FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West

shutterstock_206414182

We taste the spices of Arabia, yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth.

-Inscribed around the rotunda of the Jefferson Reading Room in the US Library Congress, above the figure of Commerce

The long-overdue release of the classified 28 pages of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks represents the fullest public accounting of evidence that certain Saudi nationals potentially assisted some of the hijackers. Any evidence, however, that the Saudi government may have knowingly provided assistance at this point remains circumstantial and unproven, a perspective shared by a 2005 FBI-CIA memo, which was released the same day as the 28 pages. Former Senator Bob Graham, who was a member of the congressional inquiry, along with Terry Strada, the national chairwoman for 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, have riposted that the matter of Saudi involvement is long from concluded and that more classified information needs to be issued.

While the 28 pages may provide little closure on how the largest terrorist attack on US soil transpired, its publication is yet another indication that the primacy of Saudi Arabia as irreproachable Middle East ally is in question. The declassification of the 28 pages comes on the heels of other developments that have undermined the carefully manicured image of Saudi Arabia as stalwart and stable ally, such as: the signing of a nuclear accord with Iran in 2015- raising the prospect of increased cooperation with the kingdom’s chief rival; the distribution of a cache of Saudi foreign cables discussing internal matters, which includes monitoring its citizens and attempts to combat critical voices in the media abroad; the unverified court testimony of Zacharias Moussaoui (the “20th hijacker”) detailing potential Saudi governmental involvement in 9/11; a war in Yemen that has caused thousands of civilian deaths and led to a humanitarian crisis, and international concern over the execution of 47 individuals on terrorism charges.

One consequence of these developments is the introduction of bipartisan legislation by members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to curtail American arms support to Saudi Arabia for use in its Yemen campaign. In another case, the U.S. House of Representatives only narrowly passed a bill allowing the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, evidence that lawmakers are beginning to approach this issue with greater care. Further, the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would allow the Saudi Arabian government to be held legally liable for any potential role in the 9/11 attacks, though a last-minute loophole in the bill will likely diminish its impact. Ongoing concerns continue to be expressed over the country’s funding of extremist groups and mosques worldwide. Following the massacre at an Orlando nightclub last month, for example, Hillary Clinton declared that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are apathetic toward their citizens’ financial support of violent extremism- not the first time the presumptive Democratic nominee singled out Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail in such a manner.

Elsewhere relations with Saudi Arabia are undergoing a similar reappraisal. Last year Sweden decided not to renew a Saudi arms agreement maintained since 2005, largely from concern over the country’s human rights record. The United Kingdom withdrew a £5.9m bid for a prisons contract, after criticism of human rights abuses by both Tory and Labour officials. Belgium and the Netherlands have taken steps to end or limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the EU passed a non-binding resolution for member countries to halt arm sales. The Canadian government proceeded with a controversial $15-billion arms deal (signed by the current government’s predecessor) only amidst a public outcry to annul it and a lawsuit arguing that the deal contravenes federal laws over prohibiting such sales to countries suspected of use against civilians or having a record of repeated human rights violations. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, even while taking responsibility for pushing through the arms deal, recognized the public concern by noting that the matter of selling arms to Saudi Arabia may be a question best left to the electorate.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al Jubeir may be correct in noting that “the surprise in the 28 pages is that there is no surprise,” but he would be hard-pressed to exhibit a similar lack of concern about the increased public scrutiny and shifting perceptions of Saudi Arabia’s role in the world. The Saudis instead have responded to the above developments with direct actions, threatened reprisals, and a spirited public relations campaign. The Saudi ambassador to Sweden was briefly recalled. The U.S. has been threatened with the selling of $750 billion worth of Saudi investments in this country, over the Senate’s 9/11 legal liability bill. In response to the Canadian arms deal imbroglio, Saudi Arabia defended its judicial system as one that “calls for preserving and protecting human rights,” even though Freedom House ranks it worst in all categories of its freedom index. Current Saudi state officials and ambassadors and former advisors have increasingly sought forcefully to defend their country’s actions and image to the public, referencing Saudi Arabia’s key role in combating international terrorism in alliance with the United States and United Nations. They seek to justify Saudi Arabia’s “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen as an effort to restore “legitimate order” and “combat a militia influenced by Iran.” This public relations campaign has been abetted by other attempts to promote a counter-narrative to voices critical of Saudi Arabia, including the use of PR firms to charm American policy-makers and journalists and the attempted censoring of voices critical of the country’s human rights record. In March 2016, the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) was established, the first US-based lobbying group with the expressed task of working toward strengthening US-Saudi ties and highlighting opportunities for investment. “Vision 2030,” the plan promoted as an effort to diversify and modernize the Saudi economy that includes the partial privatization of the state-owned oil company Aramco, may reasonably be seen as part of this charm offensive, as bankers worldwide eye a piece of the prize.

Answers about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11 may prove elusive and forever unknown. But more than ever, questions are being raised and subsequent actions are being taken in relation to Saudi Arabia, extending far beyond what’s contained in the 28 pages of fourteen years ago and portending a new realignment of the US and other western countries’ long-standing relationship with this Middle East power.

Kevin L. Schwartz is a scholar and writer based in Washington, D.C. His website is http://www.kevinschwartz.org/

More articles by:

Kevin L. Schwartz is a Research Fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague where he focuses on Iran. He was previously a research fellow at the US Library of Congress and a visiting professor at the US Naval Academy. His website is www.kevinschwartz.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail