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September 16th, 2004 1:44 pm
'War president' Bush has always been soft on terror; His campaign says vote Republican or die - but he lets al-Qaida off the hook
by Craig Unger / The Guardian
Where's George Orwell when we need him? Because we Americans need him. We desperately need him. Consider: in August 2001, immediately after reading a memo entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US", President George Bush went bass fishing - and never called a meeting to discuss the issue.
A month later, on September 11, when he was told that the terrorists had attacked, Bush spent the next seven minutes reading a children's book, The Pet Goat, with a group of schoolchildren.
And when it comes to his own military service, recent revelations show that Bush got out of fighting in Vietnam thanks to his dad's political clout. Even then, Bush didn't fulfil his obligations to the National Guard.
Yet somehow the Bush-Cheney ticket is convincing Americans that only a Republican administration can handle national security. If John Kerry wins, Dick Cheney warned: "The danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating." The choice is simple: Vote Republican, or die. And voters are buying it.
A poll just after the Republican convention showed that 27% of the voters preferred Bush to Kerry when it came to national security [no - he means to say 27% more prefer Bush to Kerry on national security - Norbert]. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that if Bush wins in November it will be because of the fear factor.
Yet the truth is that Bush is actually soft on terror. When it comes to going after the men who were behind 9/11 and who continue to wage a jihad against the US, Bush has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the forces behind terrorism, shielded the people who funded al-Qaida, obstructed investigations and diverted resources from the battle against it.
One key reason is the Bush-Saudi relationship, the like of which is unprecedented in US politics. Even after the success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, the subject is largely taboo in the American media. Never before has a president of the US - much less two from the same family - had such close ties with another foreign power.
Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US and a powerful member of the royal family, has been a close friend of George Bush Snr for more than 20 years. Nicknamed Bandar Bush, he drops by the Bush residences in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Crawford, Texas, not to mention the White House. He and Bush senior go on hunting trips together.
Then there's the money. More than $1.4bn of financial transactions have gone from the House of Saud to corporations and institutions tied to the Bushes and their allies - largely to companies such as the Carlyle Group, Halliburton, and HarkenEnergy. So what does all that influence buy the Saudis?
Let's go to the White House on September 13 2001. Just 48 hours after 9/11, the toxic rubble at the World Trade Centre site was still ablaze. The estimated death count, later lowered significantly, was thought to be as high as 40,000.
On that afternoon, Bandar met on the Truman balcony with President Bush and the two men lit up Cohiba cigars. At the time, the White House knew that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. It knew that Osama bin Laden was Saudi. And, as the 9/11 commission concluded, it knew that Saudi Arabia was "the primary source of money for al-Qaida", which was largely funded by wealthy Saudis via Islamist charities.
President Bush was in the presence of the ambassador from the country that is the guardian of Wahhabi Islam, the fundamentalist sect which helped produce al-Qaida. This is where the war on terror and a massive investigation into the greatest crime in US history should have begun.
But, given the intimate relationship between the two families - and, of course, the fact that the Saudis help fuel America's 165m automobiles - this was not just a meeting between the president of the US and the ambassador of a country that harboured and financed terrorists. The Saudis were special.
Because Bush and Bandar were the only two people present, we do not know exactly what was said. But we do know that the president failed to join the issue of the Saudi role in terror or how to stop the funding of terrorism through Islamist charities and financial institutions.
That same afternoon, the first of 11 chartered planes began to pick up more than 140 Saudis scattered throughout the US. Saudi Arabia and the president's defenders have mounted a massive PR campaign to minimise the damage of the Saudi evacuation. But the facts in the 9/11 commission report remain unchanged. The Saudi evacuation flights were not the fantasies of conspiratorialists. They actually took place. The departures were approved by the White House and the vast majority of Saudi passengers were not interviewed by the FBI.
This was the biggest crime in US history. But, in the midst of a grave national security crisis, rather than investigating it the White House and the FBI spent their limited resources helping evacuate the Saudis.
Over the next two years, the 9/11 commission found, the Bush administration failed "to develop a strategy to counter Saudi terrorist financing". As a result, our Saudi allies were half-hearted in cooperating on terrorist financing and, the commission concluded: "the US government still has not determined with any precision how much al-Qaida raises or from whom, or how it spends its money."
Now, thanks to Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia and the Failure of America's War on Terror, a new book by Senator Bob Graham, we know that the Saudis may have played an even bigger role in 9/11 than previously reported. As a member of the Senate intelligence committee, Graham said he learned that "evidence of official Saudi support" for at least two of the 19 hijackers was "incontrovertible".
As co-chairman of the joint House-Senate panel investigating 9/11, Graham found his efforts to get to the bottom of the Saudi role in 9/11 again and again were quashed by the Bush administration. When his committee tried to subpoena a key witness who happened to be an FBI informant, the FBI refused to cooperate. "It was the only time in my senatorial experience that the FBI has refused to deliver a congressional subpoena," Graham told Salon.com in a recent interview. "The FBI wasn't acting on its own," he added, "but had been directed by the White House not to cooperate."
In the end, 27 pages of the report on the role of the Saudis in 9/11 were classified by the White House and not released to the public. According to Graham, the Bush administration may have censored the material because it did not want the public to be aware of Saudi support for the 9/11 terrorists. "There has been a long-term special relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia," he said, "and that relationship has probably reached a new high under the George W Bush administration, in part because of the long and close family relationship that the Bushes have had with the Saudi royal family."
Graham writes: "It was as if the president's loyalty lay more with Saudi Arabia than with America's safety."
If that is the case, no wonder the Bush-Cheney ticket is counting on fear.
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yesterday etc Tomorrow Links In Defense of Bush