The bin Ladens’ Great Escape:
How the U.S. helped Osama's family leave the country after 9/11.

By Byron York
National Review Online

Bill Carter, the FBI spokesman, is adamant. "We were given full access to the individuals on that plane," he says, "and we were satisfied that we did not believe any of those individuals had anything to do with the 9/11 plots."

The plane to which Carter refers was an aircraft chartered by the Saudi government in the days after the terrorist attacks. The individuals were two dozen members of Osama bin Laden's extended family who had been living in the United States. Saying they were afraid that family members might suffer retribution in the U.S., the Saudis asked for American assistance in getting them out of the country. With the help of the FBI, the Saudis and the bin Laden family chartered an aircraft to pick up family members in Los Angeles, Orlando, and Washington, D.C. The bin Laden plane then flew the relatives to Boston, where — one week after the attacks — the group left Logan Airport bound for Jeddah.

At the time, the massive 9/11 investigation was just beginning. The government had begun detaining hundreds of people who were held for days, weeks, or months while U.S. agents performed extensive background checks and interviews. In addition, the government announced its intention to question thousands of men from Muslim countries who might simply have known something of interest to the investigation. "The Department of Justice is waging a deliberate campaign of arrest and detention to protect American lives," Attorney General John Ashcroft said on November 27.

But the bin Ladens did not have to worry about that. While FBI agents looked into bin Laden family members in the Boston area immediately after September 11, it appears that the agents' first chance to interview them — or other family members who lived elsewhere in the country — came on the day they left the U.S. Each family member was given the all-clear on the basis of a single, day-of-departure interview — conducted, in Bill Carter's words, "at the airport, as they were about to leave."

Asked by National Review whether the FBI had conducted a full and thorough investigation of all the family members before allowing them to go, Carter repeated his earlier statement: "The FBI had an opportunity to interview the individuals on that plane, and we were satisfied with the information they provided." Asked again, he said the same thing. "Unless you have evidence to stop them from leaving the country, they have every right to do that," Carter explained. "The bin Laden family is very large, and for the most part are involved in legitimate enterprises. The fact of the matter is that because of September 11, some of these individuals felt it would be better to leave the country. They have every right to do that."

But some law-enforcement experts found the abbreviated investigation puzzling. "That's highly unusual, and they could not have done a thorough and complete interview," said John L. Martin, the former chief of internal security for the Justice Department. "It was obvious at the time that the Bureau did not have the kind of intelligence to know who was behind [the September 11 attacks], how they were financed, and what the U.S. connections might have been." Also, Martin said, "It is an absolute rule of law enforcement that the agent or officers conducting the interviews control the interview, and that the persons of interest, suspects, or prospective defendants do not set the ground rules for the interview."

In addition, it is a routine law-enforcement practice to question — sometimes repeatedly and in great detail — family members of suspects in murder cases. Investigators do not usually presume that a relative has no connection or knowledge of a crime; instead, they usually conduct an investigation to make sure the relatives can be eliminated as suspects or witnesses. While that is going on, the instincts of law enforcement are normally to freeze all potential suspects and witnesses in place until the investigation has reached some conclusions.

What raises even more questions about the FBI's handling of the bin Ladens is that in the days immediately after the attack, law-enforcement agencies were nearly overwhelmed by the task of unraveling the plot and uncovering al Qaeda's complex worldwide financial network. Investigators were still trying to retrace the hijackers' steps and learn who might have assisted them along the way. They were also facing the enormous job of trying to uncover any other terrorist cells that might be in the country. The FBI in particular was almost back on its heels, suffering from (it was revealed later) a lack of communication between its various offices about key evidence in the case.

And the bin Ladens seemed an obvious choice for intensive investigation. Most press accounts of the family state flatly that the relatives are estranged from Osama bin Laden and condemn his work. But bin Laden has more than 50 siblings, and it is perhaps overly optimistic to think that every single one of them not only does not approve of his actions but also has no knowledge of his support and financing. Besides, there are several published reports that suggest otherwise.

In October 2001, ABC News interviewed a sister-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who was asked whether bin Laden family members had given money to Osama. "I don't know that," Carmen bin Laden answered, "but my opinion is yes . . . I think they would say, okay, this is — for Islam they would give. You know, for Islam they would give." Carmen bin Laden is the estranged wife of Osama bin Laden's brother Yeslam, who runs the Saudi Investment Company in Switzerland. Family friends have contradicted her account, but in March of this year, French police searched Yeslam bin Laden's villa in Cannes, reportedly looking for evidence of terrorism-related money laundering involving the Saudi Investment Company. Swiss police also searched other properties connected to the firm.

