Blowback in Riyadh
By William Rivers Pitt
Thursday 15 May 2003
The compounds were a holdover from the Saudi oil boom of the 1970s, a place where non-Muslims as well as Saudis seeking distance from the hard social rules in Riyadh could have a drink, a place where their wives could wear a swimsuit to the pool without being covered from head to toe. It was a place where you could be a Westerner in the beating heart of Islam, driving distance from Mecca and Medina. The compounds had names – al Hamra, Vinnell and Eshbiliya – gated and guarded communities for those doing long-term business in the Saudi capital.
At 11:25pm on Monday night, these protected compounds transformed into the newest battleground in George W. Bush's War on Terror. Gunmen clashed with sentries, hands reached through barriers to slap buttons that opened the gates, and three bomb-laden vehicles roared in to explode themselves and their drivers beside the choicest targets they could find. When it was done, at least eight Americans were among the 29 people dead.
Secretary of State Colin Powell rushed out to proclaim that the attacks had the "earmarks of al Qaeda" due to the fact, he said, that the whole thing was staged with multiple impacts brought home by suicide squads. In fact, the evidence of al Qaeda involvement in this attack is almost beyond doubt.
The spokesman for al Qaeda, Thabet bin Qais, was quoted by reporters on May 7 – that is one week ago, for the record - as saying, quite bluntly, that Osama bin Laden's forces were gearing up for a series of attacks. The London-based Al-Majalla magazine received an email the day before the attacks from an al Qaeda operative named Abu Mohammed Ablaj. The email described arms the operatives had stored and martyrdom squads that were about to attack. "Beside targeting the heart of America, among the strategic priorities now is to target and execute operations in the Gulf countries and allies of the United States," Ablaj wrote.
American agents on the ground in Saudi Arabia, upon hearing these warnings, tried in vain to get security beefed up around these soft targets. These pleas were ignored until explosions rocked Riyadh.
George W. Bush, speaking at a rally in Indianapolis to promote his tax cut, said, "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice."
Does this sound familiar? It should.
The Bush administration was warned many weeks before the 9/11 attacks that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were planning to attack prominent American targets with hijacked commercial airplanes. The Egyptian, Israeli, Russian and German intelligence services delivered these warnings in the strongest possible terms. On the home front, FBI officials like Robert Wright, John O'Neill and the officers in the Minnesota branch were screaming that an attack was impending, that we were unprepared, that we were ignoring the blood-obvious facts staring us in the face.
Nothing, but nothing, was done. The explosions came, the bodies dropped, and here we are. This is a microcosm of September 11, right down to the Presidential reaction.
American justice did a bang-up job on the city of Baghdad, and the thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed, maimed and continue even today to die there can attest to the callous recklessness behind our idea of "Doing What Is Right." Unsurprisingly, the war in Iraq did exactly nothing to make our citizens at home or abroad safer. The eight American corpses who were blown sideways out of their homes in Riyadh are evidence enough of that. In fact, the scene at the compounds in Saudi Arabia proves that our war did, in fact, make the world a more dangerous place.
The CIA calls what happened in Riyadh 'blowback.' There will be more, as promised by Thabet bin Qais, who said al Qaeda had reorganized and was planning attacks against the United States on the scale of September 11. The bloodstains and smoking craters in Riyadh indicate that these guys always keep their promises.
We went to war in Iraq on a number of flawed and blatantly incorrect premises. There is no fearful arsenal of mass destruction weapons; there is no liberty for the Iraqi people; there were no terrorists, nor was there ever a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. To fight this war, we drastically scaled back our operations in Afghanistan – the new Bush budget has precisely no dollars set aside to pay for operations and democratization/reconstruction there – and allowed al Qaeda to reassemble in safety. We also alienated the entire global community in the process. We need their help, whether we like it or not, to get the intelligence required to stop these attacks.
"The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice," said George. Will they learn this meaning the way Osama bin Laden, still alive and free after almost two years, has learned it? Will they learn it the way Saddam Hussein, still alive and free as well, has learned it? Thousands and thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians have learned what justice means to George W. Bush. It means a terrible grinding death in the dirt while the real killers get away.
Such a catalog of failure and shame is the Bush administration record to date. They walked away from the Israel/Palestine talks and let that situation turn into a bloody horror. They pointedly ignored a vast array of warnings about impending terror attacks in the summer of 2001 and let that situation turn into the nightmare we currently endure. They fought a war in Afghanistan and walked away before the job was done, allowing the enemy to escape and regroup. They poured vital resources into an Iraq war that did nothing to curb terrorism and did everything to inspire and motivate the terrorists. They passed tax cuts and budgets that steal money from the coffers of Homeland Security – that means cops and fire fighters and emergency response crews – to make sure their wealthy friends and corporate sponsors feel well and truly loved.
September 11 did not remove from the earth the concept of right and wrong. It did not redefine the meaning of the words Lie, Steal and Murder. It did not reinvent reality in the way Bush wishes it did. New York Governor George Pataki, at a pro-Iraq-war rally on April 10, said, "The war started here on Sept. 11, 2001." This statement attempted to directly connect the Iraqi civilians who were getting cluster-bombed with the deaths of those 3,000 who perished on that terrible day. This was a lie, a wretched one, promoted for months by the Bush administration and promulgated by mouthpieces like Pataki.
Now, in Riyadh, we see what we have won. We have been awarded courtside seats at the event of the century. George W. Bush and his handlers believe 9/11 granted them the ability to reinvent America and the world according to their own perverted ultra-conservative views. We will be lucky to live through it. If we are smart, we will get rid of these wretches before too many more bombs go off, before too many more people die, before things go past the point of no return, before America is a burned-out hulk crouching in defeat beside history's wide highway.
William Rivers Pitt email@example.com is a New York Times best-selling author of two books - "War On Iraq" available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," now available from Pluto Press. Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.
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