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2003-09-16

Cheney Claims No Knowledge That White House Helped Evacuate 24 Members of the Bin Laden Family Days After 9/11

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Retired chief White House aide Richard Clarke revealed that top White House officials approved the evacuation of 140 influential Saudis, including relatives of Osama Bin Laden, days after the Sept. 11 attacks at a time when all commercial and private flights were grounded. We speak with Vanity Fair reporter Craig Unger who broke the story.

Debunking Cheney: Part II of a Four-Part Special

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! As we move to another excerpt from Vice President Dick Cheney’s statement this week, some might call it Lie Number Two. Let’s take a listen.

TIM RUSSERT: Vanity Fair Magazine reports that about 140 Saudis were allowed to leave the United States the day after the 11th, allowed to leave our air space and were never investigated by the F.B.I., and that departure was approved by high level administration. Do you know anything about that?

DICK CHENEY: I don’t, but a lot of folks from that part of the world left in the aftermath of 9/11 because they were worried about public reaction here in the United States or that somehow they might be discriminated against. So we have had especially since the attacks in Riyadh in May of this year by the Saudi government great support and cooperation in going after terrorists, especially Al Qaeda. I think the Saudis came to realize as a result of the attacks of last May, that they were as much of a target as we are, that Al Qaeda did have a foothold inside Saudi Arabia, many of the members of the organization are from there, that there have been private individuals in Saudi Arabia who provided significant financial support and assistance, that they’re facilitators and operators working inside Saudi Arabia to support the Al Qaeda network. And the Saudis have been, let’s say in the last several months, very good partners in helping us go after people in the Al Qaeda organization.

AMY GOODMAN: Dick Cheney speaking this Sunday. Well in the days after the September 11th attacks, former Vice President Al Gore was grounded, former President Bill Clinton was grounded, planes were forced down in mid-flight, including one carrying a heart to be transplanted to a deathly-ill cardiac patient. American skies were empty, yet at the same time 140 Saudis were effectively chaperoned out of the country, the allegation is, by the U.S. government. Among them, they weren’t just any Saudis, were several dozen members of the bin Laden family. How is this possible? Well this month retired Chief White House Aide Richard Clarke revealed that top White House officials approved the evacuation of 140 influential Saudis including members of the Osama bin Laden family two days after the September 11th attacks at a time when all commercial and private flights were grounded. Clarke, who ran the White House crisis team after the attacks writes in the new issue of "Vanity Fair" that the F.B.I. claimed none of the Saudis could be linked to the attacks, which were carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi. The "New York Times" reports this is the first public acknowledgement that the White House approved the controversial evacuation plan. We’re joined by Craig Unger who is the reporter on this piece for "Vanity Fair" and author of the forthcoming book "House of Bush, House of Saud". Can you explain what Vice President Cheney was saying he did not know about?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, it’s interesting the administration has not commented at all on this. Colin Powell was also asked about it the previous week, and he sort of said well, we orchestrated something, but I don’t really know the details. I think what’s really, really important here is, for the first time there have been rumors of this departure beforehand of the Saudi repatriation, but for the first time we know that Saudis were in the air when American air space was locked down. This was the greatest national security crisis possibly in the history of the United States, and American skies were emptier than at any time since the days of the Wright brothers. Why is it that the Saudis were the most privileged people in the United States including members of the bin Laden family. In any normal criminal investigation, even if it’s a common place murder, it is normal to question the friends and relatives of the suspect, and here you had roughly 24 members of the bin Laden family who left without being interrogated or interviewed, and it really calls into question why the administration has been so soft on the Saudis. 15 out of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis. Increasingly we’ve learned since 9/11 about a fairly big Saudi role in terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your reaction to Vice President Cheney’s comment on "Meet the Press" this Sunday?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, reporting on this administration can be quite difficult because you don’t really get much response. I tried the White House again and again. I had roughly eight or ten conversations with them. They would never speak to me on the record. It was always on background, and then they denied that any such flights took place. Cheney himself simply says, I don’t know. Well, the White House is either responsible or it’s not responsible for this. or it’s irresponsible, but other flights that were in the air at the same time that violated the lock down were forced down by the American Air Force. You even had, as you mentioned, a man awaiting a heart transplant, his heart, his replacement heart was, and medical team with it, was forced down in mid-air. Why is it that there was this huge, huge rush to get the Saudis out? Officially the Saudis have said, and to some extent what Cheney said is there was a fear on the part of Saudis that there would be retribution by angry Americans. Now there may have been such fear. At the same time, I never heard any incidents of mobs of angry Americans storming and actually threatening the Saudis.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Craig Unger who did the piece in "Vanity Fair" where a White House, well, explain exactly who Richard Clarke is. This story has certainly been surfacing since September 11th. but it is first time you’ve had any kind of White House confirmation that the White House was involved in flying many members of the bin Laden family out, as well as more than 100 Saudis. Also the question of whether they were questioned at all. This is not about guilt, but it’s about getting information.

