Watching a smiling Osama bin Laden assess the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a man who was in the World Trade Center that day said he wanted to smash his TV screen. Said a Marine who also watched bin Laden, “He needs to be taken out.”
For many other Americans, seeing the tape Thursday confirmed their already solid belief in bin Laden’s guilt and hatefulness.
Some American Muslims worried that release of the videotape, showing bin Laden and top aides cheerfully discussing the attack’s outcome, would provoke a new wave of harassment and vandalism against them, while the father of a Sept. 11 victim wished it had never been made public.
“Whenever I saw it on television I changed the channel,” said Anthony Gambale, whose daughter, Giovanna, was killed at the World Trade Center.
“It should be filed away and let the government and the CIA take care of it,” Gambale said. “Let everybody rest in peace. Let us get on with our lives.”
Mark Finelli, an investment banker who was on the 61st floor of one of the twin towers on Sept. 11, wasn’t surprised by what he saw. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., felt “very violent and enraged. ... I just wanted to punch the screen.”
“I’m a very strong supporter of capital punishment, but in this case, with someone who wants to die, I’m very much in favor of letting him rot.”
In San Diego, Marine Lance Cpl. Tate Parmer said he and his colleagues had never doubted bin Laden was responsible for the attacks.
“I figured it was him all along,” said Parmer, 30, of Salt Lake City, a military policeman at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “He’s an evil man. He definitely needs to be taken out.”
In New York City, scores of people gathered on the sidewalk in Times Square to watch the tape.
“I can’t believe they’re actually praising their god for this,” said David Castellano, 27, a computer technician from Brooklyn. “They seem overjoyed by the fact that it was a worse tragedy than they anticipated.”
Tad Heitmann, a public relations executive from Laguna Beach, Calif., watched bin Laden on a TV in a Philadelphia hotel lobby.
“If that translation is correct, he’s our man, definitely,” Heitmann said. “This must be very painful for people who lost loved ones.”
Sarah Eltantawi, communications director for the Washington-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the council shared the view that bin Laden masterminded the attacks. But she worried the video would stir up anti-Muslim sentiment among some Americans.
“The harassment has calmed down since the immediate aftermath of the attacks,” she said. “But whenever there is a new alert, we see a jump in hate crimes. We worry about the releases of tapes like this.”
In Dearborn, Mich., home to an estimated 20,000 Arab-Americans, Lebanese-born Lamia Hazimy, 32, struggled to understand the conversation on the tape, but said it proved bin Laden’s guilt.
“I don’t know much about bin Laden, but I know I do not like him,” she said.
Imad Hamad, director of the Dearborn regional office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the U.S. government translation on the tape seemed accurate.
“It’s clear in the tape that he had the prior knowledge,” Hamad said of Bin Laden. “And he was happy about it. This is insane.”
In Indianapolis, firefighters at Station No. 13 said the tape reinforced their feelings on to deal with bin Laden.
“He’s just admitting to it and boasting,” said Matt Hahn, 30. “What we’re all looking for now is a swift, stern, exact punishment.”
Lt. Scott McCarty, a firefighter for 19 years, was a member of an Indiana task force that helped in the recovery effort at the World Trade Center.
“We had a lot of good friends that we lost in New York,” said McCarty. “It doesn’t matter what he said. It doesn’t bring those people back.”
Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at the Los Angeles campus of California State University, said the tape lacked a “smoking gun” but was persuasive nonetheless. He was particularly struck by bin Laden’s demeanor.
“He’s a new type of demon, a villain who is so quiet,” Fischoff said. “The power of his threat is not in his expansive emotionalism but in the quiet way he hisses his words.”