I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this article because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people. I ultimately decided to write it because I thought it was interesting enough that it may make you think a little deeper about the events happening around you…especially if you found yourself doing a lot of deep thinking yesterday.
I’m not here to say that Bush did 9/11, or that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, or anything related to the popular conspiracy theories that the 9/11 attack was an elaborate set up by the US government to justify invading the Middle East. What I am here to do is tell you about a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support and has been publicly supported by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But as of two days ago this bill will be vetoed by President Barack Obama. We have been well aware for years that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. But fifteen years after those attacks, this bill would now allow the victims and their families to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a US ally, for the role it may have played in supporting the hijackers who flew two planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.
I, like most of you, was very young when 9/11 happened. I was 7 years old in 2001. Many of you probably have stories of being pulled out from school, or seeing it happen to your friends, maybe having your teachers tell you, hearing from your siblings, friends, relatives etc. Where were you when you first heard about 9/11?
I don’t remember hearing anything about it while at school, my only recollection was walking home from the bus and seeing my Mom in front of the TV using the VCR to record the news onto a cassette tape. Maybe she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and wanted to record it. (I’m gonna try and find that tape next time I go home)
So why after 15 years is Congress re-visiting 9/11 now?
The bill would make it easier for the victims and families of 9/11 to sue official members of a state government if they played a direct role in assisting or abetting the 9/11 hijackers. The bill would remove what’s called “sovereign immunity” – the idea that a state government cannot be held legally responsible for any wrongdoing and is thus protected from civil suits or criminal prosecution.
This bill is coming on the heels of recent calls on the government to declassify the final 28 pages from the 2002 Joint Inquiry findings into the causes of the attack, which were ultimately left out of the 9/11 Commission report. Published in 2004, the 9/11 Commission was the final report from the congressional investigation into the causes and events leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center. The report is almost 600 pages long but does not include the final 28 pages from the chapter of the Joint Inquiry findings titled “Part 4: Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” The Bush administration sealed the pages and said that their publication would damage American intelligence operations and reveal “sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror.”
Anyone in Congress can actually read the 28 pages, but they must go through a difficult process to get clearance from the House Intelligence Committee to do so. After obtaining permission, they can read the 28 pages inside a highly secure, soundproof facility in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. They are not allowed to bring support staff with them, cannot take any notes, and are observed closely while reading them.
“It’s so secret that I had to get all of my security clearances and go into the bowels of Congress with someone looking over my shoulder.” – Thomas Keane, Chairman of 9/11 commission final report
But from those who have read the documents, which has not been many apparently, there has been an ongoing push to declassify these last pages of the 9/11 report for several years. They claim that there is no information in them that would damage national security. Senator Richard Shelby, speaking at the time as ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, said, “I went back and read those pages thoroughly. My judgment is that 95 percent of that information could be declassified. Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina who has read the missing pages also contended, “There’s nothing in it about national security.”
So if there really is nothing damaging to national security in these sealed 28 pages, what is actually in them and why won’t the government release them to the public?
According to former Florida Senator Bob Graham and others:
“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.”
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D) – Massachusetts, said
“Those twenty-eight pages tell a story that has been completely removed from the 9/11 Report,” Lynch maintains. The evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 hijacking is “very disturbing,” and that “the real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal-family level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through.”
Rep. Thomas Massie (R) – Kentucky said in a 2014 press conference
“I had to stop every two or three pages and rearrange my perception of history.”
15 of the 19 hijackers in 9/11 were in fact citizens of Saudi Arabia.
If the final 28 pages are declassified by the Obama administration and made public, then it could be used as evidence in numerous on-going lawsuits filed by the families of 9/11 victims. These suits target Saudi charities, banks, and individuals. The plaintiffs believe that the withheld 28 pages will support their allegation that the 9/11 hijackers received direct assistance from Saudi government officials in the United States. President Obama has twice promised to release the 28 pages, but so far has failed to do so.
In 2005, the government of Saudi Arabia was dismissed from the suits on the grounds of sovereign immunity. But in July 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the Kingdom as a defendant. Now Congress is coming together on a bill to codify dismissing a “sovereign immunity” defense from these issues entirely.
