- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

In our war against Islamic fundamentalism, moral compromises are and will be inevitable. And there is ample precedent for such behavior. In World War II, the democracies allied themselves with Josef Stalin against Adolf Hitler. That is why Arthur Koestler wrote in 1944: “This is a war against a total lie in the name of a half truth.”

Presently the Bush administration has accepted the moral compromise, initiated by President Clinton, with Egypt over its government’s obdurate coverup of the suicide crash of EgyptAir Flight 900 on Oct. 31, 1999, Halloween morning, into the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles south of Nantucket.

The glaring Fact of Facts which impels the moral compromise: No Middle East war is possible unless Egypt, militarily the most powerful Arab country, gives the signal. That is why we have given Egypt $35 billion dollars since it signed a so-called peace treaty with Israel in 1978.

Documentation for my moral compromise thesis is to be found in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly in a brilliant piece of journalism about the tragic EgyptAir Flight 900. The author is William Langewiesche, a journalist-pilot, whose father, Wolfgang, was a famous pilot-journalist himself.

William Langewiesche’s conclusion is that the crash was not caused, as Egypt insists to this day, by any mechanical failure of the giant twin-engine Boeing 767 but was the intentional act of an Egyptian pilot. (The more than 800 Boeing 767s in the world’s airline fleet account for more trans-Atlantic flights than all other airliners combined. They have a great safety record).

Thirty-one minutes into the flight, EgyptAir 900 disappeared from the radar screen of the New York Center air controllers. Of the 217 people aboard the flight there were 100 Americans, 89 Egyptians (including 33 army officers), 22 Canadians and a few people of other nationalities.

Since EgyptAir is government-owned, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the White House immediately after the crash and asked the United States to take over the investigation although Egypt had every right to do its own investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), established in 1967 and boasting an admirable track record, took over.

NTSB has one assignment: investigate air accidents and issue safety recommendations. The NTSB did its job. It found the crash had been caused by an EgyptAir pilot who, while alone in the cockpit, disengaged the autopilot, cut the engines and dove the giant plane into the ocean, killing 217 innocent people, all the while muttering, as recorded by the flight tape recorder, an Islamic prayer.

A private contractor was hired by the U.S. Navy to salvage the 767 from a depth of 250 feet. Within days, thanks to remote-controlled submarines, they retrieved the first black box, the cockpit voice recorder, and then the second, the flight data recorder. The transcripts clearly revealed what happened a suicide operation.

The Egyptian government countered with if’s and but’s implying, first, there was a bomb in the lavatory, second, that the crash was due to mechanical failure and, third, for the folks back home, the crash was all a Zionist plot. Evidence? One of the leading NTSB investigators, Bernard Loeb, was Jewish. Q.E.D. At other times, the Egyptian group blamed the crash on stray missiles, ghost airplanes or weather.

The pilot who brought EgyptAir 900 crashing down from 33,000 feet was Gameel al-Batouti, about to reach 60 years and mandatory retirement. He was the cruise-pilot who on the long transoceanic flight would relieve the co-pilot in the right seat. Batouti pressed the copilot to swap seats well ahead of the time for the scheduled crew change. The aircraft commander, Ahmad al-Habashi, excused himself for a visit to the lavoratory, leaving Batouti alone in the cockpit.

The voice recorder has Batouti’s voice softly speaking the Arabic phrase, “Tawakkalt ala Allah,” or, “I rely on God.” Then a whirring is heard: autopilot disengaged and again is heard: “Tawakkalt ala Allah.”

Then, according to the fight-data recorder, the death dive begins: The throttles are shoved back in one thrust to minimum idle, which means the plane loses flying speed and lift and, a second later, the airplane’s elevators, which control pitch, drop, which means the tail goes up and the nose down.

“Apparently, Batouti,” writes Mr. Langewiesche, “had chopped the power and pushed the control forward.” Six times in quick succession Batouti repeats: “Tawakkalt ala Allah” “I rely on God.”

Capt. Habashi, making his way back from the toilet, is heard yelling: “What’s happening? What’s happening?” Batouti replies: “Tawakkalt ala Allah.” The rate of descent has now reached 39,000 feet a minute. Batouti shuts off the fuel, killing both engines and Habashi yells: What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engines?” One hundred seconds later, it was all over.

Did Batouti have terrorist connections? The FBI never found any such evidence, says the writer. Since Sept. 11 and loss of faith in the FBI, who knows or ever will know anything about Batouti’s connections? But in Egypt, they are still coming up with new theories in order to absolve Batouti and, by extension, Arabdom.

Mr. Langewiesche discloses but not in detail that there were White House meetings and phone calls to Jim Hall, the NSTB chairman, “in which concern was expressed about accommodating the Egyptian view, and in which it was implied that there should be no rush to finish a report that inevitably would offend Mubarak.”

So we have our story about EgyptAir 900 and Mr. Mubarak has his story. No problem? I think the FBI, if it gets permission, ought better reopen the Batouti file.

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