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More Questions for the 9/11 Commission
April 8, 2004
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 online.

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 also aboard?

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 persons leave?

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

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