28 Pages Raise 'Scores of Troubling Questions' on US-Saudi Ties
Just-released documents 'point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia,' but White House says its assessment has not changed
The just-released 28 pages of a 2002 congressional report into Saudi Arabia's possible ties to the 9/11 hijackers have stirred speculation about the U.S. government's continued relationship with the Gulf kingdom.
Amnesty International criticized the White House's statement that the pages, hidden from public view for 13 years, have not changed the government's assessment that "there's no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaeda."
"We stand with survivors of this crime against humanity: They deserve justice and the whole truth," the human rights group tweeted.
As Murtaza Hussein wrote for The Intercept, the 28 pages "redacted in parts, detail circumstantial evidence of ties among Saudi government officials, intelligence agents, and several of the hijackers," including by providing financial and housing assistance to those living in the U.S.
The report also offers new information about the connections between alleged 9/11 masterminds and members of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador to the U.S. and close friend of the Bush family. The report details money transfers of at least $15,000 from Bandar's bank account in Washington to a suspected Saudi government spy, as well as phone logs between Bandar and suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah.
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who led the charge to publish the documents, said the findings "point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia," and Congressman Rick Nolan, who also pushed for the pages to be released, said they "confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong."
Among the new revelations is the fact that Saudi officials apparently refused to cooperate with U.S. investigators seeking information about the attack.
As the report notes, "In testimony and interviews, a number of FBI agents and CIA officers complained to the [inquiry] about a lack of Saudi cooperation in terrorism investigations both before and after the September 11th attacks."
Referencing a May 1996 Director of Central Intelligence memo, the report cited agency beliefs that "the Saudis had stopped providing background information or other assistance on Bin Ladin because Bin Ladin had 'too much information about official Saudi dealings with Islamic extremists in the 1980s for Riyadh to deliver him into U.S. hands.'"
The Guardian's Philip Shenon added:
Although much of the evidence in the report is described as preliminary and was later discounted or dismissed by the independent 9/11 commission, the congressional report will raise new concern that U.S. officials, determined to preserve Washington's diplomatic and financial ties to the Saudi Arabia, attempted to cover up evidence that might have implicated the Saudis.
And national security expert Marcy Wheeler noted:
One really damning detail that I didn't know, however...is that it wasn't until the Joint Inquiry focused on the Saudis that FBI established task force to look into Saudi Arabia's role in the attack.
That means over a year elapsed before the FBI really started investigating this angle. It goes on to reveal FBI was not focusing any counterintelligence resources on Saudis before 9/11, because "FBI received 'no reporting from any member of the Intelligence Community' that there was a [redacted] presence in the United States." A very heavily redacted passage implies that's because they were an "ally" [scare quotes original].
Saudi Arabia seemed to welcome the documents' release.
"We hope the release of these pages will clear up, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s actions, intentions, or long-term friendship with the United States," Ambassador to the U.S. Abdullah al-Saud said on Friday.
But the advocacy group 28pages.org, which demanded the release of the documents for years, wrote on Twitter that the "fight for transparency isn't over: The 28 pages prompt scores of troubling questions and the people of the world deserve answers."
The group later added:
Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir on the 28 pages: "The matter is now finished."
Let's just see about that.
— 28Pages.org (@28Pages) July 16, 2016
John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 commission, said the 28 pages show it's "time for a complete reappraisal of our relationship with the Saudis."