- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Another persistent bin Laden rumor may have bitten the dust. ABC medical reporter Kim Carollo writes:
"Despite the fact that we have all been hearing about his kidney problems and the need for dialysis, according to the intelligence people I’ve talked to in Washington, there was no evidence of a dialysis machine in the compound where he was found," said Mary Anne Weaver, author of "Pakistan: Deep Inside the World’s Most Frightening State."
The exclusive video obtained by ABC News inside the compound also does not show any evidence of dialysis equipment. There were what looked like medication bottles, but a closer look at the video reveals the bottles contain petroleum jelly, eye drops, olive oil, sunflower oil, an antiseptic and a nasal spray.
In a January 2002 interview with CNN, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said bin Laden had probably died of kidney failure, and that he’d taken two dialysis machines into Afghanistan with him.
It retrospect, there never actually appears to have been much evidence to the claim. (See this 2006 Washington Times debunking.) Peter Bergen, who interviewed bin Laden in 1997, described him as "in excellent health" and saw no evidence of kidney trouble or dialysis. Journalist Robert Fisk who interviewed him three times made no mention of it. Bin Laden’s own doctor, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, had given the al Qaeda leader a complete physical and treated him for a back injury but later told reporters “his kidneys were fine.”
It was likely Musharraf who kept the rumor going for so long but he doesn’t appear to have come up with it himself. I did a quick Lexis Nexis search and the earliest media mention I can find of bin Laden being on dialysis actually predates 9/11. An Agence France Presse item from March 16, 2000 quotes AsiaWeek magazine suggesting that bin Laden is dying of kidney failure:
Asiaweek quoted a Western intelligence source as saying "the man is dying" of kidney disease which had begun to affect his liver.
I guess bin Laden was "mostly conscious" enough to be planning the World Trade Center attacks at that time.