In addition, investigators believe that another bin Laden relative, Osama's brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, is thought to be an important figure in al Qaeda. Khalifa has been linked to Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as to the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Khalifa is also thought to have provided crucial start-up money to Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine terrorist group.

Then there are the bin Ladens' alleged ties to a Bahamas-based bank that is suspected of laundering money to terrorist groups. And, finally, there are Osama bin Laden's communications with his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden. He reportedly called her days before September 11 to tell her that "something big" would soon take place.

It may turn out that no one among the bin Ladens in America knew anything about any of the people involved or any of their businesses. It is true that the family members had been the subject of some scrutiny in the past. "That family had been looked at very, very carefully in the two-year period leading up to September 11," after the al Qaeda bombings of American embassies in East Africa, said retired CIA official Vince Cannistraro. But the fact that the September 11 attacks occurred raises obvious questions about how thorough the U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies' investigation of bin Laden was. In light of that, how much did the FBI know about the bin Laden family when it allowed them to leave the country? And could investigators have learned everything they needed to know on the basis of the day-of-departure airport interviews?

It's hard to reconstruct precisely how the departures were arranged. The only public statement the Saudis have made was in October 2001, when Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., said on CNN, "His Majesty said it's not fair for these innocent people to be subjected to any harm. On the other hand, we understood the high emotions. So with the coordination with the FBI, we got them all out." Otherwise, officials at the Saudi embassy in Washington decline to comment.

When NR called an official at Logan Airport, he said, "You have to talk to the State Department. They're the ones who set it up." But a State Department source said the department "played no role" in the matter. "This is not something we would have brokered," the source said. "Bandar does not need Foggy Bottom to get a phone call returned by the White House." That seemed a clear hint that the White House was involved, but the White House declined immediate comment, saying it would look into the matter.

However it happened, the bin Ladens are long gone. Some have returned, at least for visits — they live in an international set that divides its time among Jeddah, London, Paris, and New York. Others have stayed away. Now, a year after 9/11, should U.S law enforcement ever need them, investigators will know where they are — in Saudi Arabia, out of reach.
Gore Vidal is America’s most controversial writer and a ferocious, often isolated, critic of the Bush administration. Here, against a backdrop of spreading unease about America’s response to the events of 11 Septemorld's known energy resources.' Brzezinski's master plan for 'our' globe has obviously been accepted by the Cheney-Bush junta. Corporate America, long over-excited by Eurasian mineral wealth, has been aboard from the beginning.

Ahmed sums up: 'Brzezinski clearly envisaged that the establishment, consolidation and expansion of US military hegemony over Eurasia through Central Asia would require the unprecedented, open-ended militarisation of foreign policy, coupled with an unprecedented manufacture of domestic support and consensus on this militarisation campaign.'

Afghanistan is the gateway to all these riches. Will we fight to seize them? It should never be forgotten that the American people did not want to fight in either of the twentieth century's world wars, but President Wilson maneuvered us into the First while President Roosevelt maneuvered the Japanese into striking the first blow at Pearl Harbor, causing us to enter the Second as the result of a massive external attack. Brzezinski understands all this and, in 1997, he is thinking ahead - as well as backward. 'Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.' Thus was the symbolic gun produced thatbelched black smoke over Manhattan and the Pentagon.

Since the Iran-Iraq wars, Islam has been demonized as a Satanic terrorist cult that encourages suicide attacks - contrary, it should be noted, to the Islamic religion. Osama has been portrayed, accurately, it would seem, as an Islamic zealot. In order to bring this evil-doer to justice ('dead or alive'), Afghanistan, the object of the exercise was made safe not only for democracy but for Union Oil of California whose proposed pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean port of Karachi, had been abandoned under the Taliban's chaotic regime. Currently, the pipeline is a go-project thanks to the junta's installation of a Unocal employee (John J Maresca) as US envoy to the newly born democracy whose president, Hamid Karzai, is also, according to Le Monde, a former employee of a Unocal subsidiary. Conspiracy? Coincidence!

