The news that Saudi Arabia is the nation providing the greatest number of foreign fighters in Iraq underscores the lies and duplicity at the foundation of President George W. Bush's policies in the Middle East.
When the undersecretary of the Treasury in charge of tracking terror financing points to Saudi Arabia as a continuing conduit for millions of dollars to al-Qaeda, and the president ignores the assessment and then certifies that "Saudi Arabia is cooperating with efforts to combat international terrorism," you know the fix is in.
Bush and the State Department are silent when a Saudi court orders a woman who was gang raped to a punishment of 200 lashes and six months in jail, as the civilized world howls with outrage over the latest abomination from a judicial system otherwise known for torture and public beheadings.
The House of Saud is never called the ruthless regime it is. It's always referred to as the more benevolent-sounding "kingdom." Bush has never used the terrorism label when describing the Saudis, despite indisputable evidence that they are providing people and money to spread terror and export the religious fanaticism rooted in the Saudi brand of Islam, ultra-conservative Wahhabism.
Protecting international oil interests and his family's wealth explains why Bush continues to turn a blind eye to everything the Saudis do. A Thanksgiving Day story in The New York Times with the headline "Foreign Fighters in Iraq Are Tied to Allies of U.S." got scant attention from the media, caught up in food and football.
A raid on a desert camp in Sinjar, near the Syrian border, provides detailed information about the backgrounds and hometowns of more than 700 foreign fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006. The raid -- ironically on Sept. 11 -- provided U.S. military intelligence with remarkable documentation about the suicide bombers and insurgents killing Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops.
The Times reported information discovered in the desert tent camp showed "Saudis accounted for the largest number of fighters listed on the records by far -- 305, or 41 percent -- American intelligence officers found as they combed through documents and computers in the weeks after the raid. The data show that despite increased efforts by Saudi Arabia to clamp down on would-be terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, some Saudi fighters are still getting through."
The Libyans, another Bush "ally," followed the Saudis, providing 137 foreign soldiers, or 18 percent of the total. These fighters are all Sunni and part of the sectarian struggle for Iraq.
While the Saudi government denies an official role, it is simply no coincidence that Saudi citizens end up in Iraq. Senior American military officials told the Times they also "believed that Saudi citizens provided the majority of financing for al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. 'They don't want to see the Shias come to dominate Iraq,' one American official said."
In September, Stuart Levey, the undersecretary of the Treasury, told ABC News no one identified by the United States and United Nations as a terror financier has been prosecuted by the Saudis.
"If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia," Levey said in an interview. "When the evidence is clear that these individuals have funded terrorist organizations and knowingly done so, then that should be prosecuted and treated as real terrorism, because it is," Levey concluded.
Just a month after Levey argued the Saudis do nothing to prosecute the bankrollers of terrorist groups, Bush signed a document certifying the Saudis are an ally in his war on terror.
The president is required by U.S. law to send such a memorandum to the secretary of State to free up American aid packages and assure the recipient nations don't support terror. That lie about the Saudis aside, why the hell would we send any kind of money to Riyadh? The money we funnel them for $100-a-barrel oil isn't enough?
Bush's admiration for the Saudis runs deep, especially for their criminal justice system. Based on a code Attila the Hun would find excessive, the Saudis routinely flog and torture people, and this year so far 124 have been beheaded.
When Bush, a prolific death penalty practitioner himself, holds hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, you can hear him saying, "Prince, you sure know how to keep 'em in line. If the damn liberals didn't stop me, I'd be doing those public executions, too. It sure sends a message. And we both know torture does work."
Bush's personal silence over the fate of a gang-rape victim shows how beholden he is to his Saudi pals who support a vile legal system rooted in whim, cruelty and human degradation.
Seven men raped a 19-year-old Saudi woman in 2006. The men got sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison. But the Saudi court ruled the woman had to be punished too because their barbaric interruption of Islamic law was that she committed the horrible crime of being in the car of an unrelated man before she was attacked.
She was sentenced to receive 90 lashes, but she fought the punishment and appealed. How dare she, the mullahs muttered. We'll show her. The Saudi Supreme Judicial Council increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison. The rapists' sentences were doubled. The women and her attacker are members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority.
The Bush administration is treating the case as an internal Saudi matter and refuses to condemn the woman's punishment. You might think that as a practical matter, we don't want to offend the Saudis, who at the last minute agreed to show up at the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference starting this week in Annapolis, Md.
The real reason is money. Craig Unger reported in his insightful book "House of Bush, House of Saud" how he traced "more than $1.4 billion in contracts and investments from the House of Saud in companies in which the Bushes and their friends have had key roles."
One of the Saudis' greatest friends in Washington has been Bush's departing U.S. Homeland Security Adviser Frances Fragos Townsend. She delivered a speech last month at Effat College in Jeddah gushing with praise for the Saudis.
Townsend said, "The most serious and dangerous terrorist threat comes from al-Qaeda," of course not mentioning the Saudi funding sources for that threat. Being sloppy with her al-Qaeda script may have hurried Townsend's departure.
In July, she slipped and admitted, "I don't know if al-Qaeda was in Iraq before the war." But alas, Townsend's real forte is sycophancy, not thinking. Her handwritten resignation letter to Bush belongs in the suck-up hall of fame.
After the pro forma stuff about how her years of White House Service "have been both a blessing and a privilege," Fran jumped the shark, using the words playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote to describe George Washington.
Anderson wrote, "There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in their lifetime." Townsend shamelessly added, "Mr. President, you are such a man."
Someone with a sense of humor in the White House must have leaked the letter that left me howling. Then I laughed more reading Townsend's speech to the Saudis and seeing she used the identical quote describing Bush, adding that it also "applies to King Abdullah."
But somehow it seems fitting the two despots and business partners are lumped together. Although it's unfortunate that Maxwell Anderson and George Washington are sullied in the process.
Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News.
©2007 The Niagara Falls Reporter