Disassembling the Lies of the Left
So the recent crockumentary delivered by the Left tries to assemble a line of facts, combined with outright lies and not so subtle insinuations to claim fault by the Bush administration for some flights out of the U.S. shortly after 9/11. Apparently the claims are trynig to portray these flights as some sort of buddy agreement between Bush and Osama bin Laden. Amazing. Let’s just take a look at the facts.
Why did bin Laden family members want to leave the U.S.?
Why bin Laden family members (and other Saudis) wanted to leave the U.S. in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks should be obvious: most of the hijackers who perpetrated the attacks were Saudis, as was the mastermind of the plot, Osama bin Laden. Many Saudis temporarily residing in the U.S. (not just bin Laden family members) feared they might become victims of anti-Arab, anti-Saudi, and anti-bin Laden reprisals at the hands of angry Americans:
Many [young members of the bin Laden clan] were terrified, fearing they could be “lynched,” after hearing news reports of sporadic violence against Muslims and Arab-Americans.
The Saudi government is worried about an anti-Arab backlash against its citizens. Those concerns are heightened because many of the 19 hijackers used either Saudi passports or affiliations with the Saudi national airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines, to gain entry to the United States and access to the flight schools.
The Saudi government, one of the staunchest Arab allies of the United States, stopped sending its citizens to the United States for medical treatment after last week’s attack. One diplomat said a Saudi citizen with the same name as one of the hijackers called him in tears from his hospital bed yesterday, saying he feared for his life.
“It’s terribly sad,” the diplomat said.
The Saudi diplomat said his government had advised Saudi citizens, including some 3,000 students attending universities and medical schools around the United States, to be vigilant against possible retaliatory violence.
A 20-year-old Saudi man who is studying at Boston University was stabbed early Sunday morning outside a Back Bay nightclub, Club Nicole, at the Back Bay Hilton.
Those fears were not unfounded, as the stabbing incident involving a Saudi student in Boston demonstrated:
The Boston police hate crimes unit is probing the stabbing of a Saudi Arabian man who was attacked Sunday morning by a group of men as he left a Back Bay nightclub, where people had taken up a collection to benefit disaster relief work in New York.
The 20-year-old Boston University student remained in a Boston hospital after suffering two knife wounds in his arm and a third puncture to his back that missed his kidney by four inches, according to police and a relative.
“I’m honestly shocked,” said the victim’s brother, a recent MIT graduate, who asked that his name not be printed. “My parents were worried about this, obviously, after the tragedy in this country. I reassured them that Boston was a safe city. But I have lost my faith.”
Boston police said the Community Disorders Unit is probing the attack, searching for leads to identify the four or five suspects who attacked the man and a friend as the two waited for others who had gone to fetch a car.
The victim’s brother said one of the assailants allegedly yelled, “You Arab (expletive)” during the assault on Belvidere Street after the victim and his friends had left Club Nicole in the Back Bay Hilton.
Were bin Laden family members told to leave the U.S.?
Whether Saudis were told to leave the U.S. by the FBI, whether they were urged to leave by the Saudi government, or whether they left of their own accord remains murky, as reports and statements from government officials were contradictory:
A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington denied claims that the bin Ladens had been told by the FBI and the Saudi government to return. He said: “There was no official warning from the government that they should go but maybe they thought it would be better if they went home.”
A Saudi diplomat told The Boston Globe that the relatives of bin Laden had been advised by both the Saudi government and the FBI to return to Saudi Arabia at least temporarily for their own safety. [He] said that while his government and the FBI had advised the bin Ladens to return home for their safety, they had not recommended that other Saudis return home.
In addition, many US-based relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist who is accused of masterminding the hijackings, returned to Saudi Arabia on chartered jets. A Saudi diplomat said his government and the FBI advised the bin Ladens to leave for their own safety.
Which Saudis left the U.S.?
