clear damage it does is that it gives people who want to seize on irrational theories something else to talk about."

On the program, defense attorney Gerard Spong said he convinced the jury that bin Laden's connection to 9/11 was the product of "hearsay" and "Western propaganda" by analyzing videos and statements the Al Qaeda leader released after the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

"It is not clear whether or not they are authentic and real," Spong told FOXNews.com of the videos, arguing that the left-handed bin Laden appears to be right-handed on some video recordings and that on several tapes differing translations exist.

"If you compare all those videos with the man said to be bin Laden, you can see very obvious details that it's not the same person," Spong continued. "So there's a reasonable doubt that it's bin Laden on several videos."

Spong also cited bin Laden's poster on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" and "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, which includes no mention of 9/11. Spong argued that because the FBI did not list the events of 9/11 on the poster, it is proof that the U.S. government doesn't consider bin Laden to be the mastermind. That omission is often cited by conspiracy theorists as proof that bin Laden is not connected to the attacks.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said 9/11 is not mentioned on the posters because bin Laden hasn't been formally indicted in connection to the attacks. The poster mentions only his role in the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in August 1998 that killed more than 200 people, for which he has been charged. He remains a "suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world," according to the FBI's Web page.

When asked to provide specifics of his defense or why he didn't use evidence the 9/11 Commission Report, Spong demurred, "It is a television program and is not a real court case ... My role was to cast reasonable doubt on the charges against bin Laden and I have no secret theories who else may be the guilty one."

A well-known yet controversial attorney who built a reputation defending some of the Netherlands' most notorious criminals, Spong has been at the center of an escalating and heated immigration debate revolving around the country's large Muslim minority.

The country has been grappling with anti-Islamic sentiment following the murder of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh in 2004 by a Muslim extremist, and has been exacerbated by the publication of a series of cartoons depicting the image of the Prophet Muhammad, which is prohibited by Islamic law.

Spong said the mock jury's ruling may entice some to reconsider who was behind the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

"It could have some influence," he said. "The television program was made to help people to think about some other possibilities."

For those in the Netherlands, some say the fake ruling shouldn't be dismissed as entertainment.

Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician and head of the country's Party for Freedom, said the ruling could increase tensions in his home country.

"Of course this is totally ridiculous," Wilders told FOXNews.com. "I'm ashamed by it."

Wilders, who has been an outspoken critic of extremist interpretations of Islam and the Koran, was ordered in January to stand trial for “inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims” for his production of "Fitna," a short film he made that explores what he claims are links between the Koran and terrorism. If convicted, he faces up to 16 months in prison.

Spong has gone head-to-head with many of the country's anti-immigration advocates — including Wilders — and is supporting legal action against him.

"Devil's Advocate" only stirs up the immigration debate in his country, said Wilders, who is confident that many people aren't buying into the show's spectacle.

"It's only a television show, but millions of people watch it," he said. "But I'm confident the Dutch people are no fools and the majority do believe that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks on 9/11."

Back in the United States, some say bin Laden's fake exoneration is irresponsible because it tries to present falsehoods as fact.

"The message is a very disturbing one," Giuliani told FOXNews.com. "It's a very irrational decision based on all the evidence that's been amassed by the 9/11 Commission that has concluded [bin Laden] was the instigator and mastermind of the attacks. It's contradictory to all those factual findings."

And for the victims' families of those who died in the attacks, it hits too close to home.

Daniel French, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, said the ruling was "offensive" and disrespectful to relatives of 9/11 victims.

"It's dangerous in that it takes very real and tragic events and tries to make entertainment out of them," French told FOXNews.com.

"It's offensive to anyone who understands what happened on 9/11 ... To make entertainment of [Sept. 11] is playing with history in a way that's offensive and disrespectful."

Peter Gadiel, whose son James was killed in the 9/11 attacks, said he was "offended" by the show but has grown accustomed to conspiracy theories from all sides.

"If you look at one side of the ledger on anything, you'll come out with a biased view," Gadiel told FOXNews.com. "It's a self-destructive streak in society and this guy Spong represents it. At this point, I expect this kind of garbage."

Gadiel, president and co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, continued: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but bin Laden has claimed responsibility for this. What else does it take?"

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said that bin Laden is still very much wanted by the U.S. government, but declined to comment on the potential impact of "Devil's Advocate."

"Clearly, Osama bin Laden is one of the United States' most wanted terror suspects," Boyd said in a statement. "We have no comment on conspiracy theorists or the Dutch television show."

Meanwhile, Spong, whose next case on "Devil's Advocate" will focus on Pope Benedict XVI's anti-condom message, defended the program.

"Last but not least, it is a television program, and we see on television much worse horror stories than this," he said. "Every time Steven Spielberg makes a movie on the World War II, what do you think the people of Europe are thinking? You cannot stop creating something because of pain it may cause other people."

Giuliani said it's unfortunate that television programs like "Devil's Advocate" are free to float irrational arguments about who was behind the terror attacks.

"I hope it's going to be dismissed as a very bizarre, aberrational decision," Giuliani said.

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