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.”