April 5, 2004
Bush's Kid Glove Treatment of Saudi Arabia, the Chief Financiers of Al-Qaeda Terrorism, Proves that Bush Family Business Relationships Trump National Security: A BuzzFlash Interview with Craig Unger, Author of "House of Bush, House of Saud"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
The con artist who suckers people into a shell game counts on his ability to divert the eye of the bettor in order to win.
So it is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have launched a sham war on terror without targeting the chief financier and backer of terrorism, Saudi Arabia.
In his book, "House of Bush, House of Saud," journalist Craig Unger lays out a compelling case that the Bush family is so inextricably bound up with the Saudi royal family that it could not hold them responsible for the role that many Saudi Arabians played in the 9/11 day of terror.
The shell game Bush played meant diverting the American public's attention to Iraq, which had no apparent role in 9/11. Although 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, bin Laden is a member of one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis financed bin Laden, Bush managed to convince most Americans that the majority of 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi and that Saddam Hussein played a key role in the attack. That's how a political shell game works. Only in this case, thousands of lives were lost in a con job in which the American people were played for suckers by their own leadership.
Unger begins his book with an incident that Greg Palast first uncovered in late 2001. Why did the Bush Cartel allow 140 Saudi citizens, including members of the bin Laden family, to be flown out of the United States, without questioning, at a time when U.S. airspace was closed and when they might have had information useful in unraveling the crime of 9/11?
It's a good question, and the answers are shocking.
In essence, the Bush Cartel has sold Americans a bill of goods. They have diverted our attention from the major nation state supporting Al-Qaeda because they don't want to attack their own business partners, including the Saudi who bailed Harken Oil out. He's the same guy that was deeply involved with BCCI, the corrupt bank that Poppy Bush and many of his cohorts were associated with. There are plenty more like him. Just read Unger's book.
It is hard to put your arms around the gravity of Bush's betrayal of our nation. Americans just don't want to believe that anyone sitting in the Oval Office, even if unelected, could be a traitor to the interests of his own country.
But, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the Bush family's business interests and personal relationships take precedence over our interests as a nation.
Remember, the Bush Cartel censored 28 pages in Congress's 9/11 reports. The subject of those 28 pages was reportedly the Saudi financing of terrorist front organizations and "charities."
Unger, a respected journalist, concludes that Bush must believe that "the billionaire Saudi royals are somehow more worthy of the government's concern than are the victims of 9/11."
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BuzzFlash: In "House of Bush, House of Saud," you write about the special relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi Royal Family -- one that has protected the Saudis from any blame for involvement in terrorism -- which was also the subject of an article you did in Vanity Fair. It is a topic that floats around out there, and itís sort of like the elephant in the room that the mainstream press doesnít want to look at. The Bush administration has been able to keep it from coming to the forefront, in large part by distracting attention on the Iraq War.
Craig Unger: Right.
BuzzFlash: Or by focusing in on individuals -- such as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein -- as the source of terrorism, rather than a complex set of factors. Certainly in your book one of the complex set of factors is the Saudi government, and perhaps actually one of the causes of terrorism may be the Saudi government and their relationship with the Bush family. Is that accurate to say?
Craig Unger: Yes. This is a relationship that goes back 30 years, and never before in history has a President of the United States had such a close relationship with another foreign power. In this case, itís not just another Western democracy. Itís an Islamic theocracy thatís been the biggest force in breeding terrorism of any country in the world. So I try to put together the corroborating details.
I think there are very elemental, logical questions here that America has to confront. One is: What was the Saudi role Ė and I think itís a very large one Ė in 9/11? Without the Saudis, you really have no 9/11. Itís not just that 15 of the hijackers were Saudis. The Saudis have played a huge role in funding terrorism over the last 20 years. Two: Isnít it amazing that the Bush family has had a close relationship with them for nearly 30 years? And you donít know the exact number, but we know that itís at least $1.4 billion that has gone from the House of Saud to companies in which the Bushes and their allies have prominent positions. Thatís more than 20,000 times as much money as was involved in the Whitewater scandal, by the way.
