As the U.S. nears the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some are wondering if President Joe Biden will finally address the alleged complicity of Saudi Arabia.
“Our government still puts its relationship with the Saudis first. That’s reprehensible and reason to wonder whether the U.S. is even the dominant partner,” wrote Terry Strada in an opinion piece for USA Today. Strada’s husband, Tom, died in the World Trade Center’s North Tower in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
She is is a volunteer for 9/11 Families United, a coalition of families and survivors who want Congress to declassify all relevant FBI and CIA documents related to the 9/11 attacks, particularly on Saudi Arabia’s role.
According to Strada, the U.S. has yet to discuss “the role the kingdom of Saudi Arabia played in giving substantial support for the murderous Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent men, women, and children.”
“It is reprehensible that nearly 20 years after the brutal attack on our country, our federal government continues to prioritize its relationship with the kingdom over justice for Americans,” Strada wrote.
Here are seven suspicious and questionable things to know about the U.S. government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
At an Aug. 5 press conference, Democratic U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Richard Blumenthal announced legislation requiring the U.S. to review its files on the terrorist attack. The September 11th Transparency Act of 2021 calls for the files on the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history to be made public or for the government to explain why it can’t release them, NJ.com reported.
“These families want answers. They want justice. They want accountability,” said Menendez, who hopes the release of the information will help the families of 9/11 victims who are suing Saudi Arabia.
Over the last two decades, the families of about 2,500 people who died in the attacks have been fighting for answers through a joint lawsuit they filed along with more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries including business owners and some insurers against Saudi Arabia. They are seeking billions of dollars, Reuters reported. Despite several setbacks, the lawsuit has struggled forward.
“You can’t make your case in court if you don’t have the facts and information to make their case,” Menendez said.
Every administration since 9/11 has refused to release the documents.
“Our nation deserves the truth,” Blumenthal said. “They deserve to know what’s in those hidden and concealed files.”
Co-sponsors of the bill include Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John Cornyn of Texas.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., is planning to introduce similar legislation in the House.
There was no evidence that the Saudi government “as an institution” or its “senior officials” had “knowingly” supported al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks, according to the 9/11 commission report, which was released in 2004.
But despite this, FBI agents aggressively investigated a Saudi Embassy official in Washington, D.C. The FBI suspected the official of assisting two of the al-Qaeda hijackers in Southern California by helping to get an apartment for them and even setting them up with a bank account and flight lessons, Yahoo reported.
The ex-official, Mussaed al-Jarrah, was questioned by the FBI at least three times and they confronted him with photos of child pornography found on his home computer. This was all in an attempt to “flip” al-Jarrah and gain his cooperation, according to a closed-door deposition of the Saudi national taken by lawyers for the families of the 9/11 victims.
The FBI failed to flip Jarrah, who oversaw the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2019, as the lawsuit continued, then-Attorney General William Barr imposed a state secrets privilege that blocked documents from the FBI investigation into the Saudis from becoming public or even being shared with the lawyers representing the families in the case.
During his presidency, Barack Obama supported the Saudi war in Yemen, “risking American complicity in Saudi-led coalition abuses” against the people of Yemen, Human Rights Watch reported. Saudi forces entered Yemen in 2015 to fight against Iran-backed rebels.
But in 2018, 30 senior Obama administration officials issued a statement calling on President Donald Trump to end all support for Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen.
In the statement by the former senior Obama officials, they acknowledged that U.S. participation in the war, which included providing intelligence, refueling, and logistical assistance, had been a mistake.
In 2016, President Obama announced he would veto legislation approved by Congress that would allow the families of victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot, Politico reported.
“The concept of sovereign immunity protects the United States as much as any other country in the world,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said, referring to the reasoning behind a 1976 law that gives other countries broad immunity from U.S. lawsuits. “It’s not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul U.S. diplomats or U.S. service members, or even U.S. companies, into courts around the world.”
Previously a critic of the Saudi government, while in the White House Obama became the country’s defender as he blocked efforts by 9/11 families to sue the wealthy desert kingdom.
Obama cast the Saudis as “so-called” allies, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals.
“Still, Obama, cognizant of the need for the U.S. to maintain alliances with stable countries in the Middle East, has otherwise tried hard to allay Saudi concerns,” Politico reported.
Recently, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines committed an “extraordinary” intervention in a federal court case against a top former Saudi intelligence official. Haines invoked rarely used state secrets privilege to stop classified information from being revealed that could cause “exceptionally grave” harm to U.S. national security, CNN reported.
There was a concern, officials said, over what could be revealed in the civil case brought by a state-owned Saudi holding company against former Saudi counterterrorism official Saad Aljabri, who claims Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has tried to kill him and whose children are being held in the Kingdom, CNN reported.
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In 2013, the National Security Agency (NSA) expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, despite it being considered one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies, The Intercept reported.
A top-secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.