Sen. Patty Murray's explanation to high schoolers that charitable works made Osama bin Laden popular in poor countries -- and her challenge to the United States to do the same -- drew fire Friday from Republicans and conservatives.
Murray (D-Wash.) told students in Vancouver, Wash., that bin Laden and his supporters have spent years building goodwill by helping pay for schools, roads and even day care facilities.
"We haven't done that," Murray said. "How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
Washington state GOP Chairman Chris Vance urged Murray to retract her statements.
"It is absolutely outrageous and despicable to imply that the American government should learn a lesson from the madman who murdered thousands of American citizens," Vance said.
Her comments "sent the message to these students that the United States somehow deserved or brought on the September 11th terrorist attacks," Vance said.
In a statement, Murray called bin Laden "an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans" and accused Vance and others of twisting her words.
"Having a challenging and thoughtful discussion about America's future reflects the best values of a free democracy; to sensationalize and distort it in an attempt to divide is not," she said.
"While we continue to search every corner of the globe to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, should we also consider the longer-term issue of what else can be done to improve relations with all nations, including the Arab world?" she asked.
Murray's spokesman, Todd Webster, said her comments to an honors class at Columbia River High School were intended to get the students to think about America's role in the world.
"This was not a dossier of the great works of Osama bin Laden. This is about how do we secure a better and stronger future for this country," Webster said.
Rep. George R. Nethercutt (R-Wash.) called Murray's comments "bizarre" and uninformed. "You have to wonder what country Senator Murray has been living in since September 11th," he said.
Michael Swetnam, co-author of a book on bin Laden and al Qaeda, said Murray's comments were mostly on the mark. He said bin Laden since 1988 has been on a mission to build schools, roads and homes for the widows of those killed in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.