Following developments this week in which the alleged 20th hijacker of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 claimed in a stated deposition that prominent officials within the Saudi government offered substantial financial support for al Qaeda in the years prior to the plot against targets in New York City and Washington, D.C., renewed calls are emerging for the U.S. government to declassify a chapter of the official 9/11 Commission Report which is thought to detail its conclusions about the role Saudi Arabian higher-ups may or may not have played in those events.
Fifteen of the nineteen identified hijackers were Saudi nationals and questions have long-simmered about what, if any, knowledge Saudi officials may have had about the attack or—more contentiously—if any members of the nation's royal family or intelligence services may have played an active role in financing or enabling it.
According to reporting by Carl Hulse at the New York Times on Thursday:
A still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has taken on an almost mythic quality over the past 13 years — 28 pages that examine crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism.
Now new claims by Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al Qaeda, that he had high-level contact with officials of the Saudi Arabian government in the prelude to Sept. 11 have brought renewed attention to the inquiry’s withheld findings, which lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks have tried unsuccessfully to declassify.
“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and an author of a bipartisan resolution encouraging President Obama to declassify the section. “Let’s put it out there.”
According to the Guardian's Jason Burke, Moussaoui's "new testimony has some largely uncontroversial elements that ring true – and plenty more controversial allegations that do not."
VICE News reports:
In December 2013, House Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to release the pages, part of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001. Despite claims from family members that Obama promised to do so, the portion remains classified.
The Saudi government has always denied culpability and itself urged that the 28 pages be made public, a request that was denied by the Bush administration. However, members of Congress who have seen the pages say they show damning intelligence gathered on Saudi individuals. Made public, the redacted portions could prove that the Bush administration knew, perhaps not of a large scale conspiracy emanating from the royal family, but at least of significant Saudi involvement — even as they drew not so subtle links to 9/11 in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"The recent testimony by Mr. Moussaoui is further reason to declassify the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry report," Jones told VICE News. "The contents of the pages do not pose a threat to national security but deal with relations the Bush administration had before 9/11."
However, as a separate article in the Times, this one by Ben Hubbard and Scott Shane, notes "Mr. Moussaoui’s sensational allegations have drawn attention in part because far more credible figures, including some members of the national 9/11 Commission, believe the Saudi role in the attacks has never been adequately examined."
Those more "credible figures" of the 9/11 Commission include former senators Bob Graham of Florida and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska as well as John Lehman, who previously served as secretary of the U.S. Navy. All three men have signed affidavits as part of an ongoing legal challenge to get that 28-page portion of the commission's report released.
"I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia," wrote Mr. Graham in his statement to the court, which was entered during proceedings on Monday of this week.
According to a separate report by Shane at the Times, filed on Wednesday:
Mr. Kerrey said in the affidavit that it was “fundamentally inaccurate and misleading” to argue, as lawyers for Saudi Arabia have, that the 9/11 Commission exonerated the Saudi government.
The three former officials’ statements did not address Mr. Moussaoui’s testimony.
The 9/11 lawsuit was initially filed in 2002 but has faced years of legal obstacles. It was dismissed in 2005 on the grounds that Saudi Arabia enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” and the dismissal was upheld on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
But the same appellate court later reversed itself, ordering that the lawsuit be reinstated. The Saudi government appealed to the Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case, so it was sent back to Federal District Court in Manhattan. The filing on Monday was in opposition to the latest motion by Saudi Arabia to have the case dismissed.
In a piece posted to his Consortium News site, independent journalist Robert Parry explores how the renewed focus on Saudi Arabia's role in exporting jihadist ideology and funding non-state militant groups is relevant, not just for those interested in the historic events of 9/11, but also for current geopolitical stratagems and conflicts now underway across the Middle East and beyond.
Parry acknowledges that "Moussaoui’s credibility came under immediate attack from the Saudi kingdom" but says that fact that some of his assertions "mesh with accounts from members of the U.S. Congress who have seen a secret portion of the 9/11 report," raises important questions about allegations over Saudi Arabia's continued support for al-Qaeda and similar groups now operating in the region.
Complicating the predicament for Saudi Arabia, writes Parry, "is that, more recently, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms have been identified as backers of Sunni militants fighting in Syria to overthrow the largely secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The major rebel force benefiting from this support is al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
"In other words, the Saudis appear to have continued a covert relationship with al-Qaeda-connected jihadists to the present day."