Monday, April 05, 2004

As 13 More Americans Die Over the Weekend, We Refuse to Hold Supporters of Terrorism Accountable: Our "Friends" the Saudis

Craig Unger, a specialist in Saudi Arabia affairs, is interviewed by the on-line website Buzzflash.

Unger in his book, "House of Bush, House of Saud," shows how the Bush family and his advisors are so financially tied up in preserving 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.

As the interview began, Buzzflash, after reminding us that 15 of 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, also reminds us that "...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."

Here is an extended excerpt from the interview - read it all when you get a chance. Some key phrases are highlighted.

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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.

Unger: I think there are very elemental, logical questions here that America has to confront. One is: What was the Saudi role - and I think it's a very large one - in 9/11? Without the Saudis, you really have no 9/11. It's 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: Isn't it amazing that the Bush family has had a close relationship with them for nearly 30 years? And you don't know the exact number, but we know that it's 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.

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, it's business. This is the oil business, and the defense business. And one of the cardinal rules of business is you don't 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.

Unger: 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 it's never really been explained by the Bush administration. It's basically accepted, I think, as fact now that this occurred. There were many eyewitnesses.

...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... 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.

BuzzFlash: Let me go back to this figure which we've brought up many times ... 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 who's concerned about my family, my friends, and the life and safety of Americans, this amounts to close to treachery and betrayal. Don't we want to really get the people responsible? Or is this just a show?

Unger: ...It's 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.

... 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.

BuzzFlash: Isn't 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.

Craig Unger: ...the best argument for being soft on the Saudis is that this is the best we're going to get, and we need oil, and we need a strategic ally in that part of the world.

At the same time, there's got to be a line at which you say: If they're killing Americans, what kind of allies are they? That's unacceptable. And this atrocious act of terrorism, killing 3,000 people on 9/11 -- we've been directing all our energy elsewhere against Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration has not really focused on the root cause of it at all.

Richard Clarke had drawn up a very aggressive attack plan to go after them. Yet it stayed on Bush's 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 didn't he act then? I think you've got an awful lot of questions about how Bush addressed the question of terrorism, and why he didn't act more aggressively. And it's especially ironic from an administration that prides itself on being so tough on terrorism.

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