Once Afghanistan looked to be within the fold, the junta, which had managed to pull off a complex diplomatic-military caper, - abruptly replaced Osama, the personification of evil, with Saddam. This has been hard to explain since there is nothing to connect Iraq with 9/11. Happily, 'evidence' is now being invented. But it is uphill work, not helped by stories in the press about the vast oil wealth of Iraq which must - for the sake of the free world - be reassigned to US and European consortiums.

As Brzezinski foretold, 'a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat' made it possible for the President to dance a war dance before Congress. 'A long war!' he shouted with glee. Then he named an incoherent Axis of Evil to be fought. Although Congress did not give him the FDR Special - a declaration of war - he did get permission to go after Osama who may now be skulking in Iraq.


Bush And The Dog That Did Not Bark

Post-9/11, the American media were filled with pre-emptory denunciations of unpatriotic 'conspiracy theorists', who not only are always with us but are usually easy for the media to discredit since it is an article of faith that there are no conspiracies in American life. Yet, a year or so ago, who would have thought that most of corporate America had been conspiring with accountants to cook their books since - well, at least the bright days of Reagan and deregulation. Ironically, less than a year after the massive danger from without, we were confronted with an even greater enemy from within: Golden Calf capitalism. Transparency? One fears that greater transparency will only reveal armies of maggots at work beneath the skin of a culture that needs a bit of a lie-down in order to collect itself before taking its next giant step which is to conquer Eurasia, a potentially fatal adventure not only for our frazzled institutions but for us the presently living.

Complicity. The behavior of President George W. Bush on 11 September certainly gives rise to all sorts of not unnatural suspicions. I can think of no other modern chief of state who would continue to pose for 'warm' pictures of himself listening to a young girl telling stories about her pet goat while hijacked planes were into three buildings.

Constitutionally, Bush is not only chief of state, he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Normally, a commander in such a crisis would go straight to headquarters and direct operations while receiving the latest intelligence.

This is what Bush actually did - or did not do - according to Stan Goff, a retired US Army veteran who has taught military science and doctrine at West Point. Goff writes, in 'The So-called Evidence is a Farce': 'I have no idea why people aren't asking some very specific questions about the actions of Bush and company on the day of the attacks. Four planes get hijacked and deviate from their flight plan, all the while on FAA radar.'

Goff, incidentally, like the other astonished military experts, cannot fathom why the government's automatic 'standard order of procedure in the event of a hijacking' was not followed. Once a plane has deviated from its flight-plan, fighter planes are sent up to find out why. That is law and does not require presidential approval, which only needs to be given if there is a decision to shoot down a plane. Goff spells it out: 'The planes were hijacked between 7:45 and 8:10am. Who is notified? This is an event already that is unprecedented. But the President is not notified and going to a Florida elementary school to hear children read.

'By around 8:15am it should be very apparent that something is terribly wrong. The President is glad-handling teachers. By 8:45am, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower, Bush is settling in with children for his photo op. Four planes have obviously been hijacked simultaneously and one has just dived into the twin towers, and still no one notifies the nominal Commander-in-Chief.

'No one has apparently scrambled [sent aloft] Air Force interceptors either. At 9:03, Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower. At 9:05 Andrew Card, the Chief of Staff whispers to Bush [who] "briefly turns somber" according to reporters. Does he cancel the school visit and convene an emergency meeting? No. He resumes listening to second-graders ... and continues the banality even as American Airlines Flight 77 conducts an unscheduled point turn over Ohio and heads in the direction of Washington DC.

'Has he instructed Card to scramble the Air Force? No. An excruciating 25 minutes later, he finally deigns to give a public statement telling the United States what they have already figured out - that there's been an attack on the World Trade Centre. There's a hijacked plane bee-lining to Washington, but has the Air Force been scrambled to defend anything yet? No.

'At 9:35, this plane conducts another turn, 360 [degrees] over the Pentagon, all the while being tracked by radar, and the Pentagon is not evacuated, and there are still no fast-movers from the Air Force in the sky over Alexandria and DC. Now the real kicker: a pilot they want us to believe was trained at a Florida puddle-jumper school for Piper Cubs and Cessnas, conducts a well-controlled downward spiral descending the last 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes, brings the plane in so low and flat that it clips the electrical wires across the street from the Pentagon, and flies it with pinpoint accuracy into the side of the building at 460 knots.

