Of course, a lot of people in the Middle East have a great deal of knowledge and experience in how to make and plant a bomb, a fact of which His Highness cannot be unaware. In the context of the October bombing of the USS Cole, and the whole history of the ongoing terrorist campaign against Western “infidels” sullying the sacred territory of Islam’s holiest sites, the Riyadh incident angered but hardly surprised Western governments. A terrorist campaign seemingly directed at British expatriates in the Saudi kingdom has been going on since the middle of November 2000. On November 18, the first bomb blast went off in the Saudi capital, where a British man Christopher Rodway, 47, an engineer working at the Saudi military hospital was killed by a bomb planted on his automobile. The Saudi authorities reacted by dismissing an offer from Britain for aid in solving the case. A few days later, four more Brits two of them nurses who worked at the same hospital as Rodway were injured in a similar bomb blast: this time, the reaction came from British as well as Saudi officials. The latter assured reporters that the “the incident is a rare case” say what? and authoritatively declared that it “had no political dimension and was primarily a personal affair,” while the British Foreign Office chimed in with a similarly lame theory: “The first thing you think of is a terrorist attack,” an anonymous British diplomat told the London Telegraph, “but the fact that the attacks have both taken place at the Saudi weekend, and both involved British nationals who worked in the same hospital, may steer us towards the theory that it may be some kind of personal motive.”
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Well, yes, the first thing you think is indeed a terrorist attack, but apparently the Saudis weren’t buying it. The next thing we knew, an American was being held in connection with the bombings: one Michael Sedlak, an employee of the Vinnell Corporation more on them later had been arrested and was suspected of ordering the bombings. An American? What’s up with that? As Lewis Carroll put it: “‘Curiouser and curiouser!‘ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”
EXPATRIATES IN WONDERLAND
The authorities (both Saudi and British) were still pushing the “personal grudge” theory hard, at this point, with one Saudi princeling averring that Sedlak “had some problems” with one of the victims: at the same time, a number of foreigners were rounded up and arrested on some vague alcohol-related charges, among them Alexander “Sandy” Mitchell, 44, chief anesthesiologist at a military hospital in Riyadh. The story was put out that some kind of falling out over money related to smuggling was the motive for the murders. When the third bomb blast went off, however, the expatriate community began to suspect that things weren’t quite what they seemed: with Sedlak, the alleged mastermind, in custody, the bomb a seemingly harmless fruit juice can placed on the windshield of a car blinded David Brown, a British employee of Coca Cola, in one eye and blew off several of his fingers. Mr. Brown’s wife was cited in al-Watan as noting that, immediately prior to the attack, a man in Arab dress had followed them: another man, she claimed, had given them “suspicious looks” while they had been shopping in a market that morning.
OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!
But the Saudis were not about to give up on their personal grudge theory: instead, without notice to anyone, they paraded Sandy Mitchell and two others William Sampson, a Canadian, and Raaf Schifter, a Belgian in front of television cameras, where Mitchell and his two friends “confessed” that they had plotted the bombings. Speaking haltingly, their eye movements obviously indicating they were reading from a script, all three men gave detailed accounts of how they blew up their targets using remote controlled devices: but for all the detail, including maps showing the routes taken by their victims, one bit of information was missing: what was their motive? Mitchell said during the eerie broadcast that he was “under orders” to carry out the attacks, but did not say from whom. The Saudis were similarly close-mouthed, and our friend Price Nayef refused to even say whether there would be a trial, noting only that his country would not be “pressured” to spare the death penalty: in accordance with the barbaric strictures of Shari’a (Islamic law), the accused will be publicly beheaded.
A FISHY STORY
The news set off a public firestorm in Britain, especially when the father of Christopher Rodway told the media that he hoped the beheading was carried out. Mitchell’s family and friends rallied around him, and refused to believe that he and two of his friends were behind the vicious car bombings. British diplomats were equally skeptical: only a week before, they had been told that Mitchell and five other Brits were being held for offenses against the Saudi prohibition of alcoholic beverages and “the next thing we see is this man on television apparently confessing to murder,” said one astonished British official. There is something very fishy going on here, and it will take some digging to get to the bottom of it, but please bear with me because the story requires some sense of context, and an ability (or willingness) to do elementary research. No wonder it was completely missed by “mainstream” journalists, who have barely reported it at all, and certainly not in any depth. The whole thing seems shrouded in mystery, enveloped in a Saudi (and British)-generated smokescreen, and the story told by the accused in their shaky, stumbling voices just does not make sense.
THE “TERRORIST” SAMARITAN
For example, Raaf Schifter, emergency coordinator at the King Fahd Hospital for the National Guard, in his staged “confession” said he accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation between Mitchell and Sampson about the bomb plot, and so, to make sure he kept silent they asked him to become complicit and plant the second bomb! Riding in a car right behind the blast vehicle, when the bomb went off Shifter jumped out and helped the wounded hardly behavior one would expect from a terrorist. The whole story stinks to high heaven. As one of Shifter’s friends put it: “It hardly sounds like a master terrorist to spend all day drinking with people then blow them up while you’re driving right behind them.” Indeed.
THE PLOT SICKENS
A common thread binds the first two bombings: the victims were all connected to the various military installations maintained by the Americans and the British: Rodway was an engineer at the Internal Security Hospital in Riyadh; the second attack wounded two nurses who work at the same hospital, and two men who worked for a Saudi firm, the Al-Salam aircraft company, which is half-owned by the Boeing Corporation. Why are Western journalists and, even more obscenely, Western governments standing by and letting those Saudi savages round up and behead a bunch of Westerners who obviously had no connection to the bombings and are being rather crudely set up? Curiouser and curiouser and curiouser still. As the plot thickens, the implications sicken.
THE CLINTONIZATON OF THE US STATE DEPARTMENT
And what about Michael Sedlak? Saudi officials assured Western reporters who bothered to ask that the charges against him, if any, would soon be “clarified” but no such clarification has been forthcoming. Instead, the Saudis have emitted a steady stream of squid-like obfuscation, just like their British and American counterparts. I can’t resist the temptation to quote extensively from this excerpt from a recent State Department daily briefing, in which the subject of Sedlak comes up, because it dramatizes rather vividly the duplicity and cynicism of the US and allied governments, who are quite willing to throw their own people to the Saudi dogs without any qualms or even a slight twitch of conscience. A reporter asks about Sedlak’s status, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher What? Is that Clintonian droid still there? answers that no charges have been filed against Sedlak, he has been visited by consular officials, and is “well” considering that he’s very likely to be beheaded. An unnamed reporter says: “So tell us more, and Boucher replies:
“I think that’s about all we know that we can tell you.
QUESTION: “Do we know how long they can hold him under their laws without charges?”
MR. BOUCHER: “I don’t know. I would have to check on that.”
QUESTION: “In China, I think a senior US diplomat do you want to follow up?”
QUESTION: “Can I ask about one more on Sedlak?: Do you have an age and a hometown?”
MR. BOUCHER: “Probably not. No, I’m afraid I don’t have that, but I’ll see if I can get it for you.”
QUESTION: “Has he expressed to you why he thinks they are taking him in, Richard or to consular officials, I should say?”
MR. BOUCHER: “Again, we just don’t have the information on possible charges that I can give you.”
QUESTION: “Do you know who he worked for in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: “He worked for something called Vinell Corporation, V-i-n-e-l-l.”
QUESTION: “Is that “V”?”
MR. BOUCHER: “‘V’ as in Victor, i-n-e-l-l Corporation.”
QUESTION: “Do you know what they do?”
MR. BOUCHER: “No. That I’m sure you can find out.”
A USEFUL MAN
That Boucher can stand there in front of reporters and tell such bald-faced lies is really a skill that any government will find useful, and that accounts for the continued presence this Clintonian holdover. It is a tribute to that old saw about how the more things change, the more they stay the same especially in the realm of American foreign policy, which has an essential continuity no matter which party is in power. Although there are no pictures to go along with this briefing transcript, one can almost imagine the look of barely-concealed contempt on Boucher’s face as he denied all knowledge of the Vinnell Corporation and added that he was sure they could find out knowing, somehow, that they wouldn’t bother.
It is highly unlikely that a State Department official of Boucher’s rank would be unaware of the Vinnell Corporation, and the essential services it provide for US policy makers. Perhaps he needs to be briefed by Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly CEO of the Halliburton Company, whose subdivision, Brown and Root, has a lucrative contract to maintain military bases in Turkey in alliance with Vinnell. Aside from having extensive contracts in Europe, Vinnell has for twenty years been the subcontractor awarded the job of training the Saudi National Guard, a kind of Praetorian guard for the House of Saud, the ultimate insurer of dynastic power. In a fascinating article, “Mercenaries, Inc.,” by William D. Hartung, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, and author of And Weapons for All, describes the dicey nature of Vinnell’s “business”:
“The story of this obscure American company shows how the U.S. government, even after Ollie North and Iran-contra, still relies on unaccountable private companies to do its dirty work around the world. . . . If anyone believed that the era of covert policymaking by the United States had ended, Vinnell’ s role in Saudi Arabia proves otherwise.”
