July 31st, 2014
06:56 PM ET
9 years ago

Bill Clinton: ‘I nearly got’ Osama bin Laden

Washington (CNN) – Bill Clinton, just hours before planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, reportedly told an audience in Australia that he almost killed Osama bin Laden during his presidency.

Speaking to a group of businessmen in Australia on September 10, 2001, according to audio aired by SkyNews Australia on Wednesday, Clinton said that he "nearly got" the al Qaeda leader but didn't go through with a missile attack because of the collateral damage that would have come from it.

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"He [Osama bin Laden] is a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him – and I nearly got him once," Clinton said. "I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

The tape, which was provided to SkyNews by Michael Kroger, a former head of the Liberal Party of Australia, aired on the networks show "Paul Murray Live."

According to Kroger, who appears on the show, the Clinton remarks came from a meeting the former president had with 30 businessmen and women at Crown Casino Complex in Melbourne.

"The event was taped with his knowledge," Kroger says on the show. "The tape has never been played. … Bill Clinton was answering a question from a member of the audience about terrorism, international terrorism and he made some extraordinary remarks which had hitherto remained in my vault."

A number of books and the 9/11 Commission Report have acknowledged that the Clinton administration considered a December 1998 strike on bin Laden but scrapped the plan over possible collateral damage.

Bin Laden would infamously go on to be the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks that killed 2,977 people. After going into hiding for years, bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 by U.S. Special Forces during an early morning raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Filed under: Australia • Bill Clinton • Osama bin Laden
soundoff (561 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Some of you folks can blame Clinton for 9/11. Nothing changes the fact that it occurred on George W. Bush's watch, despite all of the daily intelligence briefings, which were seemingly ignored as they plotted an Iraq invasion, that were warning of a domestic terrorist attack involving hijacked airplanes.
    Anything else you can share while you were attending the daily intelligence briefings? Oh... you weren't there?
    I wasn't. No need. I believe that it was the 9/11 Commission that revealed the existence of those briefings to the public.

    August 1, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  2. VEW2012

    I can see ever right wing knee jerk ratcheting this up for talking points, but at the time President Clinton made the right decision. The optics of taking out a whole town of 300 prior to 9/11 to kill a man who had that point had not committed a crime would have not been good. It would have been a war crime, on our part. .

    August 1, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  3. Austin

    This is old news. Everyone already knew about the Saudi Prince that was meeting with bin Laden at the time, and that was the reason why Clinton couldn't not fire the cruise missile. I am not saying it was right or wrong, because no one could have known what was going to happen 3 years later. I am only curious as to why is this a story now? It was a story right after the missed opportunity in 1998, and again right after Sept. 11th, 2001. Again, old news.

    August 1, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  4. Chris

    Clinton owns the first world trade center attack.

    August 1, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  5. Jolat

    Wouldn't have mattered. The plan was in place.

    August 1, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  6. smith

    @Rudy-So all the terrorist attacks on Clinton`s watch are his fault? What did you want GWB to do, declare marshall law and shutdown the airline industry worldwide? Gimmie a break. How about blaming the terrorist who actually did the attack.

    August 1, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |

    Clinton was too busy playing with his miniature testicles to focus on destroying the most dangerous man on the planet at that time.

    August 1, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  8. Steve

    Mr. President, you also were on board a United Airlines jet later that day and then suddenly deplaned. Why?

    August 1, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  9. Malory Archer

    Rudy NYC

    So was the OKC bombing Clintons fault? Was the bombing of the USS Cole Clintons fault? Was the attack on the WTC in 1993? Was the WACO tragedy Clintons fault?


    According to the reds, yes Clinton WAS responsible for all of the above.

    August 1, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  10. VEW2012

    This statement means that the Bushy's cannot claim Bush was not warned. September 11, 2001 happened on Bush's watch he was warned, he knew the dangers of bin Laden. Anyone keeping abreast of the news during that period knew who was responsible for 9/11. It happened on Bush's watch. His to own.