'When the theory about learning to fly this well at the puddle-jumper school began to lose ground, it was added that they received further training on a flight simulator. This is like saying you prepared your teenager for her first drive on the freeway at rush hour by buying her a video driving game ... There is a story being constructed about these events.'

There is indeed, and the more it is added to the darker it becomes. The nonchalance of General Richard B. Myers, acting Joint Chief of Staff, is as puzzling as the President's campaigning-as-usual act. Myers was at the Capitol chatting with Senator Max Cleland. A sergeant, writing later in the AFPS (American Forces Press Service) describes Myers at the Capitol. 'While in an outer office, he said, he saw a television report that a plane had hit the World Trade Centre. "They thought it was a small plane or something like that," Myers said. So the two men went ahead with the office call.'

Whatever Myers and Cleland had to say to each other (more funds for the military?) must have been riveting because, during their chat, the AFPS reports, 'the second tower was hit by another jet. "Nobody informed us of that," Myers said. "But when we came out, that was obvious. Then, right at that time, somebody said the Pentagon had been hit."' Finally, somebody 'thrust a cellphone in Myers' hand' and, as if by magic, the commanding general of Norad - our Airspace Command - was on the line just as the hijackers mission had been successfully completed except for the failed one in Pennsylvania. In later testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Myers said he thinks that, as of his cellphone talk with Norad, 'the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft'. It was 9:40am. One hour and 20 minutes after air controllers knew that Flight 11 had been hijacked; 50 minutes after the North Tower was struck.

This statement would have been quite enough in our old serious army/air force to launch a number of courts martial with an impeachment or two thrown in. First, Myers claims to be uninformed until the third strike. But the Pentagon had been overseeing the hijacked planes from at least the moment of the strike at the first tower: yet not until the third strike, at the Pentagon, was the decision made to get the fighter planes up. Finally, this one is the dog that did not bark. By law, the fighters should have been up at around 8:15. If they had, all the hijacked planes might have been diverted or shot down. I don't think that Goff is being unduly picky when he wonders who and what kept the Air Force from following its normal procedure instead of waiting an hour and 20 minutes until the damage was done and only then launching the fighters. Obviously, somebody had ordered the Air Force to make no move to intercept those hijackings until ... what?

On 21 January 2002, the Canadian media analyst Barry Zwicker summed up on CBC-TV: 'That morning no interceptors responded in a timely fashion to the highest alert situation. This includes the Andrews squadrons which ... are 12 miles from the White House ... Whatever the explanation for the huge failure, there have been no reports, to my knowledge, of reprimands. This further weakens the "Incompetence Theory". Incompetence usually earns reprimands. This causes me to ask whether there were "stand down" orders.'?? On 29 August 2002, the BBC reports that on 9/11 there were 'only four fighters on ready status in the north-eastern US'. Conspiracy? Coincidence? Error?

It is interesting how often in our history, when disaster strikes, incompetence is considered a better alibi than ... well, yes, there are worse things. After Pearl Harbor, Congress moved to find out why Hawaii's two military commanders, General Short and Admiral Kimmel, had not anticipated the Japanese attack. But President Roosevelt pre-empted that investigation with one of his own. Short and Kimmel were broken for incompetence. The 'truth' is still obscure to this day.


The Media's Weapons Of Mass Distraction

But Pearl Harbor has been much studied. 11 September, it is plain, is never going to be investigated if Bush has anything to say about it. In January 2002, CNN reported that 'Bush personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to limit the Congressional investigation into the events of 11 September ... The request was made at a private meeting with Congressional leaders ... Sources said Bush initiated the conversation ... He asked that only the House and Senate intelligence committees look into the potential breakdowns among federal agencies that could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur, rather than a broader inquiry .. Tuesday's discussion followed a rare call from Vice President Dick Cheney last Friday to make the same request ...'

The excuse given, according to Daschle, was that 'resources and personnel would be taken' away from the war on terrorism in the event of a wider inquiry. So for reasons that we must never know, those 'breakdowns' are to be the goat. That they were more likely to be not break - but 'stand-downs' is not for us to pry. Certainly the one-hour 20 minute failure to put fighter planes in the air could not have been due to a breakdown throughout the entire Air Force along the East Coast. Mandatory standard operational procedure had been told to cease and desist.