A good deal of the confusion over this issue stems from the fact that several different groups of Saudis left the U.S. in the wake of the September 11 attacks, not all at the same time. Among the Saudis temporarily staying the U.S. at the time were a number of Saudi government officials and royal family members (and their families), dozens of bin Laden family members, and thousands of young Saudi students enrolled in American high schools, colleges, and universities. The priority seemed to have been getting the first two groups out of the country quickly while students who wished to return home were flown back to Saudi Arabia somewhat later, at the Saudi government’s expense. Reports at the time indicated that Saudi officials felt students who were not bin Laden relatives were not in immediate danger and therefore did not encourage the students to leave the U.S., but they nonetheless offered to fly the students home at government expense anyway. Anywhere from “a few” to 300 students reportedly took the Saudi government up on its offer before it was rescinded because “too many people were abusing it”:
The Saudi government is assisting in travel plans for any Saudi students in the United States who want to return home out of fears of a violent backlash against Muslims, a Saudi embassy official said.
While the official, who did not want to be identified because of security reasons, said that the embassy is not encouraging students to leave the country, he said that the Saudi government will pick up the travel tab and put their scholarships on hold until they feel it’s safe to return to America.
“This is the same thing we did for students during the Gulf War,” said the official, who added that the Saudi government cannot yet guarantee the universities will hold the students’ spots. “We’ve gotten just a few takers, mostly in the first few days (after the attacks).”
According to the Saudi embassy, about 300 Saudis living in the United States took up their government’s offer to fly home if they feared reprisals in the wake of the hijackings. But that repatriation program has been shelved, according to a Saudi diplomat, because at least some of those who volunteered to fly home did so for reasons that had nothing to do with fear. The diplomat said Saudi officials learned that some who flew home were students who were in danger of flunking out. “Too many people were abusing it, so we suspended the program,” said the diplomat.
When did bin Laden family members leave the U.S.?
This component is another great source of confusion, and the crux of the overall issue. Reports indicate that some prominent Saudis were ferried around the U.S. via automobile and airplane in the days immediately after the September 11 attacks, even though the ban on general air travel was still in effect:
The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened.
Two armed bodyguards hired to chaperon [three Saudis out of Florida] recall a 100-minute trip Sept. 13 quite vividly. In the end, the son of a Saudi Arabian prince who is the nation’s defense minister, and the son of a Saudi army commander made it to Kentucky for a waiting 747.
The hastily arranged flight out of Raytheon Airport Services, a private hangar on the outskirts of Tampa International Airport, was anything but ordinary. It lifted off the tarmac at a time when every private plane in the nation was grounded due to safety concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Tampa detectives guarding the men were ordered to stay in Tampa by Police Chief Bennie Holder, so [private investigator Dan Grossi] was offered the job of escorting the trio to Lexington, Ky., where the prince’s relatives were buying race horses.
But the Lear was not headed back to Fort Lauderdale, Grossi said the pilot told him. It was bound for New Orleans to pick up someone who needed a ride to New York.
But the key point is that the Saudis mentioned in these accounts were not flown out of the country ï¿½ they were assembled at locations from which they could be conveniently flown out of the country once regular airline travel resumed.
The terrorist attacks occurred on the morning of Tuesday, September 11. Air travel was immediately shut down for the next few days; limited flight operations (mostly commercial carriers completing interrupted flights from September 11 or repositioning empty aircraft) resumed on Thursday, September 13, and regular air travel (as well as private flights) began operating on Friday, September 14:
Boston’s Logan International Airport reopened Saturday [Sept. 15], leaving Reagan National Airport at Washington the only major U.S. airport still closed to travel.
Federal officials also reopened the skies to most private planes for the first time since grounding them in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Limited air travel resumed over the country Thursday [Sept. 13] and was lurching toward normalcy Friday [Sept. 14] and Saturday [Sept. 15]. The first flight from Logan airport left just before 7 a.m. Saturday for Chicago.
No news account had a flight of Saudis leaving the U.S. until after the resumption of normal air traffic. The earliest date posited for a flight bearing bin Laden family members leaving the U.S. was September 14, a date by which the resumption of air travel had already begun:
[Two] planes, one jumbo jet carrying 100 family members, and the other 40, were eventually allowed to leave when airports reopened and passports were checked.
The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks.
