WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Only hours before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, former President Bill Clinton reportedly told a group of Australian businessmen that he “could have killed” Osama bin Laden, but that civilian casualties in Afghanistan would have been too great.
Sky News host Paul Murray aired a previously unreleased audio recording that former Australia Liberal Party President Michael Kroger – who was in attendance at the Melbourne event for 30 Australian businessmen– said was recorded with Clinton’s knowledge on Sept. 10, 2001.
“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,” Clinton says on the recorded audio of his speech. “I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, 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,” Clinton adds.
Ten hours later, the hijacked U.S. planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
“Bill Clinton was answering a question from a member of the audience about terrorism, international terrorism, and he made some extraordinary remarks which have hitherto remained in my vault,” Kroger explained on the Sky News program.
“And it was only when we talked about Clinton, bin Laden last week and many people contacted me and said they were quite interested to hear or forgot that Bill Clinton was in Australia” just a few hours before the planes hit the World Trade Center.
Released in 2004, the 9/11 Commission Report notes several operations under the Clinton administration in which bin Laden was tracked in the late 1990s. In a 2006 interview with Fox News, Clinton said his administration “got closer” to killing bin Laden than anyone at the time.
Osama bin Laden was ultimately killed while hiding in Pakistan in May 2011.
“I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since,” Clinton told Fox News at the time. “And if I were still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops [in Afghanistan] trying to kill him.”