The Saudi-Bush Affair. So far, the best rebuke of Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11 comes from Christopher Hitchens. In a virtuoso rant published on Slate.com, Hitchens calls Moore's film "a piece of crap" and then proceeds with a flourish of 50-cent words and deep, subjective analysis aimed at discrediting the film.
For example, Hitchens has led the charge that the 9-11 Commission hasn't made a big deal of the White House arranging for Osama bin Laden's family to leave the country following the September 11 atrocities and; therefore, Moore's exposé is much ado about nothing. However, Hitchens (and USA Today, The New York Times and others who echoed this claim) fails to acknowledge that the White House classified 28 pages of the report that, according to CBS News, pertains to Saudi government and business ties to al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the commission's purpose has been to investigate security lapses that preceded 9-11, not resulted from it. Hitchens also said Richard Clarke, the former White House counter terrorism chief, claims he, and he alone, authorized the Saudi airlift—implying President Bush had nothing to do with it.
Let's start with the commission. Hitchens writes: "Recent developments have not been kind to our Mike. In the interval between Moore's triumph at Cannes and the release of the film in the United States, the 9-11 commission has found nothing to complain of in the timing or arrangement of the flights."
USA Today goes further: "The movie does not point out that the FBI interviewed about 30 of the Saudis before they left the USA and the investigators say no one on board the planes has turned out to be of interest." Then the paper quotes the 9-11 Commission report: "Each of the flights we have studied was investigated by the FBI and dealt with in a professional manner prior to its departure."
The fact is, more than 140 Saudi aristocrats, including two dozen of Osama bin Laden's relatives, fled the country between Sept. 14 and Sept. 24. There were six private planes and many other commercial planes used, and we don't even know if the 9-11 Commission looked at all of these flights. The majority of the Saudis fleeing the country were never even questioned by the FBI. Bin Laden's relatives that were briefly detained were not formally investigated under oath. Reminds me of Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who blew the whistle on the agency's incompetence when monitoring al Qaeda domestically before 9-11, who must be laughing at the vapid meaning of "professional manner" cited in the report.
Meanwhile, in reference to the Saudi flights, Clarke told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 3, 2003: "It was a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House."
Bottom line is, giving Osama bin Laden's relatives special treatment in the days following the 9-11 atrocities is a bona fide Pandora's box for the Bush administration. The more the Bush folks try to defend it, the deeper the hole will get—in my humble opinion.