23 Questions to Bush
“Mr. Bush, who approved the flight of the bin Laden family out of the United States, when all commercial flights were grounded?“
That is one of 23 explosive questions that George W. Bush and his subordinates must face in public testimony, under oath and pain of perjury–that is, if leaders of September 11 family groups get their way.
The question refers to private flights for Saudi royalty, cleared by the White House during the otherwise total civilian flight ban in the days immediately after September 11. Members of the Bin Laden clan, including two of Osama Bin Laden’s many brothers, were allowed to leave the United States before federal investigators had a chance to question them.1
Despite confirmed reports dating back to September 2001, the story of the Bin Laden family airlift was denigrated as urban legend until April, when former White House terror adviser Richard Clarke and Secretary of State Colin Powell both confirmed it.
How many other confirmations of “urban legend” are still in store?
Accountability and the Theory of Luck
“Why has no one in any level of our government been held accountable for the countless failures leading up to and on 9/11?”
The twenty-three questions are from the Family Steering Committee, twelve September 11 relatives who represent many other 9/11 family groups. Since November 2002, they have monitored the 9/11 Commission headed by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean.
Members of the FSC were key lobbyists in gaining an independent investigation of September 11. Mindy Kleinberg, known as one of the four “Jersey Wives,” testified to the Kean Commission during its first public proceedings in early 2003. She alerted the panel to disturbing gaps and contradictions in the government’s story of what happened on September 11. Her comments challenged the idea that all anomalies in the official story are due to incompetence or coincidence. She called that “the theory of luck.”
“Is it luck that aberrant stock trades were not monitored?” Kleinberg asked. She was referring to the widespread reports of possible insider trading in the week before September 11 indicating specific prior knowledge of the attacks. 2
Kleinberg: “Is it luck when 15 visas are awarded based on incomplete forms? Is it luck when Airline Security screenings allow hijackers to board planes with box cutters and pepper spray? Is it luck when Emergency FAA and NORAD protocols are not followed? Is it luck when a national emergency is not reported to top government officials on a timely basis?
“To me luck is something that happens once. When you have this repeated pattern of broken protocols, broken laws, broken communication, one cannot still call it luck. If at some point we don’t look to hold the individuals accountable for not doing their jobs properly then how can we ever expect for terrorists not to get lucky again?”
Since Kleinberg’s testimony the commission has avoided almost any public treatment of the issues she raised.
A Lesson in Reading
The families threw down their challenge to Bush last February, following reports that the Kean Commission had asked Bush and Bill Clinton to testify. Only in May did Bush finally appear before the panel, in a closed session at the Oval Office. No transcript was taken. Bush assented to the hearing on the condition that he testify together with Dick Cheney, who apparently did most of the talking. Based on the handful of public statements about their joint appearance, it seems doubtful that the panel confronted Bush with this question:
“Please explain why you remained at the Sarasota, Florida, Elementary School for a press conference after you had finished listening to the children read, when as a terrorist target, your presence potentially jeopardized the lives of the children?”
Bush, his staff and his Secret Service entourage did indeed pay a visit to the Booker Elementary School, as carried on live television until 9:34 a.m. This was fifty minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center and 29 minutes after 9:05, when Bush was informed of the second plane crash and told, “America is under attack.” After the well-known moment, when his chief of staff whispered into his ear, Bush continued listening to the children read. He remained in the classroom for about 13 minutes. He then prepared and delivered a brief speech to the nation from the school, calling for a moment of silence for the WTC victims at 9:31.
The Pentagon was hit at 9:38.
The White House has never explained this anomaly. Instead, Bush has twice claimed, in speeches made available on the White House website, that he thought the first plane crash (at 8:46 a.m.) was an accident. On hearing news of the crash at 8:55, he says he thought, “That’s one lousy pilot.” Yet the Federal Aviation Administration was aware, since 8:20 at the latest, that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked. The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) was also informed of the hijacking.
And by 8:55 a.m. or shortly after, two additional hijackings were known to be in progress. In the White House, Dick Cheney is known to have by then been on an open line connecting FAA, NORAD and the Secret Service. Yet as the attacks went on, the reaction times of U.S. air defense apparently became worse.
Was no one telling the president all this? Who was acting as commander-in-chief, while Bush listened to “A Girl and Her Pet Goat”? Was there no concern that the school itself would be a target, since it was public knowledge, days in advance, that the president would be there?