The bolded text in the preceding and following articles describes flights that did not depart the U.S. until after airports had reopened. Other accounts indicate that flights of bin Laden family members didn’t leave the U.S. until several days later:
The Vanity Fair article depicts an elaborate but hurried evacuation carried out within a week of the hijackings in which private planes picked up Saudis from 10 cities.
They left on Tuesday 18 September ï¿½ a week after the terror attacks on New York and Washington ï¿½ in a privately chartered aircraft, its seats rearranged to give the handful of passengers more room. They left from Logan airport, Boston, the airport from which two of the hijacked planes had taken off seven days earlier.
It is unclear how many relatives of Mr bin Laden have returned in recent days to Saudi Arabia, most probably to the city of Jedda where the family is based. Some reports said just five members left on 18 September, flying in a Boeing 727 that had been reconfigured and contained only 30 seats, all in first class.
Boston-area relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist who stands accused of masterminding last week’s suicide hijackings, flew back to Saudi Arabia in the last two days [Sept. 18 and 19] because of concerns for their safety, according to the Saudi government. It was unclear how many members of bin Laden’s family flew home over the last two days, but aviation sources said a flight that left Logan on Tuesday night [Sept. 18] contained only five passengers, all of whom were said to be members of bin Laden’s family. A second flight, paid for by the Saudi government, was scheduled to depart Logan last night [Sept. 19], after making stops in other cities, including Los Angeles and Orlando.
However, records obtained from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seem to indicate that one flight carrying approximately 46 Saudi citizens may have left the U.S. from New York as early as September 13, before the general ban on air travel was lifted. The records do not identify who these passengers may have been ï¿½ bin Laden relatives, royal family members, or other Saudi nationals. (The “Class of Admission” column in the document lists the departing passengers as a mixture of foreign government officials and their employees and temporary visitors to the U.S. for either business or pleasure.)
Whether these accounts are all describing the same flights or different flights (and hence the several-day difference in departure dates) is difficult to determine, but in many cases it appears that the issue of Saudis flying within the U.S. has been confused with the issue of their leaving the U.S.
Who paid for the flights?
None of the news accounts cited on this topic reported that the U.S. government paid for flights which returned bin Laden family members to Saudi Arabia. All accounts stated the flights were chartered and operated at the Saudi government’s expense, or that bin Laden family members paid their own way home:
Dozens of Saudi citizens were flown back to Saudi Arabia at their government’s expense, while the bin Ladens are believed to have paid their own way. A Saudi government spokesman said the plane used by the bin Ladens was privately chartered by the family. Sources familiar with that plane said it was a Boeing 727 that had been reconfigured so that it had only about 30 first-class seats.
Did flights of bin Laden family members leave the U.S. “secretly”?
“Secret” is something of an subjective term, because everything is known to some people and unknown to others. Obviously neither the U.S. nor the Saudi government was going to announce that planes full of bin Laden family members fearful for their lives were about to leave the country (or put the matter up for a vote), since publicizing the event would have defeated its purpose by providing potential attackers with valuable information on their whereabouts. The flights were conducted in a hush-hush manner, and the U.S. government didn’t (and still hasn’t) officially acknowledged their existence, yet the secret was not of the “to be kept for all time” ilk in that these flights were reported upon in major newspapers (both in the U.S. and in other countries) within days of their occurrence.
Their departure was effected quietly, but once the Saudis were gone the “secret” no longer needed to be guarded all that scrupulously.
Did flights take bin Laden family members out of the U.S. over the objections of the FBI?
It’s hard to make the case that flights of Saudis departed from the U.S. over the objections of the FBI when, according to former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, the FBI itself gave the go-ahead:
“Somebody brought to us for approval the decision to let an airplane filled with Saudis, including members of the bin Laden family, leave the country,” he told Vanity Fair magazine.
Mr Clarke said he checked with FBI officials, who gave the go ahead. “So I said, ‘Fine, let it happen’.”
And, as noted, the FBI was directly involved in the process of collecting bin Laden family members and ferrying them to departure points from which they could leave the country:
The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas.
Was the FBI denied the chance to question departing bin Laden family members?
