On a tape recorded September 10, 2001, Bill Clinton can be heard saying he once had the opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden, but didn't, because it would have meant killing 300 civilians as well.
The recording, made with Clinton's consent, surfaced this week when former Australian Liberal Party head Michael Kroger provided it to Australian TV network Sky News, Reuters reports. Clinton was speaking at an event in Melbourne at the time.
Clinton's full statement regarding bin Laden:
I'm just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden—He's a very smart guy. I've spent a lot of time thinking about him. And I nearly got him, once. I nearly got him, and I could have gotten—I could have killed him, but I would have had 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.
As Reuters notes, Clinton made similar statements before and after 9/11, but the timing of this particular speech is eerie. The 9/11 Commission Report details the December 1998 incident to which Clinton was apparently referring:
On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Ladin would be spending the night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor's residence in Kandahar. The chief of the Bin Ladin unit, "Mike," told us that he promptly briefed Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA's Gary Schroen advised: "Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance."
The principals considered a cruise missile strike to try to kill Bin Ladin. One issue they discussed was the potential collateral damage—the number of innocent bystanders who would be killed or wounded. General Zinni predicted a number well over 200 and was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque...By the end of the meeting, the principals decided against recommending to the President that he order a strike...A few weeks later, in January 1999, Clarke wrote that the principals had thought the intelligence only half reliable and had worried about killing or injuring perhaps 300 people.