Secret files could hold senior Saudi Arabians responsible for alleged roles in the September 11 attacks on the USA.
The secret files are the final chapter of a report compiled by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2004. A total of 28 pages were redacted. It is widely suspected that these pages contain evidence of Saudi involvement in the Al Qaeda attacks.
Pressure is building on the Obama administration because of a draft law currently before the US Congress. Called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), it would allow 9/11 victims to sue foreign sponsors of terrorism. If the law passes, subsequent court cases against Saudi citizens might be helped if the 28 pages were declassified.
The JASTA bill is a response to widespread speculation that the redacted 2004 report blames Saudi Arabia. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, a crucial hurdle that puts it one step closer to being enacted into law.
These developments clearly worry the Saudis. The New York Times reported on Friday that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told US lawmakers in March that his country would sell up $US750 billion worth of US investments “before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts”.
What the secret pages contain
The secret pages were given fresh media coverage on April 11 in a report by the US version of 60 Minutes. In that TV episode, senior US lawmakers and public servants urged President Barack Obama to declassify the files.
The most vocal was ex-Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the committee that wrote the redacted report.
“I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education, could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States,” Senator Graham told 60 Minutes.
When asked if that support came from Saudi Arabia, the Senator replied “substantially”. And when asked if the support came from the Saudi government, rich Saudi citizens or Saudi charities, he replied: “All of the above.”
Declassification of the files could be one of Mr Obama’s last acts as US President. His administration will reportedly reach a decision on the matter in coming months, Senator Graham said.
Why would Saudi royals fund 9/11?
The implication made by Senator Graham and others is that any potential payments made by senior Saudi Arabians to Osama Bin Laden may have been protection money.
In other words, Saudi officials might have funded Al Qaeda’s fight against the US in exchange for no attacks or civil unrest in Saudi Arabia.
There is some evidence for this interpretation of history.
As noted by a journalist who trawled through tapes seized from Bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, the terrorist leader’s early speeches denounced Muslim leaders, with no mention of the US and its allies. In particular, he spoke angrily of the largely secular Saudi government.
“Disbelief has surrounded the Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries [of Mecca and Medina] like a bracelet coiled upon the wrist. We ask God to liberate Muslims everywhere and to protect our Two Holy Sanctuaries,” Bin Laden said in one of the tapes, according to Vice News.
In later years, the terrorist switched the object of his hatred to the Western powers.
Why would the US protect the Saudis?
The view of many analysts is that money and politics might have prompted the report’s suppression.
Saudi Arabia provides oil and investments to the US, and is a useful ally in the war-torn Middle East.
The Bush and Obama administrations might not have wanted to put this tenuous relationship at risk by releasing the secret pages.