Meanwhile, the media were assigned their familiar task of inciting public opinion against bin Laden, still not the proven mastermind. These media blitzes often resemble the magicians classic gesture of distraction: as you watch the rippling bright colours of his silk handkerchief in one hand, he is planting the rabbit in your pocket with the other. We were quickly assured that Osama's enormous family with its enormous wealth had broken with him, as had the royal family of his native Saudi Arabia. The CIA swore, hand on heart, that Osama had not worked for them in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Finally, the rumour that Bush family had in any way profited by its long involvement with the bin Laden family was - what else? - simply partisan bad taste.

But Bush Jr's involvement goes back at least to 1979 when his first failed attempt to become a player in the big Texas oil league brought him together with one James Bath of Houston, a family friend, who have Bush Jr. $50,000 for a 5 per cent stake in Bush's firm Arbusto Energy. At this time, according to Wayne Madsen ('In These Times' - Institute for Public Affairs No. 25), Bath was 'the sole US business representative for Salem bin Laden, head of the family and a brother (one of 17) to Osama bin Laden... In a statement issued shortly after the 11 September attacks, the White House vehemently denied the connection, insisting that Bath invested his own money, not Salem bin Laden's, in Arbusto. In conflicting statements, Bush at first denied ever knowing Bath, then acknowledged his stake in Arbusto and that he was aware Bath represented Saudi interests ... after several reincarnations, Arbusto emerged in 1986 as Harken Energy Corporation.'

Behind the Junior Bush is the senior Bush, gainfully employed by the Carlyle Group which has ownership in at least 164 companies worldwide, inspiring admiration in that staunch friend to the wealthy, the Wall Street Journal, which noted, as early as 27 September 2001, 'If the US boosts defence spending in its quest to stop Osama bin Laden's alleged terrorist activities, there may be one unexpected beneficiary: bin Laden's family ... is an investor in a fund established by Carlyle Group, a well-connected Washington merchant bank specialising in buyouts of defence and aerospace companies ... Osama is one of more than 50 children of Mohammed bin Laden, who built the family's $5 billion business.'

But Bush pere et fils, in pursuit of wealth and office, are beyond shame or, one cannot help but think, good sense. There is a suggestion that they are blocking investigation of the bin Laden connection with terrorism. Agent France Press reported on 4 November 2001: 'FBI agents probing relatives of Saudi-born terror suspect Osama ... were told to back off soon after George W. Bush became president ...' According to BBC TV's Newsnight (6 Nov 2001), '... just days after the hijackers took off from Boston aiming for the Twin Towers, a special charter flight out of the same airport whisked 11 members of Osama's family off to Saudi Arabia. That did not concern the White House, whose official line is that the bin Ladens are above suspicion.' 'Above the Law' (Green Press, 14 February 2002) sums up: 'We had what looked like the biggest failure of the intelligence community since Pearl Harbor but what we are learning now is it wasn't a failure, it was a directive.' True? False? Bush Jr will be under oath during the impeachment interrogation. Will we hear 'What is a directive? What is is?'

Although the US had, for some years, fingered Osama as a mastermind terrorist, no serious attempt had been made pre-9/11 to 'bring him to justice dead or alive, innocent or guilty', as Texan law of the jungle requires. Clinton's plan to act was given to Condeleezza Rice by Sandy Berger, you will recall, but she says she does not.

As far back as March 1996 when Osama was in Sudan, Major General Elfatih Erwa, Sudanese Minister for Defence, offered to extradite him. According to the Washington Post (3 October 2001), 'Erwa said he would happily keep close watch on bin Laden for the United States. But if that would not suffice, the government was prepared to place him in custody and hand him over ... [US officials] said, "just ask him to leave the country. Just don't let him go to Somalia", where he had once been given credit for the successful al-Qaeda attack on American forces that in '93 that killed 18 Rangers.' Erwa said in an interview, 'We said he will go to Afghanistan, and they [US officials] said, "Let him."'

In 1996 Sudan expelled Osama and 3,000 of his associates. Two years later the Clinton administration, in the great American tradition of never having to say thank you for Sudan's offer to hand over Osama, proceeded to missile-attack Sudan's al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory on the grounds that Sudan was harboring bin Laden terrorists who were making chemical and biological weapons when the factory was simply making vaccines for the UN.

