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September 06, 2003

Advance warning

If you're using my links page as your de facto bookmarks, which I know some of you do, you might want to go ahead and actually bookmark the pages you like. I have now decided it's too long, and it's time to clear out some of the sites I visit less frequently, because, hey, it's my damn links page and if I want to clear it out, hell if I want to have nothing up there at all but a link to Jack Chick Publications, then by god, that's what I'll do.

It's baaaaack

The Agonist has a link to the original Snopes "Flight of Fancy" page, so once again, you can contrast and compare. Also, there's more here.

Update: according to a poster on Metafilter, via August, Snopes now has a metatag which prohibits Google caching.


September 05, 2003

A small suggestion

Showtime’s 9/11 docudrama, starring Timothy Bottoms as President Bush, premieres this Sunday.

Bottoms also played the President in the short-lived Comedy Central series "That’s My Bush".

Somebody with access to editing equipment and too much time on their hands really needs to (1) record the 9/11 movie, (2) get ahold of some tapes of "That’s My Bush" (I’m guessing these folks could help) and (3) have some big time fun with this.


September 04, 2003

Scroll down

Probably not much tomorrow either, but the Snopes entry down below has been updated extensively.

Friday update--Shorter Snopes, for those of you who don’t feel like scrolling through the unwieldy mess below: here’s the original version of their page on the bin Laden-family-flight thing; here’s the current version. Contrast and compare. Note the changes in the very description of the "rumor" itself, as well as the eradication of any reference to Michael Moore.

UPDATE: Google cache has mysteriously disappeared. Fortunately I archived the page. Some relevant excerpts from the original version:

Claim: Two days after September 11 -- while all other planes were grounded -- a secret flight arranged by George W. Bush flew Osama bin Laden's relatives out of the USA.

Status: False.

Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

BIN LADEN FAMILY ALLOWED TO FLY DURING GROUND STOPPAGE? Michael Moore was on the Daily Show on Comedy Central and alleged that when all the nation's planes were grounded for 3 days after 9/11, the Bush Administration gave permission for a private Saudi jet to visit 5 cities to pick up around 20 members of the bin Laden family, over the objections of the FBI.

Origins: This just goes to show what a little bit of fact flipped onto its side and then spewed by a public figure can do. Yes, a couple of flights arranged by the Saudi government did collect a number of Osama bin Laden's America-based relatives and whisk them to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but this didn't take place during the FAA-imposed ban on air travel in the US. The two flights in question took wing on September 18 and 19, days after the ban on air travel was lifted.


How Michael Moore could have spun all of this into the tale he now spouts is beyond us. Yet spout it he does, as in this excerpt from a 2 January 2002 interview with Al D'Amato and Alan Colmes of the FOX Network:

Why don't we look at the connections between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia, why this country will not really go after where the money probably came from? Why did this country allow the bin Laden jet?

Let me ask you this, Al. Why did this country allow the bin Laden family, two days after -- two days after September 11 — to fly around America and pick up all the bin Laden relatives, about 24 of them, and take them to Europe? Not a single one of them was interrogated by the FBI. Do you think, if your brother was accused of killing somebody, and they couldn't find him, that they might come and talk to you, maybe ask you a few questions? 5

The sum total of the evidence Moore cites is a 30 September 2001 New York Times article, most of which negates what he claims:

In his first interview since the attacks, Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, also said that private planes carrying the kingdom's deputy defense minister and the governor of Mecca, both members of the royal family, were grounded and initially caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet. Both planes, one jumbo jet carrying 100 family members, and the other 40, were eventually allowed to leave when airports reopened and passports were checked.3

Note that these planes were grounded, they were "caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet," and they were not allowed to leave until "airports reopened and passports were checked." This is hardly evidence of "secret flights" taking off "two days" after the attacks "over the objections of the FBI."

Moore seems to have fixated on a single sentence in that article:

The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks.1

Note that this is a single-source item, that it is wrong about the date on which the flight it describes took place, and that even if it were literally true, it still belies Moore's claim that bin Laden family members were ferried out of the country before the FBI had a chance to question them — as do other news accounts...


Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they've an axe to grind, however, and in Moore's case his axe is "the dastardly Republicans and how they're responsible for every ill ever visited upon the USA." In this case, inventing a bin Laden jet that secretly flew out of the country while the rest of us were barred from the skies, and peopling it with folks who were spirited out of the FBI's grasp by a U.S. president intent upon paying back some unnamed (but darkly hinted at) favor, is a handy way of reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans as callous and greedy politicians whose paramount values involve money, not people.

American terror
Most of the roughly 50 supporters of Mr. Hill were white men, some kneeling and praying, others singing "How Great Thou Art." Abortion rights advocates had said they planned to attend the execution and press their cause, but there was not a single person representing that movement. Three protesters said they were there to condemn Mr. Hill's violent act. About 20 others came to oppose the death penalty.

Dan Holman, who said he drove here from Keokuk, Iowa, said Mr. Hill had "raised the standard" for anti-abortion protesters.

"Some day, I hope I will have the courage to be as much as a man as he was," said Mr. Holman, who carried a sign that said: "Dead Doctors Can't Kill."

Other signs read, "Killing Baby Killers Is Justifiable Homicide," and "Extremism in Defense of Life Is Not Extreme."


One quick one

Gosh, I thought this was just some lunatic conspiracy theory. I thought it had been thoroughly debunked by self-styled internet experts and that was the end of the story.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 — Top White House officials personally approved the evacuation of dozens of influential Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, from the United States in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when most flights were still grounded, a former White House adviser said today.


Update: Snopes stands by their initial debunking, because--if I'm getting this right--while bin Laden family members were quickly scooped up by the FBI, and flown around in the U.S. during the air lockdown, they didn't actually leave the country until the restrictions were lifted.

Okay, I've got a meeting and I really have to run, but I'll try to put this as simply as possible: the point is not that those lucky bin Ladens got to fly in airplanes when the rest of us were grounded. The point is that the FBI apparently went out of its way to get them rounded up, contained, and--yes--out of the country as soon as possible, and people want to know why.

Second update: while I was off trying to expand the Tom Tomorrow empire today, Snopes updated again--the story, which was listed as unambiguously "false" this morning is now, if you'll forgive a paraphrase, "kinda false, kinda true." Which is a step in the right direction. One thought, though: I vaguely remember reading this page back when it first went up, and if memory serves, the authors were rather derisive of Michael Moore at the time. I can't verify this, because it's no longer on the page, and there's no "edited to avoid a libel suit and/or personal embarassment" disclaimer. There's no law that says you have to make a note of it every time you update a page, but a site whose purpose is to set the record straight sets a very high bar for itself on matters of honesty and openess.

Third update: Google caches make it hard to rewrite history. In fairness to Snopes, Michael's claim that the FBI was not allowed to interrogate the Saudis is not quite accurate, though if you read the Times article linked above, the interrogations are described as perfunctory at best. In any case, Snopes' original closing paragraph seems really over the top in retrospect:

Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they've an axe to grind, however, and in Moore's case his axe is "the dastardly Republicans and how they're responsible for every ill ever visited upon the USA." In this case, inventing a bin Laden jet that secretly flew out of the country while the rest of us were barred from the skies, and peopling it with folks who were spirited out of the FBI's grasp by a U.S. president intent upon paying back some unnamed (but darkly hinted at) favor, is a handy way of reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans as callous and greedy politicians whose paramount values involve money, not people.

We now know the Saudis were spirited into protective custody, if not out of the country, within a few days of 9/11, and that this was done with White House approval. I'd say neither Michael nor Snopes got the story 100% right, but Michael was a hell of a lot closer in his cynicism than Snopes was in their faux-objectivity.

One more thought: Michael's larger point, of course, is that there's clearly some connection between the Saudis and 9/11, and that the Bush family has heavy ties to the Saudis. Even most warbloggers acknowledge the first half of that, and the second half is simply a matter of public record. You can draw different conclusions from these two facts, but it's increasingly difficult to dispute either.

Okay, one further update: I can't help but contrast the final paragraph of the original version of the page (above) with the current version:

This page should be read for what it is: an analysis of some of the commonly-circulated claims about a complex issue (many of which are factually correct or misleading), not a denial of the larger arc of the story. Clearly bin Laden family members were indeed allowed to leave the U.S., with government approval and assistance, shortly after the September 11 attacks (an event which was reported in major newspapers within days of its occurrence), but issues such as whether the decision to let them leave was appropriate are subjective political issues outside the scope of this page.

