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Is 'Bandar Bush' above the law?
Saudi ambassador to U.S. and wife linked to suspected Islamic terrorists
Matt Welch
National Post
(Bandar) bin Sultan

LOS ANGELES - Under a draft law being circulated in Washington, D.C., right now, Americans could be stripped of their citizenship if they provide "material support" to groups that carry out "terrorist" activities. Non-citizen residents could be deported on mere suspicion of threatening national security.

Should these odious measures pass, I hereby nominate the first candidates for expulsion from the country: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Princess Haifa al Faisal.

Washington's most senior diplomatic couple -- Bandar has been ambassador for 20 years -- have been ladling out "material support," indirectly or directly or both, to suspected terrorists or their families for years.

Haifa's late father was King Faisal of Saudi Arabia; Faisal's brother Prince Sultan, now Defence Minister, is Bandar's father. The couple have contributed uncounted millions to the 300 Saudi charities that are "suspected of doling out about $4-billion every year to Islamic extremists," according to the Detroit News.

Bandar's father runs one of the largest such charities, which typically fund Wahhabist mosques and madrassas (2,000 in the United States), where children and youths are taught the strain of Islam that has fuelled al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

In the past 10 years, according to the United Nations Security Council, Saudi Arabians have contributed half a billion U.S. dollars directly to al-Qaeda.

Princess Haifa herself gave US$130,000 to a destitute Saudi woman in Virginia, who gave some to a friend, whose husband gave shelter to the Sept. 11 hijackers Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhamzi in San Diego.

Bandar, meanwhile, sees to it that the Saudi embassy provides "top-flight defence lawyers free of charge for any Saudi citizen detained as part of the Justice Department's crackdown on suspected terrorists," according to Newsweek last month.

At Bandar's behest, his government arranged and paid for the airlift of the bin Laden clan from the United States to Saudi Arabia, a week after Osama was fingered in the World Trade Center attacks.

On Sept. 13, 2001, George W. Bush invited Bandar to the White House -- not to press for more liberty and less hate-financing in Saudi Arabia, which is consistently ranked in the lowest 5% of all countries in global-measured freedoms -- but to hug him and smoke cigars (according to a hair-raising profile of Bandar in the March 24 New Yorker).

Why? It helps that Barbara and George H. W. Bush have all but adopted Bandar and Haifa. "The Bushes are like my mother and father," Haifa told The New Yorker. "I know if ever I needed anything, I could go to them." In the May issue of The Atlantic, Robert Baer, a retired CIA agent, wrote that, around the Bush family Kennebunkport, Me., compound, the prince is known as "Bandar Bush."

"To this day," the elder George wrote to The New Yorker, "Bandar is the only person besides the President of the United States that Bar lets smoke in our house, although both have to do it in their room with the door closed."

The Saudi ambassador, by all press accounts, is a charming, intelligent and funny man who knows how to keep a foot (and a face) in two worlds, making himself available for arbitrage. He has many friends in Washington.

It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute money to the American political process. There are loopholes, of course, and Bandar has worked them better than most.

"In 1992, he persuaded King Fahd to donate $20-million to the University of Arkansas' new Center for Middle Eastern Sutides, a gesture of respect for the Arkansas governor who had just been elected president," Baer reported in The Atlantic. "Many of Washington's lobbyists, PR firms, and lawyers live off Saudi money. Just about every Washington think-tank has taken it. So have the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Children's National Medical Center and every presidential library built in the past 30 years."

He's also an enthusiastic player in diplomatic intrigues. When George W. Bush needs to lean on Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan, Bandar hops on his private Airbus. He often carries back-channel messages from Damascus to Cairo, Washington to Tehran. More than once, he has served as the only translator in the room in high-level meetings between Washington and Riyadh.

This enthusiasm, selective discretion and access to a medieval governing system make Bandar an all-too-tempting bagman when a U.S. president feels handcuffed by such pesky irritants as laws, journalists or decency. After Sept. 11, according to The New Yorker, Bush told Bandar that if the United States couldn't make its captured al-Qaeda divulge information, "we'll hand them over to you."

According to Amnesty International documents, known well to the State Department and White House, typical Saudi interrogation methods include "beatings with sticks, electric shocks, cigarette burns and nail-pulling."

When the Reagan administration wanted to circumvent Congressional prohibitions on supplying the Nicaraguan Contras, Bandar helped Oliver North by putting together a US$32-million Saudi funding package. The New Yorker claims his "30 or so locked attaché cases ... contain evidence of the covert operations and secret agreements that Bandar co-ordinated at the behest of King Fahd and the United States, such as records of a Swiss bank account that Bandar had personally set up for the Nicaraguan Contras."

What does Bandar get in return, besides the ambassadorial corps' only State Department-provided security detail (according to The Atlantic) and some fireside stories for his 32-room, $37-million mansion in Aspen, Colo.? A series of remarkable concessions, some of w directly harmed U.S. national security so as to lead to the deaths of U.S. citizens. To name just two:

- Saudis, until recently, enjoyed a "Visa Express" program whereby students could get rubber-stamped temporary visas to the United States at Saudi travel agencies, without talking to an American (three of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers entered the country this way, according to Joel Mowbray, a National Review reporter). In the year after Sept. 11, only 3% of Saudi visa applicants were denied, compared with 25% worldwide, according to Mowbray.

- In several FBI investigations, from the Khobar Towers terrorist attack, to nearly 100 kidnapping cases where Saudi fathers have snatched children from U.S. mothers, the Saudis have been obstructionist, but haven't paid any price except a few congressional and media slaps on the wrist. As Senator Charles Schumer put it, "It seems every time the Saudis are involved, we stop doing a proper investigation."

Bandar and Haifa have enabled terrorists and protected terrorist suspects. They've used their millions and their access to manoeuvre around the law. In the name of national security, it's time for them to go.

Matt Welch is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. His work is archived at www.mattwelch.com.

© Copyright  2003 National Post



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