Founded in 1931, Vinnell started out making a fortune from Los Angeles road construction, but after the war started getting into military work in a major way, with clear connections to US intelligence operations. Their first international contract was with the Chinese Nationalists, who were receiving aid shipments from the US: they later branched out and built a booming business in America’s Asian satraps, constructing huge military airfields in Taiwan, Okinawa, Thailand, Pakistan, and South Vietnam. It was in Vietnam that Vinnell really came into its own as a conduit of US covert policy operations. Hartung points out that the company “won hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business,” and reached a peak of 5,000 employees involved in South Vietnamese army “training” operations. But clearly Vinnell had a more direct role in the conflict: one Pentagon official told the Village Voice, in March 1975, that Vinnell was “our own little mercenary army in Vietnam,” used when they didn’t have the manpower “or because of legal problems.” In an Associated Press interview with Peter Arnett, one Vinnell employee stationed in Riyadh was asked whether he saw himself as a mercenary. His answer: “We are not mercenaries because we are not pulling the triggers. We train people to pull the triggers. Maybe that makes us executive mercenaries.” A MANY-TENTACLED CREATURE
You really need to follow this link to Hartung’s excellent and very informative piece for all the lurid details on the shady “business” engaged in by Vinnell: what is especially revealing is what an enormous fuss was made over the awarding of the Saudi contract to Vinnell. There were charges of a payoff to a middleman, and even hawks like Henry Jackson and John Stennis were up in arms: none other than Les Aspin, then an idealistic young Congressman, conducted an investigation and public hearings, but Vinnell still kept the contract. Vinnell has its tentacles everywhere, and they are especially entwined with the US-backed Saudi regime. Hartung cites “a source with contacts within the Vinnell Corporation” who “indicated that the State Department encouraged Vinnell to bid on the contract to train the Bosnian [Muslim] forces. Vinnell’s parent company, BDM, which bought the firm in 1993 to expand its market niche in military training services, already has a contract to provide 500 translators for NATO peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.”
IT WAS NO ACCIDENT
Vinnell, in short, is no “private” company but an extension of US military and intelligence operations in Saudi Arabia, charged with protecting the Saudi monarchy from its own people so why is one of it’s employees charged with aiding if not masterminding a series of murderous bombings? This is really the question raised by these stunning developments stunning, that is, to those journalists who care to follow up laconic State Department briefings with a little research. The almost complete inability or unwillingness of the media to pursue this story speaks, perhaps, to its famous lack of institutional memory: does anybody even remember the Aspin hearings? But, really, they don’t have to go back that far: they have only to remember the bombing of the Saudi National Guard and adjacent building Vinnell’s office that took place on November 13, 1995, killing five Americans and wounding thirty. Hartung cites the trenchant comment of a retired military officer: “I don’t think it was an accident that it was that office that got bombed. If you wanted to make a political statement about the Saudi regime, you’d single out the National Guard, and if you wanted to make a statement about American involvement, you’d pick the only American contractor involved in training the guard: Vinnell.” But what kind of a statement about American intervention is the Saudi government making when they imprison a Vinnell employee on such dubious grounds?
Given what we know about Vinnell, Michael Sedlak may as well be an American soldier in uniform held hostage not by Islamic fundamentalists but by the Saudi government. This has truly ominous implications, and underscores the enormous significance of the story the “mainstream” media seems to have so far completely missed. For the bizarre attempt to frame and execute Westerners for conducting a terrorist campaign against themselves indicates two possible scenarios, both of which would be disastrous for US policy makers. The first is that the attack on Vinnell, long associated with the Saudi National Guard, is an attack on the National Guard’s commander, Prince Abdullah, King Fahd‘s brother and the presumptive heir to the throne. With the King incapacitated by illness, Abdullah is now in charge or is he?
THE ABDULLAH FACTOR
An alternate and, in my view, far more likely theory is even more ominous for the US, and particularly for the administration of George W. Bush: the jailing of Sedlak and the others couldn’t have even occurred without Prince Abdullah’s knowledge and approval, and this is the first phase of an anti-Western turn by the House of Saud. It is well-known that Abdullah is far less friendly to the West than his elder brother, and there has been speculation that, once in power, he will tell rather than ask the infidels to get out. What better way to hurry along the hoped-for US withdrawal and quash any attempt by Vinnell’s “executive mercenaries” to overthrow him than a campaign scapegoating foreigners for crimes committed by the Osama bin Laden crowd?
THE STRUGGLE FOR THE MIDDLE EAST
This could be the beginning of some bad news for the Bush administration, which is bound to take it very hard: The oil fields of Saudi Arabia have been defended by US troops as if they were they were the personal property of US policy makers and, in an important sense, they are. This administration, famously dominated by Big Oil, makes no distinction between the corporate interest and the national interest, and will not give up the Arabian peninsula without a fight. But whom will they fight? Certainly not the Saudis. An enemy must be invented, an immediate “threat” that must be averted, that requires a massive Western military presence and overrides Abdullah’s long-simmering objections: Saddam Hussein fits the bill just fine. While the eyes of the world are fixed on what is going on in Israel, and the alleged rebuilding of weapons factories in Iraq, the real center of the action is in Riyadh, where the fate of the Middle East is being decided with virtually no press coverage.
HOSTAGE CRISIS (SECOND EDITION)
In Iran, the government held Americans hostage for months while the world watched and the Ayatollah brought down a US President. In Saudi Arabia, today, the same thing is happening, but we hear nary a peep out of our government or even a single journalist. Now, I ask you: what’s up with that?