See, when Michael says it, he's a crazy truth-distorting axe-grinder. But when much of what he said turns out to be true, suddenly it's "subjective political issues outside of the scope of this page."

Uh huh.


September 03, 2003


Not sure how much blogging will be committed on the premises for the rest of the week--real life is making rude demands on my keyboard time. So it goes.


From the Christian Science Monitor, March, 2003:

WASHINGTON – In his prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost solely on Iraq, President Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11.

Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks. A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was "personally involved" in Sept. 11, about the same figure as a month ago.

Sources knowledgeable about US intelligence say there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding Al Qaeda. Yet the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq and demonstrate seriousness of purpose to Hussein's regime.

"The administration has succeeded in creating a sense that there is some connection [between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein]," says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either "most" or "some" of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

According to Mr. Kull of PIPA, there is a strong correlation between those who see the Sept. 11-Iraq connection and those who support going to war.

In Selma, Ala., firefighter Thomas Wilson supports going to war with Iraq, and brings up Sept. 11 himself, saying we don't know who's already here in the US waiting to attack. When asked what that has to do with Iraq, he replies: "They're all in it together - all of them hate this country." The reason: "prosperity."

Now, of course, we have yet to find any linkage between al Qaeda and Iraq--apart from whatever may be happening there today as a result of our invasion--and the idea that Saddam and Osama conspired together on the 9/11 attacks is dismissed by pretty much everybody. So certainly the administration has quietly dropped this blatantly dishonest propaganda point, yes?

Well, no. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Paul Wolfowitz, which concluded:

Not long ago, a woman named Christy Ferer traveled to Iraq along with the USO. She'd lost her husband Neil Levin at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and she wanted to say thank you to the troops in Baghdad. She wrote a wonderful piece about her trip, and in it, she wondered why our soldiers would want to see her, when they could see the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, movie stars and a model. When the soldiers heard that a trio of Sept. 11 family members were there, she found out why.

Young men and women from across America rushed to the trio, eager to touch them and talk to them. One soldier, a mother of two, told Christy she'd enlisted because of Sept. 11. Another soldier displayed the metal bracelet he wore, engraved with the name of a victim of 9/11. Others came forward with memorabilia from the World Trade Center they carried with them into Baghdad. And when it was Christy's turn to present Gen. Tommy Franks with a piece of steel recovered from the Trade Towers, she saw this great soldier's eyes well up with tears. Then, she watched as they streamed down his face on center stage before 4,000 troops.

To those who think the battle in Iraq is a distraction from the global war against terrorism . . . tell that to our troops.

The alert reader will note the triumph of emotionalism over substance: the grieving 9/11 widow thanking the brave soldiers who themselves are carrying mementos mori from that terrible day, the strong general standing before his troops, unashamed of his tears.

What more evidence do you need?

On a related note, from the NY Times this morning, the story of a woman who has embraced a Sisyphean burden:

HUDSON, Fla., Aug. 29 — Not long after President Bush declared an end to the major fighting in Iraq, Jessica Porter hatched an ambitious plan: She would make a quilt for every family of an American soldier who had died in the war. There were about 150 back then, and Jessica, a resolute 19-year-old, had no doubt that she and a few friends could get the job done.

Miss Porter has been sewing until her hands ache, but she is not nearly fast enough to keep up with the death toll. Troop fatalities have climbed all summer, and this week the number of soldier deaths after May 1, when Mr. Bush said the significant combat was over, surpassed the 138 who were killed fighting the war. Yet Miss Porter has not given up, just as she has not soured on the dangerous, indefinite occupation of Iraq.