I think this has been sometimes dismissed as a conspiracy theory and confined to the margins, and you see a lot of it in the Internet, due to the nature of the Internet. But the fact of the matter is this is not conspiracy, itís business. This is the oil business, and the defense business. And one of the cardinal rules of business is you donít bite the hand that feeds you, and we know the extent now to which the Bushes have been fed by the Saudis.
BuzzFlash: Your book begins with an incident that Greg Palast first reported on shortly after it happened. And again, the mainstream press, for the most part, has still completely ignored this, although there have been a couple articles that have come up here and there.
In the wake of September 11th, when basically America was a no-fly zone, the Bush administration allowed Saudi planes to come and extract from the United States members of the bin Laden family and extended members of the bin Laden family. This just seems phenomenal, and itís never really been explained by the Bush administration. Itís basically accepted, I think, as fact now that this occurred. There were many eyewitnesses. There was a story in a Florida paper, a little news feature about a retired police officer who accompanied a bin Laden family young man who was a student at a Florida university. He was flown by private jet to Kentucky, where many of the family members were then assembled and picked up by a Saudi airline jet and flown to Saudi Arabia. This, in and of itself, seems a remarkable incident when you figure that it would be the priority of the United States of America, however innocent many of the bin Laden extended family members may or may not be, to at least question them before they left the country. But apparently that wasnít the case. What was this all about?
Craig Unger: As you say, air space was completely restricted up through 9/13. And on that day, the first flight took off from Tampa, Fl., to Lexington. I found at least eight airplanes that stopped in 12 American cities. This was a massive operation. They picked up roughly 140 Saudis, roughly two dozen members of the bin Laden family, and they simply were not interrogated or interviewed seriously. One of the basic rules in any criminal investigation is that even in the most commonplace murder, you interview the friends and relatives of the perpetrator. That doesnít mean theyíre guilty, of course. Itís just to acquire information. In this case, flying required White House approval. And we know they got White House approval because nothing could fly then. In addition, Richard Clarke told me so. He was the counter-terrorism czar in the situation room at the White House, and he said that he was party to these conversations. He said that it was OK so long as they were vetted by the FBI.
The problem is that they were not vetted by the FBI. There was no serious investigation. I was able to obtain the passenger list for four of the planes. We have to presume innocence on the part of most people on the planes, but we do know that one person in particular is highly suspicious, and that is Prince Ahmed bin Salman, who was a very high-ranking member of the royal family and was said to have been a link between the royal family and al-Qaeda who may have had foreknowledge of 9/11.
BuzzFlash: From my perspective, when you talk about criminal procedure, we would argue that what youíve just described is the Bush administration, in as far as solving the crime of 9/11, committed a dereliction of duty. They did not follow normal criminal procedure, whether there are any guilty parties on those Saudi planes or not, in trying to get the most information they could from people who possibly had information about 9/11.
Craig Unger: Right. Well, itís not just dereliction of duty. Within five hours of 9/11, they were going after Saddam Hussein, who, of course, had nothing to do with 9/11. At the same time, on September 13th, President Bush was meeting with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador. And we donít know exactly what was discussed, but this great escape was already underway.
BuzzFlash: Let me go back to this figure which weíve brought up many times on BuzzFlash, and which you just mentioned: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Yet, in the buildup to the Iraq War, more than 70 percent of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was directly related to 9/11. And more than a majority of Americans, because of mirroring language that the Bush administration used in speeches, thought that most of the hijackers were from Iraq. If we accept that Osama bin Laden masterminded this, the mastermind was Saudi. The money that financed Osama bin Laden was largely Saudi. As an American whoís concerned about my family, my friends, and the life and safety of Americans, this amounts to close to treachery and betrayal. Donít we want to really get the people responsible? Or is this just a show?
Craig Unger: Weíve had this extraordinarily complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia, but itís full of astounding contradictions. On the one hand, weíre the guardian of Israel. On the other hand, weíve been the guarantor of security to Wahhabi Islam. This has gone on for more than 30 years. Itís particularly interesting when you look at the Bush role in all this. There are always two factors when you look at American policy in the Middle East, and particularly the Saudis. Those factors are oil and Israel. And we had this relationship that was so full of contradictions for so many years. In some ways, it was spectacularly successful; that is, if you look at it in terms of getting cheap oil to fill the tanks of American cars. But at a certain point, that relationship becomes quite questionable.