Again, it’s hard to make the case that the FBI was denied any opportunity to question bin Laden family members given that they were directly involved in the process of rounding them up and gave the go-ahead for the flights to leave. Moreover, news accounts indicate that the FBI was not only “all over” the departing flights (grounding some of them temporarily), but had the opportunity to question passengers, and in at least some cases actually did:
All of those who took up the Saudi government’s offer to fly home were reportedly questioned by the FBI before being allowed to board the flights. A source at Logan said that the FBI was “all over these planes” prior to takeoff.
[P]rivate planes carrying the kingdom’s deputy defense minister and the governor of Mecca, both members of the royal family, were grounded and initially caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet
Did bin Laden family members have any important information to impart to the FBI?
The term “bin Laden family member” is rather misleading, as it is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a person with close ties to Osama bin Laden. By most accounts, Osama bin Laden was one of more than fifty children fathered by the same man; the bin Laden family is huge, with hundreds (if not thousands) of members spread all over the globe. Many, many of these family members are only tangentially related to Osama bin Laden and never had much (if any) contact with Osama himself. Moreover, his family disowned him after he fled Saudi Arabia in 1991 and was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 for smuggling weapons from Yemen. According to another news account about Saudis leaving the U.S. in the wake of the September 11 attacks:
Most of Mr. bin Laden’s relatives were attending high school and college. They are among the 4,000 Saudi students in the United States. King Fahd, the ailing Saudi ruler, sent an urgent message to his embassy here saying there were “bin Laden children all over America” and ordered, “Take measures to protect the innocents,” the ambassador said.
The fact that “most of Mr. bin Laden’s relatives were attending high school and college” in 2001 means that most of them were somewhere between 4 and 12 years old when Osama bin Laden fled Saudi Arabia. Students who were mere children when Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia, and who had spent at least some of their intervening years living in the U.S., were not likely sources for information regarding his current whereabouts and operations:
“We did everything that needed to be done,” said John Iannarelli, a bureau spokesman. “There’s nothing to indicate that any of these people had any information that could have assisted us.”
Did the FBI in fact question the Saudis before they left?
As noted above, the FBI had opportunity to question the departing Saudis, and contemporaneous news accounts indicate that at least some of them were indeed questioned. More recent articles offer conflicting statements from current and former FBI personnel:
Dale Watson, the FBI’s former head of counter-terrorism, said that, while the bureau identified the Saudis who were on the plane, “they were not subject to serious interrogations.”
While F.B.I. officials would not discuss details of the case, they said that in the days immediately after Sept. 11 bureau agents interviewed the adult relatives of Mr. bin Laden, members of one of Saudi Arabia’s richest families, before the White House cleared them to leave the country. Mr. bin Laden is said to be estranged from his family, and many of his relatives have renounced his campaign against the United States.
“We did everything that needed to be done,” said John Iannarelli, a bureau spokesman. “There’s nothing to indicate that any of these people had any information that could have assisted us, and no one was accorded any additional courtesies that wouldn’t have been accorded anyone else.”
Note that the former statement doesn’t say that bin Laden relatives weren’t questioned; it says they weren’t subjected to “serious interrogations.” What level of questioning Mr. Watson would have considered a “serious interrogation” is difficult to determine (and one always has to be wary that former government officials often have axes to grind and frame their statements in such a way as to make their former employers look bad).
This page should be read for what it is: an analysis of some of the commonly-circulated claims about a complex issue (many of which are factually correct or misleading), not a denial of the larger arc of the story. Clearly bin Laden family members were allowed to leave the U.S. shortly after the September 11 attacks, and this was effected with the approval and assistance of the American government. Yet not all the Saudis flew out during the ban, nor was the FBI denied access to them while they were here or prevented from knowing who was going to be on those flights. In preparation for the exodus, a number of Saudis were ferried to central locations where those outbound jets would eventually leave from, which means they were allowed to violate the ban on air travel within the U.S. Was it right that fear for their safety and/or favors owed abroad should have prompted their being treated as special circumstance exceptions to the ban? That question lies outside the scope of this page, but rest assured it will be hotly debated around many a dinner table.