“Saudi Arabia backed the 9/11 attacks, according to a former member of the 9/11 commission. In an interview with the Guardian, John F. Lehman revealed that the commission had found clear evidence of Saudi government employees being part of the support network for the September 11, 2001 attacks.” – Sahash Khanal
Saudi Arabia backed the 9/11 attacks, according to a former member of the 9/11 commission. In an interview with the Guardian, John F. Lehman revealed that the commission had found clear evidence of Saudi government employees being part of the support network for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
John F. Lehman, currently an investment banker working in New York and formerly the U.S. Navy Secretary for the Reagan Administration, was part of the 9/11 commission, a committee of experts put together by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of 9/11 to investigate the incident. Lehman has become the first commission member to publicly contradict the commission’s final report. Published in 2004, the report has no mentions of Saudi Arabia backing 9/11. In the interview, Lehman adds that he believes the Obama Administration should declassify a confidential congressional report on the Saudi’s ties with the 9/11 attacks.
Published in 2004, the 9/11 Commission’s report was largely criticized for its exoneration of Saudi Arabia. The report had found no evidence of collaboration between Riyadh and Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for 9/11. It had promptly concluded the following.
“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.”
“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in their government,” Lehman told the Guardian. He was clearly implying that the commission had made a mistake in not revealing Saudi Arabia’s backing of the 9/11 attacks in their final report.
Purported links between the Arab Monarch and the deadly 9/11 attacks have, from the very beginning, been a subject of scrutiny given that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, including Osama Bin Laden, the notorious linchpin of Al-Qaeda, who, until his death in 2011, remained the most wanted man on Earth. Lehman, however, was clear in stating that he does not believe the Saudi royalty or the country’s senior leadership of having any role in supporting Al-Qaeda or the 9/11 plot.
Lehman was critical of the commission’s chairman, Republican and former governor of New Jersey Tom Kean, and its vice-chairman, Democrat and Indiana’s congressman Lee Hamilton, who have, time and again, cautioned the Obama administration against revealing the full congressional report on the Saudis and the 9/11 attacks, this including a classified section: “the 28 pages.” “The 28 pages” are said to contain “raw, unvetted” material that could potentially tarnish the reputation of innocent people.
In their statements, the chairman and vice-chairman of the commission, far from revealing any knowledge about Saudi Arabia backing the 9/11 attacks, have in fact repeatedly praised them, calling them, “an ally of the United States in combating terrorism.” The commission’s investigation had involved just one Saudi official, Fahad al-Thumairy, a diplomat in the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, in the investigation of the 9/11 plot who was suspected as being part of a support network for two Saudi hijackers who were living in San Diego a year before the attacks. Curiously, Thumairy was deported but was never convicted of any crime.
Lehman, in his interview, dismissed the findings of the investigation, calling them “a game of semantics” and revealing that the commission had identified at least five Saudi government officials who were, or might have been, involved. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence,” he says that could have indicted them.
After a tense visit to Riyadh last month, President Barack had disclosed that he and his administration were contemplating declassifying some or all of “the 28 pages.” This decision has since sparked quite a controversy. Several lawmakers have demanded that the documents be made public so that it can shed light on Saudi Arabia’s backing of 9/11. While others, like CIA director John O. Brennan, have opposed the idea of full disclosure, arguing it contained mostly inaccurate material that could potentially tarnish the reputation of innocent people. – Inquisitr, 13 May 2016
» Sahash Khanal reports from Nepal. He is a student of International Relations at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.
“Saudi Arabia has not faced such a sustained level of criticism from its US ally in decades. … Leading members of both parties in Congress are pushing through [a] bill that would lift sovereign immunity and allow the Saudi leadership to be held responsible in US courts for 9/11….” – Prof Mohamad Bazzi
For years, Saudi Arabia’s leaders have argued that the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks were Saudis is irrelevant. They insist there is no evidence Saudi officials or institutions provided a support network for al-Qaida and its hijackers. For a long time, Americans largely accepted that explanation.
But in recent months, the façade of Saudi Arabia as America’s most important ally in the Arab world and a force for stability in the Middle East has begun to crack. US public anger against Saudi Arabia is rising—over its war in Yemen, its treatment of women and dissidents and the use of its oil wealth to export extremist ideology by building mosques and dispatching preachers throughout the Muslim world. Prodded by some relatives of the 9/11 victims, Americans want a reexamination of whether any Saudi officials played a role in the attacks.
The most important debate today is over a classified 28-page section of a 2002 congressional report on the attacks, which the George W. Bush administration ordered kept secret. President Barack Obama has promised a decision on whether to declassify the material by next month. But the release of these so-called “28 pages” is even more urgent after a former member of the 9/11 Commission, an independent bipartisan panel that investigated the attacks in 2004, told the Guardian this week there was clear evidence that Saudi government employees helped some of the 9/11 hijackers.
“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” said John Lehman, a Republican who served as US navy secretary in the Reagan administration and was among 10 commission members. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudis claimed vindication after the 9/11 commission report concluded it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Osama bin Laden or his al-Qaida terrorist group. (The report also added it “does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaida”.)
The narrow wording left open the possibility that lower-level Saudi government officials could have been involved in diverting funds to al-Qaida or in supporting the hijackers. This is why it’s essential for the Obama administration to declassify and release the 28 pages, even if they might contain “raw and unvetted” data from FBI files. The two leaders of the 9/11 commission—former New Jersey governor Tom Kean and former congressman Lee Hamilton—have long argued that only one Saudi official, a former diplomat in the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, was suspected of helping two of the Saudi hijackers, who lived in San Diego a year before the attacks.
But Lehman 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. And former senator Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida, who was co-chairman of the 2002 congressional panel that investigated 9/11 (and produced the “28 pages”), insists that other Saudi individuals and institutions were complicit in the attacks.
Saudi Arabia has not faced such a sustained level of criticism from its US ally in decades. A group of senators recently introduced a bill to place new restrictions on US weapons sales to the kingdom because of its war in Yemen. Leading members of both parties in Congress are pushing through another bill that would lift sovereign immunity and allow the Saudi leadership to be held responsible in US courts for 9/11 if victims’ families can prove that any Saudi officials played a role in the attacks. In response, Saudi leaders have threatened to sell off up to $750bn in US assets if the law is adopted.
The Saudi threats unleashed a new wave of anger against the House of Saud. The New York Daily News, for example, blared “Royal Scum” in a front-page headline about 9/11 families denouncing the Saudi “blackmail”.
Of course, the United States bears a significant part of the blame for its dysfunctional relationship with Saudi Arabia. Many Washington policymakers value the stability of the Saud regime above all else, and for decades they have been willing to turn a blind eye to the ruling family’s excesses and its support for Wahhabi fanaticism.
For years after 9/11, US officials tried to pressure their allies in Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab regimes to crack down on financing for Islamic militants. But as the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks revealed, the Saudis were reluctant to shut off the flow of cash—millions of dollars a year, often raised during the holy periods of Hajj and Ramadan.
“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a December 2009 cable addressed to US diplomats in the region. Eight years after September 11, she noted that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.
Today, with pressure growing for the release of the redacted 28 pages, the American public deserves a fuller examination of Saudi Arabia’s role in financing terrorism. – The Guardian, 13 May 2016
» Prof Mohamad Bazzi teaches journalism at New York University. He is a former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday. He is writing a book on the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran.