By Medea Benjamin
The following excerpt is adapted from “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection” from O/R Books.
To this day, there is no clarity about the role of the Saudi Arabian government or individual Saudis with close ties to the government in the 9/11 attacks. We know that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. We know that the bin Laden family had close ties to the family of George W. Bush. We know that right after the attack, wealthy Saudis living in the United States frantically contacted the Saudi Embassy in Washington asking to leave because they feared a backlash. Just days after the attack, some 140 Saudis, including about two dozen members of the bin Laden family, were mysteriously spirited out of the country with little questioning by the FBI.
There have been claims that Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite, under the guise of support for Islamic charities, distributed money to Sunni extremists inside the United States in the runup to the Sept. 11 attacks. Omar al-Bayoumi, an alleged Saudi agent living in San Diego who helped two of the hijackers, seemed to have access to large amounts of money from Saudi Arabia. An FBI source identified al-Bayoumi as the person who delivered $400,000 from Saudi Arabia to a mosque in San Diego.
The allegations were bolstered when former al-Qaida operative Zacarias Moussaoui accused prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family of being major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s—allegations that Saudi officials denied.
Many 9/11 family members thought that the 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks would provide answers. The 838-page investigation was completed in December 2002, but the Bush administration refused to release it until after its invasion of Iraq, and refused to declassify a28-page portion of the report that dealt with Saudi Arabia and the financing of the attacks.
Members of Congress were allowed to read the 28 pages in a secure, soundproof facility in the basement of the Capitol, but they were not allowed to take notes, bring any staff, or talk about the content. After reading the 28 pages, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said, “They’re the most consequential pages in the 1,000-page report.” Massie said the section was “shocking” and he had to “stop every couple pages and try to rearrange my understanding of history.”
Former Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the investigation, fought hard to get the section released. “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,” said Graham. He suggested that the Bush and Obama administrations refused to release the information for fear of alienating an influential military and economic partner.
Graham also said the FBI withheld from his commission’s inquiry the fact that the bureau had investigated a Saudi family in Sarasota, Fla., and had found multiple contacts between the Saudi family and the hijackers training nearby, and that the family fled the country just before the attacks. “One thing that irritates me is that the FBI has gone beyond just covering up into what I call aggressive deception,” Graham said.
Many people dispute Graham’s interpretation and insist the Saudi government had no ties to the attacks. They point to a separate congressional study in 2004 by the 9/11 Commission that found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qaida.
This May, however, John Lehman, a Republican who served as U.S. Navy secretary in the Reagan administration and was among the 10 commission members, said there was, indeed, clear evidence that Saudi government employees helped some of the 9/11 hijackers. He said the commission investigated at least five Saudi government officials, including employees of the kingdom’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, who potentially aided some of the hijackers.
On July 15, after 14 years of pressure, a redacted version of the 28 pages was finally declassified. Some reported that it contained no smoking gun and the matter should be put to rest. Graham, on the other hand, said it did indeed confirm Saudi government links to the hijackers and that it should herald the flow of more government-withheld information. The 28 pages dealt mostly with the three hijackers who lived in San Diego, but most of the hijackers lived in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey. Graham contends that there are over 80,000 pages from these investigations that should be released.
The best way to get this information released is through litigation. For over a decade, 9/11 widows have tried to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts but have been blocked by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. A bill called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, would strip immunity from countries potentially involved in acts of terrorism on U.S. soil.
In May the Senate unanimously passed the bill, and Friday—on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—the House followed suit. President Obama vowed to veto it out of concerns over international retribution. Congress threatened to override his veto.
Meanwhile, Saudi officials threatened that if the JASTA bill passed, their government would withdraw $750 billion of Saudi investments in U.S. assets. The Saudi threats unleashed a new wave of anger from 9/11 families, who denounced Saudi blackmail and President Obama’s threatened veto. “We struggle to understand why the U.S. government, led by President Obama, would so willingly drop to its knees and bare its neck to the shiny sword of Saudi extortion,” said an angry Kristen Breitweiser, one of the “Jersey Girls” whose husband died on 9/11. “What has become of our country? America needs elected officials who recognize that U.S. citizens are their constituents—not oil-rich nations that bankroll terrorists.”
No matter what happens with the 9/11 families’ lawsuits, two things are certain: One, more information will certainly come out, sooner or later, about the extent of official Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Two, theWahhabist ideology that defines Saudi Arabia has spawned leaders like the late Osama bin Laden, and terrorist groups like al-Qaida. The 9/11 attacks are a direct outgrowth of this fundamentalist ideology, and for this alone, the Saudi regime should be held accountable.