Tacoma man remembers meeting with bin Laden

May 3, 2011

Tim Smith, who lives in south Tacoma,  is glad Osama bin Laden is dead.  He says he feels a certain amount of closure.  He says he's been involved with the bin Laden story since 1995.  That's the year he met bin Laden, sort of.

They never exactly shook hands, but Smith sat in the same room with bin Laden in Sarajevo.  The war was raging.  The Bosnians were under siege.  Bin Laden attended a conference of international donors who were assisting the Bosnians.  Smith was there in his role as a U.S. Army intelligence officer.

"At the time, he (bin Laden) was providing medical support and x-ray machines and helping out the Bosnian Federation in a way that we couldn’t because of an arms embargo," Smith said.

Still, Smith says the United States was suspicious of bin Laden  and put him on a watch list.  In a few short years, the al-Qaida leader would be tied to terrorist attacks against the West.

In talking about the killing of bin Laden, Smith, who retired from the Army in the late 1990's, speaks with the pride of a veteran. He says it was the culmination of good intelligence work and he praises the leadership of everyone from President Obama to the Navy Seals.

But, and this might surprise you, Smith believes one of the worst things about the 9/11 terrorist attacks is  that he believes they unleashed a fear that turned into an attack on civil liberties, something he hopes will diminish now that bin Laden is dead.

“We have to get back to the idea that we have a right to be left alone, that we should treat others around the world with the same respect and dignity that we want to have in our world," he said.

Smith is active in his local community.  He sits on the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council. He's also known as a peace activists and civil liberties advocate. 

"I'm a peace activist because I've seen war," Smith said.

Smith has been a strong opponent of the U.S. Patriot Act, which Congress passed in the wake of 9/11, as well as the Federal Detention Center in Tacoma.  He currently chairs the Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma.