Obama’s Dilemma: Justice for 9-11 Families or Saudi Arabia?

It is indisputable that the US “War on Terror” that continues to escalate throughout the Middle East and beyond has its roots in the September 11, 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Towers.

It was 9-11 which initially gave the Bush-Cheney Administration and a subservient Congress the political cover to initiate a bombing campaign against the utterly defenseless, poverty stricken country of Afghanistan for ‘harboring terrorists’ before going on to initiate a full scale ‘shock and awe’ military invasion of Iraq which had nothing to do with 9-11 in 2003.  The fact that fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 hijackers were Saudi nationals was of no apparent consequence.

To date, those attacks, barbaric in their intensity with millions of pounds of bombs and missiles, widespread in their devastation and horror, were only the beginning as the Obama Administration continued its own jihad with drone attacks, assassination lists, 10,000 US troops still in Afghanistan and 6,000 in Iraq as armed conflict expanded to eastern Europe and Africa, at an accrued estimated cost of $5 trillion since 9-11.

The 832 page investigation of events entitled the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001,  a declassified, yet redacted report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was released in December, 2002.

Part IV (pg. 415) containing 28 pages entitled Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters of the final report remained classified on the basis of ‘national security’ concerns and was not subject to public dissemination.  Finding 20 in Part IV states that:

“In their testimony, neither CIA nor FBI officials were able to address definitively the extent of such support for the hijackers globally or within the United States or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature.”

And in clarifying the nature of the Inquiry, Finding 20 continued “It was not the task of this Joint Inquiry to conduct the kind of extensive investigation that would be required to determine the true significance of such alleged support to the hijackers.”

Former Senator Bob Graham, (D-Fl), prime participant of the Inquiry and Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the crucial years of 2001-2003, continued to call for release of the 28 pages.  Citing the FBI’s effort of  “passive withhold of information” into a pattern of  what he characterized as “aggressive deception,” Graham described the term as “… where you try to change the narrative in an untruthful way, and then you keep the material that would provide the truth away from the people. So the only thing they see and are exposed to is the false narrative.”

In an April, 2016 interview with 60 Minutes, more than a decade after the report was issued, Graham said,  “I think it is implausible to believe that nineteen 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.”

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC),  a sponsor of the Justice Against State Terrorism Act (JASTA), suggested that the “pages remain concealed not because of their strategic importance but because of potential embarrassment they could cause to both governments.”

While James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence was vetting the 28 pages for potential release, former Democratic congressman and member of the 9-11 Commission, Tim Roemer told “60 Minutes” that there were ‘a lot of leads that were not sufficiently pursued” citing a series of coincidences and ‘a lot of smoke’ as he inquired “Is that enough to make … dig harder—and declassify these 28 pages? Absolutely.”

John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy and member of the 9/11 Commission, told 60 Minutes: “We’re not a bunch of rubes that rode into Washington for this commission…We’ve seen fire and we’ve seen rain and the politics of national security. We all have dealt for our careers in highly classified and compartmentalized in every aspect of security. We know when something shouldn’t be declassified. And this, those 28 pages in no way fall into that category.”

Lehman also suggested that  “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia”  and agreed there was ‘clear evidence’ of Saudi government employees aiding the hijackers.

Questioned in May regarding when the President would authorize release of the 28 pages, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said that the President “obviously reads a lot of material on a day-to-day basis” and “I’m not sure that he felt that it was necessary for him to read those 28 pages.

Not surprisingly, CIA Director John Brennan said that he thinks the pages should remain secret, since they contain “uncorroborated, un-vetted information” that could cause people to reach the wrong conclusions about high-level Saudi involvement.

Five 9/11 widows issued a statement that if Director Brennan is confident that the 28 pages have only “disjointed information, then why is he fighting so hard to have them kept classified and away from the American public? What is he so worried about? Especially if, according to him, releasing the 28 pages will exonerate the Saudis.”

While it has taken more than a decade (fourteen years to be precise) of Congressional requests and thanks largely to a handful of Members of Congress and the refusal of the families of 9-11 victims to accept the official story, the Obama Administration declassified the missing 28 pages  of Part IV in July.  A still heavily redacted version went to the relevant Committees with the House Committee releasing it to the public.

Upon publication of the pages, the public was assured by the White House that the 28 pages “don’t shed any new light or change the conclusions about the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.” and that further  there is “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi official individually funded al Qaeda” which he cites as the same conclusion of the 911 report.

In the spirit of bipartisan cooperation as the controversial pages were finally seeing the light of day, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. issued a joint statement that “We need to put an end to conspiracy theories and idle speculation that do nothing to shed light on the 9/11 attacks.”

In keeping step with the White House, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee’s senior Democrat, said “The Intelligence Community and the 9/11 Commission…investigated the questions raised and was never able to find sufficient evidence to support them …as is often the case, the reality is less damaging than the uncertainty.”

In an interview on CNN, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir added his opinion that the ‘surprise is that there is no surprise” in the 28 pages.  The Foreign Minister reiterated John Brennan’s judgment that the CIA, FBI and the Commission had found the conclusions were not vetted, not investigated, that there were no conclusions and no links established. Al Jubeir went on to attack former Sen. Bob Graham, who led the 911 inquiry, for ”misleading the public” into believing that there was ‘damning evidence’ contained in the 28 pages.

Not unexpectedly, the MSM followed the White House lead with few of the front page headlines or breaking story alerts that might be expected  from the national media.

Some of the extensive analysis of the 28 pages from the WSWS website are as follows:

“The report focused on the role of Omar al-Bayoumi, who was described to the FBI as a Saudi intelligence officer, and, according to FBI files, “provided substantial assistance to hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi after they arrived in San Diego in February 2000.”

“Since both al Mihdhar and al Hazmi were under CIA surveillance while attending an Al Qaeda planning meeting in 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and placed on a “watch list” for FBI monitoring if they came to the United States,” how and why the two were allowed to enter the US and “operate freely, attending flight training school” remains a puzzle.

“FBI documents also established that “allowances” al-Bayoumi received through the Saudi military contractor, jumped to over $3,700 shortly after the arrival of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. During this period, al-Bayoumi initially allowed the two future hijackers to stay in his apartment before finding them their own place—with an informant of the San Diego FBI—cosigning their lease and advancing them a deposit and the first month’s rent.”  Graham added that Saudi Director of Religious Affairs in San Diego had met with the hijackers.

The pages go on to state that “FBI investigations following 9/11 indicated that al-Bayoumi had “some ties to terrorist elements.” His wife was receiving a $1,200 a month stipend from the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan who was then Saudi ambassador to the US.”

“Also named in the document as a likely Saudi intelligence agent is Osama Bassnan, who lived across the street from the two hijackers in San Diego and was in telephone contact with al-Bayoumi several times a day during this period. Bassnan’s wife received a $2000  monthly stipend from Prince Bandar’s wife with, according to the FBI, one $15,000 check from Bandar’s account in 1998 to Bassnan.”

The 9-11 Report’s Executive Summary established that the “9-11 attacks cost somewhere between $400,000-$500,000 to execute” and that “To date, we have not been able to identify the origin of the money used for the 9-11 attacks.”

The 28 pages also refer to “FBI interrogation of Saleh al-Hussayen, a prominent Saudi interior ministry official, who stayed in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks. While he claimed not to know the hijackers, FBI agents “believed he was being deceptive.”

According to the report, al-Hussayen “feigned a seizure” and was released to a hospital, which he left several days later, catching a flight back to Saudi Arabia without any further questioning.”

Of special, even extraordinary, notice is the connection with Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, a close personal friend and mentor to both Presidents GWH and GW Bush as outlined in Michael Moore’s movie, Fahrenheit 9/11.   An unlisted telephone number for the property manager at Bandar’s Aspen home was found in a telephone book as well as the unlisted number for Bandar’s bodyguard at the Saudi Embassy in DC.  The telephone book was found on al Qaeda agent Abu Zubaydah when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002.

The significance of Bandar’s name in these pages should have been like a jumping-up-and-down red flag of prime interest to the FBI, the White House and the government’s intel agencies.

Bandar, affectionately dubbed by GW as the “Bandar Bush,” was a frequent visitor to the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas and the Oval Office.  He was known to have advocated for Saddam Hussein‘s overthrow and military action against Iraq and supported Dick Cheney‘s agenda for “The New Middle East” which called for pro-democracy programs in Syria and Iran.

After resigning his position in 2005, Seymour Hersh reported in 2007 in the New Yorker that as Saudi’s national security adviser, Bandar continued to meet privately with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

While the links, connections and conduits described in the 28 pages are clear and not difficult to follow, they provide sufficient leads for federal investigators to have aggressively pursued, leaving no stone unturned,  to create an evidentiary record to be used in pursuit of a prosecution.

In that same CNN interview cited earlier, John Lehman explained that the Inquiry was terminated before it could determine the exact roles of those involved, that the Commission had not completed its investigation and was limited by time and resources.

Presumably, one significant instance of unfinished business would be questions regarding Prince Bandar who appears to have been a crucial link, if not an active participant, and his presumed personal contact with Zubaydah as well as providing money to Saudi contacts in the US who then appear to have passed those funds along to the hijackers.

Is the American public expected to believe that Bandar, a big time international wheeler-dealer, a shrewd political operative par excellence with long time connections directly into the Oval Office and easy access to the Bush White House has no knowledge to share regarding the 9-11 hijackers.

According to Sen. Graham, that single minded pursuit in search of justice has not occurred.

Just prior to Congressional approval on JASTA, in an August, 2016  speech before the National Press Club, Graham compared release of the pages “like removing a cork from the bottle” in that it is the “first step to build public support” given that  an estimated 100,000 pages of pertinent material remains classified.

As a native Floridian, shedding light on a wealthy Saudi family in Sarasota who were never brought to the attention of the Inquiry was of special interest to Graham.  Six year residents of Sarasota, the FBI confirmed that the al-Hijji family had extensive contact with “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks” (including Mohamad Atta) who were taking flight training classes near Sarasota.

Apparently under urgent conditions two weeks before the 9-11 attacks, the family departed in a rush, leaving a new car in the driveway, food in the refrigerator and clothes in the washer.  Graham reported that he had been told by the FBI that the family had been investigated and found no connection with the hijackers and was assured that the FBI had made the information available to the Commission staff and citizen families but, upon personally checking, Graham found that those documents had not been provided.

When asked whether the US government was protecting the Saudi’s, Graham did not hesitate to respond “Yes” adding that the 9-11 families were litigating to establish the relationships between Saudi Arabian government, its entities and the hijackers but that the State Department, Treasury, Justice and the intel agencies had all “aggressively suppressed” information regarding Saudi involvement and that the message from the Obama White House has consistently been ‘we do not want any information regarding Saudi Arabia be released.”

Graham added that there were lots of facts and classified pages yet to be released with an estimated “twenty two Saudi officials who had direct contact with assorted hijackers.”  Graham said he “understands why Bush acted the way he did but he cannot understand why Obama is acting how he is” adding that Obama had made “an executive decision to restrict information from the American people.”

Graham concluded with ‘the 28 pages are not the last word” and a mention that, at one point, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce suggested that he was ‘wasting his time’ and to ‘get a life’.

JASTA which amends the Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976 will allow US Courts to hear cases against a foreign state if injuries or harm have occurred as a result of terrorism.    Thanks to the Congress for doing their job, who rarely act in the best interests of the American people, for stepping up on this vote – with unanimous aapprovals by the Senate in May and the House of Representatives on September 12.

As JASTA, which will allow the 9-11 Families to pursue litigation against Saudi Arabia and pursue legal action to obtain the remaining classified documents, awaits President Obama’s signature, a White House spokesman reiterated “it is difficult to imagine the President signing this legislation.”

It should be disturbing that the President who has a history of acting like a Globalist when the chips are down, would so fervently obstruct release of the pages for as long as he did and so it comes as no surprise that he threatens a veto.

If, as expected, the President vetoes JASTA, it is anticipated that both houses of Congress will achieve a two-thirds override vote; thereby challenging the Saudi government’s earlier threat to cash in $750 billion worth of US Treasuries.

Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31