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Context of 'December 20, 2001: Bush Says He Did Not Feel ‘Sense of Urgency’ to Deal with Bin Laden Before 9/11'

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In a post-9/11 indictment, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will claim that one of bin Laden’s brothers is arrested at this time along with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law (see December 16, 1994-May 1995), and Mohammed Loay Bayazid, believed to be an al-Qaeda financier (see December 16, 1994). No contemporary accounts mention this third arrest along with the others, and the name of the brother is not known for certain. (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003, pp. 24 pdf file) However, in a 2006 book, counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will write, “A travelling companion [of Khalifa and Bayazid] who also was briefly detained was Salem bin Laden, brother of Osama.” (Emerson 2006, pp. 331) This arrest was hinted in a 2003 blog article about Khalifa, which said that Khalifa and Bayazid was arrested with “A brother of Osama bin Laden, whom the FBI declines to name. It’s not entirely clear why the FBI would decline to name this individual, but then the bin Laden family is extremely wealthy and has powerful friends in the US government even to this day.” (Rotten (.com) 12/25/2003) Note this cannot be the same Salem bin Laden who had business ties to future President George W. Bush, because that brother to Osama died in plane crash in Texas in 1988 (see 1988). Nothing more is known about the apparent second brother of Osama named Salem (Osama has dozens of brothers), or his detention in the US.

Former President George H. W. Bush meets with the bin Laden family on behalf of the Carlyle Group. The meeting takes place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (MacKay 10/7/2001)

Former President George H. W. Bush, along with former First Lady Barbara Bush, leaves Washington, DC, by private jet, bound for a speaking engagement in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Bushes spent the previous night at the White House. They had flown to Washington the previous day to attend several meetings and a dinner. One of the meetings attended by the former president was the annual investor conference of the Carlyle Group, which was also attended by Shafig bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden’s brothers (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are later informed of the WTC attacks while on their jet. Due to all planes being grounded, they have to land in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (CBS News 11/1/2002; CNN 10/25/2003; Bush 10/27/2003)

The Carlyle Group is a large private-equity investment firm, closely associated with officials of the Bush and Reagan administrations, and has considerable ties to Saudi oil money, including ties to the bin Laden family. This morning it is holding its annual investor conference at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, DC. Among the guests of honor is investor Shafig bin Laden, brother of Osama bin Laden. (Vulliamy 6/16/2002; Briody 5/8/2003) Former President George H. W. Bush, who makes speeches on behalf of the Carlyle Group and is also senior adviser to its Asian Partners fund (Golden, Bandler, and Walker 9/27/2001) , attended the conference the previous day, but is not there today (see (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Schneider 3/16/2003)

In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says that, in contrast to the period before 9/11, “there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11” about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States. Before the attacks: “I was not on point, but I knew [Osama bin Laden] was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the previous bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.” Author Philip Shenon will comment that this interview is something Bush “almost certainly regretted later.” Shenon will also comment on who should have imparted such a sense of urgency, “If anyone on the White House staff had responsibility for making Bush’s blood ‘boil’ that summer about Osama bin Laden, it was [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice.” (Gellman 5/17/2002; Shenon 2008, pp. 154-155)


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