    August 1, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  11. BOB

    you probably instigated the alleged murder of Vince Foster. yet you tell us you could have killed Ben Louden, but then again, you didn't. So what's your point?

    August 1, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  12. John

    You didn't nearly get anything. Men and women who served in the military yes, you Bill Clinton, who cowardly avoided military service, No.
    Amazing how presidents try and take credit for things that happened while they were in office. Only the good things though, anything bad happens while there in office and they blame the other political party.

    August 1, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  13. Brett

    Bill could have saved the lifes of many Americans. Slick Willy should be shot!!!!

    August 1, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  14. John Zeger

    Hindsight is always 20/20. Bill Clinton made the best decision he could with the information he had at the time.

    August 1, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  15. Whatever

    But he didn't.........#boom

    August 1, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  16. The other guy

    He thought Saddam had WMD's as well. We all suffer from the fog of war. Remember that when you're always looking for someone to blame. Sometimes you just have to blame the bad guys, not ourselves.

    August 1, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  17. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    I am thankful for his decision, too. The optics on it would have looked really bad. United States launches sneak attack into sovereign nation that kills dozens of civilians would have played in one of two disastrous ways. An air strike would have probably meant that there would be no means to verify the objective. A ground assault has its' own set of logistical problems, the least of which is the operation being called an invasion.
    According to the article, he could have got him in December, 1998. This was AFTER the first WTC bombing. AFTER the USS Cole. AFTER the destruction of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. AFTER Bin Laden was on the FBI's most wanted list.

    You're thankful for his decision?????? Wow. Just wow.
    Wow? The USS Cole was attacked in 2000. Wow? You need to get your facts from better sources. The Kenyan and Nairobi embassies were attacked in August of 1998. Wow, is right. That's at least one strike, maybe three, against you.

    In 1998, Clinton was in the midst of being impeached and Republicans kept accusing him of using foreign crises as a distraction from it. Yes, I am thankful that he didn't make the types of mistakes that George W. Bush made.
    I stand corrected on the Cole.

    December 1998 is definitely AFTER August 1998 so you're out to lunch on that point.

    In August, 1998, Clinton decided to launch some cruise missles into Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Civilians were killed in both places. In fact, it's believed that thousands of Sudanese were indirectly killed because of the pharmaceutical company he bombed in Sudan (due to lost production of medicine).

    And what difference does it make if he was being impeached? Does that allow a dereliction of duty?

    Man, you're a piece of work for defending this.

    August 1, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  18. bobo

    WE know you COULD have!!!!! Thanks for Nothing!

    August 1, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  19. sonny chapman

    Our Great Military LeaderS , George W & Cheney, could have GOT Bin Laden @ Tora Bora 2001. Iraq would have still 'happened" because of it's OIL & an attractive locale for a PERMANENT Military Base for their Colonial Empire.

    August 1, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  20. Arik Hesseldahl

    This is not news. Clinton has been saying exactly this for years. Clinton ordered a missile strike against a Bin Laden camp in August of 1998. He left the camp only hours before the missiles hit.


    August 1, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  21. Name Veteran

    You Clinton lovers need to read "Dereliction of Duty ". The book was written by an Air Force officer that was carrying the launch codes. Clinton had a chance to get Bin Laden long before 9/11, but he was busy playing golf and told the officer to leave him alone. Clinton lies once again to cover his rear end.

    August 1, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  22. dpeters11

    Kandahar is not a "little town". It's the second largest city in the country, almost as large as Fresno, CA.

    August 1, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  23. stakex

    Did anyone pay attention to the fact that this statement was made 13 years ago? Judging by the comments I'm going to guess no.....

    August 1, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. McBob79

    Pathetic... dude is scrambling to build a legacy that isn't around Lewinsky, impeachment.

    August 1, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  25. Dave

    Kandahar a little town? May make for a good story, but factually incorrect.

    Would Clinton have acted differently had he known the 9/11 attacks were being planned? Of course they might have happened even with Osama bin Laden dead, We'll never know, but I'd trade those 300 for the nearly 3,000 that died in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

    August 1, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
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