With friends like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?asks Benny Huang.
Last week we learned that the Saudi government almost certainly played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attack and that our government kept that secret from the public for about fourteen years.
A brief history of the coverup is in order here. In 2002, a joint congressional committee investigated the intelligence failures that led to the attack. That committee found suspicious clues that pointed toward Saudi Arabia—an official “ally” of the United States known for exporting radical Wahhabi Islam across the world. In a 28-page summary, the committee detailed the connections between the 9/11 terrorists and agents of the Saudi government, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a friend of the Bush family. When the 9/11 Commission report was released in July 2004, the 28 pages were still classified and thus not included. Robert Mueller, then-FBI director, pushed hard for the findings to remain under wraps. For the next twelve years they sat in a secret vault in the basement of the US Capitol—until last week when they were finally released with some redactions.
The real hero in this sordid tale is former US Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida). Graham, who chaired the Senate side of the investigation, spent years advocating for the documents’ public release. Graham noted that as late as January 2016 the White House was dragging its heels.
Until the documents were declassified Graham was not able to speak about their contents, though he did promise a “real smoking gun.” He was right. In one FBI memorandum dated July 2, 2002, agents claimed to have found “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.”
… Saudi Arabia is clearly the worst ally we have.
But if Saudi Arabia is the worst, Pakistan must be a close second. After Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s hideout in May 2011, it became startlingly obvious that the Pakistanis had been his willing hosts for about nine years. For six of those years he was living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about a thousand yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy. His home was essentially “drone proof” because it fell under the air defense umbrella surrounding the academy.
Further proof of Pakistani government complicity can be found in the fact that government census takers apparently skipped the bin Laden residence. Could census takers have been warned to leave that house alone?
The Pakistani regime’s actions after the raid are also incriminating. Just days after bin Laden’s death, Pakistan claimed that it had had the compound “under sharp focus” since its supposed construction in 2003. How sharp could their focus have been if bin Laden had continued to live there for years? It also claimed to have once searched the compound in hopes of finding an al Qaeda fugitive but came up empty-handed. It didn’t take long for that story to fall apart. According to satellite imagery the compound did not exist until 2005. It seems that someone in the government spun a hasty lie without realizing that the details could be verified.
Pakistan’s treatment of Dr. Shakil Afridi, a physician who assisted the CIA in confirming bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, has been unconscionable. Rather than giving him a medal, as he deserves, they gave him a trial at which he was deprived of legal counsel. After the cursory guilty verdict they tossed him in prison for what will probably be the remainder of his life. Top Pakistani officials called it “payback” for the bin Laden raid. Dr. Afridi was originally sentenced to 33 years in prison though that sentence was later overturned. He remains in prison on an unrelated murder charge that certainly seems contrived.
Osama bin Laden’s sojourn in Abbottabad was likely not the first time that he benefitted from Pakistani protection. After the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched seventy cruise missiles, at a cost of about $1 million each, against al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The strike amounted to a costly failure because most of the bad guys, including Osama bin Laden, split the scene. A cloud of suspicion has hung over Pakistan’s intelligence service—the ISI—ever since. A very plausible theory is that the US gave the Pakistanis a heads up to expect cruise missiles passing over en route to Afghanistan and then someone within the ISI tipped off bin Laden.
New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall, who spent twelve years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, claims to have inside sources that confirm the plot to save bin Laden’s neck.
… Those are our “friends”—the Pakistanis. They’re as crooked as a corkscrew, though perhaps not as crooked as the Saudis. We really have to learn how to choose better company. Our alliances with these two countries have done us great harm. Have we learned anything?