Four years later, John O'Neill, a much admired FBI agent, complained in the Irish Times a month before the attacks, 'The US State Department - and behind it the oil lobby who make up President Bush's entourage - blocked attempts to prove bin Laden's guilt. The US ambassador to Yemen forbade O'Neill (and his FBI team) ... from entering Yemen in August 2001.O'Neill resigned in frustration and took on a new job as head of security at the World Trade Centre. He died in the 11 September attack.' Obviously, Osama has enjoyed bipartisan American support since his enlistment in theCIA's war to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. But by 9/11 there was no Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, indeed there was no Soviet Union.


A World Made Safe For Peace And Pipelines

I watched Bush and Cheney on CNN when the Axis of Evil speech was given and the 'long war' proclaimed. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were fingered as enemies to be clobbered because they might or might not be harbouring terrorists who might or might not destroy us in the night. So we must strike first whenever it pleases us. Thus, we declared 'war on terrorism' - an abstract noun which cannot be a war at all as you need a country for that. Of course, there was innocent Afghanistan, which was levelled from a great height, but then what's collateral damage - like an entire country - when you're targeting the personification of all evil according to Time and the NY Times and the networks?

As it proved, the conquest of Afghanistan had nothing to do with Osama. He was simply a pretext for replacing the Taliban with a relatively stable government that would allow Union Oil of California to lay its pipeline for the profit of, among others, the Cheney-Bush junta.

Background? All right. The headquarters of Unocal are, as might be expected, in Texas. In December 1997, Taliban representatives were invited to Sugarland, Texas. At that time, Unocal had already begun training Afghan men in pipeline construction, with US government approval. BBC News, (4 December 1997): 'A spokesman for the company Unocal said the Taliban were expected to spend several days at the company's [Texas] headquarters ... a BBC regional correspondent says the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.' The Inter Press Service (IPS) reported: 'some Western businesses are warming up to the Taliban despite the movement's institutionalisation of terror, massacres, abductions and impoverishment.' CNN (6 October 1996): 'The United States wants good ties [with the Taliban] but can't openly seek them while women are being oppressed.'

The Taliban, rather better organised than rumoured, hired for PR one Leila Helms, a niece of Richard Helms, former director of the CIA. In October 1996, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported that Unocal 'has been given the go-ahead from the new holders of power in Kabul to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan ..' This was a real coup for Unocal as well as other candidates for pipelines, including Condoleezza's old employer Chevron. Although the Taliban was already notorious for its imaginative crimes against the human race, the Wall Street Journal, scenting big bucks, fearlessly announced: 'Like them or not, the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history.' The NY Times (26 May 1997) leapt aboard the pipeline juggernaut. 'The Clinton administration has taken the view that a Taliban victory would act as counterweight to Iran ... and would offer the possibility of new trade routes that could weaken Russian and Iranian influence in the region.'

But by 1999, it was clear that the Taliban could not provide the security wewould need to protect our fragile pipelines. The arrival of Osama as warrior for Allah on the scene refocused, as it were, the bidding. New alliances were now being made. The Bush administration soon buys the idea of an invasion of Afghanistan, Frederick Starr, head of the Central Asia Institute at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Washington Post (19 December 2000): 'The US has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out bin Laden.'

Although with much fanfare we went forth to wreak our vengeance on the crazed sadistic religious zealot who slaughtered 3,000 American citizens, once that 'war' was under way, Osama was dropped as irrelevant and so we are back to the Unocal pipeline, now a go-project. In the light of what we know today, it is unlikely that the junta was ever going to capture Osama alive: he has tales to tell. One of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's best numbers now is: 'Where is he? Somewhere? Here? There? Somewhere? Who knows?' And we get his best twinkle. He must also be delighted - and amazed - that the media have bought the absurd story thatOsama, if alive, would still be in Afghanistan, underground, waiting to be flushed out instead of in a comfortable mansion in Osama-loving Jakarta, 2,000 miles to the East and easily accessible by Flying Carpet One.

Many commentators of a certain age have noted how Hitlerian our junta sounds as it threatens first one country for harbouring terrorists and then another. It is true that Hitler liked to pretend to be the injured - or threatened - party before he struck. But he had many great predecessors not least Imperial Rome. Stephen Gowan's War in Afghanistan: A $28 Billion Racket quotes Joseph Schumpeter who, 'in 1919, described ancient Rome in a way that sounds eerily like the United States in 2001: "There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome's allies; and if Rome had no allies, the allies would be invented ... The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbours."' We have only outdone the Romans in turning metaphors such as the war on terrorism, or poverty, or Aids into actual wars on targets we appear, often, to pick atrandom in order to maintain turbulence in foreign lands.