CRAIG UNGER: Richard Clarke was former White House counter-terrorism czar. He began in the administration of the elder George Bush, he survived through the Clinton years and continued to rise. Then he was in the administration of the current President George Bush, though he has since left and is now running a consulting firm in Virginia. But he is a man who is really considered nonpartisan, he’s his own man. He speaks for himself. His integrity is rather unquestioned. And I think partly because he had left the administration, he was far more candid than people I’ve been able to interview within the administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the subject of your next book which is the link between the Bushes, the House of Bush and House of Saud, going back to the trip of George Bush Sr., James Baker, representing the Carlisle group meeting with the Saudi family.

CRAIG UNGER: One thing that I think people have not explored, and this is what I hope will come out in my book next spring, is there’s been a long term relationship between the Bush family and Saudis that really dates back more than 20 years when the elder Bush was Vice President. He was very close friends with Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He’s been ambassador more than 20 years. He is a member of the Royal House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. He is the nephew of King Fahd, his father, Prince Sultan is Defense Minister. And they were very, very close friends during the 1980’s. Prince Bandar was actually active in the Iran-Contra scandal helping funnel money to the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980’s in which Vice President Bush was then involved. Most recently, the Saudis also been active in some of the oil companies owned by President Bush, such as Harkin Energy in which President Bush was a member of the board of directors, Saudis came in to sort of help bail them out in the late 1980’s. And most recently you have the Carlisle Group, which is a giant private equity firm in Washington D.C. It started in the late 80’s. Now it’s worth over $16 billion, and its principals and key figures include many of the great figures of the Reagan-Bush era. There’s former President Bush, former Secretary of State James Baker, there’s Richard Darmon, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan-Bush era, Frank Carlucci, he was Secretary of Defense, former Prime Minister John Manger of England are all associated with in one way or another with the Carlisle Group. They bought up many, many defense companies. I think a lot of people may not know what a private equity firm is, but essentially they get involved in financial transactions such as leveraged buyouts, venture capital, real estate deals, they buy and sell companies. They try to buy them cheap, turn them around and sell them in three to five years. And they raise money from both private investors of extremely high net worth and institutions like state pension funds. Well, much of their business went on with Saudi Arabia. and in the

AMY GOODMAN: In fact the bin Ladens had millions sunk into the Carlisle Group forced only to remove it or at least that’s as much as we know after September 11th with the embarrassment of Bush being one of their main ambassadors, Bush Sr. and James Baker, etc. and bin Laden’s funding this company. CRAIG UNGER: Right. In fact on September 11th itself, the Carlisle Group was having a meeting that morning at the Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C., and one of the bin Laden members, whose company has invested in Carlisle was present while the attacks were taking place, as was Secretary of State James Baker. AMY GOODMAN: And George Bush had just flown out earlier, President George Bush, Sr. Last question, the response at Logan airport, one of the places where the hijackers had flown from, when they were told that all traffic was grounded, they were to allow a flight that took out Saudis and members of the bin Laden family. The response of the officials at Logan airport.

CRAIG UNGER: Well they were stunned. I spoke with the Director of Aviation, Tom Kinton, and he simply couldn’t believe it. He said how is it possible they’re letting them go. Virginia Buckingham, who is Head of MassPort, which is the agency that oversaw Logan was just agog. Here they were, the bin Ladens were on the tarmac in the plane. They simply couldn’t believe that they were being told to let them go without questioning.

AMY GOODMAN: And at the same time had grounded all other traffic.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. At that point, commercial traffic was just resuming, but private planes had been grounded.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you ,Craig Unger for being with us. That piece in this issue, the latest edition of "Vanity Fair" looking at the Bushes and bin Laden. You are listening to Democracy Now!. After a break we move on to another statement of Dick Cheney this week. Stay with us.


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