Barack Obama landed in Saudi Arabia yesterday for his last official state visit to the kingdom. The meeting was to primarily discuss the nuclear deal with Iran but there was much speculation that the 9/11 bill and 28 pages would be brought up. Apparently it was not.
So despite having the support of virtually all Congressional Democrats, as well as BOTH Democratic Presidential candidates, what is President Obama’s reason for not supporting this bill aiding the lawsuits of 9/11 victims and ultimately not declassifying the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report?
On Monday April 18th, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had this to say on the issue:
“Given the long list of concerns I have expressed … it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as it’s currently drafted.”
“It could put the United States and our taxpayers and our service members and our diplomats at significant risk if other countries were to adopt a similar law”
“The whole notion of sovereign immunity is at stake.”
For the White House, the primary issue is not even the 28 pages, but the legal implications of signing this bill which would remove sovereign immunity. All those who oppose the bill believe that if the US passes this law then other countries could pass similar laws which would put US government officials at risk of being sued for having ties to terrorist attacks against foreign governments.
This is perhaps an unsurprising concern given that the United States could be considered one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism. In the last 50 years, there is an abundance of documented proof that the US, through the CIA, has directly supported government coups, terrorist groups and paramilitaries in over 35 countries from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The highest profile of these was the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration which revealed that the US was funding “death squads” in Nicaragua. A much more comprehensive summary and analysis of the CIA’s misadventures around the world can be found here (highly recommend giving the table of contents a skim). On that note, what exactly is the CIA doing right now in Syria?
So understandably, the United States government does not want to open Pandora’s box of litigation and possibly be held accountable in court for its own part in inciting acts of terrorism abroad. Just like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
However, the threat of future lawsuits is not the only deterrent that’s keeping the Obama administration from signing off on the bill. Last week, Saudi Arabia threatened to sell off close to $1 trillion in US assets if the bill was passed and signed into law.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir came to Washington himself to personally deliver the message that if the US passed this bill, it would sell off $750 billion worth of US Treasury securities and other assets before they could be frozen by an American court.
Several economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through on that threat, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. In the same press conference, White House press secretary Earnest said
“A country with a modern and large economy like Saudi Arabia would not benefit from a destabilized global financial market, and neither would the United States”
But even if the Saudis don’t respond by selling U.S. treasuries, they have other ways to harm the United States. Putting aside their most powerful weapon, the price of oil, Saudi Arabia has largely been paying for America’s efforts to train “moderate” rebels in Syria in their civil war against Bashar al-Assad’s government. They could curtail that support and instead funnel all their money to al-Qaeda backed groups like the Al-Nusra Front, although there are reports that this is already happening. Regardless, without Saudi support the United States has little hope of brokering a political deal that begins to end Syria’s catastrophic five year civil war.
So given all of these seemingly legitimate concerns from the Obama administration about the bill, why have a majority of the Democrats in Congress and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders bucked Obama’s wishes and pushed for the bill?
Given that this story has only been around for a week, we can only assume that they truly have placed the needs of the 9/11 victims and their families over the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and the risk of potential litigation against the United States. It is again worth noting that Sanders and Clinton came out in support of the bill, the day before the New York primary. But only Sanders has called on Obama to declassify the remaining 28 pages from the 9/11 Commission. We’ll see how opinions change now that Obama has said he will veto it. Currently it doesn’t seem possible to support the bill but not de-classifying the 28 pages or vice versa, the two remain inextricably tied to each other.
So beyond all the politicking happening behind the scenes for who does and doesn’t support the bill/declassifying the pages, what actually is the specific connection between the Saudi Arabian government and the 9/11 hijackers?
Here is what the 9/11 Commission report concluded –
“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of Al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization”
The fifteen year long secret of how Saudi Arabia was involved in 9/11 goes beyond locking up 28 pages in a vault in the US Capitol basement. Federal investigations were cut short, and co-conspirators were even left off the hook.
