by Dusty Sklar
AT THE END of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt forged an alliance with Saudi Arabia that guaranteed that the U.S. would help the Saudis feel more secure in a highly unstable part of the world. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni-dominated state, and its chief rival is Iran, a Shiite country. Through the 1980s, the U.S. provided assistance in a giant military buildup of airfields, ports, and bases. The Saudis became “more and more dependent on the U.S. military for any really serious contingency,” says Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The U.S., in turn, has regarded Saudi Arabia as a stable ally in the Middle East, and U.S. security and policy concerns have consistently trumped concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia — although the Obama administration has expressed interest in seeing changes regarding the Saudi treatment of religious minorities and women.
The relationship has been less than tranquil lately. America looks askance at the Saudi intervention in Yemen, a country overtaken by opposing forces in a civil war. Under the reign of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched military operations to help bring back the former Yemeni government.
For their part, the Saudis are upset with what they perceive as Obama’s weakness regarding Syria. They were not pleased with the United States’ nuclear arrangement with Iran. Obama met with the Saudi king recently in Riyadh, urging him to engage in diplomacy with Iran and to rely less on the United States for security. Obama also criticized the regime’s practice of beheading opponents. The meeting did not contribute to a lessening of tensions between the two countries.
Right now, though, the conflict taking precedence over all these grievances is pending legislation, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, composed by Senators Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York) and John Cornyn (Republican, Texas). It seeks to amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. It would make it possible for victims of 9/11 and other attacks in the United States to sue other countries if it was found that they’ve been involved in terrorism or supplied material support for terrorism. The legislation has broad bipartisan support.
American foreign policy in the Middle East is being reexamined by many members of Congress. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut refers to the growing domestic oil production in the U.S., which has made the country less dependent on the Saudis. “Very bluntly,” he says, “they no longer have us in an energy straitjacket,” noting that the American government is now more aware of their historical funding of extremist groups. “Americans are also increasingly concerned about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record,” he adds.
SAUDI ARABIA has been suspected of culpability in Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Families of 9-11 victims have urged President Obama to declassify and release a 28-page portion of a congressional report on possible links between the Saudi government and 9/11. The report was issued in 2002, but the Bush administration chose not to publicize it in the interest of national security. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission decided that there was “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks.
Obama is strongly opposed to Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which, he said, would mean “opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries.” Administration officials argue that it would put Americans overseas in legal danger if other countries were to retaliate and take away their immunity in foreign courts. The view of many people is that Obama is threatening to veto the bill because he fears it could invite lawsuits against American officials over drone strikes and other deadly acts occasioned by their war on terror.
For its part, the Saudi Arabian government has said that it will sell off $750 billion in U. S. Treasury securities and other assets if the bill holding them responsible for 9/11 should be passed. Many of the 9/11 families view that as blackmail and urge Obama not to cave in.
Former Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired a joint congressional investigation into the attacks, said: “I think the action by Saudi Arabia is reprehensible and also very revealing.” He believes they point suspicion at the Saudis. “They are so fearful of what would emerge if there were to be a full trial. That says something about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11.”
Graham is not pleased with Obama’s stance. “I think it’s even more objectionable,” he said, “that the U. S. government has been supporting Saudi Arabia and erecting roadblocks to the passage of the legislation.”
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders disagree with Obama on this issue. “Obviously, we’ve got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price,” Clinton said, “and we also have to be aware of any consequences that might affect Americans, either military or civilian or our nation.”
Sanders issued the following statement: “I support legislation by Senator Chuck Schumer that would allow Americans, including the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, to use U.S. courts to determine if foreign entities are culpable for terrorist attacks in the United States and seek restitution for the damages and lives lost.”
NOW IT SEEMS that the Obama administration, under pressure from many groups, may soon release at least part of the 28-page secret chapter from the congressional inquiry into 9/11. It may reveal possible Saudi connections to the attackers.
The documents have been kept under tight security in the basement of the Capitol and are said to contain information into “specific sources of foreign support for some of the September ll hijackers while they were in the United States.” Bob Graham says that he learned from an administration official that intelligence officials will decide within the next few weeks whether to release at least parts of the documents. “I hope that decision is to honor the American people and make it available,” Graham says. “The most important unanswered question of 9/11 is, did these nintteen people conduct this very sophisticated plot alone, or were they supported?”
Tim Roemer, the former Democratic Indiana congressman, was a member of both the joint congressional inquiry and the 9/11 Commission. According to AP, he has read the secret chapter three times and sees the 28-page document as a “preliminary police report. There were clues,” he declares. “There were allegations. There were witness reports. There was evidence about the hijackers, about people they met with — all kinds of different things that the 9/11 Commission was then tasked with reviewing and investigating.” Roemer raises the issue of an official at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, Fahad al Thumairy, who may have helped two of the hijackers find housing and transportation in the area. “Saudi was a fertile ground for fundraising for al-Qaida,” says Roemer. “Some of these issues continue to be problems today. That’s why we need to continue to get to the bottom of this.”
Another U.S. document, quietly declassified in July 2015, reveals that an envelope of the Saudi embassy in Washington that was found in Pakistan contained a flight certificate of an Al-Qaeda operative, Ghassan al-Sharbi, who was taking flight lessons alongside some of the 9-11 hijackers. The document, dubbed “Document 17,” was revealed and published by activist Brian McGlinchey. “The envelope points to the fundamental question hanging over us today: To what extent was the 9/11 plot facilitated by individuals at the highest level of the Saudi government?” McGlinchey asks.
The Saudi government protests that it has been “wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity” and declares that it would be pleased at the release of the 28 pages, since this would “allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner.” Furthermore, Saudi officials remind Americans, Riyadh is currently trying to clamp down on its funding channels and is battling with extremists.
The twenty-eight pages in question were withheld from the 838-page report at the advice of President George W. Bush. He feared that their release might divulge intelligence sources and methods. Some people believed he was protecting America’s diplomatic relations with the Saudis. Both Presidents Bush, it will also be noted, maintained close personal ties with the Saudi royal family, the House of Saud, which translated into over $1 billion in U.S. investments and contracts.
Dusty Sklar is a contributing writer to our magazine and the author of Gods and Beasts: The Nazis and the Occult, as well as numerous stories and articles.