Osama bin Laden wanted to introduce himself to America with an ABC television interview months before al Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa, the interviewer testified on Tuesday, according to Reuters .
Former ABC correspondent John Miller, testifying at the first Guantanamo war crimes trial, also recalled comparing bin Laden with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt as he made small talk during filming of the May 28, 1998, interview at an Afghanistan mountain hideout.
It was a rare opportunity for an American journalist, and Miller detailed a movie-thriller route to get to bin Laden, complete with multiple plane flights in Pakistan, a nighttime border crossing into Afghanistan, and muzzle flashes from automatic weapons at an al Qaeda checkpoint.
"You are like the Middle East version of Teddy Roosevelt," Miller, who is now the chief FBI spokesman, told bin Laden in a selection of the interview tape screened for the trial of bin Laden`s driver, Salim Hamdan.
Hamdan is being tried on charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism for his role as bin Laden`s driver -- which prosecutors say extended into serving as a bodyguard.
The significance of Miller`s testimony was unclear -- he said he did not recognize Hamdan, who sat in the courtroom at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Chief prosecutor Col. Lawrence Morris said the relevance "is clearly up to the jury to determine."
Miller said the Roosevelt remark was meant to test bin Laden`s historical awareness and "keep the conversation going" as his cameraman filmed secondary footage.
He said he compared the two as sons of wealthy families who fought on front lines -- Roosevelt gained fame as a U.S. Army Cavalry colonel in Cuba during the 1898 Spanish-American war.
"On one level, it`s an absurd comparison," Miller said. However, he said, "sometimes when you ask a provocative question you elicit an interesting response."
Bin Laden didn`t take that bait, Miller said, but he achieved his goal in granting the interview.
"They wanted to introduce Osama bin Laden to America," Miller said. "It did that."
Miller said Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden`s second-in-command, told him at the time that he would see in coming weeks the results of bin Laden`s recent religious edict that it was Muslims` duty to "kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military."
On August 7, 1998, barely two months later, U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were destroyed by truck bombs in an al Qaeda attack.
Miller said he tried to arrange a second interview with bin Laden after the attacks, and the network`s freelance "stringer" in Pakistan got a call from Zawahri.
Hamdan`s jury was not allowed to hear Zawahri`s message to the stringer, which was ruled hearsay. But lawyers said the general message was: "The war has just begun."