As Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower makes clear, the Sudanese government offered bin Laden to the United States in 1996, but the Clinton Administration would not take him. I asked Wright what happened.
"Sudan was an open country for terrorists," Wright responded. "You know, they had an Islamic revolution, and they opened their doors to anybody, any Muslim who wanted to come. And naturally, the ones who came were the ones that weren’t invited anywhere else."
Wright continued: "You had Carlos the Jackal there, and Abu Nidal, and all these different terrorist groups. And you had bin Laden, who had some money to give them. And it was in…during the Clinton administration, in 1996, that it was decided that bin Laden posed a threat by just being there. And so American authorities put pressure on the Sudanese to expel him. And the Sudanese first of all said well, do you want him? And you know, we didn’t have an indictment on bin Laden. There wasn’t very much that we could do with him. At the time, it may be that he hadn’t killed any Americans yet. So we said no."
And there you have the essence of the Clinton-era approach to terrorism: The law enforcement mindset.
Except with Janet Reno as Attorney General, there wasn't even much law enforcement.
Contrast that lethargy and legalism --don't forget "The Wall"-- with the John Ashcroft Department of Justice. The former Attorney General has a new book coming out, "Never Again," that details the DOJ's campaign against al Qaeda after 9/11. Attorney General Ashcroft was interviewed by Michelle Malkin on the right way to respond to terrorists --you can listen via registration here. Even more impressive is the brief speech Ashcroft delivered at the DOJ on the fifth anniversary of 9/11:
Good morning. It feels good to come back to the Justice Department, I can tell you that. Thank you for standing up to greet me, and thank you for sitting back down. So often a standing ovation is used as a cover for a mass exodus.