Courage to Ask the Obvious
The family leaders have released a series of strongly worded statements blasting the Bush administration for stonewalling the 9/11 investigation. But they have been equally harsh in chastising the Kean Commission for its refusal to examine key evidence. They have called for the immediate resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the commission, pointing to his various conflicts of interest. (See The Rice/Zelikow Connection)
The relatives have shown no reluctance to pursue controversial lines of inquiry in public. It is hard to imagine the commission asking if the Bush administration tried to cut a deal with Osama Bin Laden in advance of the 9/11 attacks, as reported in the European press back in the autumn of 2001.
But the families want an answer: “Did you or any agent of the United States government carry out any negotiations or talks with UBL, an agent of UBL, or al-Qaeda?” (“UBL” is government speak for Osama Bin Laden.)
The Commission has shown no inclination to follow the trail of the Cheney “energy policy meetings” of early 2001, or the Bush administration’s oil-pipeline talks with the Taliban up to July 2001. These touchy subjects might arise if they ever considered this question:
“During that same period, did you or any agent of the United States government carry out any negotiations or talks with any foreign government, its agents, or officials regarding UBL?”
Would the Kean Commission ever wonder out loud if anyone other than Al-Qaeda (or other foreigners) gained anything from the attacks? The families are not afraid to confront this obvious concern:
“Which individuals, governments, agencies, institutions, or groups may have benefited from the attacks of 9/11?”
Although the Kean Commission accepted a deal strictly limiting its access to White House documents concerning advance warnings of a possible terror attack, Kean claimed repeatedly that there is “no smoking gun” to indicate Bush had specific prior knowledge of the attacks. At least, not in the “parts of the documents” Kean has actually been allowed to see.
The families don’t buy that on faith, or on partial evidence. They want specifics:
“As Commander-in-Chief, from May 1, 2001 until September 11, 2001, did you receive any information from any intelligence agency official or agent that UBL was planning to attack this nation on its own soil using airplanes as weapons, targeting New York City landmarks during the week of September 11, 2001 or on the actual day of September 11, 2001?”
Carefully researched, the families’ questions reflect concerns that have caused millions to doubt the official story–and to call for a truly independent investigation: One with subpeona power, testimony under oath, no self-imposed restrictions on allowable lines of inquiry, and a published, uncensored final report.
“Even now we are dealing with the idea of how the [commission] report is going to be, when it’s released,” says Beverly Eckert of the FSC. “The classification process is done by the White House and the intelligence agencies. They are the ones. They are a subject of this report. How can they not have a conflict in classifying and editing it? They can edit at will.”
It is hard to dismiss these concerns as “conspiracy theory” when many Bush administration officials used the most outrageous conspiracy theory of all–the legend that Saddam backed the 9/11 attacks–as pretext for invading Iraq. In that matter as well, the families want government held accountable:
“Do you continue to maintain that Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaeda? What proof do you have of any connection between al- Qaeda and the Hussein regime?”
Bush in the meantime has admitted there was no such connection. But Cheney and members of his circle still say there was.
The FSC questions show that, though their grief and tragedy is great, the families have understood the stakes in the 9/11 disclosure issue are even greater. Getting the truth of 9/11 means more than justice for the victims and well-deserved closure for their relatives.
9/11 was used as a lever to shift the globe. All Americans, and, given the global impact, the people of the world, need to learn the answers that the families demand.
The Sept. 11 family statements, and their lists of questions to a variety of administration members, have been published on the FSC’s website.
1. Shafig bin Laden, Osama’s older brother, had been in Washington on the morning of September 11 for the annual meeting of the Carlyle Group, the fund that until that October tied Bush family interests to the Bin Laden family fortune.
2. In the days before 9/11, unknown traders bought unusually high “put options” in the stock of United Airlines, American Airlines, and the WTC tenants and reinsurers. This meant that the traders expected the prices of these equities to plunge in the short term. The volumes of the purchases may have activated a known CIA real-time tracing program designed to discover suspicious trades (PROMIS). The FBI later claimed it had determined the identities of the traders in the U.S., but says they are in the clear and declines to name them. Many of the known trades were transacted through A.B. Brown. The chairman of that bank, Mayo Shattuck, resigned suddenly on September 12. In the case of one trade, the buyer left $2.5 million uncollected for months after the attacks. Financial authorities in Frankfurt and Tokyo and an intelligence bureau in Israel also reported suspicious trades and initially characterized these as smoking guns that would lead back to the masterminds of 9/11. To our knowledge there has been no public follow-up to these statements since. In London, authorities said they traced the trades back to an unnamed “small airline” that was pursuing a “hedging strategy” (IHT, 9/20/01).