|A Promise Of Justice? I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people - and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!
- President George W. Bush, 14 September 2001.
WHEN AN EVENT as large and resonant as the terror attacks of 11 September imprint themselves on the memories of millions, journalism is momentarily rendered speechless. The sheer enormity of the destruction of the World Trade Centre exposed what has been called “a poverty of eloquence” on the part of those whose job it was to describe reality.
Not only were the wordsmiths lost for words, but they were also bereft of explanations. Nowhere was this more evident than on the American television networks, where stunned anchor-people struggled, in real time, to interpret what their fellow citizens, with mounting horror and disbelief, were witnessing through a hundred million television sets.
The only people who seemed equal to the task of putting words to the images were politicians. Almost instantaneously, the US political and security establishment found the phrases that have subsequently come to frame the issue.
The terrorist attacks were described as the opening salvo of a global war between Good and Evil, a war which the United States would prosecute with the utmost severity - no matter what the cost. Those responsible for this outrage, and any who gave them shelter or support, would be pursued to the very ends of the earth. Within days, this cosmic struggle had a code-name: it was called “Infinite Justice”.
But now journalism is beginning to respond to the Bush Administration’s rhetoric. Upon the unreflective surface of the mainstream media monolith, hairline cracks of doubt and disagreement are appearing. Above the patriotic clamour for vengeance, dissenting voices are beginning to be heard.
Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources. Stephen Schwartz writing in the right-wing weekly magazine, The Spectator, points an accusing finger not simply at Osama bin Laden, but also at the fanatical Islamic sect known as the Wahhabis (of which bin Laden is a follower). “Not all Muslims are suicide bombers,” observes Schwartz, “but all suicide bombers are Wahhabis.”
Founded in the 18th Century by the Arabian cleric Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the sect’s teachings were taken up by the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Ibn Saud – who cleverly exploited its austere puritanism in his World War I struggle against what he regarded (encouraged by T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia”) as the decadence of his Turkish overlords.
As Schwartz notes, Wahhabism remains the official creed of the Saudi royal family: “One major question is never asked in American discussions of Arab terrorism: what is the role of Saudi Arabia? The question cannot be asked because American companies depend too much on the continued flow of Saudi oil, while American politicians have become too cosy with the Saudi rulers.”
Just how cosy, is revealed by John Mecklin, a US investigative reporter formerly based in Houston, Texas. Back in the late 1980s, Mecklin was running down leads on the connections between prominent Texans and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International – an institution later implicated in money laundering, arms dealing and, tangentially, in the Iran-Contra ‘arms-for-hostages’ scandal that rocked the Reagan White House.
One of the key figures at the Texas end of Mecklin’s BCCI investigation was businessman James R. Bath. Among Mr Bath’s clients were a number of wealthy Saudi Arabians – including one Salim bin Laden, heir to a vast construction fortune and half-brother to Osama. According to a Time magazine report, James Bath also had a 5% stake in two limited partnerships, Arbusto 79 and Arbusto 80, both controlled by his old Air National Guard buddy, George - eldest son of a former CIA Chief. (Arbusto is Spanish for ‘bush’.)
That son is now President of the United States – and the mortal foe of Osama bin Laden.
Infinite justice indeed.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion of Friday, 28 September 2001.