One of its tenets was that we would turn a blind eye to what was really going on in Saudi Arabia. And that may have been fine up to a point, but that point changed when the Saudis started killing Americans. And what is particularly distressing is that the Bushes appear to have turned a blind eye again and again to this. It dates back before the time when Bush got into office. In the 90s, George Bush, Sr., James Baker -- people that I see as part of the House of Bush -- Dick Cheney and Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, were investing and making very, very lucrative deals with Saudis. So they had very close business relationships. You have to wonder, given those relationships, did they dare ask the tough questions of the Saudis about their role in financing terrorism?
They were making business deals with people who have at least indirectly been involved in terrorism. For example, if you look at Prince Bandar, itís astonishing that he and his wife helped finance indirectly two of the hijackers who were in San Diego. But there was no investigation into that. And he dropped by the White House afterwards and had dinner with President Bush. Why was there no outcry? Instead, former President Bush called the Bandar family and expressed his condolences.
BuzzFlash: Condolences about what?
Craig Unger: That he was being investigated for this by Newsweek.
BuzzFlash: My recollection was Newsweek investigated, but either the State Department or an unidentified White House spokesperson said: This is not really significant. She was just helping out a poor student. She had no idea.
Craig Unger: Right. That has been the excuse youíve heard from the Saudis for years. But the fact is, if you go back through the 90s when the Saudi terrorism started, the Clinton Administration began looking into it. And itís important to understand, I think, that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic fundamentalist state where the state religion is Wahhabism. In its most puritanical and militant form, you end up with Osama bin Laden. So even though the Saudis have stated that they are the victims of terrorists themselves, that they are at war with the militants, in fact, the militant clergy is part of the government. There is no separation between church and state. They have not been able to afford politically to crack down on militant Wahhabism because itís part of the state. Through it, you have a religious police, and the whole educational system -- the madrassas fosters this kind of terrorism. So they have not really cracked down.
There were attempts to do that during the Clinton administration, with mixed success. And you saw the Clinton administration, for example, crack down on the National Commercial Bank, and got the Saudis to investigate it, because Clintonís counter-terrorism analysts saw the bank as potentially having funded terrorist activities.
BuzzFlash: Isnít James Baker, or his law firm, defending the Saudi government in a lawsuit that some of the relatives of 9/11 victims have filed?
Craig Unger: Baker-Botts represents the Carlyle Group and has represented some of the Saudis in the suit by the relatives of the 9/11 victims. It represents many of the major oil companies who have deals with Saudi Arabia. So the Saudi oil family and its allies, the wealthy merchant elite, are very, very close to the House of Bushes, as I call it, which means James Baker, the firm of Baker-Botts, the Carlyle Group, former President Bush, and other people who were in the Carlyle Group.
BuzzFlash: To me this seems, in its starkest sense, a betrayal of American people. We know our government knows -- meaning the Bush administration -- that the Saudi government is probably the chief financier, at least, of Wahhabi-connected terrorism through the Osama bin Laden branch.
BuzzFlash doesnít think that terrorism begins and ends with Osama bin Laden, but the Bush administration has made that out to be the case. And letís just talk about that line of terrorism. In fact in the bombing, when some Americans and British were killed a few months back, there were initial reports that some senior officials in Saudi Arabia had to be involved, I think, in the security forces. And then that was sort of dropped from the press, and the American government said no one in the Saudi Arabian government is involved. It just sort of evaporated because no journalist could prove one thing one way or another. We know how deeply the Saudis are involved, and yet the Bush administration keeps focusing elsewhere.
Craig Unger: Itís an incredibly delicate relationship. The best argument for being soft on the Saudis is that if the House of Saud were to fall, virtually anyone who replaced them would likely be far more anti-American. And I think thatís absolutely true, by the way. We keep saying we want democracy in the Middle East, well, if there were an election there, you would have very, very militant Wahhabi people in charge, much closer to bin Laden himself. So the best argument for being soft on the Saudis is that this is the best weíre going to get, and we need oil, and we need a strategic ally in that part of the world. At the same time, thereís got to be a line at which you say: If theyíre killing Americans, what kind of allies are they? Thatís unacceptable. And this atrocious act of terrorism, killing 3,000 people on 9/11 -- weíve been directing all our energy elsewhere against Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration has not really focused on the root cause of it at all.