The story in the 28 pages picks up with the arrival of two young Saudis in Los Angeles in January 2000 – Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. These two were the first wave of the 9/11 hijackers – neither of them spoke English well or had much money. Given this, the task of learning how to pilot a Boeing jetliner on their own seems…improbable.
Two weeks after their arrival, a man named Omar al-Bayoumi met with the two at a halal restaurant in Culver City. Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi aviation-services company Dallah Avco.
Bayoumi Hazmi Mihidhar
Before meeting with Hazmi and Mihidhar, Bayoumi spent about an hour meeting with an official from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Los Angeles – Fahad al-Thumairy. In 2003, Thumairy was stripped of his diplomatic visa and deported because of suspected ties to terrorists.
After meeting with Thumairy, Bayoumi met the two hijackers-to-be and invited them to move to San Diego, where he set them up in his same apartment complex. Because the two had no checking account, he paid their security deposit and rent. He also introduced them to other members of the local Arab community, including the imam of a local mosque, Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki later became the most prominent spokesperson for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
Bayoumi was in frequent contact with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and with the consulate in Los Angeles. After two months, Bayoumi’s wife began receiving monthly stipends of around $2,000. By September 11th, 2001, $130,000 was transferred into Bayoumi’s wife’s bank account. With the money, Bayoumi was able to obtain Social Security cards for the two hijackers and arranged flying lessons at flight schools in Florida.
The stipends came in the form of cashier’s checks, purchased from Washington’s Riggs Bank by Princess Haifa bint Faisal. She is the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States – Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Federal investigators in the 9/11 task force said virtually every road led back to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. Yet time and time again, they were called off from pursuing leads because of “diplomatic immunity.”
One FBI investigator complained that instead of investigating Bandar, the US government protected him. Literally. He said the State Department assigned a security detail to help guard Bandar not only at the embassy, but also at his mansion in McLean, Virginia.
Former FBI agent John Guandolo, who worked 9/11 and related al Qaeda cases out of the bureau’s Washington field office, says Bandar should have been a key suspect in the 9/11 probe.
“The Saudi ambassador funded two of the 9/11 hijackers through a third party,” Guandolo said. “He should be treated as a terrorist suspect, as should other members of the Saudi elite class who the US government knows are currently funding the global jihad.”
The source added that the task force wanted to jail a number of embassy employees, “but the embassy complained to the US attorney” and their diplomatic visas were revoked as a compromise. “The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”
What’s more, Rossini said the bureau was told no subpoenas could be served to produce evidence tying the departing Saudi suspects to the 9/11 attacks. The FBI, in turn, iced local investigations that led back to the Saudis. Bandar ultimately was ousted from his role by the new Saudi King Salman in 2013.
Those who have read the 28 pages believe they contain “incontrovertible evidence” that Prince Bandar, along with other Saudi government officials and members of the Saudi family, were directly linked to funding the hijackers in 9/11. Bandar’s father was Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who became the Crown prince and heir apparent to the Saudi throne in 2005 until his death in 2011.
What information exists in the classified 28 pages which may implicate what knowledge the crown prince or even then King Abdullah himself had of one of their own funneling money to two of the hijackers? Do we really believe that one of the most sophisticated terror attacks in world history was autonomously planned and executed by Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization with no help?
Fifteen years after 9/11, it’s time to finally unmask the true perpetrators of our nation’s worst terrorist attack. The current support in Congress and in the Presidential campaign is a sign that we believe the victims of 9/11 and their families finally deserve justice for the crimes committed by government officials of a declared United States ally. Although Obama is currently threatening to veto the bill in its current form, maybe he will warm up to de-classifying the sealed 9/11 pages and allow some version of the bill to go through.
But how will our current Presidential candidates navigate these dangerous waters with one of our most complicated allies? Given one candidates particular history with the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, is it fair to also begin questioning what role Saudi Arabia played there as well?
Ultimately the issue boils down to this – how likely is it that the Justice for the Sponsors of Terrorism Act and the de-classification of the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission would irreparably damage our relationship with the Saudi Kingdom or at least threaten even more global instability?
We will find out soon enough.