As of 1 August 2002, trial balloons were going up all over Washington DC to get world opinion used to the idea that 'Bush of Afghanistan' had gained a title as mighty as his father's 'Bush of the Persian Gulf' and Junior was now eager to add Iraq-Babylon to his diadem. These various balloons fell upon Europe and the Arab world like so many lead weights. But something new has been added since the classic Roman Hitlerian mantra, 'they are threatening us, we must attack first'. Now everything is more of less out inthe open. The International Herald Tribune wrote in August 2002: 'The leaks began in earnest on 5 July, when the New York Times described a tentative Pentagon plan that it said called for an invasion by a US force of up to 250,000 that would attack Iraq from the north, south and west. On 10 July, the Times said that Jordan might be used as a base for the invasion. The Washington Post reported, 28 July, that "many senior US military officers contend that Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat ..."' And the status quo should be maintained. Incidentally, this is the sort of debate that the founding fathers intended the Congress, not military bureaucrats, to conduct in the name of we the people. But that sort of debate has, for a long time, been denied us.

One refreshing note is now being struck in a fashion unthinkable in imperial Rome: the cheerful admission that we habitually resort to provocation. The Tribunecontinues: 'Donald Rumsfeld has threatened to jailany one found to have been behind the leaks. But a retired army general, Fred Woerner, tends to see a method behind the leaks. "We may already be executing a plan," he said recently. "Are we involved in a preliminary psychological dimension of causing Iraq to do something to justify a US attack or make concessions? Somebody knows.' That is plain.

Elsewhere in this interesting edition of the Herald Tribune wise William Pfaff writes: 'A second Washington debate is whether to make an unprovoked attack on Iran to destroy a nuclear power reactor being built with Russian assistance, under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, within the terms of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of which Iran is a signatory ... No other government would support such an action, other than Israel's (which) would do so not because it expected to be attacked by Iran but because it, not unjustifiably, opposes any nuclear capacity in the hands of any Islamic government.'


Suspect States And The Tom-Toms Of Revenge

'Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it compromises and develops the germ of every other. As the parent of armies, war encourages debts and taxes, the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended ... and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people ...' Thus, James Madison warned us at the dawn of our republic.

Post 9/11, thanks to the 'domination of the few', Congress and the media are silent while the executive, through propaganda and skewed polls, seduces the public mind as hitherto unthinkable centers of power like Homeland Defence (a new Cabinet post to be placed on top of the Defence Department) are being constructed and 4 per cent of the country has recently been invited to join Tips, a civilian spy system to report on anyone who looks suspicious or ... who objects to what the executive is doing at home or abroad?

Although every nation knows how - if it has the means and the will - to protect itself from thugs of the sort that brought us 9/11, war is not an option. Wars are for nations not root-less gangs. You put a price on their heads and hunt them down. In recent years, Italy has been doing that with the Sicilian Mafia; and no one has yet suggested bombing Palermo.

But the Cheney-Bush junta wants a war in order to dominate Afghanistan, build a pipeline, gain control of the oil of Eurasia's Stans for their business associates as well as to do as much damage to Iraq and Iran on the grounds that one day those evil countries may carpet our fields of amber grain with anthrax or something.

The media, never much good a analysis, are more and more breathless and incoherent. On CNN, even the stolid Jim Clancy started to hyperventilate when an Indian academic tried to explain how Iraq was once our ally and 'friend' in its war against our Satanic enemy Iran. 'None of that conspiracy stuff,' snuffed Clancy. Apparently, 'conspiracy stuff' is now shorthand for unspeakable truth.

As of August, at least among economists, a consensus was growing that, considering our vast national debt (we borrow $2 billion a day to keep the government going) and a tax base seriously reduced by the junta in order to benefit the 1 per cent who own most of the national wealth, there is no way that we could ever find the billions needed to destroy Iraq in 'a long war' or even a short one, with most of Europe lined up against us. Germany and Japan paid for the Gulf War, reluctantly - with Japan, at the last moment, irritably quarrelling over the exchange rate at the time of the contract. Now Germany's Schroder has said no. Japan is mute.

But the tom-toms keep beating revenge; and the fact that most of the world is opposed to our war seems only to bring hectic roses to the cheeks of the Bush administration (Bush Snr of the Carlyle Group, Bush Jnr formerly of Harken, Cheney, formerly of Halliburton, Rice, formerly of Chevron, Rumsfeld, formerly of Occidental). If ever an administration should recuse itself in matters dealing with energy, it is the current junta. But this is unlike any administration in our history. Their hearts are plainly elsewhere, making money, far from our mock Roman temples, while we, alas, are left only with their heads, dreaming of war, preferably against weak peripheral states.

Mohammed Heikal is a brilliant Egyptian journalist-observer, and sometime Foreign Minister. On 10 October 2001, he said to the Guardian: 'Bin Laden does not have the capabilities for an operation of this magnitude. When I hear Bush talking about al-Qaeda as if it were Nazi Germany or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, I laugh because I know what is there. Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaeda has been penetrated by US intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organisation and sophistication.

The former president of Germany's domestic intelligence service, Eckehardt Werthebach (American Free Press, 4 December 2001) spells it out. The 9/11 attacks required 'years of planning' while their scale indicates that they were a product of 'state-organised actions'. There it is. Perhaps, after all, Bush Jnr was right to call it a war. But which state attacked us?

Will the suspects please line up. Saudi Arabia? 'No, no. Why we are paying you $50 million a year for training the royal bodyguard on our own holy if arid soil. True the kingdom contains many wealthy well-educated enemies but ...' Bush Snr and Jnr exchange a knowing look. Egypt? No way. Dead broke despite US baksheesh. Syria? No funds. Iran? Too proud to bother with a parvenu state like the US. Israel? Sharon is capable of anything. But he lacks the guts and the grace of the true Kamikaze. Anyway, Sharon was not in charge when this operation began with the planting of 'sleepers' around the US flight schools 5 or 6 years ago. The United States? Elements of corporate America would undeniably prosper from a 'massive external attack' that would make it possible for us to go to war whenever the President sees fit while suspending civil liberties. (The 342 pages of the USA Patriot Act were plainly prepared before 9/11.) Bush Snr and Jnr are giggling now. Why? Because Clinton was president back then. As the former president leaves the line of suspects, he says, more in anger than in sorrow: 'When we left the White House we had a plan for an all-out war on al-Qaeda. We turned it over to this administration and they did nothing. Why?' Biting his lip, he goes. The Bushes no longer giggle. Pakistan breaks down: 'I did it! I confess! I couldn't help myself. Save me. I am an evil-doer!'

Apparently, Pakistan did do it - or some of it. We must now go back to 1979 when 'the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA' was launched in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Central Asia specialist Ahmed Rashid wrote (Foreign Affairs, November-December 1999): 'With the active encouragement of the CIA and Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) who wanted to turn the Afghan jihad into a global war, waged by all Muslim states against the Soviet Union, some 35,000 Muslim radicals, from 40 Islamic countries joined Afghanistan's fight between 1982 and '92 ... more than 100,000 foreign Muslim radicals were directly influenced by the Afghanistan jihad.' The CIA covertly trained and sponsored these warriors.

In March 1985, President Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 166, increasing military aid while CIA specialists met with the ISIcounterparts near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Jane's Defence Weekly (14 September 2001) gives the best overview: 'The trainers were mainly from Pakistan's ISI agency who learnt their craft from American Green Beret commandos and Navy Seals in various US training establishments.' This explains the reluctance of the administration to explain why so many unqualified persons, over so long a time, got visas to visit our hospitable shores. While in Pakistan, 'mass training of Afghan [zealots] was subsequently conducted by the Pakistan army under the supervision of the elite Special Services ... In 1988, with US knowledge, bin Laden created al-Qaeda (The Base); a conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells spread across 26 or so countries. Washington turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda.' When Mohamed Atta's plane struck the World Trade Centre's North Tower, George W. Bush and the child at the Florida elementary school were discussing her goat. By coincidence, our word 'tragedy' comes from the Greek: for 'goat' tragos plus oide for 'song'. 'Goat-song'. It is highly suitable that this lament, sung in ancient satyr plays, should have been heard again at the exact moment when we were struck by fire from heaven, and a tragedy whose end is nowhere in sight began for us.

© Gore Vidal 2002