It seems as if almost everyone except the Bush administration wants the public to see the 28 pages of classified information withheld from the recently-completed congressional report on the terror attacks of September 11. Members of Congress, including leading Republicans, say they want the pages released, which deal with alleged links between members of the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers. Even the Saudi government says it wants them declassified.
Bush has refused, claiming that releasing the information would expose intelligence sources and threaten national security. In all likelihood his real fear is that the missing section will highlight the double standard with which his administration has waged the war on terror.
Administration officials have relentlessly flogged the phony notion that Iraq had something to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, while simultaneously bending over backwards to avoid fingering the Saudis. Thanks in large part to the Bush administrationšs insinuations about Iraq, 66 percent of Americans surveyed last year said they believed Saddam Hussein
was involved in the September 11. A separate poll, conducted in January,
found that half of those surveyed thought one or more of the September 11 terrorist hijackers were Iraqi citizens. In fact, none were, but 15 of the 19 were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
Several other threads of evidence - some of it already publicly available - point to Saudi Arabia as an important source of funding and other support for the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Osama bin Laden and his terror network belong to a specific Muslim sect, Wahhabi fundamentalism, which is much more ideologically severe than the religion practiced by most Muslims throughout the world and which certainly differs from the largely secular ideology of Saddam Husseinšs Ba'ath Party. Wahhabi is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, the ideological underpinnings of the absolute monarchy which rules the country with an iron fist. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have pointed to the country's numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention and physical abuse of prisoners, which security forces commit with the acquiescence of the government. In addition, the government prohibits or restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and religion. Partly as a release valve for domestic dissatisfaction with the oppressive nature of the Saudi regime, the monarchy tolerates and even encourages anti-Semitism and America-bashing that scapegoats Israel and the United States for all of the problems of the region.
"It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official U.S. government spokespersons have not," stated Terrorist Financing, an October 2002 report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. "For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al Qaeda, and for years the Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem. This is hardly surprising since Saudi Arabia possesses the greatest concentration of wealth in the region; Saudi nationals and charities were previously the most important sources of funds for the mujahideen [Islamic fundamentalists who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan]; Saudi nationals have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of Al Qaedašs own membership; and Al Qaedašs political message has long focused on issues of particular interest to Saudi nationals, especially those who are disenchanted with their own government."
In fact, it appears that some of those Saudi officials did more than merely turn a blind eye. In November 2002, the FBI investigated charitable payments by Haifa Al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Beginning in early 2000, $3,500 a month flowed from Al-Faisal to two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to some of the 9/11 hijackers. One of the students who received the money threw a welcoming party for the hijackers upon their arrival in San Diego, paid their rent and guaranteed their lease on an apartment next door to his own. The other student, a known Al Qaeda sympathizer, also befriended the hijackers prior to their awful deed. At a party after the attacks, he 'celebrated the heroes of September 11,' openly talking about 'what a wonderful, glorious day it had been.'
Princess Haifašs money did not flow directly from her to the hijackers, and there is no evidence that she had any prior knowledge of their plans. Nevertheless, the Bush administration's willingness to accept her explanations at face value contrasts strikingly with the enthusiasm with which the Bush administration pursued every slim thread that it hoped might connect Iraq to Al Qaeda. In contrast, it handled the news about Haifa Al-Faisal's payments by urging people not to jump to conclusions. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to the news by saying, "Saudi Arabia is a good partner in the war against terrorism but can do more."
Imagine for a moment that Haifa Al-Faisal had been the wife of a prominent official from Iraq instead of Saudi Arabia. Would the White House have been this willing to shrug and look away?
Why the double standard? It is no secret, of course, that prominent figures in the Bush family and administration have had financial dealings with the Saudi kingdom, including Bush senior, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. The elder Bush even took time off from campaigning for his sonšs presidential election to fly to Saudi Arabia to discuss business matters in person with Crown Prince Abdullah. Perhaps these business ties explain the Bush administrationšs uncommonly defensive posture with respect to the Saudis.
Whatever the explanation, the public has a right to know. Declassifying the missing 28 pages from the congressional report would be a step in the right direction.
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber edit PR Watch , a quarterly publication that exposes the role of propaganda in modern society. They are the authors of 'Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq', which was published in July by Tarcher/Penguin.