BuzzFlash: Paul Wolfowitz admitted that one of the reasons to invade Iraq was to -- he didnít quite say it this way -- but, in essence, to satisfy Osama bin Ladenís demand we remove our bases from Saudi Arabia. And that would take away one of his basic demands, which was removing the U.S. military presence from Saudi Arabia.
Craig Unger: Well, inadvertently it may have satisfied still another of Osama bin Ladenís objectives. If you go back more than 20 years to the war in Afghanistan where we supported Osama bin Laden against the Soviets, that was considered one of the great successes in American policy because we lured the Soviets into Afghanistan, and it helped lead to the end of the Soviet Union. Now, I fear, the United States may have fallen into exactly the same trap by going into Iraq itself. Now that we have 130,000 troops in the Middle East, that may be a huge strategic blunder.
BuzzFlash: There is a book by a British author, Jason Burke, called "al-Qaeda." He shows that itís foolhardy for the Bush administration to try to portray al-Qaeda as something where, if we lop off the head of bin Laden, then we end terrorism, or at least dramatically reduce it. And his point is al-Qaeda, and terrorism, such as it exists, is actually much more decentralized than it might appear. Therefore, you need a very different strategy to deal with it than the Bush administrationís obsessiveness with Osama bin Laden. Even if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed, in other words, thatís not going to end Islamic terrorism. What are your thoughts about that?
Craig Unger: I think the administration may have squandered an awful lot of resources going after Iraq, which has nothing to do with 9/11 whatsoever. The Bush administration has made a number of blunders. I think these are real questions that the 9/11 commission has to address. If you go back to the end of the Clinton era, the last election took place just after Osama bin Laden bombed the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 Americans, I believe it was. It was definitively pinned on bin Laden just as the Bush administration began taking office.
Richard Clarke had drawn up a very aggressive attack plan to go after them. Yet it stayed on Bushís desk for month after month after month. Why did he not act then? On August 6, 2001, there was a Presidential daily briefing, at which President Bush was advised that bin Laden and al-Qaeda might well attack the United States very, very soon. What exactly was said during that briefing? Why didnít he act then? I think youíve got an awful lot of questions about how Bush addressed the question of terrorism, and why he didnít act more aggressively. And itís especially ironic from an administration that prides itself on being so tough on terrorism.
BuzzFlash: They also had the Hart/Rudman report, which they ignored. We consistently bring up the fact that just before Bush went for a monthís vacation at his Crawford ranch in 2001, he was warned of potential al-Qaeda attacks, along with Condoleezza Rice. And Condoleezza Riceís response to the fact that they were warned of hijackings was: Well, we werenít warned that they would fly the planes into buildings. BuzzFlash has noted on several occasions that the way you prevent a hijacking of a plane thatís flown into a building is the same way you prevent a hijacking. So Bush failed to prevent the hijackings that led to planes being flown into buildings, because they didnít do anything to try to prevent hijackings, even though they were warned of them.
On top of that, the Bush administration knew of efforts to fly planes into buildings because there had been plans like that that had come to attention of administrations prior to them. Also, when he had gone to the G8 Summit in Italy, he was put in a room on a boat for the very reason that they wanted some maneuvering room because they were warned of possible air attacks into buildings. But in any case, I guess sometimes when the truth is out there and staring you in the face for the mainstream press, they just canít pick up on it.
I wanted to ask you a question about something we find confusing, and it takes a specialist of Saudi Arabia to explain. We know there are many Saudi members of the royal family who donít give money to extremist fundamentalist learning centers, mosques, or to the terrorist organizations. Is some of the money given because there are people in the Saudi royal family, in the security apparatus, who actually secretly support the anti-U.S. terrorist efforts and are anti-American because of their fundamentalist beliefs? Is there also a group that is just more cynical about this? Theyíre basically Westerners but they consider this hush money?
