Questions for the 9/11 Commission
By Margie Burns
Within two weeks after September 11, 2001, with commercial
flights grounded in the United States, the Bush administration
allowed select commercial jets to fly out of the country.
Four manifests from these flights have now been released by
Craig Unger, author of the nonfiction bestseller House
of Bush, House of Saud. These passenger lists are posted
When former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke was
asked about these flights at the commission's last hearing,
he responded that "someone" in the Saudi embassy requested
them and that he refused. The FBI, dominated by the White
House, permitted them.
Among passengers jetting away were some individuals who
would have been "persons of interest" in any traditional investigation,
and others with round-the-clock access to them. A September
13 flight from Lexington KY to London carried fifteen passengers
including eight Saudis; a Las Vegas-to-Switzerland flight
the next day carried seven Saudis; a New York-to-Paris flight
on September 22 carried twelve passengers including four Saudis;
and a Las Vegas-to-Paris flight on September 24 carried 24
passengers including 11 Saudis.
Questions abound: if Saudi royals and other Muslims feared
reprisals, and were allowed to leave for their personal safety,
how could that same rationale have applied to Britons Jack
Rusbridge and Anthony John Stafford, on the flight out of
Lexington, or to US citizen Dean Earl Knect, on the Vegas-Paris
flight? Assuming that diplomatic immunity covers members of
the 20,000-member Saud family, does it also cover their employees
of other nationalities, including British and American? Why
was a CEO of a middle eastern bank on one of these flights,
given the importance of the "money trail" in investigating
terrorism? If allowing the Saudis' servants out of the country
was a humanitarian gesture, why was an Egyptian physicist
Two of these dubious flights departed from Las Vegas, where
at least five of the September 11 suspects visited several
times between May and August 2001. At least one suspect from
each of the four planes hijacked stayed in Las Vegas; all
together, the hijackers made at least six trips there. Yet,
a few days after 9-11, 31 passengers were allowed to fly out
of Vegas, only three or four of them youngsters born in the
1980s or 1990s. One Saudi royal passenger was Prince Turki
bin Faisal, more famous as the head of Saudi Arabia's bloodstained
and much feared intelligence service from 1977 until he was
abruptly fired in August 2001.
Time out. What, exactly, was the longtime head of Saudi
Arabia's secret police doing in the United States, while fifteen
young Saudi professionals were carrying out their attacks?
A brother of Prince Turki's was also on board the Vegas flight;
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister is another brother of theirs.
Why, exactly, did the fired head of Saudi intelligence hotfoot
it over to this country, right after getting the boot? Or
was he in the US when he was fired? His replacement was officially
announced on August 31, 2001. Did Ms. Rice, or anyone in national
security, even know that these persons were in the United
States? Given Prince Turki's documented contacts with Osama
bin Laden and Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence, which
propped up the Taliban, why did the White House let these
What were they doing in Las Vegas, where ringleader Mohamed
Atta and other hijackers had stayed on several visits? When
did these officials and those connected with them go to Las
Vegas, and how long were they there? What reason could the
hijackers have had for trips to Vegas in the first place other
than to rendezvous with higher-ups, given that any extra movement
increased their chances of getting caught? Is the White House
really going to pretend that the skyjackers went to Vegas,
separately and together at different times, some of them devout
Muslims, to fit in a little gambling?
A bit of follow-up: at the end of 2002, Prince Turki became
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Great Britain, succeeding a cultured
and scholarly Saudi whose avocations include writing poetry.
Why did our ally, Great Britain, accept him as Saudi ambassador?
Did the US government oppose his appointment, which gave him
another layer of diplomatic immunity?
Let's hope the Commission can raise these and related questions.
But if the Commission does not ask them, someone else must.
Margie Burns writes freelance in the DC area. She can be
reached at email@example.com.