In July 2016, the US Congress put out the last chapter of its report on the 9/11 attacks. It indicates Saudi officials may have had contacts with some of the hijackers who carried out the attacks where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.
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Narration: September 11, 2001. A series of attacks makes an apocalyptic scene in the heart of the US ...
President George W. Bush characterizes the attacks as “acts of terror” targeting freedom and democracy ...
SOUNDBITE [English] George W. Bush, Former US President: “Good evening, today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist attacks.
I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.”
Narration: On 27 November 2002, a bipartisan commission was formed by Congress to investigate the attacks. Two years later, when the commission’s report was released in July 2004, something was missing that added up to twenty-eight pages, with no convincing reason ...
SOUNDBITE [English] Porter Goss, Former Director of The Central Intelligence Agency:
“They pushed back very hard on the 28 pages and they said, "No, that cannot be classified this time."
Did you happen to ask the FBI director why he would classify.
Quick dead and in a general way and the answer was, "because we said so and it needs to be classified."”
Narration: For the next 12 years the pages remained “classified” and therefore unavailable to the public or the press. They were available to members of Congress one person at a time, to read the document without being allowed to take notes or share them with others. Meanwhile, pressure from some Congressmen and victim families increased on the White House to release the 28 pages. They wanted to know about the truth and the secret behind the attacks. But the Obama Administration, just like its predecessor, refused to publish them.
Amid widespread speculations about the nature of the secret, the one from John F. Lehman. Who sat on the 9/11 commission from 2003 to 2004 attracted a great deal of attention.
According to him, "There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government. The official report on 9/11 should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia."
To Senator Bob Graham, a long-time advocate of declassifying the pages, what all those years of suppression came to was “a carefully orchestrated campaign to protect Saudi ‘friends’ from the public revelation their intimate ties to Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Bob Graham, US Senator at Florida: “The position of the United State government has been to protect Saudi Arabia at virtually every step the judicial process when the United States government was called upon to take a position it has been a position adverse to the interest of the United States citizens seeking justice and protect of the government which in my judgment was the most responsible for that network o-f support.”
Narration: The controversy about Saudi Arabia’s role in attacks surged in May, when the U.S. Senate passed a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Riyadh for the damage caused by the tragic event.
SOUNDBITE [English] Chuck Schumer, US Senator at New York: “Our bill has passed the Senate, the bill that I have sponsored with Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. Our bipartisan bill has passed the Senate, it had a hearing in the House (of Representatives). These pages mean that the bill should pass the House quickly, the President (Barack Obama) should sign it and the families who lost loved ones should go to court and have the right to prove that the Saudi government was complicit and get compensation for that.”
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Narration:In reaction, Saudi Arabia threatened to sell up to 750 billion dollars in US securities and other assets, if it became law. The White House rushed to announce that it would veto the bill, reluctant to broach the subject of Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks. To many observers, it showed how desperate the US government was to cover up the Saudi role and maintain its ties with the Arab kingdom.
The fact is that Saudi Arabia has long managed the oil market to keep prices in the West at affordable levels. Currently, the Saudis have hundreds of billions of dollars invested, in various ways, in the United States. These include stocks, bonds, real estate and currency holdings. Saudi Arabia is also the top purchaser of US weapons, periodically buying as much as $60 billion worth of armaments at a time from US military contractors. This puts Saudi Arabia in a very strong economic position in relation to the United States. A rapid withdrawal of Saudi funds from the US would send the country’s stock market into a tailspin.
However, having bowed to public pressure, the White House agreed to declassify the document in July 2016. But even then, it tried to show that the 28 pages were no big deal.
SOUNDBITE [English] Josh Earnest, Spokesman at White House: “What you'll find when you take a look at the document is that it will confirm what we have been saying for quite some time, which is that this material was investigative material that was reviewed and followed up on by the independent 9/11 Commission that was formed outside of the U.S. government to take a look at the attacks of 9/11. And the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission is, or was as they wrote, they found quote, no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al Qaeda”
Narration: By the same token, CIA Director John O Brennan told the Saudi-owned Arabiya TV that the publication of a classified report would prove that Saudi Arabia didn’t play any role in the 9/11 attacks.
The Brennan’s statement stood in contradiction with earlier reports, blaming the government in Riyadh for supporting the 19 attackers, most of whom with Saudi nationality. To obfuscate matters more, the Saudis also made a U-turn on the publication of the pages, acting cool and innocent.
SOUNDBITE [English] Adel Al- Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs at Saudi Arabia: “We asked that the 28 pages be released in 2002 when they were first classified. His Royal Highness Saud Al Faisal, then foreign minister, came to Washington with a message from then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to President Bush. And in the White House, we said we'd like the 28 pages released so that we can respond to any allegations against us.”
Narration: On July 22, the US Congress finally put out the last chapter of its report that was locked away in the basement of the Capitol for years. It indicates that Saudi officials may have had multiple contacts with some of the hijackers who carried out the coordinated attacks in the US back in 2001 and killed nearly 3,000 people.
The document says: “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government.”
It names individuals including Osama Bassnan and Omar al-Bayoumi who financially supported the hijackers with the money he received from Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the then ambassador to the US. The document also reveals that an unlisted phone number linked closely to Bandar was found in the phone book of al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan. A full reading of the 28 pages indicates that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Though the 9/11 attacks is the most investigated event in the recent history of the US, there are still many questions to be answered: What exactly were the Saudis pursuing in the 9/11 attacks? What roles did Prince Bandar Bin Sultan and his father Prince Sultan Bin Abdolaziz, then Minister of Defense and Aviation, play in the attacks? Was prince Turki al-Faisal aware of the terrorist attacks given the fact that he had tendered his resignation as the director general of Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah, Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency, ten days before the attacks?
The July release of 28 pages from a 2002 congressional inquiry was just the first step toward gaining full transparency on the U.S. government’s investigation of Saudi role to the 9/11 attacks. This is -as Bob Graham puts - “removing the cork from the bottle.” Yet, there is a significant amount of information to be uncorked.