Craig Unger: Thereís a spectrum of complicity. At one end of the spectrum, you have people who are completely innocent, who may give to charity because itís one of the fundamental pillars of Islam. Itís called zakat. Charity is a part of the religion, and thatís part of your daily life. They donít know exactly where the money ends up because it ends up being decentralized. At another stage, you have people who may be doing it with a bit of a wink, thinking theyíre buying favoritism from terrorists. The Saudis have had relationships with both Hamas and Hezbollah in which they fairly openly fund Hamas and Hezbollah, and documents have surfaced again and again. The deal seems to be that they say: Weíll help finance you, just donít do your terrorism on Saudi soil.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who actually favor it, and you have members of the royal family, like Prince Nayef, who is the Minister of the Interior, and whose power base is allied with the militant clergy in Saudi Arabia. And he has blamed 9/11 on Zionist Jews, and basically said that this was something Zionists are responsible for. Itís important to remember that heís still a real powerful figure in Saudi Arabia, and he has a real base. And even if there are sort of good Saudis who are very much against him, they have to recognize that that is a powerful base there, and theyíre limited in the degree to which they can crack down without it totally alienating part of their power base. Thereís sort of a low-level civil war going on in Saudi Arabia.
BuzzFlash: Hereís the million-dollar question. I think you would agree -- and correct me if Iím wrong -- that this administration has failed publicly to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, let alone all the other factual details that you bring up in your book about what theyíve not pressed Saudi Arabia about. But playing the devilís advocate with ourselves and with you, you said that one of the challenges here is if you press too hard and it leads to the collapse of the monarchy there, youíre going to end up with a radical regime. Itís the kind of basic problem that the Bush administration canít seem to answer anywhere in some of the extremist Islamic countries, which is to say if you have a truly open election in Iraq, youíre going to end up with a fundamentalist majority, and perhaps a radical one. The Palestinians had an election -- they elected Arafat. In other words, beware of what you wish for sometimes. Given that with Saudi Arabia, what can you do?
Craig Unger: Iím not a policymaker, but I think if theyíre true allies, you donít kill Americans. Thatís rule number one in any political alliance. And itís up to the Saudis to enforce that. The relationship has been founded on contradictions that in the end may not hold. It may be untenable. But right now, it seems to me we have the worst of both worlds; that is, weíre not getting justice through to the Saudis with regard to 9/11, and now weíve started to alienate them in terms of getting their oil. They just made all these natural gas deals with Russia, with China, and so on. So you need to have a policy where, it shouldnít be too much to ask, to tell them not to kill Americans.
BuzzFlash: Youíre not claiming that the Saudi government kills Americans, but there are Saudi nationals that are funded with Saudi support that kill Americans.
Craig Unger: Yes, but some of that support comes from the House of Saud. Some of it comes from the merchant elite. The Saudis have been uncooperative when Americans have been killed there. Theyíve beheaded people before letting the FBI interview them. They have blocked inquires into Saudi role in funding terrorism. I think, by the way, that things may have started to change with the May of 2003 bombing in Saudi Arabia in which, for the first time, it looks like the House of Saud is really being attacked itself. Before that point, one could argue that most of the bombings by al-Qaeda were really directed against Westerners. Now the Saudis have clearly started to feel the pressure themselves from al-Qaeda.
BuzzFlash: Despite your book, despite, again, other journalists who have brought this issue up, there is still the 800-pound elephant in the room that the Bush administration just doesnít want to talk about. You never hear them voluntarily bring up Saudi Arabia. Is that likely to change in an election year? Are the Democrats likely to make it an issue? Or are we just going to go through this election with Saudi Arabia again being like the relative you donít want to talk about?
Craig Unger: It absolutely should be an issue. And you have the 9/11 Commission which I think has to address many of these questions. You have the Kerry campaign, which I believe should raise some of these questions. Itís an elemental question in American foreign policy -Ė how do you deal with this? If weíre going to have a serious war on terror, President Bush -Ė and this may be one place where I really agree with him -Ė has said how he responded to 9/11 should be an issue in the campaign. I agree with him absolutely on that. We might disagree on how well heís done, but the Saudi role in all this is very, very important.
I would like to redirect attention back to, if I may, to what I call the great escape -- the evacuation of Saudis. The Bush administration clearly played a role. They clearly authorized that. Why did they do that? How could they possibly have done it? They were already arresting people in Guantanamo and detaining them for months and months and months. But Saudis who may have had knowledge of this were whisked out of the country in the dead of night.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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