Many of us applauded when President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998. That law—passed with broad bi-partisan support—established a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that was required to issue annual reports. The law called for the appointment of an Ambassador-at-Large in the State Department who would make religious freedom a key concern. These initiatives gave great hope to advocates of religious freedom around the world.
In the nearly twenty years since that good law was passed and signed, however, the picture for religious freedom worldwide has grown far darker. Only recently, we saw twenty-one Coptic Christians paraded before cameras on a beach in Libya and then ritually beheaded by Islamist murderers aligned with ISIS.
Family Research Council’s President Tony Perkins and Executive Vice President William G. (Jerry) Boykin recently traveled to New York to address a UN meeting on the topic of Christian persecution. Their voices were clear, their appeal was urgent, but only a sitting President can command as great an audience as a former President can.
So where has Bill Clinton been? Those annual reports initiated by his administration show that Saudi Arabia is one of the worst persecutors on earth. Jews cannot live there. And if Christians from poor countries work there, they labor under appalling conditions. Their secret religious gatherings are broken up by Saudi religious police, the Mutaween. Saudi subjects who convert from Islam are beheaded.
We should also consider the story of Saudi Arabia’s non-cooperation in the war on terror. In the same year in which Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act, 1998, he sent his Vice President, Al Gore, to Saudi Arabia to press Abdullah about al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia was holding Madani al-Tayyib, the finance chief of al Qaeda and we wanted to interrogate him.
In these pre-9/11 years, al Qaeda’s international terrorism was treated as more of a law enforcement issue than as a question of war and peace. With little international press attention, al Qaeda’s leader, Saudi national Osama bin Laden chose that moment in early 1998--when Americans were distracted by the burgeoning Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal--to declare war on the U.S.
The Official 9/11 Commission Report did not overlook the Clinton global initiative to get at Madani al-Tayyib. This man might have unraveled the conspiracy to murder 3,000 Americans years before the attack.
Yet, in spite of the fact that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were later identified as Saudi nationals, the report’s language is factual but oddly dismissive. The report states, on p. 122, that Vice President Gore “thanked” the Saudi prince for his cooperativeness but again pressed for direct access to Madani al Tayyib. “The United States never obtained this access,” reads the report in its spare and modulated tones.
Let’s run that by again: Saudi Arabia was holding the man who might have helped us prevent the mass murder of Americans, and Crown Prince Abdullah refused to let us talk to him.
Why? Several possibilities immediately come to mind:
In 1998, Madani al-Tayyib may already have been dead. He could have died of natural causes, or he might have been put to death by the Saudis.
Or, Tayyib might have been so badly disfigured from torture that he could not receive visitors. Saudi torture techniques are known worldwide, as this first-person account from Canada’s National Post shows.
Or, Madani al-Tayyib might have been enjoying “an obscenely easy exile” as reported about Idi Amin, the murderous cannibal dictator ousted from Uganda.
Finally, and most ominous, close questioning of Madani al-Tayyib may have uncovered contributions by members of the Saudi royal family to Osama bin Laden.
Nor did we see the reaction expected of a former President of the United States. When he saw the Twin Towers collapse on that day of fire and death, that clear cool Tuesday morning in 2001, Bill Clinton did not come forward to say:
“The man whom we sought might have led us to the conspiracy to massacre our fellow Americans. Now, we demand answers from the Saudis.”
Instead, Bill Clinton has turned a blind eye to Saudi religious persecution and Saudi non-cooperation in the war on terror.
The Washington Examiner notes that the Clintons raked in some $48 million in Saudi donations to their various operations. Would speaking out about Madani al-Tayyib jeopardize Bill Clinton’s hefty lecture fees from the Saudis? Would standing up for Jews and Christians hated by the Saudis lead to a cutoff of Saudi “donations” to Clinton enterprises?
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos has managed to stay very quiet about these matters. He’s not questioning the former President about any of this. He was the one who said: “The Clintons have no shame and that’s a great advantage in politics.” With his own record of secret donations to the Clinton foundation, it would seem that Stephanopoulos, too, shares that great advantage.
The real shame would be if we ignored these alarming signs. Are we looking at Clinton cash—or at Saudi hush money?
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are Senior Fellows at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.