"We have to stay there as long as it takes and take care of it once and for all," said Miss Porter, who shares a house in this town north of Tampa with her parents and small mountains of fabric. "No one wants another Sept. 11." (Emphasis added)

Meanwhile--and you'll have to excuse the length of this post but all of these items seem intertwined to me--there's this little bombshell from the current Time magazine describing what happened during the interrogation of terrorist Abu Zubaydah:

Posner elaborates in startling detail how U.S. interrogators used drugs—an unnamed "quick-on, quick-off" painkiller and Sodium Pentothal, the old movie truth serum—in a chemical version of reward and punishment to make Zubaydah talk. When questioning stalled, according to Posner, cia men flew Zubaydah to an Afghan complex fitted out as a fake Saudi jail chamber, where "two Arab-Americans, now with Special Forces," pretending to be Saudi inquisitors, used drugs and threats to scare him into more confessions.

Yet when Zubaydah was confronted by the false Saudis, writes Posner, "his reaction was not fear, but utter relief." Happy to see them, he reeled off telephone numbers for a senior member of the royal family who would, said Zubaydah, "tell you what to do." The man at the other end would be Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a Westernized nephew of King Fahd's and a publisher better known as a racehorse owner. His horse War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby in 2002. To the amazement of the U.S., the numbers proved valid. When the fake inquisitors accused Zubaydah of lying, he responded with a 10-minute monologue laying out the Saudi-Pakistani-bin Laden triangle.

Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden "personally" told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high-ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (isi), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was "blessed by the Saudis."

Zubaydah said he attended a third meeting in Kandahar in 1998 with Turki, senior isi agents and Taliban officials. There Turki promised, writes Posner, that "more Saudi aid would flow to the Taliban, and the Saudis would never ask for bin Laden's extradition, so long as al-Qaeda kept its long-standing promise to direct fundamentalism away from the kingdom." In Posner's stark judgment, the Saudis "effectively had (bin Laden) on their payroll since the start of the decade." Zubaydah told the interrogators that the Saudis regularly sent the funds through three royal-prince intermediaries he named.

The last eight paragraphs of the book set up a final startling development. Those three Saudi princes all perished within days of one another.

I've made the comparison before, but the war in Iraq is looking more and more like the old joke about the drunk who loses his keys in the dark alley but chooses to look for them under the streetlamp because, well, "the light's better here, officer."


A thought for the day from a reader in Atlanta:

I don't know what's on the news ticker where you live, but in Atlanta, WXIA-TV is including this line in its morning scroll under the early news: "Anti-Abortion Activist Paul Hill to be executed today..."

So does that mean that anti-imperialism activist Osama
bin Laden is still being sought for questioning for
alleged involvement in the attacks on the World Trade

Update: according to the NY Times, the "activist" expects to receive his reward in heaven.

"The sooner I am executed ... the sooner I am going to heaven,'' Hill said in a jailhouse interview. "I expect a great reward in heaven. I am looking forward to glory. I don't feel remorse.''

"More people should act as I have acted,'' Hill added.

Sound familiar?



August 31, 2003

It's coming

You can feel it, like a thunderstorm just off the edge of the horizon, when the leaves on the trees curl inward and the air feels charged and the hair stands up on your arm.

Or maybe it's a drumbeat that you hear in the distance, growing louder so slowly that you don't even really notice until suddenly you realize some moron is banging on a snare drum next to your ear: we’ve got to re-elect George W. Bush because of, um, you know. The war on terror! And stuff.

I know: any rational person would look at Bush’s record in the war on terror so far and run screaming to any other candidate. But we’re not talking about rationality here. We’re talking about appeals to the base emotions of fear and anger.

And you can bet Karl Rove's been planning to roll this one out for about one year and eleven months now.

It’s already starting to rear its ugly head on the right wing blogs, which have kind of become the farm team of stupid right wing talking points (or maybe more accurately the farm team’s farm team). And it peers out in this excruciatingly wrong-headed (is there any other kind?) Wall Street Journal editorial about the need to install Ahmed Chalabi as our chosen puppet-leader in Iraq:

Open debate is obviously meaningless to those whose only experience of government is ruthless autocracy. What they think they see is division and fear--and these encourage a return to their earlier perception of American degeneracy. Such a return could have dangerous consequences, including a renewal and extension of terrorist attacks in America. By terrorist attacks, they believe, they will encourage those whose response is to say, "Let's get out of here"--perhaps even procure the election of a new administration dedicated to this policy. (Emphasis added.)

Get it? The terrorists want you to vote Democratic.

There’ll be plenty more of this in the weeks and months ahead. Watch for it.


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